Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Why We're All Pharisees, Part One: Introduction
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.