Christian Church / Christianity / Hypocrisy / Religion / Thoughts

My Dilemna with Church: Pharisees or Disciples

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.

Scriptural Knowledge
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.

15 thoughts on “My Dilemna with Church: Pharisees or Disciples

  1. Sacred Struggler – I just joined wordpress and am thrilled to have come across your site. I obviously have a lot of catching up on your process to do, but want to thank you for this post. I am a leader in my local church and struggle to even continue attending. The Pharisitical attitudes are just wearing me down. My wife and I send the kids into the house when we get home so that we can debrief one another without disturbing them. Urg!
    Another issue that I see differentiating disciples from pharises is their reaction to sin. Pharisees deny it whereas disciples acknowledge it, repent, and at least attempt not to do exactly the same horrible thing again.


    • I can obviously relate to that. Actually, the seat of my discontent with the church began when my family and I were very involved in church. Once you get really involved it changes how people react to things doesn’t it? You see a very different side of things.
      Thank you! I think that is a great differentiater! I think that lack of humility comes from a place where they believe they have the market on Truth cornered and need not be humbled to admit they do wrong.
      Thanks for coming along and commenting. I look forward to hearing from you.


      • Do you have advice from that perspective on how much to engage my elementary age children in the “debriefing”? So far we have stuck to only discussing with them concerns we have about what they would have heard in the parts of service they attend.


        • Show them Christ. Let them know Him through you, so they also know who He is not.
          Aside from that, I am a big proponent of honestly engaging children as they are able. So, I would and hope to (9 months pregnant with my first) involve them in the discussion as it becomes noticeable to them. My parents were new Christians and so the only examples I had were in church and school. I think if my parents had known and had provided me the tools to think about the church people differently, I wouldn’t have been so shell shocked. Church was faith to me. When one failed so did the other.


          • Firstly, I loved reading this post. I had never thought about these distinctions between pharisees and disciples before.
            Secondly, I think your advice here regarding children and the church is excellent “I think if my parents had known and had provided me the tools to think about the church people differently, I wouldn’t have been so shell shocked. Church was faith to me. When one failed so did the other.” – I can relate in many ways. There was a time when church was faith to me and when that church failed miserably, my faith and trust in God did too. It left me very bitter, confused and angry (especially at God) for many years.
            Finally, your post has got me thinking….and reflecting on these things reminds me of something I read recently about the church (actual followers of Jesus as opposed to pharisees who were, as Jesus said (e.g. John 8:42-47), not following God at all) that point out that the church in Corinth was pretty messed up, both theologically and morally, and yet when writing to them Paul refers to them as “saints” (2 Cor 1:1), which in Greek apparently means “one who is separated unto God”. Therefore in this sense all who call themselves believers – the ordinary and the immature – are saints. It’s like a state of being we are all placed into by the work of God (His Holy Spirit) that immediately changes our heart (like in Ezekiel 36:26 “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you) so that we are like a new creation (like in 2 Cor 5:17)…..Now, it would be nice if all of us who follow Christ would ACT like in line with this…God promises a new heart, but do we see much evidence of that in ourselves and others? Sometimes, yes, mostly, sadly, frustratingly, no. And this still remains one of my greatest gripes with God – that if He is powerful over our sinful nature, WHY doesn’t He change the heart of more Christians to represent Him better?? Is it perhaps, because, God has given us free-will to choose to live life as we please? That He will only perform that ongoing heart transformation to be like Christ only if we ask Him to? Is is that we need to, in some sense, use our free-will to choose to fight against, with God’s help, our sinful nature, like Paul says ….”For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing….Rom 7:19″…..?
            In any case, whether pharisees, true disciples or saints, why do we all keep falling short of the mark so badly? Why is it that churches and christians are largely so bad at representing God? Or am I seeing it all a little too bleakly? Would you say that there are a goodly number of disciples who truly reflect Christ out there?


            • Well, sadly, I find that I am quite pessimistic on this front. I know many people of faith who reflect Christ. They are (nearly all) not affiliated with the Christian church. Church has not been a safe place for me for many years. And it’s people have been downright hurtful to my faith. I find that I am capable of Christ in spite of them. So, to me, American churches are very bad at reflecting Christ. In my personal opinion this is often because in this country we’ve espoused patriotism with religiosity. These two conflicting ideologies are soiling Christ. I mean, if you put ice cream on shit, the shit is fine, but a little shit on ice cream and it’s ruined. We have taken what is supposed to subversive (bottom up) and sacrificial and tried to force it into compliance with politics and political (top down) power which is inherently selfish. Nationalism is in my opinion an idol that most of our churches have chosen to worship over Christ. Not to mention that we are one of the richest peoples on the face of the planet and God’s word tells us how hard it is for the rich to know Christ. I also think that Christians can do better. We are no longer slaves to our sin nature. So, I have very high expectations and thus I end up getting disappointed often, by myself as well.


