"What can a ruined soul, like mine, effect towards the redemption of other souls?—or a polluted soul, towards their purification?"

This blog has been moved to www.fallenpastor.com.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why We're All Pharisees, Part One: Introduction

I already hate this post. Not because of what it is, but because of what it could become.

There are a lot of angry bloggers out there. I've done some angry blogging. In the past, I've done some angry preaching. Any pastor worth his salt knows what I'm talking about.

It's easy to go online and rant on about "what's wrong with the church" and "what's wrong with _________ denomination" or "what's wrong with church people" and "this is why I left the church."

I don't want to be that guy.

However, I read a lot of blogs where people give very valid reasons for not wanting to be a member of the American church. Heck, I don't blame them, and I used to pastor one.

I do, however, want to preface my remarks with this - I love the church. She is the bride of Christ. In her glory and wonder, she is to be beheld in her beauty. She is to present herself to Him without blemish or mark. She is there to worship Him in spirit and truth.

She should place preaching as the center of worship and be a church local and universal - people who are gathered together, unified to love the Savior with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength.

Christ during His earthly ministry used the vehicle of the synagogue to preach and teach from. He did not reject the organized religious system outright, but established a church to honor and worship Him.

There's plenty of labels out there for people to be branded with, like it or not. Some people say, "I'm not of any denomination or label, I'm just a Christian." Right. Just open your mouth and let everyone know what you believe and you'll have a label soon enough.

I'm not emergent by any means. In fact, before my fall, I used to think they were awful. After my fall, and after following many of them on Twitter, I like them. I don't agree with a lot of them, but I see where they're coming from. I sense their frustration and see why they're doing what they're doing. It's frustration with church as it is and a desire to move forward, always seeking, always trying to do what they feel is best.

I know this frustration as well. It's a conversation that happens every day between pastors and between conservative seminary students. Do we abandon the church and start new ones or do we reform the ones we already have?

I think the core of the problem is deep. And it's within us. It's within every church in America. Well, most of them.

And it's not because of the church building, mind you. It's us. The members. The dysfunctional family.

I've heard different numbers tossed around by pastors since I can remember. Some pastors think that only 25% of the people in the pews are saved. Some are more optimistic and say 50%. If you ever get the gumption, ask you pastor how many people he thinks in your church are saved - by percent.

I don't even think it's a matter of who is saved in the church and who is not. I'd venture to guess that most of the people in the pews are saved, probably.

It's my conviction that we've become churches filled with Pharisees. I know this because I used to be one. And I still have a streak of Pharisaical attitude in me that I have to beat down with a ten-meter cattle prod at times.

Before I get on with the series, I'll tell you what got me thinking about it. I was exposed by a former church member at Angel Falls well before my fall. It's a story that I take no pride in.

I had a deacon once who left the church. He was a nominal deacon; meaning that he showed up to the meetings, never really took much to visiting, voted like everyone else, and was getting up in years. Once in a while he had an opinion, but he kept to himself.

One Sunday, he announced his resignation to the deacon body. All the deacons begged him to stay but he just said "it's time I move on to another church." We were a little shocked. He left that Sunday and began to attend another local church down the road.

I always knew he never really liked me. We talked face to face in a cordial manner, but he never really "took" to me. He had never said anything harsh to me, but there was an abrasive way about him.

I asked Phillip Townsend, chairman of deacons to go talk to him. He did, but he didn't say anything to Phillip.  So I called this deacon.

After five minutes on the phone, he finally said what he wanted to say, "Arthur, you're a Pharisee. You're a hypocrite. You say one thing and then you do something else."

Contrary to my attitude, I actually listened to him instead of defending myself. Typically, I would have shot off at the mouth and retaliated, but I asked him to explain. I was actually humble for once.

He referenced Leonard, the deacon who had been urged to leave the church after refusing to give to the cooperative program. He said he thought I should have stuck up for Leonard instead of help drive him out. He thought it was a double standard on my part and it made him sick.

