Monday, May 09, 2005

Bar None's Monday Sessions and Modern-day Pharisaism

To everyone's great alarm, I managed to sleepwalk through the slippery well-waxed halls of power, hostile conference calls and antagonistic negotiations still in the lull of a pleasant discussively contemplative weekend.

Hours of peaceful reading at Teajoy, a cosy little chinese teahouse along North Bridge Road with its calligraphic rice paper lanterns and piped-in guzheng music, absently pouring tea from delicate clay teapots, sipping tiny cups of the unfermented stuff and nibbling seaweed crackers amongst mainland chinese murmurs, did nothing to wake me into the work week.

Fortunately, the heavy guitar and drum assault at Bar None's revived Monday Sessions jolted the brain sufficiently.


Over the weekend, people of different life experiences surprised themselves by confessing the same conclusion: pharisaism is alive and well in modern-day evangelicalism (if we are in a church that prides itself for being bible-believing and strong on the word, this is a danger we most probably face). Some confessors were past perpetrators and were presently struggling modern-day pharisees themselves. Others were bewildered victims of such modern-day pharisaism attempting vehemently to hold on to their faith and love their torturers.

Modern-day pharisaism has the following characteristics:
  • like the Pharisees of the days of old, we make up our own laws as to what it means to be "godly" or "sorted" or "mature";
  • like the Pharisees of the New Testament, these man-made laws were taken from correct and biblical theology, but somewhere along the line of transmission, what were once suggested applications of biblical principles in specific contexts became strict rules by which "godly", "sorted" and "mature" Christians should abide;
  • people in church are then judged unthinkingly and undiscerningly according to these rules. We encourage the strict, outward cold holiness of whitewashed tombs forgetting the theological root of such behaviour, absent of the gospel and the warm inner heart of love, grace and mercy.
Some examples of modern-day pharisaic rules include:
  • thou shalt not study for a higher or professional degree (eg. Masters or a PhD or professional specialisation) or thou shalt be known as an ungodly waster of time and money;
  • thou shalt not switch to a higher-paying job, for if thou (like in any other job, high or low-paying) art unable to attend bible study or service once in a while, thou shalt be condemned as "ungodly" and a slave to Mammon;
  • thou shalt not take a break from a job, for that is ungodly;
  • thou shalt not express thy emotions by clapping or swaying during songs;
  • thou shalt not be interested in modern culture, fashion nor sports;
  • thou shalt meet up with people in thy DG to do 1-to-1s, follow-up, gender-based studies;
  • if thou spout-eth the right theological answers and do not disagree with thy leaders, thou art "teachable" and "mature"...etc etc
Context, context, context
But the doing or neglect of these acts mean nothing in themselves. Gentle questions should be asked of an individual's motives and reasoning behind the doing or neglect of these acts.

In evangelical circles, we are adamant that the three most fundamental tenets of good bible reading are context, context, context. By the same principle, the three most fundamental tenets of reading a person's actions and behaviour should also be context, context, context: the context of that person as an individual with his unique personality, thought-patterns, background, history, situation in life, struggles etc. Jumping to conclusions about someone before ascertaining the context of his actions is like taking a bible passage out of context and using it to suit your own fancies.

Yet this contextual reading seldom happens in our evangelical circles.

Why not?
Because we think ourselves better than others
Like the Pharisee in Jesus' parable, perhaps we merely admit our sinfulness with our words but in reality think ourselves better than others and thus exalt ourselves, thanking God that we are not like other sinners who are "ungodly", "unsorted", "immature" or "unteachable" (Luke 18:9-14).

Because we are hypocrites who have lost our first love
Perhaps we are also like the Pharisees of Jesus' time who were whitewashed tombs, who outwardly appeared beautiful, but within were full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. They appeared outwardly righteous to others, but within them was hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27-28). So we may be concerned to appear evangelical, "godly", "sorted", "biblical", "theologically correct" and "mature", but have lost the love of God and neighbour and have ceased to be authentically concerned for the godliness and growth of others.

Because we are blind and stumble others
Thus making up our own laws and being concerned about the outward adherence to these laws, and holding up those who outwardly adhere to these laws as godly models, we lose our way and become like the Pharisees of old who:
  • tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but we ourselves are not willing to move them with our finger (Matthew 23:4);
  • do or encourage others to do all their deeds to be seen by others. For we make our phylacteries broad and our fringes long, and love the place of honour at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others (it's easy to think of the modern-day equivalents. Matthew 23:5-7);
  • shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces (Matthew 23:13).
Because we are blasé about sin and subsequent condemnation
Does modern-day pharisaism not seem like a big deal? Do we nonchalantly say, "Hey, at least we've got our God and theology right"?

Think of the hypocrisy and lack of love of God and neighbour. Think about the terrible stumbling of others as well. Unsurprisingly, Jesus had some harsh words for the Pharisees of his time:
  • they are blind (Matthew 23:26);
  • they are hypocrites (Matthew 23);
  • they are serpents and a brood of vipers (Matthew 3:7, 23:33);
  • they are children of hell (Matthew 23:15) for they cannot avoid being sentenced to hell (Matthew 23:33);
  • they will not enter heaven (Matthew 23:13).
Do we think that pharisaism died out in the first century? Sin did not die out, and neither did pharisaism, which is but another spawn of sin. Do we think pharisaism is an ok evil? Remember what Jesus said of the Pharisees. Both our salvation and the salvation of our disciples are at stake.

Pharisaism is ultimately an offense to the gospel of grace and mercy. Pharisees mouth the gospel but ultimately deny it in practice. Pharisaism causes the sheep to stumble and fall. Far too many people have left bible study groups and churches and the faith, fatally stung to the heart by this dreadful poison, administered by the very people who were to lead and guide them. God's sheep are precious to him and they should be precious to us too. On the last day, He will call for an accounting for the littlest sheep that we trip up.

May we always be vigilant against the all too beckoning yeast of the Pharisees. May God's Spirit and God's word in the Bible keep us from hurting and stumbling others in this prideful and wicked way.

Labels: , ,

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home