I hate to have to tell you this, but…calling me a Pharisee because I identity certain behaviors as “sinful” based upon biblical texts actually makes you more of a Pharisee than me.
Sadly, today’s religious progressive thinks that by charging evangelicals with the crime of Phariseeism whenever we speak of a behavior (especially homosexuality) as sinful, they are automatically in the corner with Jesus. Obviously, they believe once they have called us Pharisees the argument is over because after all, everyone knows Jesus hated the Pharisees right? The Pharisees were the founding fathers of the religious right and were primarily responsible for the crucifixion of Christ. Everyone knows this.
Not even close.
To begin with, who do you think Jesus was questioning and learning from in the Temple when he was 12 years old and went missing (Luke 2:41-51)? It was the Pharisees who were considered the teachers (doctors) of the religious law and regularly taught in the Temple. Certainly, this in no way excuses the hostility that developed between Christ and the Pharisees later on but it is telling that He did not always view them as stumbling blocks to the people of God. Today’s progressives often carry on about the Pharisees as though they were viewed in their own time by God and the average Jew the same way progressives look at fundamentalists: as ignorant toothless rednecks carrying around King James Bibles shaming people into being born again. On the contrary, Jesus Himself recognized the Pharisees scriptural knowledge. The problem was what they were doing with it.
The issue Jesus had with the Pharisees wasn’t that they were frequently wrong in their biblical admonitions. At one point He even said, “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you…”(Matt. 23:2). The issue was how they manipulated the Scripture as a means to cultural status and political power. He went on to say “They do all their deeds to be seen by others…and they love the place of honor at the feasts and the best seats in the synagogues” (Matt. 23:5-6). Look around at the progressives in the Church today. Isn’t that precisely how they thrive? I can’t tell you the times progressives, in seeking to justify some sexual sin (usually homosexuality ), trot out Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery with “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Of course they intentionally omit His last words to her “go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11) which clearly implies He recognized her sexual activity as sin and that He viewed it as something which had to stop. That is manipulation of Scripture for personal gain (status and a place of honor among the progressive elites and the unrepentant homosexual community) which is far more Pharisaical than biblically defining sexual sin.
Furthermore, Jesus did not hate the Pharisees and not all the Pharisees were opposed to Him. Some of those who did oppose Him later changed their minds (see Acts 15:5). That is not to suggest there wasn’t major contentiousness between Jesus and most of the Pharisees. However, for progressives to call modern day evangelical Christians, Pharisees, is simply a rhetorical device utilized in an attempt to diminish and pigeonhole people with whom they are in strong disagreement. It’s analogous to condemning anyone who opposes President Obama’s policies as being a racist. It is an instinctive reaction to being confronted with an uncomfortable truth supported by reality. In most instances all the progressives are doing when they call an evangelical a Pharisee is saying, “We are better friends with Jesus than you” which in their minds means Jesus is on their side. Apparently, they forget that one of Jesus’ closest friends earned the scathing comment “Get behind me Satan!” (Matt. 16:23). If you want to use Jesus as your team captain you should remember His words, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). Just ask Peter.
Jesus did not form a clique of special people who were to be revered because of their proximity to Him. Rather, He formed a covenant society that was to be defined not by His presence among them but by their faithfulness to His revelation and obedience to His word (Matt. 7:24-27). Progressives just don’t seem to understand that Jesus wasn’t establishing a check list for acceptance. He was unveiling a holy God and inviting everyone into a righteous relationship with Him (based on said holiness).
Finally, the notion that the Pharisees were responsible for the crucifixion of Christ represents a ghastly shortsightedness from a theological perspective. It’s like saying that since I wasn’t in the Garden of Eden, Adam’s sin was his alone. Consequently, I am not tainted with original sin. Wishful thinking. When Paul said, “For as in Adam all die…” (1 Cor. 15:22) he didn’t mean that somehow Adam’s choice to disobey God was somehow passed along genetically. He meant there is no human being who ever has been born or ever will be who would have resisted the temptation to sin against God. We’re all Adam. Likewise, we’re all Pharisees responsible for orchestrating the Crucifixion of the Son of God. The progressive is every bit as much personally responsible for crucifying Jesus Christ as the evangelical, as the Pharisee, as Pilate, as the atheist.
The problem with religious progressives is their commitment to a narrative rather than to the truth and wherever it leads. The narrative they insist upon is that whenever love and holiness seem to conflict, love must always supersede it. The holiness of God is offended by sin. The love of God does away with the primitive identification of certain behaviors as sin. Love wins. Holiness gets reformatted, if you will, and reemerges as tolerance and acceptance. It's interesting though, that both the angels of Isaiah's vision in Isaiah 6:3 and John's vision in Revelation 4:8 said of God, not "Love, love, love is the Lord God Almighty" but "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord..." The holiness of God which is always offended by sin cannot be so nonchalantly dispatched as the progressives seem to think.
Yet in their view the Pharisees were all about the Law and the Law is all about holiness. And apparently, for them, holiness was some phase God went through but got over after the Crucifixion. Pharisees represent restriction and restraint based on holiness and are therefore anathema to the love of God. Imagine that…restraining the lusts of the flesh and restricting self-indulgence undermines the love of God.
The only way a progressive can arrive there is to embellish a lot of Scripture while burying even more. Something Jesus said the Pharisees did a lot of. So when a progressive calls me a Pharisee for identifying homosexuality or abortion or selfishness as sins, I just say a silent prayer asking God to open the eyes of this descendant of the Pharisees who is calling me a Pharisee.
Like I said, not even close.