A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

The Religion of the Pharisees (Part 1)

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV
(28)  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
(29)  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
(30)  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This subject has been on my mind now for some months.  I keep seeing it crop up in the stories that many of you tell us. In particular, the stories about your experiences with your church when you asked for help with an abusive marriage. Issues of divorce, marriage, separation, remarriage, submission and headship – all of these and more arise in these kinds of scenarios, and what is so often being applied to them as God’s Word just doesn’t seem to ring true with what Jesus says is His easy yoke.

I do not want to stereotype, categorize, and slam every local church, every pastor, or every Christian.   That would be to slide into an ugly self-righteousness.  Nor do I  want to be some kind of crazy conspiracy theorist who suggests that there is some united, malevolent scheme in place that wars against abused Christians.  Well, let me think through that last sentence and re-phrase.  I don’t want to be the kind of nutcase who imagines conspiracies that aren’t there.  But when I wrote that phrase about “a united, malevolent scheme in place that wars against Christians (abused or otherwise)” – it struck me that I am not imagining something that doesn’t exist.  There IS such a conspiracy.  The god of this world is at the head of it.  It is united.  It is malevolent. And we are in the fight whether we like it or not, or whether we know it or not.

If Satan has, in centuries past, established false religion in place of true religion, are we so foolish to think that he would not keep trying the same thing over and over again?  Scripture, in both Old and New Testaments gives us many accounts of how the true shepherds of the people of God were usurped by false shepherds.  The Pharisees, scribes, priests and Sadducees are the New Testament example, but the same types were around in, for instance, Jeremiah’s day -

Jeremiah 2:8, The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?’ Those who handle the law did not know me; the shepherds transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit.

Jeremiah 10:21, For the shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.

Jeremiah 12:10, Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard; they have trampled down my portion; they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.

The Lord promises a day when these false shepherds would be no more.  Instead, true shepherds – undershepherds of Christ the Chief Shepherd  would pastor His flock:
Jeremiah 23:1-4 “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. (2) Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. (3) Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. (4) I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD.”

Once more,  do not misunderstand.  I am not setting out in this series to label as a false shepherd every pastor or theologian we have criticized in regard to their mis-handling of abuse.   But what I do want to accomplish is to bring to light the mentality, the nature, the tactics and teachings of the oppressive religion that the Enemy of our souls has so often introduced among the people of God.  Then, I want to search out (with your help) examples of how that false religion is cropping up among us in our churches – and maybe in our own thinking as well.  This study cannot be a mission of speck-searching in the eyes of others unless it is preceded by some major logging in my own eye.  And I suppose that one of the chief reasons this matter has been on my mind of late is that the more I am seeing of what I call the New Pharisaism, the more I wonder how much of it is in me.

My plan is to begin at Matthew’s Gospel, and move right on through it, stopping every time the religion Jesus so harshly condemned makes an appearance.  We will examine it.  Think about it.  Ask questions about it and mark down its qualities and tactics.  Because I believe that it is this religion that strains out a gnat but swallows a camel that is behind the almost unbelievable teachings that abound in our conservative, Bible-believing churches today.  The thing has taken hold of us and we have accepted it without question.  And like a virulent virus, we just keep passing it on.

The remedy has to be in the infallible, inerrant Word of God.  We just need to find it.

 

8 Comments

  1. anonymous

    The articles I benefit from the most are those where you have taken scripture and expounded upon it. I look forward to these articles…

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thank you, Anon. Let’s pray that the Lord really opens up His truth to us, as He is faithful to do. I am looking forward to this study too.

  2. joepote01

    Jeff, I truly believe this is the greatest battle both for Christ’s church, overall, and for each of us as individuals. It is SO easy to get sucked into various forms of self-righteousness and legalism, and yet Christ so clearly stood against these.

    Each time I read the gospels I am struck by the realization that Jesus had a very active ministry among the masses, among the known sinners, among the prostitutes, the publicans, the tax collectors, the adulterers, and the average working class citizens.

    The one group, in Israel, among whom Jesus had almost no active ministry were the religious leaders…the ones who thought they had the Bible all figured out…

    That is a rather sobering thought…

    • Jeff Crippen

      Joe – Yes, in fact it is downright scary. I suppose that is why the Lord put so much on this topic in Scripture. Scary because that means we are all so prone to it. We make rules that make Christ hard to find. I am haunted of late by the thoughts that I myself have contributed to and participated in this kind of religion at least in part. Odd that the Lord used the study of abuse to open my eyes to it. Wherever we have established, unquestioning rules that burden people and alienate them from Christ, we will find the spirit of the Pharisee.

      Matthew 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

      • joepote01

        It is strange that we seem so drawn to rules, rather than relationship.

        And yet, we can see how Satan has exploited this, from the beginning. When the serpent first approached Eve, his very first question was phrased in such a way as to view her relationship with God from a legalistic viewpoint, “Indeed, has God said you shall not eat…?”

      • Jeff Crippen

        Then she added her own midrash/talmud – “…nor touch it.”

      • joepote01

        Yes, once “the rules” hold our focus, we feel compelled to add to them…to make them ever more burdensome…

        I keep thinking about learning to ride a bike, as a child. My older brother started pushing me along a dirt trail worn in the vacant lot next to our house, until I was pedaling and balancing on my own. Then he stopped to cheer me on, “Good job! Keep pedaling! Don’t hit the tree!”

        Bam! The front tire of my bike ran up the base of the giant oak that separated our yard from the vacant lot, spilling me onto the ground.

        Then we got up, walked the bike back to the far end of the vacant lot, and did it all over again…with the same results. The more he told me to be careful not to hit the tree, the more the bike automatically gravitated to the tree, against my will!

        Eventually, I figured out how to keep going…not by focusing on avoiding the tree, but rather by focusing on staying on the path.

        Where my attention is held determines where I will go, and what I will do.

        I can’t avoid sin by focusing on what not to do, but rather by focusing on what Christ calls me to do!

  3. Well said, Joe. The sin-bias in our natural selves cannot be overcome by mere striving not to sin. Resisting sin is never going to be sufficient in itself alone. Only when our souls are moved and inspired by love for God do we find ourselves able and willing to do what He wills, and it doesn’t seem like following a set of rules, it feels like joyous delight.

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