Thursday, January 2, 2014

Liberal Pharisees

People in more theologically liberal churches often accuse conservative Christians of legalism. Sometimes, their accusations have merit, since a person may adopt outward indications of conservative theology without genuinely depending on the shed blood of Jesus Christ as their only claim to righteousness. In such cases, liberals justifiably use the tern "Pharisee" to describe the hypocrisy that some conservatives exhibit.

Indeed,  Jesus decried the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He saw how they used their "expertise" in Scripture to gain political standing and ecclesiastical power rather than humbly obeying God's Word out of  love for Him. In fact, many of them actually subjugated the very Scriptures they  so adamantly professed to follow in favor of human practices that, despite their appearance of spirituality, had absolutely nothing to do with the Lord's teachings.

 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” ~~Matthew 15:1-9 (ESV)

Jesus never faulted the Pharisees' devotion to Scripture, but rather He condemned their hypocritical deviation from it. He wanted them to follow Scripture as God had intended, and He opposed their habits of cherry-picking and substitution. If  anything, Jesus pretty much exposed their liberal interpretation of God's commandments, particularly in the area of marriage:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” ~~Matthew 19:3-9 (ESV)

As I observe 21st Century liberal evangelicals, it certainly seems as if they take after the Pharisees much more than their conservative counterparts do. Like cagey lawyers, they scour the Bible in
search of loopholes, wrenching verses out of context, fiddling with Greek and Hebrew definitions and/or playing shell games with semantics. They seek to justify sexual sin, blend Christianity with other forms of spirituality or base salvation on human achievement, twisting Scripture until it accommodates their purposes.

Therefore, theological liberals may well deserve to be called legalistic Pharisees as much (if not more) than their conservative counterparts. Whenever either group adulterates God's Word with human philosophies, especially while professing allegiance to Scripture, they display the same hypocrisy that Jesus confronted among the Pharisees. We must all repent of self-righteousness, bowing before the Lord Who calls us righteous on the basis of what He did on the cross.

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