Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The View From Up Above

Here's a little test, asking you to rate yourselves in five simple areas.  I promise I won't ask for your answers if you don't ask for mine. 

"Are you above or below average in each of the following areas?"
  • My ability to get along with other people
  • My honesty
  • My work ethic
  • My basic intelligence
  • My morality1
 In Larry Osborne's newest book, Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith, he says 100% of people will rate themselves above average in every single category.

The problem with this "I'm-better-than-you" attitude is that it's negatively impacting not just our personal and professional lives but also the Kingdom of God.  Such an attitude affects the way we perceive other Christians and churches in general, even those that bear the same denomination.

Osborne notes that as the Christian grows closer to God, he is more likely to inadvertently become a Pharisee, in all the negative connotations of the word.  As he states, "as you press forward, it's inevitable that you begin to notice that some people lag behind. And it's at this point that your personal pursuit of holiness can morph into something dangerous: a deepening sense of frustration with those who don't share your passionate pursuit of holiness"2.

While the book begins by exploring how the word "Pharisee" once wasn't a bad thing and how this group was held in high regard as the ultimate in righteousness, the text quickly shifts to a discussion of where the Pharisees went wrong and how modern-day Christians are making many of the same mistakes so that, in the end and without even realizing it, devout Christians zealously intent on pursuing righteousness are disdainfully treating other Christians with contempt.
  • It may begin with a disagreement over an interpretation of a much-debated passage of Scripture.
  • It may begin with a personal commitment to "raising the bar" in one's own life and then suggesting that real Christians must therefore do X, Y, and Z, too.
  • It may begin with an effort to root out false gospels and keep the church focused on holiness so that it matures into a group of fully committed believers.
Yet, whatever the initial cause of our Pharisaical attitude, the result is the same--we attempt to be the Holy Spirit for others.  In that mindset, we begin to fail in loving others as Christ loved, we prioritize our relationship with God as the only way to relate to God, we bicker over nuances that do not impact the core of salvation, we fall into legalism with new rules and standards that must be met for us to consider someone saved, we fail to extend the full gospel to those Christians we consider weak, and we neglect unity in the church for exclusivity and uniformity.

Osborne says that in the end, "No one asks me if we love Jesus.  That's too generic.  They want to know if I pass their particular litmus test.  They want to know if I share their vision, agenda, and code words.  If I do, I get the secret handshake.  If not, they pray for me"4.

The picture Osborne paints of the devout Christian as accidental Pharisee is compelling, convicting, and written in down to earth prose.  He backs up his analysis with numerous examples from the Scriptures, admonishing his readers to quit following a cut-and-paste gospel but to seek to let Scripture interpret Scripture in order to see the full picture of what Jesus intended our ministry to be.

Interestingly, the group who suffers most from the Pharisee-Christian's attitude is not the non-believer but rather the floundering Christian.  As Osborne explains, "We still lov[e] the lost and the hard-core sinner. But we disdai[n] the less than fully sold-out Christian"3.

He continues, saying the modern-day Pharisees "have plenty of mercy for those overseas, mercy for those who face tough odds, mercy for those who don't yet know Jesus. But there's very little mercy for struggling brothers and sisters in Christ. There's not much sympathy for people who are weak and faltering. For those folks, there's nothing but a harsh rebuke and stinging exhortations to catch up with the rest of us, often with a disclaimer that they're probably not even real Christians anyway"5.

And when anyone does attempt to extend mercy and compassion to these floundering Christians?  They are viewed as watering down the gospel, making exception for sins.

Osbourne leaves us with two choices: to encourage or to discourage, to draw in those weak, floundering Christians or to shove them out the door as useless, lazy, and not worthy of Christ's sacrifice.

Overall, "Ouch" was my response to many a criticism in his pages. Unlike many books I review, this one will remain permanently on my shelf.  Since I agree with Osborne that this tendency to become a Pharisee is all too easy for one who seeks to deepen his relationship with Christ deepens, I know I will need this continual warning reminder to guard my own heart.

There is such a thing as balance, a desperate attempt to not swing too far to either side of any one thing.  This book, I believe, is Osborne's attempt to call us back from the fringes of either side, for the sake of Christ and the souls of mankind.

**I receive zero compensation from Zondervan for my review of this book.

1. p. 53
2. p. 20
3. p. 46
4. p. 90
5. p. 107

1 comment:

  1. Okay, that one zinged me straight to the heart. I have a much harder time feeling or acting merciful to the struggling or less invested Christian than to any other group. Have to pray on that one.