Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Confessions of a Pharisee

Dear Friends,

Outrageous! murmured the church leader as he nudged the man standing beside him and pointed to the renegade Jesus Christ. There He goes again! Who does He think He is? Healing on the Sabbath! Totally against church rules! Not only a clear violation of God’s law, but a detestable offense to all those who love God! And our Bible goes on to tell us that to make things worse, this maverick Messiah even did the healing in church! Right there in the synagogue! Before God and everybody! Luke 6:6-11 Oy vey!

The Pharisees in the synagogue were filled with rage and can you blame them? If we didn’t have church rules we’d have anarchy and lawlessness in our churches. It would be a total disaster! Thank God for the Pharisees who keep God’s house proper and orderly! (Hmm...Do you agree or disagree?) The Pharisees were the religious leaders who controlled and appointed priests, set temple laws, wrote the liturgy and the rituals. They followed a combination of God’s written law in the scriptures along with the “oral tradition” that they had added. These church leaders gave the oral laws the same authority as God’s written laws. Jesus had a problem with that. Because that’s the sin of legalism. 

I was told many decades ago that “Every Christian has a little bit of Pharisee in them” and while you may object to that generalization, it’s been true of every Christian I have ever known and it is most definitely true of the man I see in my bathroom mirror. It’s also true of all churches and denominations who make up their own laws based on their distinctive church traditions and give them the same weight as the word of God. We Protestants shake our heads at all the unbiblical oral laws, rituals and traditions in the Catholic Church and then we make up our own unbiblical Protestant laws, rituals and traditions. 

I’ve been associated with a conservative church in which there was a great deal of discussion about renting the property for weddings because during the receptions, unmarried Christians were dancing on the property! (we all knew what dancing can lead to!) I’ve been associated with a liberal mainline church who did not permit a person who had accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior to be baptized in their church unless the person was approved by a vote of their membership committee. (John the Baptist did defer to the membership committee before those Jordan river baptisms, didn’t he?) A simple definition of legalism is when things that are okay with God, aren’t okay with us. That’s not to say that we can’t create our own rules, rituals and traditions, but when we enforce them as if they were a commandment from God, that’s when it becomes the sin of legalism. And yes. Jesus does have a problem with that.

A 2013 survey by the Barna Group revealed that 51% of Christians in American exhibited attitudes and actions that are more like the Pharisees than they are like Christ. Their attitudes were self-righteous and hypocritical. Sadly, only 14% of all Christians surveyed reflected attitudes and actions that better resembled the attitudes and actions of Christ. The most Christ-like Christians in attitude and behavior were Evangelicals (23%) while only 13%-14% of Catholics, mainline denomination Christians and “notional” (meaning in name only) Christians were Christ-like in their attitude and behavior. Maybe it’s time to take a closer look at the attitudes and behaviors of that person in our mirror... 

How do we know if we are more like a Pharisee than we are like Jesus? The more religious you become, the more critical you are of other people. We spend much time talking about what we are against and believe that it is our personal responsibility to take a stand against those who do not follow our own Christian beliefs and values. We focus on pointing out why others are wrong in their church doctrine or traditions. We prefer to be only with like-minded Christians. We make our salvation based on our following “rules and traditions” and not on our faith that comes solely from the grace of God. We believe that outsiders must conform to our distinctive Christian lifestyle before we can accept them in our church. A middle-age single woman tells me that she’s been an “outlier” in every church she’s attended because our unspoken rule is that marriage and family is the highly-valued Christian norm and singles just don’t conform to the idyllic church lifestyle. Our “membership committees” admit or deny entrance to our church clubhouse based on whether or not they look, sound, act and smell like us. But thank God that, “The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Samuel 16:7

To be more in attitude and action like Jesus we would need to listen to others before we tell them about our faith. We’d need to hang out with unbelievers and those struggling with their faith. We’d need to see that God loves every person no matter what their past looked like and He invites all to accept Jesus as their Savior. We would need to let others know that God loves them. Instead of telling them how they must change to conform to our church expectations, we would need to just love them like Jesus and let God do the hands-on work of changing them. We’d need to help and serve others outside the church. Matthew 25:31-46 needs to be how we live out our faith. Jesus never handed out a legalistic “to-do” list of what must be accomplished in order to achieve righteousness. He just showed them the grace, mercy and love of God. Lord, may we simply do the same. Amen?

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree ... A middle-age single woman tells me that she’s been an “outlier” in every church she’s attended because our unspoken rule is that marriage and family is the highly-valued Christian norm and singles just don’t conform to the idyllic church lifestyle.