Myths About Evangelicals – They’re All A Bunch Of Pharisees


512px-House_on_the_rock,_island_of_St_MarkoFrom time to time I get out my soapbox and pull myself to the top in order to decry some of the fantastical things people—even some professing Christians—say about those of us who believe the Bible to be true.

One I find particularly egregious is this notion that Evangelicals, or Bible-believing Christians—you know, those who think Adam and Eve were real people and the Garden of Eden was an actual place—are Pharisees. Some might even add, Pharisees of the worst kind!

This statement shows a lack of understanding, both about Pharisees and about Christians.

I’ve addressed the misconception about Pharisees and Christians before (see “Who Are The Pharisees?” and “Christians Are Not Pharisees”). But as I read through Matthew’s record of Jesus’s encounters with the Pharisees, a couple thoughts ran through my head.

1) “Religious” was not the problem Jesus had with the Pharisees. The main problem He had with them was that they rejected Him as Messiah. Long before the Pharisees conspired to arrest Jesus, try Him, and execute Him, Jesus knew they opposed Him. After all, they did things like demand He prove He was who He said He was and throw out trick questions to get Him to a) blaspheme, b) break the Mosaic Law, or c) denounce Roman rule.

2) The only religious activity Jesus hated was false religious activity. The Pharisees went around praying in public so people could see how pious they were. When they fasted, they made a show of it by neglecting their appearance so people would know they were going without.

3) The Pharisees focused on the external and the trivial, not the internal and the “weightier provisions of the law,” justice, mercy, and faithfulness. [And who today thinks of the law as teaching mercy and faithfulness?]

4) The Pharisees were crooks. They not only ripped off the people buying animals from them in the temple, they falsified their weights and shrank their measuring standard, all so they could get rich at the expense of others.

5) They twisted the law and added their own traditions to it so they could duck out from under the things they didn’t like, so they could stack other things in their favor.

6) They also misled many. The rabbis taught their disciples to do as they were doing and more so. They also “shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matt. 23:13b).

7 On the outside the Pharisees looked as if they were keeping the law, but inwardly they were “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:28b). Lawlessness! Who ever associates the Pharisees with lawlessness? The typical, or stereotypical, view of the Pharisee is someone parsing each tiny aspect of the law and bending over backwards to adhere to it. Legalistic might be a good way of describing the traditional view of Pharisees. And certainly some of what they did or said—tithing the smallest spices, insisting Jesus’s disciples ceremonially wash their hands, criticizing Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, and so on—would fall in the category of legalism.

But Jesus didn’t accuse them of being too picky about their adherence to the Law. Rather, He said inwardly they were without the Law. Can you imagine what these men who had grown up studying the Law must have thought when Jesus told them they were full of lawlessness?

In the end, I do think Christians should learn from the Pharisees (after all, all Scripture is for doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness – 2 Tim. 3:16). We are not insulated from their sins.

In a nutshell, the “woes” Jesus pronounced against the Pharisees stemmed from their pride, their false teaching which mislead others, their misuse of the Law, their neglect of justice and mercy and faithfulness, and their focus on the external rather than their heart attitudes.

The book of James ties what a person does with the reality, or “aliveness,” of his faith. The Pharisees showed their profession of faith was empty and meaningless because of what they did—flaunting their supposed spirituality, taking advantage of widows, cheating worshipers, holding others to a standard they themselves didn’t keep. They were religious phonies.

Anyone professing Christ can be just as much a phony as any of those Pharisees were. And even when we want to put our beliefs in practice, we can be seduced by pride or greed or selfishness. Our Christian walk can become so self-centric we forget that God’s heart is first and foremost for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.

Too often the American Christian follows our culture into me-ism, into looking out for number one—which can manifest as me, my family, my nation. We forget that God so loved the world. Not just our little corner of the world.

So, no, Evangelical Christians are not Pharisees. That’s a myth!

But that doesn’t mean we can’t fall into Pharisaical behavior. It doesn’t mean we can let down our guard when it comes to the sins the Pharisees were guilty of.

It also means that there may be people professing Christ, in the same way the Pharisees professed a special relationship with God, when in fact they don’t know Him. Jesus said so Himself:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ ” (Matt. 7:21-23)

There’s that word “lawlessness” again. Isn’t it ironic that the Pharisees, so proficient in the Law, were guilty of lawlessness? But apparently the same will be true of some who profess Christ.

