It’s been years since I have been to a church with any sort of regularity. Each time I go, it ends up quickly reinforcing my growing anger toward what I consider the Pharisees of the church today. I have used that mindset to justify why I can criticize the church, I mean they’re Pharisees, Christ criticized the Pharisees. Recently though, my husband asked my why I think of the fuddy duddies as Pharisees instead of disciples. “Christ asked the disciples to do things and they failed at every one,” he told me. This got me thinking, why do I think of the church as Pharisees rather than Disciples? Is there a reason for my thinking that way, aside from my perception that they have put aside Christ’s teaching altogether?
In reading around, some things people say that are the difference between being a modern day Pharisee or disciple are evangelism, knowing what was really written about Christ though untrained in Scripture, adherence to the teachings of Christ or someone else (for Pharisees it was Moses/law). I don’t know that the answer to my question is in intellectualizing the issue, but just for fun let’s see where we get.
In one article that I read, a blogger makes the determination that the true difference is that disciples spread Christ’s message and Pharisees did not. After all, the greek word for Pharisee is translated literally to “separate one.” Don’t get used to the greek analysis from me, ya’ll. I’m no scholar, but several different websites have told me the same thing and I found it a very interesting point. Today many conservative churches put particular emphasis on being set apart. Many people that I talk to in these kinds of churches find evangelism to be the only contact that is acceptable to have with the unsaved. To me, that’s not affective evangelism. In Christ’s model, don’t we see Him making relationships with people instead of simply saying, “Hey I’m God, believe in me!” But then again we’re not talking about Christ, but about Pharisees and disciples. Paul tells us to go and tell the world about Christ. He wrote letters to the churches admonishing them on how to stay on the right path. Paul really concerned himself with the health of churches. We don’t see him exampling evangelism to individuals anymore. That was more Christ’s thing. But then again, disciples got every task given them wrong, so should we really be looking to them as examples? I guess the question is: what counts as evangelism as it pertains to qualifying one as a Pharisee or disciple.
Another article says that in the pursuit of knowledge their hearts were hardened to the leading of the Holy Spirit because of the knowledge they have acquired. Pharisees make a commitment to studying Scripture day in and day out. The disciples were completely untrained in Scripture, in fact they were new to religion in general. While growing up I often heard that, “like Catholics, they knew in their heads the truth, but didn’t accept it in their heart. They were only concerned with the practices required and never dealt with their hearts.” (Now my Catholic friends, forgive me for my upbringing. I don’t feel the same way.) Is it being a noob that is required for true faith? In many ways, I believe that it really is. We’re told in the Scriptures that unless we become like children, we won’t see the kingdom of Heaven. Children are humble enough to ask every question that crosses their minds and give honest feedback about it. They take the simplest interpretation given them and run. More importantly, children are more highly affected by personal experience and what people tell them, than by the written word. I think back on all the lessons I’ve learned from kids over the years and how simple things are to them. I remember talking about helping people who need help and one kid came up and said “When someone needs some food, you should give it to them. That would be a good thing.” It’s so easy in their minds. The Pharisees tend to make it complicated. When Christ heals someone on the Sabbath rather than focusing on the good deed done, they ream him out for breaking the Sabbath. Christ, like the child, looks to them and tells them to quit judging on the way things look and start judging on the way things are.
Adherence to the Teachings of Christ
We see a shift in the focus on obedience when Christ comes into the picture. Before Christ, we were called to strict adherence to the law and unquestioning obedience. Christ rejects obedience to the law for the sake of obedience. We see a shift to intentions, and simplicity. A shift that the Pharisees could never accept. To them, the law says it so it’s right. For Christ, if it was right then it’s right. The law becomes something that can get in the way of right, rather than our only way to tell what is or isn’t right. In the church today we can still see the remnants of this thought when we see people stand behind the law without love. That’s what Christ brought us: a moral code that comes from love. If that love isn’t present in the argument, I think we can safely assume that the argument is Pharisaical. On the other hand, disciples seemed confused and caught up in between. They were trying to follow Christ, but a lot of the time He didn’t make sense to them. They expected Him to think of Himself from time to time. But Christ was always subverting their expectations and reigning them in from defending Him vehemently. They failed a lot, but they never pretended to be the moral authority and what’s more telling, they never tried to tell Christ that morally He was doing it wrong. But don’t we see that all the time today? People telling us in so many words that Christ’s teachings are in some way unattainable or impractical.
Soon, my husband and I are going to head back to church. Lord help us. We want our children to grow up going to church, but we aren’t thrilled with the idea of picking one. Somehow, I have to strengthen my faith so it can survive the years to come. Perhaps trying to see the church folk as disciples and not as Pharisees, I will be able to deal better with all the failings of the church. Perhaps not. I guess I’ll have to wait and see. The reality is I still think that the vast majority of the churches are filled with Pharisees and I am not sure that will change. I’ll give it a go though. I want my children to enjoy church like I did.
I found this article after I wrote this and I think it’s very helpful.