Pharisees get a bad rap…of course, they got a bad rap all on their own…they kinda dug themselves a bit of a whole (at least from a gospel perpsective). Historically speaking, the Pharisees weren't all bad. Think of them as preservers…archivists…a religious accountability club…because that is essentially what they were. Unfortunately, they got a bit out of control…at least that's what Jesus tells us. And that's the point – what starts out as a loving confrontation or even loving guidance in other people's lives to "keep their eyes on the prize" (that would be Paul's language in Philippians) can all of the sudden spin out of control and become what Pharisees are really known for (at least biblically) – judgmentalism. So, a new pal of mine in our faith community wrote a GREAT blog post on that subject…and you should read it…really you should. And if you don't…oops, see how easy it is to judge!
Silence Your Inner Pharisee kirstenveatchcarlson
Before you begin reading, say this little prayer with me: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24).
What I am about to write may upset you. This is not an easy topic to post, and I’m sure I’m going to get a lot of arguments, but it is one that has weighed heavy on my heart for several months now. I am going to say this as clear as I can: Christians, STOP judging everyone! STOP judging non-believers. STOP judging other Christians and how they practice their faith. STOP comparing one denomination against the other. STOP thinking that your brand of Christianity is better than another. Just STOP!
Christ said, the two greatest commandments are to, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind’…and the second like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matt 22:37-39). Let me make this clear: when you start judging people, you have no time to love them (Mother Theresa). I am just as guilty as the next person, but I am eternally thankful to the person who had the courage to put me in my place recently, and now, I would like to pass that same wisdom on to you. I am going to focus on Christians judging other Christians, because I think this is where we give ourselves the worst name.
As Christians, we are meant to show love for everyone, especially other Christians, but how often do we find ourselves saying, “Oh, those ________ (Catholics, Mormons, Baptists, Methodists, insert denomination here), they aren’t real Christians. They don’t really worship Christ, not the way I do at least. They are all screwy. I know the Truth where they don’t.”
Have you ever said something like that? Right now you might be thinking, “Well, yah, _______ aren’t really Christians.” Here is my question to you: How do you know? Have you been in their church? Have you heard their message? Where did your information come from? Did you take the time to understand how that church focused on Christ, or where it was lacking? Or is this something you are assuming based on the flawed opinions of others? If you can honestly say that a Christian church you attended had nothing to do with Christ, well, then I’d say you have a case against it. But instead of condemning…pray.
Christ. He is what unites us all in the Christian faith, and yet we use Him to tear each other apart. Yes, we don’t always agree with each other’s dogma. Yes, we all practice a little differently. Yes, there are parishioners who may confuse their “practice drills” (like rites and rituals) with the actual game (a personal relationship with Christ), but aren’t those individuals present in every denomination? The thing is, you have no idea about the state of anyone else’s personal relationship with Christ. The only relationship you can know is your own. Period.
Recently, a woman approached me stating she was surprised to be converting to Catholicism. She was raised Protestant and was told Catholics were not Christian. She married a Catholic and when she finally sat down and talked with a priest about Catholic beliefs, she discovered that she had been wrong her entire life. She had no basis for her anti-Catholic attitude. She allowed herself to sit upon a throne of judgment based on what she had “heard” over the years. Let me tell you this, that throne does not belong to you! Just try and sit in it, I promise you will be put in your place…but more on that in a bit.
Jesus wanted all of us to have a personal relationship with God. He never turned away anyone who cried out to him, even if that person belonged to a different tribe, was seen as a sinner, appeared unclean, whatever. The people you see Jesus rebuking were not the sinners, or the outsiders, but the Pharisees, the rich, the “I haves and you have not.” He was extremely critical of their “I’m better than you are, especially in the eyes of God” attitude. That said, we must realize that we all are Pharisaical to some extent, and in need of reprimand from time to time.
Christ was angered by the actions of the Pharisees. Why? For several reasons: One, they often did things that “looked” appropriate for the praise of others, not necessarily for God. They followed God’s Law but didn’t grow their hearts and minds in their relationship with Him. They neglected the more important matters like justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matt 23:23). Two: They would speak the Words of Moses, but their actions would contradict their words. They said one thing than did another. They expected others to live by God’s law, but found excuses as to why it didn’t always apply to them. They were hypocritical. (Matt 23:2-3,26). Three: They kept people from the Kingdom of Heaven by prescribing their own doctrine concerning right and wrong and dictated how others could enter (Matt 23:13). This list goes on, but you get the point.
