History attests that religion and religious people tend to be narrow. Instead of expanding our capacity for life, joy, and mystery, religion often contracts it. As systematic theology advances, the sense of wonder declines. The paradoxes, contradictions, and ambiguities of life are codified, and God Himself is cribbed, cabined, and confined within the pages of a leather-bound book. Instead of a love story, the Bible is viewed as a detailed manual of directions. Pharisees invest heavily in extrinsic religious gestures, rituals, methods, and techniques, breeding allegedly holy people who are judgmental, mechanical, lifeless, and as intolerant of others as they are of themselves—violent people, the very opposite of holiness and love, the type of spiritual people who, conscious of their spirituality, then proceed to crucify the Messiah. Jesus did not die at the hands of muggers, rapists, or thugs. He fell into the well-scrubbed hands of deeply religious people, society’s most respected members. Brennan Manning, Chapter Five
Back in my days of working with Promise Keepers, I remember one of the keynote speakers at one of our big conferences was talking about how legalistic and pharisaical the established church can become. “The problem with the church today is this,” the speaker said, “Jesus says He is the open door to heaven. Unfortunately, we, the church, have decided to become His screen door!”
As I see it, it’s that hideous pharisaical spirit inside each of us that just can’t allow Jesus to be as full of grace as He truly wants to be. When Jesus says, for example, “Let the little children come to me!”, His first century disciples seem to truly have a hard time removing the ‘no children allowed’ signs. When Jesus dines with tax collectors, His good friends are puzzled and His enemies are annoyed and angered. When Jesus insists upon a forgiving a prostitute for her many tricks, He’s nearly stoned to death alongside the woman.
Fast forward to today and when Jesus says “all are welcome at My table,” the church plays the role of a good bouncer, insisting that anyone who thinks or acts just a bit different from us must hit the road…or we just might hit you!
Why is it that we Christians can so easily cluck our tongues and point our accusing fingers at the Pharisees and Sadducees of the New Testament, yet never believe so many of our attitudes and actions today are so similar in nature to those who have gone before us?
Don’t we realize, as Brennan Manning alludes to here in this chapter, that these pharisaical attitudes we, the church, are so critical of, are not reserved for just a few, but that this insatiable desire to crib, cabin and confine God is simply part of our human nature?
Psychologists tell us that our need to control the unpredictable aspects of life comes quite naturally to us human beings. Nobody, quite honestly, enjoys it when radical change is occurring at every turn in life. So when our great need for stability in life comes to religion, predictability will be the name of the game, if you know what I mean. In all honesty, it comes down to this: if you and I are gonna have a religion that’s dependable and true, we sure better have a God who is 99.999% predictable!
But here’s the rub.
That safe and sound leather Bible we hold on to so dearly actually says that while God is always faithful, He is rarely predictable!
And quite honestly, that drives the Pharisee deep inside me quite mad!
So in an attempt to keep things under control, we pharisaical Christians just have to develop a few hundred pages of rules and regulations, just so we can keep order while keeping score. And heaven knows. If we lose track of the score of who’s in and who’s out, who knows what unpredictable things might happen?
Gosh, maybe Jesus just might show up…and then think what kind of messy mess we’d have on our hands!
My prayer: Jesus, I stand convicted as accused. I, Marty Boller, am a Pharisee at heart. I love it when You are predictable and when You follow my rules. I hate it when You don’t behave. I pout when You do things that are outside my comfort zones. I bristle when You have more mercy and grace for others than I do. There. That’s my deep-down dirty confession. So now, Lord, as I ask You to forgive me for such pharisaical attitudes, come wash me clean and begin to release me from such nonsense. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: So where am I guilty of cribbing, cabining, and confining God? How have I consistently allowed legalistic, pharisaical attitudes to control my Christianity, shutting down mercy and grace for both myself and others? What would it look like for me to expand my capacity for life, joy, and mystery?
So what is God speaking to you today as you live as Abba’s child in the midst of His Gospel of Grace?
Over an eleven-week period, you and I will take a deeper look at God’s Gospel of Grace; Exploring the Good News of God’s Unconditional Love & Acceptance. We are using Brennan Manning’s classic book, Abba’s Child – The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging as our guide. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Gospel of Grace home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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