On today’s Pharisees – and “Freedom ’23”

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Pharisees have gotten a bad rep since the time of Jesus.

It wasn’t always so. Some Pharisees followed Jesus. They included Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and a man named Saul, who later became Paul. You may have heard of him. He later became second only to Jesus in his contribution to Christianity and its growth.

But people are more familiar with the downside, as in Matthew 23:13. Jesus: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let in those who wish to enter.” And Mark 7:6, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.'” In time they inherited the reputation, “especially on the pulpits of many churches, of being ‘holier than thou’ and esteeming themselves more highly than others.” 

Or as Dictionary.com said, “a sanctimonious, self-righteous, or hypocritical person.”

And it’s mostly because of today’s Pharisees (I’d say), that church attendance has fallen. In 1999 70% of Americans belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque. In 2018 it was 50%, and in 2020 it was 47%. That’s the first time in 80 years of polling the percentage fell below half.

A lot of it has to do with politics. Specifically, “Christians” who use the Faith as a tool of political power. I addressed the problem in Ash Wednesday and Lent – 2023. Speaking of Christian nationalists and the like, I noted that Garry Wills for one said Jesus was above politics. “My Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36.) And Wills and “What Jesus (REALLY) Meant” said Jesus simply never got involved in politics. He focused instead on healing the divisions so prevalent during His time on earth. (Not making them worse, “as some politicians do today.”)

A big part of solving the problem is finding a suitable name for such people, “Christians” who drive away possible new Christians “in droves.” I’ve tried such as “No Such Thing as a Conservative Christian.” (A book under my nom de plume.) But that’s painting with too broad a brush. Or terms like Fundamentalist or Literalist. But as noted, all Christians should start out with “the fundamentals,” as in Army boot camp. Besides, both terms have too many syllables.

I finally came up with “CMCs.” Close-minded Christians. Christians who don’t follow what Jesus said in Luke 24:45. But what’s that got to do with “Freedom [in] ’23?” Just this, that only last Sunday I found a secret weapon against CMCs. Romans 5:6, “Christ died for the ungodly.”

The fact that they call themselves Christians is what you can say is the Achilles’ heel of CMCs, Christian Nationalists and the like. Their “weakness in spite of overall strength, which can lead to downfall.” (Or that might just lead to a Christian Nationalist becoming more of true Christian. Aside from that, it might do you some good too. See James 5:20.)

The point is that whenever a CMC insults a fellow American citizen – solely because that fellow citizen doesn’t follow the precise CMC party line – you can always ask, “Are [fill in the blank] the Ungodly?” Assuming the CMC answers yes (thus walking right into your trap), you can respond, “That’s funny, Romans 5:6 says that Jesus died for the ungodly.”

You can take it from there. The endless variations include Matthew 5:44, where Jesus said to love not just your neighbor, but your enemy as well. Which brings up Independence Day, just past, and how Romans 5:6 can help Americans keep free and independent. (Free from harassment, name-calling and worse for all Americans, not just those you agree with.)

 This idea of independence – national, secular or religious – can be messy. For one thing, freedom means the ability to make stupid choices. Also Living Stingy: “You can’t have freedom, unless you have the freedom to make bad choices.” Or choices that not every American agrees with. Which brings up early Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom, written in large part by Thomas Jefferson, who went on to shape the Declaration of Independence. (Speaking of Independence.) In that statute the Virginia Burgesses gave up a monopoly on religion.  

They wrote that when a majority tries to influence the beliefs of others, they “beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness.” (“Like it was written yesterday!”) The Burgesses also noted the  “impious presumption of legislators and rulers,” to establish “their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible.” Thus when “fallible and uninspired men” try and establish their own view of religion as “the only true and infallible,” we’re headed for trouble.

In other words, that religion is best that proves itself in the “free market place of ideas.” (See Marketplace of ideas – Wikipedia.) In further words, if your faith is true and sound, you won’t be afraid of a little competition.

The statute concluded by noting, “Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself… [It] has nothing to fear from the conflict.” So on this just-past July 4th, here’s to freedom, healthy competition in religion, and America’s Adversary system as the best way to find The Truth.

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A true Christian will never be afraid of a little healthy competition…

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The upper image is courtesy of Modern Day Pharisees – Image Results. Mark 7:6 has Jesus saying, You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.'” In answer to the Scribes and Pharisees asking why His disciples did not “walk according to the tradition of the elders? “Note also the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, saying the four sources of spiritual development are the Bible, tradition, reason and experience. Of these four, “Apart from scripture, experience is the strongest proof of Christianity.”

See also Pharisees – Wikipedia, noting they believed in an afterlife, but the Sadducees did not:

Pharisees are notable by the numerous references to them in the New Testament. While the writers record hostilities between the Pharisees and Jesus, they also reference Pharisees who believed in him, including Nicodemus, who said it is known that Jesus is a teacher sent from God, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple, and an unknown number of “those of the party of the Pharisees who believed,” among them the Apostle Paul – a student of Gamaliel, who warned the Sanhedrin that opposing the disciples of Jesus could prove to be tantamount to opposing God – even after becoming an apostle of Jesus.

The Book of Common Prayer reference. The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

Pharisees as “Holier than thou.” See Who are the Pharisees Today? Meet the Pharisees and Sadducees. See also, as noted, my post On Ash Wednesday and Lent – 2023.

Church membership falling: Losing their religion: why US churches are on the decline, or Why Is Church Membership in America on the Decline?

“Only last Sunday.” The readings for July 9, 2023: “AM Psalm 146, 147; PM Psalm 111, 112, 113 [-] 1 Samuel 14:36-45Rom. 5:1-11Matt. 22:1-14.”

A note: I found some interesting reading Googling “liberal insult conservative.”

“Independence Day.” The link is to On Independence Day, 2018. See also On Independence Day, 2016, and – earlier – On the Bible readings for July 4, 2014.

The lower image is courtesy of Lady With Scales Of Justice – Image Results.

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