Friday, April 23, 2004
I confess that I found myself in a pickle this week. I wanted a column where Gamaliel responded to his detractors who accused him of being a "Pharisee." Since he already wears the name with pride, I had to substitute a competing sect's name so the column would make sense. You and I know that "Sadducee" in the passage below means "Pharisee" in the common sense of how we use it today. I hope I don't confuse too many of you, so sit back and enjoy this week's missive.
I have been getting a great deal of hate e-mail lately. I don't know where these people are coming from but they accuse me of being legalistic and even go so far as to call me a "Sadducee" because of my preaching on godliness and holiness. As everyone knows, the Sadducees were a Jewish sect during the time of Christ who were opposed to the teachings of Jesus and made up the bulk of the Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus to death. Jesus reserved some of his harshest words for them and it upsets me that people would accuse our good Pharisee church of being a bunch of Sadducees.
What most people who accuse us of being Sadducee zealots do not realize is that the error of Sadduceeism was not their zeal for the Word of God. In point of fact, they had no zeal for God's word. Rather, they were zealous for their interpretation of God's word. They sought to elevate and promote the cause of their own self-righteousness by interpreting the Bible to suit themselves rather than trying to find out what God really wanted and imposing that on others like we do. They wanted to set up their own religious system that allowed them to bind heavy burdens of their own making on others while trumpeting their own piety. Those of us who are genuine Pharisee believers would never stoop so low as to supplant Biblical truth with personal preference. We would never elevate Pharisee tradition and opinion over the Word of God. And we would never presume to proclaim our own piety over the worldliness of the masses.
What we really need to understand is that Jesus did not rebuke the Sadducees for their zeal in upholding the details of the law. As a matter of fact he actually praised them for doing this in Matthew 23:23. The things Jesus rebuked the Sadducees for include:
- Replacing the word of God with their own traditions (Matthew 15:1-9). Our particular branch of the Pharisee church has no traditions like the mainline denominations so we cannot supplant the word of God with those of our own making. Sure, we have some customs and things that are unique to our expression of the faith, but we would never elevate them to the level of traditions that are on par or above the Bible. The Bible promotes godly dress and the fact that we preach what godly dress is, doesn't mean we have created a "tradition" in the traditional sense. It is not a "tradition" of Pharisee churches to abstain from alcohol but a practice.
- Perverting the gospel (Matthew 12:22-24). Good Pharisees that we are, we would never add or subtract anything from the simple gospel of grace of Jesus Christ. All of the rules and conditions that we discuss in church are simply evidence that the gospel really "took" in particular individuals. We don't say that you have to live a perfect life to be saved, but we do say that if you are saved, you will endeavor - and to a great extent succeed - in leading a perfect life.
- Being self-righteous (Luke 18:9-14). We are far from self-righteous. All of our perfection, good works, conformity with the Word of God and general goodness are a result of the grace of God. We can't take any credit for the nearly sinless lives that we lead. The high standards that we maintain in living lives that are better than anyone else's are purely a result of the action of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. It is not that we live better lives because we are so good in our own selves but we have a better faith than anyone else that allows God to work in and through us in a tremendous way that is far superior to what worldly people live. And of course, all that glory goes back to God, not ourselves anyway.
- Gross hypocrisy (Mark 12:15; Luke 12:1). It is a deceptive slander to label Pharisees like us who love Jesus, honor the Bible and humble ourselves as "a bunch of Sadducees." A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be something they are not. Those of us who are true Pharisees cannot be guilty of hypocrisy because we really are godly, righteous, holy, pure and reverent at all times. It is only the one who pretends to be such but doesn't live up the standards we live up to who are hypocrites.
So Christians who stand for the Bible, including the smallest details of the word of God, who have the holy boldness to preach against error and call it what it is, who have the convictions of an Old Testament prophet, who have the courage to speak out against the moral lassitude of our day and the excesses of our permissive society are often labeled "Sadducees." But the fact remains, that God did not come to call sinners into heaven but to take the Righteous home to be with him. The best thing I can do is maintain a Biblical Pharisee position and thank God that we are not like other men, including the publicans around us.
Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?"
Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
John 9:39-41 (NIV)
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