The Lord Jesus warned and rebuked the self-righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees in His day. Many in modern-day pulpits are contented to think that this warning and declaration of woes are merely applicable to the past (particularly Matthew 23); perhaps to the Romish religion in the time of the Reformation. But that assumes that God’s Word has no eternal weight that is relevant and applicable throughout the ages.
If we objectively look at the formation and development of this elite religious leaders, we will find many such traits in the modern-day setting. The chief characteristic seems to stem from the worship of human tradition, or if we were to paraphrase, the reliance upon human wisdom, numbers and dependence. A modern writer warned that these Pharisees were quick to “gang-up” with one another against a weaker “foe” – especially in cornering and badgering the poor victim with threats, insinuations and force of numbers (refer to the dealings they had with the healed blind man in John’s Gospel). Instead of allowing God’s Word to rule over them, we have human structures that centres on a man or a group of men – who gets to determine (authoritatively) the principles and applications of God’s Word. Although this may sound exactly as what the typical Evangelical church (bible-believing) touts, the problem is that there is no check and balances: there is essentially a pope or a few high-level individuals determining the Word of God.
This is not to say that God’s Word is open to ANY and EVERY interpretation. To swing to the other extreme is the natural bane of our fallen human nature. However, there ought to be the openness and humility to counter personal opinions and inclinations rather than a finality set by a human figure(s). It is this very structure and reliance that dominated the Jewish society that was surrounded by a pluralistic society. Sadly, the same occurrence happens very often in the modern-day world – among the unsuspecting churchgoers.
What then is the measure of a church that pleases the Lord and which edifies the soul? Is it in their bold claim of biblical faithfulness, accuracy or in the multiplication of activities and numbers? The apostle Paul sheds light on this through the inspired Word of Scriptures in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 “Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him“. In dealing with the matter on eating food offered to idols, there were many arguments for and against. There were certainly those who were very argumentative and strongly opinionated – who could obviously give long answers to why a Christian can or cannot eat this or that. But is that the answer? Is that what Christianity hinges on… the ability and eloquence of an argument? No. It is not about “knowledge” or a “clever, thought-out argument”. It is about “love”. Not mere actions, but a heart that is warmed by the love, concern, grace that first comes from above. It is this type of heart that is able to discern what to do – by counting others better than themselves, that overlooks petty wrongs done to them and more.
In an age where churches are becoming mega-organisations, it is not surprising that the Christian believer finds their comfort and identity in the local church identity that is carved by human traditions and human activities and human history, rather than the biblical church that is created and built up by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the task of the Christian believer to advance through dangerous terrain and look out for “Christianity” that is truly and fully scented with Christ – that love that better explains the Word of God than the thousands of creeds and books ever would! Let us lift that type of Christianity up; one that is unleavened and yet one that is growing into the tree that it is purposed for. Amen.