Some time ago, I visited the site of a very conservative church in my area. I’ve already heard of these guys, from friends. Because this church was too conservative, I had no desire to go; however, I did wanted to be fair. Not surprisingly, they had a web site and naturally I could listen to previous messages.
I chose to listen to a relatively recent message and it was on Matt 16:11-13:
11 How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
As I listened, there was an uneasy feeling that came. “What is the pastor warning about?” “Why do I feel like there is an agenda?” These were the questions that came to mind. I have had the pleasure of being in a couple of conservative churches and seldom had my antenna go up.
One could ask, “Who’s the Pharisee, here?” What do I mean by this?
Who are the Pharisee? The Pharisees were the ultra conservatives of Jesus’ time. They were the proud disciples of Moses and they were strict observers of the Law. The Pharisees were not known for mercy, compassion and grace.
They were no friends of Jesus or the Apostles. Though the actual group had died out; their descendants live on. Today, we would call them, “the religious right”. Just like their ancestors, they are very legalistic about Scripture and sin. Like their forebears, they tend to forget the value of love, compassion and forgiving others.
This story is not about a specific church; hence their name is not mentioned. I have seen this, elsewhere. I grew up, as a nominal Catholic. As a kid, I could recall seeing the offering plate passed around. From what I recall, the Catholic church never gave any guidelines about what to give. You just put the money in.
In my adult life, I did visit a couple of Catholic churches in Phoenix. Yet, I do not recall any sermons or sales pitch to give. If there was one, I totally missed it. By contrast, I received a total education about tithes and offerings when I went to some Protestant churches.
I was being told, “Do not rob God! You are to give your tithes and offerings.” Wait a second! Am I suddenly under the Law? Am I supposed to go from freely giving to obligatory giving? I don’t think so!
I thought the Catholic church was supposed to be the ones with all the rules and regulations. Are you seeing the irony, here? Who are the Pharisees in this picture? Yes, the Catholic church does have a reputation for rules and traditions. However, it seems they chose to let the issue of money be between the person and God.
To be fair, I would like to share about two churches. One is a moderately conservative church and the other is moderately liberal. The leaders and members, of each church, are humbly and imperfectly seeking to follow Jesus. For them, it is not about rules and regulations.
Yes, Scripture is important to both and so is walking in love, mercy and compassion. Is it easy? No, it is not easy. It is both challenging and rewarding in the long run. This is part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Who are the disciples of Jesus, here?