...As an end to this series on basic Christian living, I thought I might talk a little about the Pharisees. Pastors and teachers can easily portray bits of the gospels as "Jesus vs. the Pharisees", even though it seems theologically He identifies with them more than the Sadducees or Essenes. During a time of an elitist priest class (typically Sadducees) and intense cultural pressure to become more like the Greeks, Pharisees devoted themselves to living God's law, not just reciting it. The word "Pharisee" means "set apart".
Jesus didn't have a beef with the existence of their sect. He had more to say about how their hearts had become hard and proud regarding their righteousness. In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a story about two men praying in the temple. The first, a Pharisee, thanks God that he is not like the sinner standing with him in the room. The second man, a tax collector, pleads for God's mercy because he recognizes his own sin.
Coming home from a Torah study group one night, my mother told me about how some rabbis "built a fence around Torah". This means if the law says you're responsible for the death of a man falling off of your roof, you should build a fence around your roof so you don't accidentally break the law. If Torah says something like "don't cook a calf in its mother's milk", then the fence would keep all meats away from dairy, so they don't even come close to breaking that rule of Torah.
So what do you call a Christian who speaks of Pharisees like demons and Christians who say you can't go to the movies or listen to non-church music? There's nothing in the Bible about the Cinema or Slash Records, but I know kids who couldn't appreciate either because their church said it was evil. They didn't want to listen to Pennywise and backslide.
I can understand creating reminders and safeguards for ourselves because every one of us struggles with sinning. Many men, including myself, have software on their computer to alert others when I may be looking at a dirty website. However, if my church said it was mandatory for every man to have accountability software on their computers, I would totally have a problem with that.
Some churches culturally dress in nice clothes because they want to express their reverence of God in that way. In the book Breaking The Missional Code, Ed Stetzer and David Putman tell of churches with cowboys reserving seats for their hats and holler at every good point in the message. That sort of thing wouldn't have happened in my grandfather's church. But is one church right with how they celebrate God's presence and the other wrong? Is it sin?
The Bible tells us to remember Jesus through communion, to be baptized, to give generously. How we do these things is not so explicit. Is it wrong for the Presbyterian church I visited to dip a hunk of fresh baked bread into wine while another church might opt for a cracker crumb and thimble of grape juice? No. I don't think God frowns on either because He wanted people to remember Jesus by communion. Yet, nations fought wars over this stuff.
The Pharisees tried hassling Jesus about something like this in Matthew 15. They ask Him why His disciples broke the tradition of the elders by not washing their hands before eating. Jesus then points out how the Pharisees had chosen tradition over God's commands. For the Christian today, this begs the question, are we trying to build a fence around God's commands or are we building a cage of man-made laws? Christians would do themselves well to remember the grace by which they've been saved from their sins. It is possible for one to never even realize his heart has hardened in self-righteousness.
Now, I'm aware that some can take the idea of grace too far and forget Romans 6:1-2. By no means should we intentionally live in sin and ignore the Holy Spirit's conviction. Scripture says this too will harden the heart. All I'm saying is that Christians shouldn't build a cage of rules to guard against grace itself. If a person genuinely wants to follow and serve Jesus, we should believe the word in Hebrews when it says Christ's sacrifice has made us perfect and blameless before God. I think the proper attitude would include encouraging, challenging, and praying for God to work in the hearts of our fellow believers.