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Pharisaic Little Brats

I grew up going to churches. By the time I could create memories, my parents were very involved in churches. The majority of my early childhood memories involve being at a church or church activity. I learned a lot at churches. I learned it was okay to talk about people’s sin behind their back as long as it was for prayer or for warning. I learned it was okay to evaluate someone’s spiritual maturity based upon one’s personal judgment of their actions. I learned that liberals were both terribly misguided individuals and far from God. I learned that the consumption of alcohol was a sin and a sign that someone had strayed from God. I learned that certain words regardless of social context, manner of use, and the heart behind the one using them were wrong to use at all times. The mere morphemes that the words consisted of made them sinful and the use or nonuse of these words was an indicator of one’s relationship with God. I learned that smokers were caught in sinful addiction and that they needed to confess their sin and be saved by Jesus so that they would stop their smoking.

I went to a church that accepted smokers, swearers, drinkers, and political liberals into its congregation. My church was a good church and thought of itself as a good church because it accepted people like this. We took the people other churches didn’t want, these spiritual outsiders with their filthy sinful habits, so that Jesus might reach out to them and save them. I remember people at church going outside to have a smoke, alone. I remember people talking about how now they decided to follow Jesus and quit smoking, and in the same breath subtly criticizing those who smoke as sinners precisely because they smoke. I remember one time my mother telling my father she thought she smelled alcohol on someone’s breath and I remember hearing the sincere concern both of them had that this individual had consumed alcohol.

I learned a lot of things in the church I attended, one full of people with sincere hearts, about what it meant to follow Jesus. And I became a Pharisee. I started looking down on smokers. I started thinking of liberals as idiots. I associated alcohol with sin. I assumed that any swear word in any situation was someone spitting in God’s face. I had learned the church law from my church family and I started holding myself and others to this law. Anyone who didn’t follow it was sinful and needed Jesus. I became one who had much judgment and little mercy. It is my own fault, my arrogance, and the sin within me that caused me to become Pharisaic, but I sure wish someone would have taught me what the Bible says.

I recently heard stories from loved ones about a church. The stories were related to dealing with children in the church. Some of the people who were in charge of leading the youth in the church were going to make a rule for other leaders that they couldn’t smoke if they wanted to be a spiritual leader for the youth. The concern was that parents would get the wrong idea and that the leaders should be models to imitate. I heard another story about a young girl who was confused if she should be friends with a person at school because she went to the other girl’s house and found out the father had alcohol in the basement and he drank sometimes. The girl was unsure if it was okay to even associate with someone whose parent drank alcohol. After hearing these stories, day after day I would pray and I would weep.

I was afraid they would turn out like I did. For it seems that they are being taught through example the same lies that I learned from my church. It would be better for these kids to die at 40 with lung cancer than for them to live as Pharisees, believing that their version of the law and the good news of the Messiah were equivalent. I am scared they will become like I did, thinking that the power of the Holy Spirit was given to make us better law abiders. I am frightened that these poor young ones will take the laws they learned from their church and hold others to the same traditions of men that I once held people to. I’m afraid they will learn to judge others’ relationship with God based upon a handful of taboo behaviors. I’m afraid these kids might become Pharisaic like I once was, becoming like the very people Jesus was harshest with.

If we don’t talk about the many things Scripture says implicitly about things like smoking (“Everything is permissible, but I will not be mastered by anything;” Obey the authorities not only because of fear of punishment, but because of conscience; etc.) we won’t really be teaching the next generation of Christ followers how to live as a disciple of Jesus. If we model for them that smoking is sinful, then it is likely they will judge smokers and equate the use or nonuse of tobacco as a way to gauge one’s level of obedience to Jesus. If we are treating smoking as some sign of immaturity, we’re damaging the youth by not talking about the dangers of smoking while acknowledging that through thankfulness inhaling a cigarette can be an act that glorifies Jesus.

We need to teach children that having a relationship with God is not incongruent with smoking a cigarette. We need to teach our children that the Law has died with Christ and no longer has power. We need to teach the future generations of Jesus followers that there are inherent dangers in many behaviors, but what is important is that in all things Jesus is Lord. The kingdom of God is not one of drinking or smoking, but is about something far more significant, life that is truly life. We have to stop stacking laws onto what is necessary to be justified and live righteously before God, or may we be eternally condemned. If we add Law to the good news, we destroy the good news and are left with impotent rules that cannot make anyone right before God.

  1. David C. Miller
    January 6, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Amen, amen, and amen. How quick we are to turn the Gospel into another law (a glawspel, you might say?) and Jesus into the new Moses.

    In Luke’s gospel, he pairs the parable of the Good Samaritan with Jesus rebuking Martha despite all the truly good stuff she’s doing. We should do good works and follow the law, obviously, but we should remember why: Jesus. Just as he died in our place, he followed the law perfectly in our place.

    This is not to say that the grace of God DOESN’T teach us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us, and that process of sanctification is effective. But this side of death, it’s an incomplete process.

  2. January 7, 2011 at 5:40 pm


  3. January 10, 2011 at 4:32 am

    But are you saying that to avoid going to the Pharisaical extreme, we should just pop on over to the opposite, where every action is ok as long as the person really loves Jesus?

  4. January 10, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Nope, that’s not really the point. And I would probably put those things on a different spectrum. Pharisee-like judgmentalism is on the same side of the spectrum as any other sin. But let’s not allow our children to have ideas taught about sin that are mere “rules taught by men” or are traditions of a culture.

  5. David C. Miller
    January 15, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    A study of the book of James is a good way to avoid ‘popping over to the opposite extreme’. Whereas Paul in Galatians and elsewhere is dealing with Christians who are misusing God’s Law and expecting it to save them, James is writing to Christians who are misusing the Gospel as an excuse to sin freely.

  6. January 27, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    good text

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