For those of you who don't want to click the "Leonard" link, here's long story short: Leonard was a deacon who didn't want to give to the cooperative program. Church members were angry. Some left the church over it. I took hits over it for a long time. Leonard's wife went a little over the edge one night, Leonard got very personal with me, and I finally asked him to leave. Of course, this deacon knew none of these details.

This deacon thought I should have done everything in my power to help Leonard. He was probably right. I had acted like a Pharisee.

Even though this deacon wasn't privy to any of the inside information, I hadn't acted Christ-like in my decision. I wasn't long-suffering, but I made a decision that was based on my and the church's comfort.

I wasn't spiritually strong at the time. I had just lost my mother. Was that an excuse? I don't know. But I do know I didn't stand for Leonard. I didn't love him and carry him through like a Christian should. Christ would have.

Was it a difficult time and a horrible time that any pastor could have faced? Yes.

I'm not beating myself up for it anymore. However, it was the first time in my life that someone showed me that I was, in fact, more like a Pharisee than Christ.

I wasn't going out and helping hurting people. I was on the side of the establishment. I was looking out for the herd mentality.

And I'm afraid that's what's happening in the majority of our churches today. We're a bunch of Pharisees and we don't know it.

We think we're the group that Christ was blessing. But instead we're the group Christ was warning.


  1. I appreciate your honesty. And I agree with you - sometimes it's hard to put your finger on - but I know we came out of a church where the staff and especially the lead pastor was and is a pharisee. I knew something wasn't right for quite a long period of time. A large church on its way to a 'mega' church has to sacrifice things along the way because it becomes about the 'corporation' and less about individual people. It's subtle but it's there. My husband and I have had many conversations about this topic and I have a few college buddies that have left the ministry because of stress and burn-out - and had their own behaviors realized in the process. It saved them. I'm glad you have recognized this in yourself - I also have done this and it's very revealing and humbling. While the church is supposed to be the bride of Christ - I think our Groom must weep at how we treat others all for the 'sake of the call'. It's sobering. We are in a small group that meets at our home every week and in it are couple that have been affected by church hurts and neglect. It's been a healthy way to come together and love on each other as we again find God's purpose in our lives. The biggest one is loving each other - and we're doing that :)

  2. Cindy,

    It's interesting that when we read Scripture we like to point at the Pharisees as "those people," isn't it? But when we look within, we find a lot of their characteristics.

    But not much self-examination goes on during church, I'm afraid. And as you said, much less goes on behind the pulpit.


  3. Hmmm. That's scary. Too many people drinking from the 'power kool-aid' Don't know if I'm comfortable with that. That breeds arrogance and pride - all under the guise of 'spirituality'. Heavy stuff.

  4. Your blogsite and I are having a friendly brother/sister fight - just so you know - I think I'm winning - but I'm not sure :)

  5. Cindy,

    We are? Where do I weigh in?


  6. Arthur, I like this comparison. One of my favorite verses is Matthew 23, where Jesus publicly rebukes the Pharisees. And He tells it like it is. And how much can we identify with what Jesus says about their lifestyles? I say a lot, but that is why we must humble ourselves, admit our faults, and ask God to continue to work on us. But we must first admit it and want to change. Great post. I am looking forward reading more of this series!

  7. Arthur - I'm not sure what you are referring to about 'weighing in' - is it to my comment about 'drinking from the power kool-aid' - if it is - please know I was not referring to you. You've admitted your own failings in this area and that is half the battle. I love your candor and I believe many ministers could learn great lessons in humility from you. If it's about having 'brother sister fight with your blog site' then - I'm still winning the comment battle - and it's not you - it's me, well actually it's your blog site - it doesn't appear to like me :( I have to try several times before leaving a comment. *sigh*
    But since I am a mature enough Christian - even when fighting with technology - I think I will get the victory over it and be a better person because of it :)

  8. Cindy,

    Gotcha. It takes me a while to get things figured out. Especially after a long day at work.