So if you were in loving fellowship together and three new chaps came along with “scribes and Pharisees” written on their foreheads – how would you react?
In the UK we used to have – still do – a lot of breweries. The Big Ones have their own chains of tied-pubs. Which means the pubs are contractually bound to stock and sell approved products dictated by the brewery, at prices set by the brewery, and stocked by the brewery. There are some pubs who prefer the freedom of not having all that – they are called free-houses. They stock whatever they want – but (as they are pubs) usually beer and spirits as well (just with different labels). And each pub has its own regulars. And there is loads of debate about which are the better beers, about the unfair levels of taxation, about supermarkets selling beer more cheaply than the pubs. About all the reasons that pubs are not allowed a level playing field. And that we should all be encouraged to spend more time in pubs rather than at home in front of our tv’s drinking beer.
But back to that loving fellowship and the label of “scribes and Pharisees”. I don’t hear that label used much nowadays. But I do hear labels like “Legalistic” or “Charismatic” or “Evangelist” or “Traditional” or “Happy Clappy” or (just) “Old” … And I am curious –
What is the difference between our labels (and all that goes with that) and the label of “scribes and Pharisees” (and all that went with that)?
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!” Matthew 12:38-42
“Scribes and Pharisees” – we isolate them as we read our bibles – almost in a pantomime way: they are behind you! … oh no they’re not … oh yes they are … We make them the visible enemy within: “We wish to see a sign. Now. One that will allow us to trip you up.” To which Jesus responds with a few well-chosen verses. Just as we should. Just as we do.
But Jesus never does “that” to “us” (which proves we are not scribes or Pharisees).
So why do congregations and churches label (and self-label) who they are … why do they label (and self-label) their preferred theology “ologies” … why label and self-label their way of being with God compared to others … and why label the “un-churched way” of being without God … ? And why are “metrics” touted and counted.
Because to count things you have to label them first. And head offices (of each church) get into a lot of counting – which means a lot of labeling. And they then issue more and more initiatives to their “tied churches”. And the free-churches (and the un-churched in front of their tv’s thinking about God – or the absence of God) look on.
Does that – again – sound like breweries and beer (and just how does any of this bring any of us closer to God)? And just why don’t we use the label of “scribes and Pharisees” anymore?
I think the phrase “scribes and Pharisees” is too aggressive in open conversation. And good Christians are never aggressive in public. Good Christians are “true” and “correct” biblically – (cue the massive “leeway” in that statement!). But that is not being “aggressive”. That is defending the God we love. That is highlighting false teaching. That is being a good Christian.
I think we have come to believe our own labels. In public and private. I think we have found a way to continue the “Pharisaical way” without calling it that. And I wonder …
Have we created a new language of labels to be “aggressive in love” – and is this plethora of “new” labels that new language? Because there are so many “new” labels available – it’s almost a sin! And that brings me to this – which does make curious!
Something said often by so many (usually in prayer): “Dear Lord and Father – show us a sign – let us know what you intend us to do, in the name of Jesus we ask. Amen.” And then when someone “brings a sign” there is a debate over who is right. And head office has to make a ruling – and then communicate that ruling – and cope with all those who agree or disagree (or who simply carry on doing what they always have).
Is it just me – or does that have the ring of these verses “back in the day” and the good old scribes and Pharisees?
So – more and more – I wonder whether the scribes and Pharisees were not evil. More and more I see them immersed in their way of worship and religion. And because they were the establishment – they had the casting vote on how religious things were, are and should be. So Jesus wasn’t at all welcome.
We call all that The Church nowadays.
Back in “the day” the scribes and Pharisees were today’s Church. And there were factions. Today we call them denominations. And those different factions-denominations all believe the same thing differently. Which is why I am curious …
How does that
log in our own eye blind-spot work today?