Thursday, June 29, 2006

Jesus the Radical

What was the nature of Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisees?

Most Christians would answer that the Pharisees saw keeping the Law as the way to earn God’s favor and that Jesus was proclaiming a new means of attaining God’s favor, namely grace.

But this is to misunderstand what was at the heart of Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees, to misunderstand the nature of the Old Covenant and to misunderstand the character of the Gospel itself.

In the Old Covenant, keeping the Law wasn’t the means by which a person participated in the covenant. It was rather the sign that a person was a member of the covenant community. Failure to keep the Law would result in a withdrawal of God’s blessings. But
the Old Covenant was rooted in God’s loving-kindness and faithfulness as much as the New Covenant would be.

The Pharisees valued a strict observance of the Law, especially concerning ritual purity and tithing, as an essential sign of God’s presence and blessing. This was so important that they developed an oral tradition that was more strict than the written Law. This was to provide an extra level of protection against unwittingly violating the Law.

One of the key components of this ritual purity was the manner in which the Pharisees ate their meals. They applied the purity regulations, which were given specifically for the priests serving in the temple, to themselves. They were scrupulous about maintaining ceremonial purity for all meals. And this included avoiding contact with those who did not maintain ceremonial or moral purity.

But Jesus had different values.

Jesus saw the value of individuals as greater than the value of ritual purity. He saw the “outcasts” as the very people God was seeking, the “lost sheep of Israel.”

We are faced with a similar choice today. There are many modern-day Pharisees who see their purpose as defending the “pure” doctrine of the church. One such person in
a very lengthy post decries the statement of Promise Keepers that believers should stand together on the key doctrines and not divide over secondary issues. He says that this kind of thinking is unbiblical for the following reasons:
(1) True Christian unity requires oneness of mind (Rom. 15:5; 1 Cor. 1:10; Phil. 1:27). This is a very narrow basis of unity. True Christian unity is not “unity in doctrinal diversity.”

(2) In 1 Tim. 1:3, we see that our doctrinal position is to be extremely narrow. Timothy was to allow “no other doctrine”! A stricter stand toward doctrine could not be imagined.

(3) In 1 Tim. 6:14, Timothy was instructed to keep the
apostolic doctrine “without spot.” That refers to the smallest things, the details, the things typically considered insignificant and “non-essential” today.

(4) In Christ’s Great Commission, the churches are
instructed to train the converts “to observe ALL things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:20). This means the preachers are to have an “all things” attitude toward anything clearly taught in Scripture and they are to impart that exact attitude to every believer under their watchcare.
Now, I’m sure his heart is in the right place (when it comes to doctrine). But is this the mind of Christ? Is this closer to the example of Jesus in the Gospels eating with “sinners” or of the Pharisees who were scrupulous to avoid any contact that might defile their purity?

Another person seems to capture more the spirit of Jesus:
How would our ideas about discipleship be different if we reached out to the marginalized of our communities today? What if instead of treating outsiders as threats we practiced radical outreach in love?

Jesus’ willingness to associate with persons such as Matthew brought the abuse and criticism of the Pharisees. Jesus’ response is classic and worthy of deep reflection. Jesus calls upon the words of the ancient prophet Hosea in replying, “Go and learn what this means ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice’ for I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Don Johnson says

In my understanding, the Pharisees' oral tradition in some cases negated Torah, so Jesus said this was wrong. Sometimes the Pharisees said Jesus or the disciples violated Torah, but actually all they broke were the man-made additions/fences. A fence can be useful as a personal choice knowing our weaknesses but we should not put our fence on someone else as a requirement.

On sinners and the righteous, my understanding is there are only 2 types of people unredeemed sinners and redeemed sinners. The way to be redeemed is by in active faith accept Jesus as the Biblical Messiah as he has been revealed to you; this is true for OT saints and NT saints. If something thinks they are righteous (and it is not the righteousness imputed from Messiah), they are wrong and need to see themselves as a sinner, a someone who needs help before they can ever get that help.

Pastor Rod said...

Don,

Thanks for your input. I plan to deal with the concept of "redeemed sinners" in the next post.

Rod

Anonymous said...

Don Johnson says

It is true that Jesus (and Paul and John the Baptist, etc.) were very counter-cultural.

nathaniel adam king said...

Have you seen the Out of Ur article. It is exactly what we talked about a while back. I am thinking about writing something on it...perhaps we can rehash some old disagreements. ;)

http://blog.christianitytoday.com/outofur/archives/2006/07/the_myth_of_exp.html

Brian Russell said...

Hi Rod,

Thank you for linking to one of my essays. I will add a link to your site on my permanent links page.

Peace,
Brian

Brian Russell said...

I am also an ordained pastor in The Wesleyan Church. I teach at Asbury's Orlando campus. A couple of us are accepting a call to become the pastoral team at Orlando Wesleyan Church beginning this Sunday.

Peace,
Brian

Becky said...

Sorry to be off-topic here, but I just read your response to Carla over at ENo -- thanks for putting the time and energy into responding so articulately. I really enjoyed reading what you had to say.

Pastor Rod said...

Nathaniel,

Thanks for the link. I've added my two cents over there. I'm happy to engage in full-body-contact thinking with you anytime.

God Bless,

Rod

Pastor Rod said...

Brian,

God bless your ministry in Orlando. Thanks for the link.

Rod

Pastor Rod said...

Becky,

Thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your kind words. There aren't too many of those over there at the other site.

Rod