Jacob Nuesner, in his book, “An Invitation to the Talmud,” points out that the only brand of Judaism to survive the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. was pharisaical Judaism.
Pharisaical Judaism began to develop during the Babylonian captivity with the Jews trying to worship and carry on in the absence of the temple. Nuesner points out that the genius of the pharisaical system was that it “removed the Jews from history enabling them to continue to worship wherever or whenever they found themselves.”
It was, of course, this very system that caused Jesus to observe that these highly religious people missed the very essence of what God desired because of their traditions.
In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were the popular religious sect of the people — though most knew that they could or would never measure up to their standards. The Pharisees stood out wherever they went. These holy, righteous men were the standard by which all human righteousness was measured.
The church today, by and large, could rightly be described as pharisaical Christianity. We trace our roots not to Acts 2 but rather to the fourth century where the ekklesia of God began to become the kirche of God, ekklesia being the people of God and kirche being the building or meeting place of the people of God.
The religious leaders of Judaism missed their messiah because their religious traditions obscured him. I have to think that the majority of people in our churches follow the same course.
To the people of His day, Jesus said, “Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it.”
Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’” (Matthew 15:3-9 NIV).
I wonder if he would say the same to some of us in the modern church?
Pharisees in the church view the church as a social club for the already initiated; everything we do we should do for them. Sure, we should be open and welcoming of outsiders coming in, but we dare not adjust our traditional forms to make them feel welcomed.
In the process, we miss the reason Jesus came and we miss the commission He left us with!
The Pharisees among us would of course argue that Jesus’ commission to “Go and make disciples” puts the whole emphasis on what happens outside the club, not what goes on inside the club. They insist the club is theirs and they get to set the rules.
Sadly, in most cases they are right — the club is theirs and the glory of the Lord has left the temple (to use the Old Testament illustration) and, though they secretly know that, they are still content to carry on business as usual, hoping perhaps that eventually the glory will return.
But the church was never meant to be ours. The Bible describes it as the body of Christ with Christ as its head.
Therefore, we must assume that the church that He promised to build is the ekklesia who would continue the work He began while walking this earth, not the kirche that is satisfied with form over function.
John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.