Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Presumption: A Glimpse into a Pharisaic Soul

An Old Tragic Story

There are many examples of Presumption in the Old Testament. The one most telling, I believe is the story of Saul at Gilgal. If you recall, Saul was waiting for the prophet Samuel to arrive and officiate over the offering of the people before they went to battle. Samuel was late based on Saul’s schedule and so fearing the people would begin to disperse, he decided to offer the sacrifice. The end result of his action was disastrous and the Kingdom of Israel was rent from him and his line forever, he became at times a raving mad man and died an ignominious death at his own hand. So, what was his sin, really. On the surface it seems like such a well intended thing for him to have done and most of us would have done the same thing given the situation. Unfortunately, we do not see at all times the gravity of our action because the need at times seems so immediate. This causes us to take unwarranted and unblessed action and will yield disastrous results. So, what was the wrong action and so sin? It was presumption. Saul thought himself the savior and protector of Israel and presumed the position of a priest, of a High Priest. For Israel, there is only one Priest/King: it is the Messiah. Saul put himself in the place no mortal should ever set foot into ever. Samuel reacted as only he could do so as a representative of the Lord – he cast down Saul from the High place that the combination of pride and fear he had placed himself. So how does this relate to our modern world? It does in principle and is a chief indicator that a particular religious organization or group is or is becoming dysfunctional. The leader of such a group becomes more than a representative of Christ, they become the gateway to all access to God. Let me explain in clear terms. There is an old mostly unused term in our modern society that fits this mindset. The term is vicar. In the early times of the reformation when the church structure for the most part reflected the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the term was used for the Pastor or Priest of that organization. Even today, the Church of England, the step sister of the Holy Roman Catholic Church uses the term for its local church leaders. So what does the term mean? In such organizations, the vicar is more than a pastor, he is the vicar of Christ. The term vicar is more than a representative in dysfunctional organizations, he is the one through whom Christ governs ‘vicariously’ the church or religious group. This term ‘vicar of Christ’ in the Roman Catholic Church is assigned to the Pope. Finally, the historical title can be attributed to the Roman Empire from the term vicarius – this was the person that went to an assigned area and spoke for Caesar. Every ruling he made was with the voice of Ceasar – as if Ceasar were the one speaking. See the difference? In essence, it is assumed infallibility and pent-ultimate power. How do you know this is the interpretation the leaders exercise under in a dysfunctional group? There are tell-tale signs:

1> The word of the Leader is doctrine – therefore any question of dispute with the teachings of the leader are met with rebuke and even punitive actions such as shunning or dis-fellowship.

2> Expatriates of the group live in damnation. There is no line of communication with those who have spurned or rejected the leaders of that group due to a plethora of reasons. History of the Reformation from the Catholic point of view makes this very clear. Those who revolted against the Papacy were considered damned by having committed a mortal sin. In the Catholic world, this type of sin removes the grace of God. During this turbulent time, many ‘heretics’ were burned at the stake. While dysfunctional groups do not burn ‘heretics’ (although they would probably like to) , I believe that the treatment received by those who exit can be at times more severe. For me, I would rather suffer the pain of death than rejection by my own kin on the basis of my stand for faith --which is my current state..

3> Teachings of the main leader are reviewed ad nausea. Little or no teaching from the ‘inheritors’endorsed by the leader is fresh or new and there is no insight that they can lend to the teaching at all. The preaching becomes rote and sermons are either re-manufactured sermons of the original leader or an exact recitation of those sermons.

What does this all mean? It can be defined by one word: Presumption. This is what an imbalanced view of biblical authority morphs into over time. The viewpoint of those in the group becomes more and more transmogrified to that of their leader instead of Christ. The members become as severe and intolerant as what they have beheld as the ideal. Unfortunately, their idea of Christ is not Christ at all but the vicar they have submitted to that rules the group. This was the sin of the Pharisee.


Why is presumption the deadly drug? Jesus attacked those who flexed their religious power over the people. They presumed a position as interpreters of the Law and so it was their position that was foisted upon the poor common souls in their society. The common man or woman of that day consulted the ‘expert’ on any questionable matter so as not to violate the Torah or the Mishna Torah. The results were spiritual oppression. Jesus had little tolerance for this group because it was all about power and position versus being a true shepherd over God’s people. The true issues were never really uncovered by any of the Pharisee’s discourses with Jesus, they always deflected Jesus into the particulars seeking to catch Him in a violation of their teachings. What was the real issue? They sought to bring down the Lord to their level and worse yet, they saw Him as not even their peer. Their interpretation of the Law blinded their eyes to the fulfillment of the Law manifested in their midst – Jesus Himself. What was the true issue? It surrounded Love; in the gospels of Matthew (chapter 22) and Luke (chapter 10), Jesus gives a full discourse to a lawyer who asked the question ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ It is Jesus detail of the Good Samaritan that answers the question. It is not about the particulars but two things Love God and Love your neighbor…that’s it. Religious people hate to love. They look for reasons not to but if there is anything in the gospels that reflects the character of God, it is Jesus eating with the sinners, healing the sinners while eschewing the ‘white washed sepulchers’, snakes, vipers and all the derogatory expressions Jesus used to describe the Pharisees.
In the end whatever is of Christ is eclipsed by the teachings of the leaders in a dysfunctional group. The ultimate end of a Pharisaic soul is to blot out the love of Christ in the name of God. It all begins and ends with presumption and so its judgment by God is sure. Over the grinding wheels of time, those that espouse such positions end dust laden, forgotten and obscured. Little is known of them and in the history of the church, they are assigned to brackish back waters of its story. The people who followed them until the end become like refugees from prison camps during the great war. They forget who they were and their future cannot be conceived to be different than what they have lived and endured. Tragically, unless they embrace the love of Christ, they will be prisoners for the rest of what life they have left -- The teeth-marks from the constant spiritual gnawing goes to the bone and into the soul.


We must let the hurt and desire for retribution go. We must trust our Savior in His dealing with the situation. We must pray for our loved ones that God will protect them. We must pray for the leaders of the group that they repent, make things right, bring healing and open their doors and hearts once more. As a very dear friend has told me ‘Jesus’ judgment of those who abuse His people is going to be more far reaching than we could ever imagine.’ The rule is let love be the temper added to any action taken on behalf of the Savior. We who have survived the exit and breathe the sweet air of Christ’s freedom must be dedicated to help others find the freedom and comfort we have found in Jesus. We were truly bound, tattooed by doctrine and wore the garb of the camp but it is our appreciation of the grace of God for delivering us that must be our juxtaposition in life – not where we came from, not where we have been but – Praise God – where we are going.