So right now you may be going through all the wrongs of the Pharisees and assigning blame. “Oh, this group does that…and that group does this.” And look…look hard…search your heart…here you are being a Pharisee too. Give Romans Chapter 2 a quick read. It starts like this, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Romans 2:1)
Here’s the Truth: We are all sinful. We are all wrong. We are all weak sighted in this fallen human form, and we absolutely do not know or understand God as well as we thinkwe do. None of us deserves salvation, and yet we have it. God’s mercy is a gift that He gives to everyone who calls upon the Lord. If you believe in Christ and call out to Him, according to Scripture you are saved. Scripture does not say, if you call out to Him you will be saved as long as you fall into some Protestant, Catholic, or other specific denomination…or if you live the perfect life, go to the perfect church, listen exclusively to Christian music on the radio, etc.
Am I saying it is wrong to be concerned about others? To care about their salvation? Absolutely not! We should care about everyone’s salvation. Like with our children, we are to love and teach about God’s love in words and action. We gently instruct how He wants us to have a personal relationship with Him. Sometimes we rebuke wrongful actions, but we do so with mercy, love, and prayer (at least that is the goal). For some reason, though, when dealing with outsiders, we condemn them before we love them. We label people as having no relationship with Christ, when maybe we are the blind ones. Maybe we are the ones whose relationship is suffering because we are too busy pointing out how fallen and sinful everyone else is.
This goes for people outside the Christian faith too. Remember the parable of the workers in the vineyard: whether you began working at 5 a.m. or 5 p.m., God pays us all the same wage because He is a generous Lord. You don’t know who will come to the field later in the day. Today’s atheist may be tonight’s believer. Remember, it doesn’t matter when we come to the Lord, He saves us all equally, and none of us has any right to argue with God’s generosity because none of us deserves it (Matthew 20). Don’t condemn anyone! Again, it is not your right to judge others, nor your place in this life or the next.
Jesus specifically instructs, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned” (Luke 6:37). “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:41-41).
Still arguing that someone is not a “true” Christian? Remember, Jesus says to His disciples, “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.” (Mark 9:39-41).
Like I said earlier, I am just as guilty as anyone of being judgmental. A few months ago I was complaining about some people I’d met from a “Bigger, Cooler Church” who seemed kind of snotty with a “My Church is Way Better Than Your Church” kind of attitude. After my small group meeting, I started espousing that this church—along with other mega churches that appeared too focused on fancy light shows and loud music—must be flawed. To me, these churches seemed only concerned with their coolness factor and getting as many people through the door as possible—people, who were primarily interested in being a part of a rock concert and less interested (in my perception) in hearing God’s Word.
Now, I love Christian Rock on the radio. Perhaps my Catholic “if you put a tambourine in the choir you have suddenly transformed the service into a hip youth mass” kind of attitude lent itself to my skewed perception. But that’s just an excuse. I was being judgmental. I was being Pharisaical by prescribing my own standard for bringing someone to Jesus.
Thankfully the pastor of a much lamer church (hee hee, kind of an inside joke…you know who you are) verbally slapped me along side my head. He posed this question to me that I pose to you today, “How do you know that people aren’t being led to a personal relationship with Christ just because the church is big and flashy (or different from yours)? Have you attended their service? Have you heard their message about Christ? Who are you to judge?”
Of course, my first instinct was to argue. Although I was completely ignorant about what their service really entailed, I just knew I was right. It was then that this same pastor threw me for another loop, “Well, if you truly believe they are wrong, then you should be praying for them.” SLAP!
Sure, I could sit here and complain—point out the specks in the eyes of other people—but truly, who did I think I was? I am sinner like the next person. I don’t know everything. The only relationship with Christ I can vouch for is my own…not my friends, not my parents, not my husband, not even my children. Just as each of us is different, we are called to our relationship with Christ differently. The most important part is that we have that relationship. We all fall. We all struggle. I can’t know for certain the state of anyone else’s salvation. I can only work to improve my own relationship and do the most important thing God instructs: to love Him with my whole heart and mind, and to love others as He loves me, with compassion and mercy. And if I feel something is not right, to pray for God to fix it.
The funny thing about God, the more I started to pray for Him to fix the hearts of other people, the more He showed me (and still does) how much I need to fix within my own. I was completely wrong in my assessment of this mega church and have since discovered so many wonderful, faith filled people who attend a multitude of churches (including said mega church). I have discovered we can all learn a little something from each other about growing our relationships with Christ (and the fact that we Catholics have a long way to go in becoming hip—sorry, the tambourine just doesn’t cut it)! The take away from all this: the next time you find yourself sitting upon a throne of judgment and start to pray for God to change someone else’s heart, say the quick prayer at the end of Psalm 139 (you know, the one we said at the beginning of this blog…about 30 minutes ago). You might be surprised that the heart He changes is your own.