Monday, December 15, 2008

Modern Day Pharisee

Though not too often, I have heard comments made to the effect that conservative Christians are modern day Pharisees. With the brief concession that there are some extreme fundamentalist groups (together with their schools) who perhaps could be classified as Pharisees, I am convinced that conservative Christians couldn't be farther from a Pharisee.

At its most basic level, I believe this false accusation is more a compliment to Pharisees than a slam on conservative Christians. Or to put it another way, the accusation greatly misunderstands the Pharisees and places a false (and better than deserved) stereotype on them.

For the record, lets consider Jesus' beef against the Pharisees. There are, of course, a great many passages for this, so I'll just mention two.

1) In 15:1-9 Jesus confronts their fundamental sin: "why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? . . . 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"

2) Chapter 23, the famous "woe to the Pharisees" chapter. Let's get some of the highlights from the text:

- v. 4: "They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger."
- v. 13: "You shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in."
- v. 15: "You travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves."
- v. 27: "You are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness."
- v. 33: "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?"

It is obvious that the Pharisees had a lot of issues. Certainly they were human, just as we are, and therefore we share with them in the sins that are common to man. But it must be understood that Jesus didn't cast his most violent and damning speech on them because they were prideful or wanted to be exalted in the eyes of others. Those are surface issues that everyone deals with (even tax collectors and prostitutes). When we deal with issues of pride, fear of man, selfishness, you-name-it, even hypocricy, we are not acting like Pharisees. We are acting like sinful people.

The root problem of the Pharisees that invited Jesus' human wrath and God's eternal wrath was their false religious system. They set up their tradition over and against God's Word. When they read and interpreted God's Word it was selective and only to serve their own purposes. The religion of the Pharisees was not "Judaism" as God had established it through Scripture. Therefore Jesus treated them like a cult who distored Scripture by adding, removing, and modifying it. Pharisees put their hope fully in themselves and their works. They had no room in their theology for God's grace toward sinners. They had no room for mercy. It was follow their rules (not God's), or be the subject of their scorn (not God's).

Are conservatives sons of hell? Do they made their converts twice the sons of hell? Are they full of dead men's bones? Are they unable to escape hell? Do they prevent people from entering the kingdom?

To call conservative Christians the modern day Pharisee is paramount to calling it a false religion.

There is another related issue that needs to be dealt with (briefly, because I have a serious headache). Some have also said that if Jesus came today that we would reject him. I say we would have every biblical right to reject him. Even if someone came with miracles we should remember that the Anti-Christ will perform miracles even to where he could deceive the elect if it were possible. If he came today like he did 2000 years ago (though wearing modern clothing), that means we have completely misunderstood everything and are a false religion. Setting up that type of scenario is faulty thinking. It assumes that Jesus could come in that way again, which goes against our understanding of Scripture. The question is not "would I accept Jesus coming today like he did then," but rather "do I accept Jesus today for who he was then?"

This may require some more development and clarification in a non-headache moment, but for now here is a two-sentence summary:

When we, as born again Christian, sin, we do not act like Pharisees--we act like sinners. We did not kill God's Son as Pharisees. We killed God's Son as sinners. We did not say "This is the heir. Let’s kill him and take the inheritance." The tax collectors did not say it. The Pharisees said it (in the parable told by Jesus). It was said by those who were entrusted with the vineyard, not by everyone. We need to use proper hermeneutics to understand who said what and who did what so we can properly compare ourselves.

If you want an example of what I think is modern day Pharisee, probably the best correlation is Catholicism.

The pejorative term Pharisee should be reserved for people destined for hell who are guilty of the same fundamental sin of the Pharisees, and never used for those bound for heaven.