I think most Christians today love to hate legalism, Pharisees, the word “religion,” and anything reeking of institution — not because they’re worried that these things dehumanize us or diminish us or divide us, but because it’s cool to look really relevant and revolutionary.
Yelling “Pharisee” is pretty much like yelling “Nazi” or “skinhead” or “bigot,” and it’s a buzz word that instantly conjures up the middle-aged, Bible-thumping, suit-and-tie white guy who weaponizes Scripture and prays for the demise of Hollywood and Rob Bell.
Certainly some of these kinds of people exist in the church. Surely there are fanatical extremists who fit most of our one-dimensional caricatures. Of course there are mean religious people who do atrocious things in the name of a loving God.
I just think it’s too easy to dismiss them to appear like we are better — and the second you compare your faith to someone else, even if it’s a Pharisee, you’ve instantly become a Pharisee.
Actually, it’s very rarely that I meet black-and-white dichotomous people who funnel their hate into a dogmatic shotgun. Mostly I meet people who do black-and-white actions as opposed to being “those kinds of people,” and those awful church-people also usually have children, insecurities, dreams, desires, hopes, tragedies, losses, and really neat hobbies, like we all do. They enjoy ice cream and hamburgers and even the same TV shows and movies and fandoms. In other words, they have layers, and they’re people too. They’re not monsters.
But we tend to rally around a binary-battle faith because when you can demonize a certain type of person, you can mobilize a large quick movement for profit and influence and power. It’s harder to fuel a gathering out of love. Hate is easier. And so when a supposedly nuanced, hip, relevant, postmodern Christian says “I’m not like those other Christians,” he’s simply fallen into the same default depravity of our reactionary nature and bought into one more dividing line of the in-house fighting. And I’m doing the same thing with the previous sentence.
There are some Christians who prefer structure, authority, discipline, and hard work. They want to schedule their Bible-reading and they need to check off a calendar and they want to attend church on a weekly planner. They tithe to the exact dollar and they dress up every Sunday and they would never ever curse, not even after getting a papercut from their latest Oswald Chambers devotional. And I think that’s okay. I don’t think religion has to be such a bad word all the time. Again, effort is not legalism, because legalism is legalism.
I think God has room for the highly devout church guy who sits in the front row because God respects our individual dignity and personalities. God does not mock the button-up bravado of the sincerely stiff worshiper — because this sort of Christian is still a sinner in need of grace, like you and me, and we’re not called to treat him based on any other parameter.
God has wired each of us differently. Some Christians will drink a beer and smoke cigars and get tattoos and pray in the woods by the river with a handmade journal and Lecrae and Mumford and Sons and Nirvana in their iPod — because this is how they meet Jesus. God has a limitless imagination to speak to each of us in a wild variety of ways. To limit this is to limit God, and I don’t ever want to suckerpunch His sovereignty.
Jesus loved Matthew, the downright dirtiest tax collector of them all, and Jesus loved Paul, the hottest Pharisee in history. Jesus loved Mary Magdalene, a disturbed woman with a severe demonic psychosis, and Jesus loved Martha, the proficient taskmaster A-type personality. Jesus loves you and the other guy too.
If you’re really down on these “Pharisees” and religious church people, maybe it’s time you get to know them. Maybe you can quit trying to irritate them so much; maybe you can quit trying to shock them with cute rebellious uprisings to get a reaction. Maybe we can all slow down on blogging such harsh things about the “typical church” and tradition. You could probably learn a lot from them, because there is no them, and so we could learn from each other, and that’s how we grow to know this love that saved us.