              • Thanks for reading that long reply of mine…it’s a big deal to me too and something I’m always thinking about. Seems like the situation in America is pretty bad…Here in Australia, we don’t struggle with mixing patriotism/nationalism and religiosity, we tend to actually be suspicious of anything smacking of nationalism (apart from Anzac Day which we’ve just day, for which we go all out!). Really, I think the situation in America sounds so much worse than here….I did read a book recently “Radical: Taking back your Faith from the American Dream” by David Platt. It was really interesting and made me wonder if the context of America is really quite different from the context here…
                (Here, in secular society we seem to have a strange mix of apathy and strict/religious adherence to pluralism. In the Christian Church we tend to exist as nice social clubs of like-minded people, who tend to be, in my opinion, incredibly tunnel-visioned when it comes to anyone or anything that happens outside the church walls. And our society is, overall, so nicely tolerant of everyone’s opinions I think we’ve given up voicing ours.)
                I agree, Christians can do better. We are not slaves to our sinful nature. And I don’t think high ideals are necessarily a bad thing… “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Heb 12:1-3).
                Don’t give up speaking out about the inconsistencies you see!
                Apologies for another long comment….


                • Very interesting. So you find your culture is nicely tolerant of Christian opinions? And because of that the church need no express theirs. Interesting.
                  Do you have Christian schools and homeschooling a lot in your Christian environments? I find that here when we have that ability to separate we have the same apathy/lack of knowledge about what happens with the community at large. But also, taking separation out of context by having Christian everything- news, rock music, bookstores, schools, etc has created a deep divide. Not to mention the language Christian tend to use even creates a barrier.
                  As far as high ideals, I’m often written off as naive. It prevents people from taking me seriously. Especially my family. But it’s a part of my commitment to Christ that I cannot and will not give up.
                  Hey you, long comments are awesome! Every blogger wants to talk about what they’ve written. 😀


  2. I’ve been noticing that many Fundamentalist or ex-Fundamentalist “generational Christians” (to use an excellent phrase of yours) call something “a dilemna” when the rest of the English-speaking world would call it “a dilemma.” Because I’m an unChristian, I’m curious about this (there are no Christians in my family, and no ever in my ancestry, as far back as I can trace). Can you please explain to me why (some) Christians ignore the word’s history by spelling and pronouncing it “dilemna”? Is there some religious or cultural reason that they choose to do this?


    • That’s a spelling commonly taught across America, France, Jamaica and some other countries. Consider it a colloquial spelling. It has no correlation with Christians. Also, it is not pronounced differently when spelled that way.


      • Oh? I grew up in America, ma’am, and I never encountered it it till eight years ago. (Further, my French and Jamaican friends never encountered it when learning English in France or in Jamaica.)
        I assumed it was a Fundie thing because my first encounter with “dilemna” was at the hands of a schoolteacher-turned-editor who happened to be a Fundie. When she changed “dilemma” to “dilemna” in some formal writing of mine, and I questioned this, she snapped: “It HAS ALWAYS been ‘dilemna’ — check any dictionary.” So, with her permission, I checked the dictionary on her desk, found “dilemma” but no “dilemna,” then silently showed her so … and she took out her pen and changed the dictionary. (I was fired the next day — but not before learning, from a co-worker who’d once had a child in the English classes that this employer had once taught at a Christian school, that the boss had similarly flunked some schoolchildren [and had made handwritten alterations in class dictionaries] because those kids,or their parents, had queried (and had checked the dictionary on) other spellings that they were being taught: “recieve / beleive / Americian” where the classroom dictionary — before alteration by this teacher — had had “receive / believe / American.”] So you can understand why I conjectured that there might be a specifically Fundie spelling of some words, or maybe just a specifically Fundie attitude to spelling.


        • How about an internet search, “ma’am”? I’m not an English blogger. I don’t have any expertise in it. Don’t claim to, don’t want to. But a super simple google search has produced many results that say what I have told you. Perhaps your questions are better directed to google. Or perhaps you, as an English expert with extensive interest into such a specific and (in my opinion) insignificant query would like to write an article about it. If not there are people literally debating the topic in all kinds of grammar chat rooms (who knew there was such a thing?) and on sites like the Who knew it was a deal? Apparently, there are tons of people who also have grown up in the States and aforementioned countries that never knew it was ‘dilemma’ until they were corrected by firefox. What can I say other than that it appears to be a widely (and oddly enough) localized colloquially taught errant spelling? It has no connection to Christianity that I am, in any way aware of, nor could I find a connection on my brief search.


        • Also, I’m not sure if you meant that to sound so snarky…? My blog about Christianity and well, myself. There is nothing that a blogger enjoys more than relevant insightful discussion about the topics that we choose to write about. I’d love to hear those thoughts of yours in the future!


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