And how can we know the difference between Christians who are the real deal and those just pretending? Jesus turned around and told a parable about two guys who built houses, one on rock, one on sand. He prefaced the story by saying, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them . . . ” (Matt. 7:24a)

Kind of the same thing James said about works proving that faith is alive.

The Eternal Word Of God


Bible-opening-859675-mI was just listening to some of the RZIM sponsored debate between Imam Dr. Shabir Ally, a Muslim, and Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, a Christian, taking place at Wayne University. The topic was whether or not God is a triune being.

In the interrogation phase of the debate, Dr. Qureshi quizzed Dr. Ally about the Muslim understanding of the eternal nature of the Quran—was it created or has it always existed. This apparently has been a great source of debate in Islam. As part of his answer, Dr. Ally said he’d like to turn that question around and ask Dr. Qureshi if Christians consider the Bible to be eternal or created.

I’d like to hear that answer myself. Lots of verses in Scripture tell us God’s word is enduring. Isaiah, for example, which Peter later quoted, says, “The grass withers, the flower fades/But the word of our God stands forever” (Is. 40:8).

At the same time, we know that God inspired men to write Scripture and they were addressing first an immediate audience for a particular purpose from their own communication skills using their own personality.

So David, who spent some years as a shepherd, wrote “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1). In the same way, Paul, the itinerant preacher, wrote letters to the churches he visited and said things like, “When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans, and you for your part, read my letter that is coming from Laodicea” (Col. 4:16).

From such passages, a person could easily conclude that the Bible is created. Except Jesus Himself said that not one “jot or tittle” of the law would be changed:

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matt. 5:18)

Later Matthew recorded Jesus as saying, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” Certainly there is an everlasting quality of God’s word. The great Psalm centered on God’s word says, “Forever, O LORD,/Your word is settled [stands firm] in heaven” (Ps. 119:89).

I suspect then that the answer to the question, is the Bible eternal or is it created, is, Yes. Yes, the Bible is eternal and yes the Bible was created by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through the agency of men. Here’s how Peter explained it:

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Peter also warned against false teachers but reminded those to whom he wrote that they were to remember “the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2). He went on to equate Paul’s words with Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16).

So here’s the thing: Moses, the prophets, David, other writers of the Psalms, all referred to God’s Word, spoken by His servants or written in the Law. Jesus referenced the Law and the Prophets as pointing to Him, as unchanging. The New Testament writers noted the work of the Holy Spirit in giving God’s word, contrasted the truth of God’s word with the false message of false teachers, and equated the message of truth they proclaimed with the established Scriptures of the Law and the Prophets.

They didn’t have any doubt that the true word of God was established in heaven and was living and enduring.

Consequently, they weren’t questioning whether, say, Adam was a real man or not. Dr. Luke, who said he “investigated everything carefully from the beginning” (Luke 1:3b) proceeded to give Jesus’s genealogy, ending with “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38).

Now in the twenty-first century, however, we have people who “know better,” and leave comments declaring “The creation story is neither factual nor historical. There was no literal Adam eating from a literal tree some literal fruit.”

Let’s see. On one side, Jesus who was there at creation, whose Spirit revealed to the prophets that they were not serving themselves but a future generation of believers (1 Peter 1:12ff), whose spirit inspired the writing that listed Adam in Christ’s genealogy . . . on the other, the vain thinking Paul referred to as “philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world” (Col. 2:8b)?

I don’t think it’s even a close call. Why would I believe the baseless view created by someone “inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (Col. 2:18b) instead of the sure, unshakeable word of God? I’ll take the testimony of Omniscience every day.

Published in: on April 8, 2015 at 6:22 pm  Comments Off on The Eternal Word Of God  
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The Books Of The Bible I Used To Skip


10_Commandments008I’ve mentioned before in posts about the value of reading the Bible through that it’s fine to skip the hard parts—better, in fact, than letting them defeat the whole program to read through the Bible. As it turns out, the way the Bible is constructed one passage builds upon another, and before I realized it, I was reading the hard passages and even taking notes and asking questions.

Specifically I’m referring to the books of Leviticus and Numbers. There were other passages—a portion of 1 Chronicles, for example—that dive into genealogies, and they were on my “To Be Avoided” list, too, but primarily, I dodged Leviticus and Numbers.

I’m not at all sorry I did because I’m convinced that decision kept me from quitting yet again as I tried to work my way through the entire Bible.

