Progressive Pharisees

Feb 16th

It's a long-standing tradition among progressive Christians to label any believer calling them to repentance over their willingness to compromise the word of God with the whims of culture, a "Pharisee."

The Pharisees were a sect of Jewish teachers in the first century who were notorious for sticking to the letter of the law while managing to miss its meaning. They were the pious conservatives fond of strict obedience to written codes and favored large displays of religion in order to convey their virtue to the masses. They were also the ones Jesus had frequent confrontations with, as the Man from Nazareth exposed them to be "white-washed tombs," that is, outwardly pious while inwardly dead.

And that's the standard accusation brought by progressive Christians against their conservative brethren today. Progressives argue that in pursuit of doctrinal obedience, conservatives are forsaking the greater law of love towards others. They may claim to value fidelity to the Scriptures, but what these conservatives actually relish is a haughty judgmentalism towards those they deem to be in error.

One wonders when someone will hand many of these left-leaning believers a mirror.

I defy anyone to offer a more textbook case of pharisaical self-righteousness than this:

The Pharisees demanded that people not pick grain on the Sabbath in order to be considered righteous, but Kyle dials it up a notch with his "thou shalt wear a cloth fiber over thy face in order to attain the favor of God."

Imagine the haughtiness it takes to honestly believe it is appropriate to judge the content of a man's Christian character by his fidelity, not to Scripture, but to your own personal convictions of what is now dubious (at best) scientific theory. But Howard's unseemly projection doesn't stop there.

By explicitly demeaning disciples of Jesus who do not wear masks in public, Howard is embodying the very spirit of division, disunity, and discord that belittles the body of Christ before a watching world. While Jesus unambiguously instructed that we Christians could identify ourselves to the world by the manner in which we treated and loved our fellow Christians, a self-proclaimed preacher takes to the megaphone of social media to proclaim a large portion of the brethren less than, and practitioners of an "ugly" faith.

The first century Pharisees couldn't have said it any better themselves.

What's even more awkward for progressive Christians who have savored the opportunity to call out conservative legalism, is the juxtaposition of Howard's tweet with the widely maligned tweet of Pastor Brian Sauve. Sauve trended on Twitter last week after he voiced on social media his position on the need for female modesty:

The dogpile was immense, the outrage intense, and the indignation severe. Chief among the critics, of course, were a bevy of progressive Christian accounts that mocked and derided the "patriarchal legalism" exhibited by the pastor.

But for the moment, let's just suppose we gave grace to both Brian Sauve and Kyle Howard, and didn't assume the worst of their motives. What could we conclude?

  • Both men made a recommendation for behavior modification for other Christians
  • Both men attempted to base their instruction on Scripture (Sauve: 1 Timothy 2… Howard: Matthew 22)
  • Both men endorsed the idea that true Christians will cover parts of the body (Sauve: women's private parts…Howard: everyone's noses and mouths)

The only significant difference was the rationale. Sauve made his recommendation because he found it necessary in order to lessen sinful temptation, while Howard made his recommendation in hopes that it would lessen the spread of a respiratory infection.

Remembering that we are offering grace here, let's assume for the moment that the underlying fear that motivated both men to tweet their advice was justified (that souls would be endangered if women did not heed Sauve's counsel and that physical lives would be endangered if we all did not heed Howard's). Which one of those two warnings is of greater importance biblically speaking? Yet which one of the two warnings received the overwhelming share of hateful condemnation?

Why did Bible teachers like Beth Moore feel compelled to mock Sauve, a pastor she doesn't even follow on social media, while ignoring Howard, a preacher she interacts with on the medium?

Could it be perhaps because political tribalism and social media cliques inform our thinking about issues like legalism, and influence our public witness more than the Word? I tend to think so, and for the faithful testimony of Christ's Church, we desperately need a reset.


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