Modern Pharisees?

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

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One of the problems that Jesus had with the scribes and the Pharisees is that they create “burdens that are heavy and unbearable and lay them on people’s shoulders.” (Mt 23:4, ISV) It is all too easy to look back and say, “How could they do that?” But as we look back at the history of the Christian church, it is easy to see that the idea of adding additional rules and regulations to what God wants did not die with the Pharisees as Christians have often been as eager to add their own list of additional do’s and don’ts to God’s law. 

Even the early church struggled with this when it came to the question of whether or not Gentile believers had to follow the Jewish law.  In the 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 we see Paul dealing with this issue when it comes to the early church.  In First Corinthians 8 the issue was whether it was ok to eat meat sacrificed to idols.  While that issue no longer troubles Christians each age seems to have its own set of candidates for inclusion into God’s law. 

Personally I like Paul’s answer to such questions in Romans 14, “Each of us will given an account of himself to God.  Therefore let’s no longer criticize each other.” (Rom 14:11-13a) Still some are reluctant to let go of their desire to add new rules, and therefore see the second half of verse 13 as a sort of backdoor way of imposing such rules, for Paul goes on to say that, “Instead, make up your mind not to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” I realize, they say, that it is technically ok, but you still should not, because it could cause someone to stumble. 

But this is not an excuse to make a new rules, but rather, an injunction, to be sensitive to those who are weaker in the faith, as Paul goes on to point out in verse 22, “As for the faith you do have, have it as your own conviction before God.”

As with so many things in Christianity, it is a fine line to walk.  On the one hand I want to resist additional rules being placed on people, on the other hand, I don’t want to cause a weaker brother to stumble.

Our local paper has a weekly feature where they request responses from the faith community on a particular question.  The question they sent out this week is “Does smoking (or drinking) make someone a “bad” person?  What about drinking too much coffee or eating too much ice cream?  At what point does a vice become a sin, or some sort of a moral problem?” This question immediate raised the issues discussed above. 

For some this is an easy question.  With the exception of ice cream, some would see these as wrong in any amount, and thus a sin.  However at least in terms of Christianity, both coffee and smoking came long after the New Testament, and therefore would seem to fall under what Paul discusses in Romans 14 where each is to make up their own mind on the matter, and not to impose their conclusions on others.  As for drinking alcohol, that was well known in Biblical times, and was accepted.  After all Jesus’ first miracle was to change water into wine, and the context here is pretty clear that this was not grape juice.  Still, it has come to be question by some Christians in the last few centuries, particularly in the United States.

But most things can be overdone, and that is the case with all the above, including ice cream.  God is not a burdensome killjoy who seeks to deprive us of all earthly pleasures.  Nor does he want us to cause ourselves problems.  Clearly alcohol can be abused, as the Bible also makes clear, but so can ice cream, as in the case of those who are seriously overweight.  The simple rule for these, and most other things, is, if it becomes a problem for you, than it is a problem that should be avoided. 

What is much more important than these individual issues is that we do not allow such things to cause division within the body of Christ.  This is something to be kept in mind on both sides.  Just as it is wrong for those who believe such thing should be avoided to impose these as new rules for the church, it is likewise wrong for those who believe it is ok to partake to flaunt their liberty.  Unity requires considerations on both sides, our goal being that, “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building him up.” (Rom 15:2)

This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

Mar 20th, 2009

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