The self righteousness of the Pharisees is legendary for anyone who has read the Gospels. Jesus had some memorable run-ins with them throughout the Gospels. He had some memorable words for them in Matthew 23. My personal favorite: white washed tombs full of dead mens bones. Outwardly beautiful, inwardly full of corruption. It's just a great word picture.
There are many marks of Pharisaism and this essay is not intended to cover all of them. However, I do want to cover a couple of them as they can apply to street evangelists. At least they have applied to me. Maybe they apply to you too and we can repent together.
I found myself up late at night earlier this week and got to listen to an excellent sermon on Pharisaism. I am preparing to preach Mark 7:1-13 (which I will refer to later) which is one of those run-ins between Jesus and the Pharisees, so a sermon on this topic could be helpful and give me some material for my own sermon. Little did I know it would give me some material for my own repentance.
One way you can know that you are in danger of Pharisaical thinking comes to us when we, like a Pharisee, see some other believer who does not meet our own high (and often unBiblical) expectations and think something like, "Thank You, God, that You did not make me like other men. I am not Emergent, Word of Faith, easy believism, doctrinally oblivious or even like that well meaning but non-evangelizing fellow church member over there. I share the gospel with everyone I know and spend my vacations at big outreaches. That guy hasn't shared the gospel with anyone in his life!"
Meanwhile your fellow church member who serves in ways you don't know about because he does not have a blog or a website telling the world about it is praying, "Oh, Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner."
Let's ask ourselves the question: who do you think is going to go back to his house right before God? Check out Luke 18:10-14 and decide for yourself.
Too many times I have thought of my fellow believers as complacent, lukewarm, pew-warming and loving it. I have thought of myself more highly than I should have simply because I spend a few hours per week standing on street corners preaching or engaging people in one-to-ones.
Don't get me wrong. Evangelism is good and we should do it. By all means, let's do evangelism. But let's not use this as the standard by which we judge others or ourselves by. I've done it. It's nothing but some of the worst sort of pride which says that my work in evangelism is more important than teaching a fifth grade boys class or cleaning the church. I don't see a whole lot of blogs about cleaning churches or whole communities of people who clean churches posting videos of their work on Youtube. I wonder why that is? Could it be that these people aren't doing it to build a reputation or a ministry, but are doing it simply for the love of the Lord?
In Mark 7, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees when He says, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition" (Mk. 7:9). Jesus is attacking the "tradition of the elders" taught in Jewish writings like the Halakha and the Aggadah. Later in the passage He brings up the teaching from the Mishna that stated that money declared "Corban" (devoted to the Temple) could be withheld from one's parents even if they were in need. Consequently, the fifth commandment could be ignored with the sanction of the tradition of the elders. In essence, their tradition trumped the very Word of God.
"Traditions of the Evangelists"
It gets one thinking, doesn't it? I mean, extra-Biblical traditions that we hold that in essence, trump God's Word as evangelists. Examples?
- If someone shares the gospel but does not use the "good person test" we think they've compromised or haven't shared the gospel at all.
- If someone doesn't show up each week for our outreaches we think they have backslidden or wonder if they were false converts.
- If our pastor has never come out for one of our outreaches we secretly (or not so secretly) suspect that he is lukewarm.
- If our church friends glaze over every time we come into the room as a defense mechanism against our starry-eyed, rapid-fire account of Friday night's encounter with a drunken mob of satan worshippers we judge them as not supportive of evangelism. Maybe they are not. Or maybe they have heard so many stories from us that all sound the same, only with a different cast of characters and that all end with the good person test. Even more, perhaps they don't understand how anyone would actually choose to spend their time arguing presuppositional apologetics with drunken satanists. Believe it or not, those stories don't exactly inspire newbies to come join you. There's a reason why I was referred to in one evangelism conference by a dear friend as the church's "commando evangelist."
- If someone asks you about follow-up or discipleship, we think that they don't "get it." In the meantime they think, "I wonder why he doesn't care enough about people to spend time with them?"
- If someone gets a little nervous with the idea of street preaching, they are a false convert.
- You MUST always share the good person test if you are doing evangelism. Preferably with a New Zealand accent.
- You MUST do a formal outreach at least once a week.
- A good church MUST have a cheer leading squad for the evangelism team and the pastor's role on the evangelism team MUST resemble that of coach, general manager, starting quarterback and water boy.
- If you disciple the people you minister to on the streets you are not trusting the Lord in the spirit of Philippians 1:6.
- Street preaching is a spiritual discipline like praying, going to church or reading the Bible.
Now, I am sorely tempted to try to explain how the things in the above lists are not commanded in the Bible. Also, how, in fact, some of the things are commanded in the Bible. The fact that this would need to be explained in some circles illustrates just how little of the Bible we actually read and how many sermons by a strange little Kiwi we have memorized. So I am not going to do it. I don't need to. It's self evident.
Self righteousness, even in a good (wonderful, magnificent, worthy) cause is ugly. Some of this can be chalked up to zeal without knowledge. If that's so in your life, go get some knowledge to go with your zeal. I think something like four parts knowledge to one part zeal is the right mixture. And then go back on the street with passion and preach Christ and Him crucified.