Thursday, December 8, 2011


You may have noticed that it's become fairly commonplace to describe "religious people" as Pharisees (if you can't think of an example, wait a week). Generally the pattern is like so. A church or pastor wants to do something different, maybe something fairly innocuous (more modern musical style), but more often pushing the boundaries or even outright blasphemous (examples far too numerous). Someone objects that it's inappropriate, in bad taste, etc. That person is derided as a Pharisee. As an added bonus, we are often then told that the church should - no, must - do these kinds of things to shock the Pharisees, because after all, Jesus went out of his way to upset them in his day.

Does that argument hold up? Is it legit to compare those with more conservative taste - even those who can get downright legalistic about it - to the Pharisees? I've got some issues with that, starting with...

1) Most often, the objector is a God-fearer. The Pharisees were not. In case you forgot, the Pharisees were the chief earthly opponents of Jesus Christ and his church. They were so evil that they hated Jesus when sinners were reconciled to God through him, and when they could no longer deny that Jesus was Messiah, they plotted to kill him and bury the evidence.

Mildred (because it's always a little old lady named Mildred, usually with a big hat) has been faithfully attending the church for 70 years, leading Sunday School classes and spending hours a week in prayer for the manifold needs of the church. She doesn't think that playing the song "Kill Your Mother, Stab a Baby, Rape a Goat" by the hot new band "Christ-Punchers" was really appropriate for opening worship at the Christmas Eve service.

Yeah, they're basically the same.

In sum, one group loves Jesus and wants to serve him the best they can (even if they might be wrong on the specifics of how). The other hated Jesus and did everything in their power to silence and kill him. Even thinking about equating the two is nauseating.

2) If anything, the objector is the weaker brother. Let's take an example where the deck's not so stacked - in this one, the objector may even be wrong. Good ole Larry's church decided recently to switch to a more modern worship style. The organ is being phased out and will soon be gone, replaced with electric instruments - guitars, keyboards, those guitars that are like double guitars, maybe even a keytar. Larry objects, and not just due to a difference of taste. He's been taught that such instruments are evil, and are not fit for Christian use.

Now, assuming you believe (as I do) that electric guitars are not necessarily evil, it's not entirely cromulent to  compare Larry to a God-hating, Christ-hating son of the devil like the Pharisees. A much more appropriate comparison is found in Romans 14.

In this passage, Paul considers the case of the weaker brother. This person has come to faith in Christ, but is not yet mature enough in his knowledge to understand the full extent of his freedom. Regarding dietary laws, some in the church understood that they were now free to eat, while some less mature ones didn't yet fully appreciate that freedom. What does Paul say to do? Deride the vegetarian as a Christ-hating Pharisee? Publicly ridicule him for being stuck in old dietary rules mode? Flaunt your freedom by eating a medium rare ribeye or a cheeseburger in front of him every chance you get? Go out of your way to tick him off?

Quite the opposite. We are to make reasonable accommodations where possible, and while working to bring the weaker brother to maturity in that area, strive to avoid harming his weaker faith. If he is in Christ, he deserves the same grace you received when you were an immature newbie (or immature-in-that-area 45-year veteran). Work to build up, not to destroy.

The situation where the objector is wrong will most often fall under this scenario. Rather than slandering him as a Pharisee (about the worst epithet conceivable) and making him the object of public scorn, we should overflow with grace and patience towards him. Even when he's wrong. Especially when he's wrong.

3) Intentionally ticking people off? To hear some talk about it, Jesus thought his main mission was to seek and savor every opportunity to stick his finger in a Pharisee's eye. Thus, they see it as their duty to intentionally aggravate the Pharisees in their midst - who are most often probably weaker brothers who need to be built up, but no worries. In fact, some will claim their boundary-pushing actions are designed primarily, if not solely, to annoy the uptight conservative old ladies in big hats. Does that really reflect what Jesus did?

Now of course, Jesus did frequently upset a lot of people. But it's highly debatable that he ever upset someone as an end in itself, or even as his primary goal. He healed on the Sabbath not to taunt the Pharisees, but because it was the Sabbath and people needed healing. He axed the Samaritan woman about her serial marriages, not looking to mock her while she went scurrying off in shame, but to cut right to the heart of her need to repent. He taught hard truths not because they were offensive, but because they were true.

Of course, the truth about God and us is always offensive. Those who are Satan's children will of course be offended by the gospel. Is it necessary, or even wise, to intentionally add offense on top of that? Let them be upset at Christ, and not upset at you for being a jerk.

So there ya go. If you've used this ridiculous argument to smear opponents, repent of it and stop.


DJP said...

We could call it, "The 'P' Card." It's sort of a Godwin's Law, or Reductio ad Phariseum, a sign you've got a weak or losing case.

trogdor said...

Indeed. It's an ad hominem, and a particularly vile one, I think. Is it not possible to disagree without claiming the other side is anti-Christian sons of the devil?

I've heard it used far too many times from the side I agree with - when they have a solid case, they still use it! Somewhere people got the idea that a Pharisee is anyone with more conservative taste than me, someone opposed to a change, or someone who likes I tradition I can do without. It's absurd and it needs to stop.

Robert said...

I've been guilty of this before...I have been humbled many a time, though, and have tried to be more accomodating. It helps to remind myself of how much I don't know and how I have had incorrect beliefs and been legalistic myself.

Even if we detect legalism, we shouldn't take up the term legalists and leave it at that. I think you take good care of that in the last two points. I am thankful that God has worked on me in this area and I know that He will continue to do so.

Thank you for the timely reminder as Christmas and Easter tend to bring out some of this type of stuff.