When I first began my journey of faith some 15 years ago, I learned of the evil, wicked little men known as Pharisees. According to my Sunday School teacher, these were men who believed in an extra-biblical law that they enforced in heavy handed fashion, such as how many steps to take and whether or not to work on the Sabbath. My initial impression of this was further exacerbated when I read the Scriptures and found that Jesus seemed to be in constant opposition to them. Their view that the law was to be supplemented with their own rabbinical teachings and false piety seemed to fly in the face of everything Jesus taught (See Matthew 23:26. Luke 7:36-50 and Luke 18:9-14). That being said, why haven’t we learned anything?
Let me tell you what I’m talking about. Several months ago our church had a meeting in which we discussed several issues surrounding the imminent move of our church and the “contemporization” of our services. As is with most churches, ours has a varied mixture of senior adults, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and those following. Here are some of the issues brought to the forefront:
• Do we keep a Sunday Night Service?
• How contemporary is the music going to get?
• Why are we selling a perfectly good church when it’s paid off already?
•Why are we changing from Sunday school to Small Groups?
For the better part of two hours, these issues were thrown back and forth in an emotionally supercharged discussion. The senior adults were leery of losing everything comfortable to them and the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers were bored with what seemed like stale worship and desired more dynamically challenged Sunday School classes. As a result of this, several members have left and bitter feelings still exists for some.
What I want to know is this? Who cares?
Of all the things to worry about, of all the things that “so easily beset us,” who really cares? The truth is we, who look on the Pharisees in Jesus day with disdain, have become their modern day equivalent. Think about these issues and the issues in your own church. Why are they issues? They are issues because we have in our minds a sort of “rabbinical law” that demands tradition be followed.
For those who are older it’s the idea that all songs must be in a white hymnal and only the first, third and last stanzas are to be sung. Sunday School must be at 9:45 a.m. and coffee and donuts are a requirement, not a luxury. The lesson comes from a quarterly and you better be finished in time for them to get to their appointed pew. For the younger generation, music must be loud, emotional and edgy. We have to have intense philosophically deep conversations with friends over Starbucks on Tuesday morning in our “small group.” There are no Sunday Evening services and Wednesday is only for choir members and youth functions.
The truth is we’re all wrong here. We’ve become Pharisees. The reason: None of these things matter. Sure, a certain type of fellowship is good. Sure, a specific worship style is good. Sure, all of these things are positive for Christian growth. But are they absolutely necessary? By necessary I mean are they worth splitting churches and wasting time arguing about whose ideas are right. Are they worth watching people walk out of church? Are they worth ruining the reputation of the greater Church in the eyes of the world?
No. Simply put, no. We need to go back to our roots.
When Jesus met each of the original twelve disciples, He said to them, “Follow me.” Not follow the synagogue. Not follow your traditions. Not follow the latest trendy method at the local seminary. He said, “Follow Me.” The Greek interjection that means, “Come now after me!” He isn’t asking them. It’s an imperative and the implication is clear, Jesus is choosing you and you are accepting that or rejecting it. To reject is to deny him and forfeit a life of spiritual peace and eternal joy. To accept is to follow Him. So what did Jesus do? We have the bracelets, key chains, necklaces, stickers and other paraphernalia with the phrase on it, but do we actually know what we are talking about. Following Jesus means to act as He acted. So what does He have to say about all this? This is what Jesus had to say about Pharisees in Matthew 23:
• They are hypocrites
• They are blind fools
• They are blind guides
• They are serpents and vipers
This was a scathing rebuke not meant to belittle or abuse them, but to hold up a mirror and show them just what they had become. His commentary was intended to give them a chance to repent and change their ways, an opportunity to follow Him, though nearly all of them refused. So what did Jesus do knowing the Pharisees would not hear Him?
He showed them a different way to live. A way where we worship “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). A way where men are all equal before God and need no priest to intercede for them (Hebrews 4:14-16). A way where we are called each one to follow without regard to ourselves, our wants, our desires (Mark 10:44, 1 Corinthians 9:19). Jesus does not want our rules and petty squabbles over tradition and preference. Jesus wants us, the mature, growing Christian, to follow Him and act as He did while He was here. He wants us to champion the cause of the poor, the gentle, the merciful and the unloved the way He did. When Jesus called us to be the salt and the light in Matthew 5, He called us to do that so that we might “glorify the Father who is in Heaven.”
We as Pharisees are not so far gone as to be beyond change. But that change has to come from a contrite heart, intent of the greater good of the Church and not personal preference. I can’t say I’m a big fan of 16
century music sung to a 21
century tune. But I can learn to appreciate the truth in its message. Time marches on. Things change. Sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad. But the point to all of this is that tying yourself down to a hill you plan to die on is not the way to reach others for Christ or build up the body of believers. Compromise is necessary on issues, which are not right or wrong biblically but are simply matters of preference. We have a mandate that supersedes all of our own Pharisaical leanings. He said, “Follow Me.”