Thursday, April 11, 2013



In Luke 11:37-54 the increasing spirit of confrontation comes to a head when Jesus was invited by a Pharisee to dinner. When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.  
Then the Lord said to him, "Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you-be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
"Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
"Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.
"Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it."
One of the experts in the law answered him, "Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also." Jesus replied, "And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
"Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. 

Because of this, God in his wisdom said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.' Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.
"Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering."
When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say.

I recently came across the writings of Donald Williams on the net and he opened to me three universal problems of the religious leaders Jesus was facing and it's still with us today.
The FIRST problem is formalism-a commitment to outward forms-rituals, practices, creeds, type of worship, believing that these forms are key to true piety and make you acceptable to God. These forms aren't bad in themselves, but there can be a tendency toward an external focus rather than what flows out of the heart. Jesus points out their excessive emphasis on washings and cleansings. He has already provoked this part of formalism by not following through on the ceremonial washing as He entered the house. The Pharisee gloried in his washings as one of the most important evidence of being so self-righteous.

Jesus offers two answers when the Pharisee questioned Him on not washing. The first was the parable of cup. Pharisees were so careful to wash the outside of the cup, but the leave the inside filthy. In other words, all that really matters is how someone looks. The second thing Jesus does is to fire away with some sarcasm. He says your fathers killed the prophets and you build the tombs. In other words, you are complicit in the process of even making the death of the prophets look good on the outside. Formalism is just too shallow to amount to anything genuinely spiritual.
The SECOND problem is legalism-Legalism is not just a strict stance on the Law. Legalism believes that by keeping a list of do's and don'ts you will be able to earn God's acceptance and salvation. The focus here is keeping whatever set of rules you have adopted and that devotion to keeping the rules becomes the empty activity, again proceeding without the heart for it. Jesus pokes fun at their practices of tithing. They took tithing to the point where they would go through their spice rack and carefully measure out a tenth of each jar-while ignoring the more significant matters of the Law, such as love. This practice became "burdensome"

You see, Pharisees are hypocrites. But they were hypocrites, not only in the sense of talking one thing and doing another. They were hypocrites, because they were "hyper-critical"-knit-pickers, feather-pluckers. The Sabbath also became a badge of legalistic righteousness. The practice of keeping the Sabbath also became an empty ritual or, in this case, Law that must be kept to the nth degree no matter what. So, legalists do things because they "have to", not because they "want to."
The THIRD problem is clericalism-Clericalism is the wrong kind of dependence on the position of clergy. Within clericalism there are two classes of people-first class and coach. First class believers are the clergy-those who are in the professional ministry. It's the tendency to put clergy up on a pedestal above everyone else in the body of Christ.

When a person is in the hospital, get the pastor. Call the priest immediately. When someone needs prayer, we must wait for the pastor. I strongly disagree with this thinking. When a clergyman prays over someone, he puts his empty hands on a person's empty head and prays for God to come through on his behalf. Anyone can do that.

Formalism, legalism and clericalism are all very much alive among us and act as dangerous cancers in our fellowships. Jesus was totally upset by those who seek the best seats of honor in the synagogues. He was livid over the fact that these pseudo-leaders took the key to knowing God and His ways as if they were the gate-keepers of faith. Yet, these same gate-keepers have never gone into a full faith relationship themselves while hindering others in the process.

For many years I've been saying, "We don't need more ministers. We need more people ministering." Lord, deliver us from thinking we're something when we're not, from following a man-made list of do's and don'ts and from the pompous spirit of clericalism. Lord, deliver us from our tendency to be drawn to any of these Pharisaical practices that are empty and destructive. Lord Jesus, deliver us from ourselves.