Monday, January 17, 2011

The Danger of Upward (aka Sin of the Pharisee)

Forgive the tardiness of this post.  I fully intended to finish this little string of thoughts last week but sometimes life gets in the way of my best intentions and schedules.

A bit of review:  I offer that a helpful way for me to understand life in the spiritual realm is by breaking it into three spheres.  The Kingdom Sphere is the largest and where the biggest questions about who God is and how I relate to Him get answered.  The Church Sphere is the middle sphere and the locus of the questions about life on the earth with others.  The Heart Sphere is the smallest and yet still crucial, as it directs me to conscience-oriented decisions.

The danger comes when you misplace the questions and decisions from each sphere.  Moving them downward puts you in the role of the pagan (or at least postmodern) where no real sense of morality or revelation or authority guides you, save what you decide is moral, revelation, and authority - which of course makes YOU the real authority.

Moving the questions and answers upward makes you a legalistic Pharisee.  Pharisees were the religious leaders of Jesus' day and known for their astute rule-keeping.  They even had rules about keeping the rules.  They had rules around their rules to make sure that the rules really did get kept.  Rules ruled.

Moving a Heart issue to the Church produces a sense of legalism and bondage in the Church.  If you've hung around any church for any time, you might have seen this.  A big one I've seen is drinking or not drinking alcohol - the former makes you "hip," the latter makes you "holy," and it can really mess with a congregation.  How about voting Republican?  I personally think Republicans do some good things, but I'm under no delusions that they're the answers to America's problems.  One more:  the educational decisions for your kids, whether home schooling, private schooling, or public schooling.  You find evangelists in all three camps and sometimes it can get pretty rabid.  The issue isn't having personal convictions.  The issue isn't even sharing those convictions in conversations with others in an effort to persuade them.  The issue is whether you measure a person "fitting in" with the church (really, it's a judgment on their worth) based upon how they align with your personal, conscience-oriented decisions.

Moving a Church issue to the Kingdom Sphere produces sectarianism.  It prohibits cooperation across denominational or other organizational lines.  You can think of churches who refuse to work together for the good of the poor in their city or their educational system or the lost because they hold their distinctions more tightly than their similarities.  I don't think every church has to cooperate with every other church.  I realize there are real philosophical and methodological differences that make cooperation harder.  But there might be more out there than we know.  I personally see this a lot among the Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd.  They seem to be glad to cooperate with one another (at least on the surface).  But if you have questions about the L in your TULIP, then you're probably not even saved and certainly in need of some theological enlightenment.

Last thought on this:  the older I get, the more I realize that, while I might be more qualified (emphasize MIGHT) to speak to Kingdom issues, I need to work in and on the lower two spheres.  When I was younger, I wanted to work almost exclusively in the Kingdom sphere though I needed to work harder on the lower two, especially the Heart.  O, the arrogance of youth.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...


  1. Trent, you make some extremely deep observations here. Particularly the issue of moving Heart decisions/issues to the Church Sphere. We need to raise a child up in God according to that child's individual bent (that famous Prov quote, Amplified)... so education is a Heart question. I wholeheartedly agree with the other issues you mention as well: I find the politics in the church sphere very disturbing, with folks believing they must vote Republican to be holy. Or worse, when AMERICA and being a Patriot is really more like idol worship.

    Keep it up, these are great postings.

  2. Coming from you, Sherron, that's quite the compliment! Thanks! I actually had a guy in my office not too long ago who said he'd question the salvation of anyone who didn't vote the way he did. Therein lies the Pharisee...