"Hi, my name is Ken and I’m a Recovering Pharisee." Kinda sounds like the way I might introduce myself at a P.A. (Pharisees Anonymous) meeting, doesn’t it?
I will forever be grateful to friends, Mike and Phyllis for introducing me to the term “Recovering Pharisee.” I actually first heard about their use of the term secondhand from someone else but it needed no explanation. Mike and Phyllis came from a strict religious upbringing and, like many of us, their journey of faith became a journey of exploration. As Mike’s career took his family to new communities, it also led them to find new places to worship. When they moved to my hometown, they settled at a church that had religious tradition quite unlike the one from which they had come. There was a church in town of the same denomination in which they were raised but they felt the need to explore other churches, too. In this new seeker-oriented church, they experienced a much greater expression of freedom in worship than that to which they were accustomed and they had to make adjustments to this. As they began to appreciate the beauty and meaning of worship in new ways, they also began to see themselves as modern-day Pharisees. And as they grew in their faith in this fertile new soil, they began the recovery process.
Now the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were not all bad but they did have the reputation of being, shall we say, a bit judgmental and hypocritical. They knew the Jewish law well (a law that God intended to point us to the need for a savior) and many of them took perverse pleasure in pointing out the failures of others. In that sense, I too am a Recovering Pharisee. I have been far too judgmental of others in my life and have been working through the recovery process myself for several years. I grew up in a traditional church under the teaching of a hell & brimstone preacher. When I moved away to college, I became affiliated with a local church of the same denomination but whose pastor was dramatically different. In him, I discovered that God was not all mean and scary and out to get me when I inevitably tripped-up. I learned about a God who loved unconditionally even while He expected the best from His people and I began to see my faith in a whole new light, just as Mike and Phyllis did. After college, my career took me to new places, and let me to associate with new groups of Believers, and ultimately I began the recovery process myself.
Even in recovery, it’s a fine line to walk. Being non-judgmental can smell a lot like compromise, if you’re not careful. It’s important to recognize the difference between the negotiable and the non-negotiable points of faith. While we can’t pick and choose which parts of God’s truth we want to accept and which parts are inconvenient for us, we can follow Him as He leads us to address His truths in varying ways. When I see someone who is far from God and living a spiritually unhealthy lifestyle, I now view them more as lost than as wrong and this is a very important difference. In this context, what I mean by "lost" is that they have wandered off the path that God would have us take and are getting into perilous territory. A Pharisee would simply scorn this lost person. He might even delight in this since, by comparison, he seems to be doing better than this lost one. The problem with this approach is that God does not grade on the curve. Right is right and wrong is wrong and all of us (including the Pharisee) are in need of a savior. A Recovering Pharisee, on the other hand has compassion for them, the way that Jesus had compassion for the lost he encountered during his time of ministry here on Earth. That’s what I want to be able to do … to see people as Jesus sees them and to respond to them they way He did (and still, does). I want to love people and respect diversity in the body of Christ. The world will be a better place not because I condemn the sinner but when I take off the garments of the Pharisees and wrap myself in the towel and take up the basin, as Christ did.
In what ways do you see yourself as a Recovering Pharisee?
Ken Summerlin blogs at Kenwords.com.