The amazing thing is that God has turned around my attitude toward those books. I realized it anew last week as I felt a sense of saddness that I was finished with Leviticus and moving on to Numbers. When did that happen? And how?

God did His work, is what happened. How? By the power of His Spirit and the incisive word that cuts to the heart. I don’t honestly remember when I decided to keep going when I finished Exodus.

To be honest, there are big parts of that book that are not your edge-of-the-seat fare. It’s there that God gave the specifics of the tabernacle—its construction and furnishings—as well as the Ten Commandments and a variety of other laws.

Leviticus, then, sort of slides right in behind, carrying on where Exodus left off. The thing is, the more familiar I become with the rest of the Bible, the more these books of law and records make sense to me, and the more they help me understand other parts of the Bible. Cyclical, I know.

Not that I don’t also have questions about them. I do. Questions and observations.

Here’s one note, for instance, across from Exodus 21:16—“He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.”

My note: By this law, Joseph’s brothers would have been put to death.

Joseph’s brothers—the patriarchs by whom the twelve tribes were named. Their sin against Joseph was of the nature that should have cost them their lives. Instead they were forgiven and given places of prominence among the nation of Israel for all time. Who could do that but a God of grace?!

Or how about this note next to Leviticus 17:11-12—“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood.’ ”

My notes: How radical was Jesus’s statement “This is my blood . . . drink this . . . ” ! The blood is the life, so Jesus’s blood spilled for sinners was His life spent for the atonement of sinners. And the cup of the Lord’s supper? His life in us symbolized by our drinking of the cup.

This last was compiled over at least three different readings of the passage. Each time something new about the passage comes clear and one thought builds on another.

Or how about Numbers 7. It’s 89 verses long, but most of it is repetition enumerating the dedication offerings for the altar. Each day for twelve days a leader of one of the twelve tribes brought the exact same offering, and these are listed throughout the chapter, one after the other. All twelve of them:

and his offering was one silver dish whose weight was one hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; one gold pan of ten shekels, full of incense; one bull, one ram, one male lamb one year old, for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, five male lambs one year old. This was the offering of [tribal leader] the son of [father of tribal leader].

I don’t know why God repeated those lines twelve times, inserting, of course the different tribal names and their respective leaders and their fathers. But what I’ve noticed is that the margins of my Bible are covered with notes here (mostly questions). This was a passage I once skipped, then skimmed, then started trying to memorize, then began to ask questions about and notice details.

For instance, the order in which the tribes presented their sacrifice is not the same as the order of birth of the patriarchs or their listing by the name of their mother (the two most common ways they are listed throughout the first five books of the Bible). Instead, they’d been grouped in companies, three tribes to a group, each under the leadership of one particular tribe. By the order of these companies they were to camp and by the order of these companies they were to travel. It is this order, then, that they presented their sacrifices.

Significant? In thinking about the dynamics of the nation, it’s interesting and informative, especially in relation to its division into two kingdoms later on.

Back to the sacrifices: part included flour or incense offered in 12 bowls, 12 pans, and 12 dishes. Only the pans holding the incense were to be made of gold. The others were silver. Is there a reason for that? Was the incense a particularly important part of the worship or was it a practical matter—the blend of burning spices would have tarnished silver?

I don’t know, but it’s interesting to note that in Revelation the prayers of the saints are referred to as incense.

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Rev. 5:8)

All this to say, there are all kinds of interesting connections, some literal and some symbolic, that I am beginning to see, especially in the New Testament, as a result of reading Leviticus and Numbers. I understand the book of Hebrews better, for instance, and a number of things that the gospels chronicle make more sense.

I have to mention this one: one of the laws in Leviticus was that a person with an “issue of blood” would be unclean—i.e. not able to join in the worship ceremonies and feasts. Furthermore, anyone that person touched would also be unclean.

So in the New Testament when the woman with the “issue of blood” touched the edge of Jesus’s clothing, she didn’t want to touch Him to cause Him to become unclean. He, on the other hand, didn’t rebuke her, but had compassion on her because her suffering had been much deeper than the physical. She’d been ostracized and separated from worship for all those years. And still she believed.

So today, I’m especially grateful for the books of Leviticus and Numbers and for the way God makes His word come alive. He is a faithful God.

Published in: on September 8, 2014 at 6:35 pm  Comments (1)  
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