The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Pharisaism

Moralistic, legalistic antinomians

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Mr Chantry dissects the Pharisee:

So that is what a Pharisee really is: a moralistic, legalistic antinomian. Too many in our lawless age assume that this is oxymoronic, that legalism and antinomianism are and must be opposites. This is simply untrue. Legalism and antinomianism are instead the twin children of moralism. Here is how it works . . .

Find out how it works here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 8 May 2013 at 22:04

False dichotomies

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In the last couple of days a list of qualities in communities of performance and communities of grace has been floating around the interweb (e.g. here).  It apparently comes from an address by Tim Chester at the Total Church Conference, and also appears on Tim’s blog.  I recently read Total Church by Tim and his colleague, Steve Timmis, and found much that was provocatively helpful and challenging, and a few things with which I disagreed or about which I had questions (I may try to review this book shortly).  Here is the list:

Communities of performance

  • the leaders appear sorted
  • the community appears respectable
  • meetings must be a polished performance
  • identity is found in ministry
  • failure is devastating
  • actions are driven by duty
  • conflict is suppressed or ignored
  • the focus is on orthodoxy and behaviour (allowing people to think they’re sorted)

Communities of grace

  • the leaders are vulnerable
  • the community is messy
  • meetings are just one part of community life
  • identity is found in Christ
  • failure is disappointing, but not devastating
  • actions are driven by joy
  • conflict is addressed in the open
  • the focus is on the affections of the heart (with a strong view of sin and grace)

We are asked to assess the churches of which we are a part and to which we belong, and to see whether we belong to a community of performance or a community of grace.

However, what we are presented with here is a series of false dichotomies: this is a logical fallacy in which two options are given on the premise that the one is mutually exclusive of the other, and that there are no other alternatives.  But it is a false dichotomy because the contrast is either not jointly exhaustive or not mutually exclusive.  Put more simply, you are being told that this is an ‘either-or’ choice when it really is not.

So, are your leaders sorted or are they vulnerable?  These are not mutually exclusive choices.  Is it wrong for leaders to be competent?  Is that the same as sorted?  What does ‘vulnerable’ mean?  Does it mean that their fallen though redeemed humanity is apparent, that they evidently are earthen vessels (2Cor 4.7)?  Webster’s Dictionary suggests that a vulnerable person is “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded” – what does that have to do with grace?  If it means that the leaders of a church don’t pretend to be superhuman, all well and good.  But how does that contrast with ‘sorted’?  A lot of people who like to appear sorted are actually prone to being wounded – vulnerability is often part of the package, because it’s the very thing that the performer is trying to deny.  Furthermore, a leader who is not only capable of being physically or emotionally wounded, but who is constantly wrecked by it and made incapable of serving others through it (e.g. curling up in self-centredness) is not really a demonstration of grace.  Only where one’s vulnerability works itself out in, for example, a Pauline dynamic does it prove a demonstration of grace.

The community appears respectable or it is messy?  If by this we are called to distinguish between a Pharisaic outward morality and a readiness to acknowledge the realities of remaining sin and the imperfections of sinners wrestling toward holiness, fine.  But is messy the opposite of respectable?  If we are beacons of gospel light in a fallen world could we not appear – or, indeed, be – ‘respectable’ to a twisted and miserable world without being Pharisees?  And does messy require that we not make progress toward godliness, even while we recognise that God’s grace is not always the neat and streamlined thing we would like it to be?  Are we being told to oppose messy with orderly?  After all, things in the church are to be done decently and in order (1Cor 14.40).  Is there something ungodly about being like God?

Again, if a polished performance is the be-all-and-end-all of a meeting for worship, then clearly we are in trouble.  But how is that opposed to a meeting that is one part of community life?  The whole life of a community could be the pursuit of a polished performance.  What does it become then?  Again, could a meeting that is decent and orderly be a genuine arena for true grace?  Paul evidently thought so.

Is your identity found in ministry or in Christ?  Surely and fundamentally, it is in Christ.  But is knowing and labouring in one’s calling and service the opposite of finding one’s identity in Christ?

Is failure devastating or disappointing?  Well, it depends on the nature of the failure.  When Peter failed to own Christ, he was more than disappointed.  He was, of course, restored by God’s grace, but he was devastated.  Are we called to distinguish between the demand for sinless perfection and the recognition that there is a constant battle against sin and for godliness?  Amen!  But surely it is not the necessary mark of a mere performer to be profoundly grieved over sin (one’s own or that of others), and some of the most gracious men are much more than disappointed by their sin and those of others, while recognising that where sin abounds grace much more abounds?

Are your actions driven by duty or joy?  Well, are not a lot of my actions duties?  Cannot my duties be driven by joy?  What sort of joy?  What is the opposite of this joy?  Distress?  Grief?  To be sure, my actions are not to be driven by guilt, or with a view to earning merit, or merely being applauded.  But to be driven (motivated?) by joy does not mean that what I am doing is not my Christian duty.

Is conflict suppressed or ignored or addressed openly?  What does openly mean?  If it means in front of the whole community, then that runs against our Lord’s injunction to go first alone to win one’s brother, and then with one or two others (Mt 18.15-17).  “Of course it doesn’t mean that!” you respond.  I know, but in terms of the false contrast supplied it could.  What does suppression mean?  If it means covering a brother’s ignorant offence with a blanket of love (in the longsuffering spirit of 1 Corinthians 13.4) because you do not need to raise it with him unless it becomes a pattern of sin, surely that is a mark of grace?  If and when a problem does need to be dealt with, do you do so frankly, transparently, openly?  Good, that too is grace.

Is the focus of your local church on orthodoxy and behaviour (allowing people to think they’re sorted) or on the affections of the heart (with a strong view of sin and grace)?  Why should an affectionate heart full of love to God and persuaded of the sinfulness of sin and the abounding grace of God in Christ lack orthodox belief and righteous behaviour?  As Martin Downes points out (just seen this!), orthodoxy is demanded in a true community of grace and a true minister of the gospel of grace (2Tim 1.13-14).  There is no necessary exclusivity between orthodox doctrine and righteous living and the affections of the heart (as the parenthetical caveats acknowledge, there is a specific context in which these qualities can become opposed, even if they not mutually exclusive themselves).

If you read Tim Chester’s own blog, you will see that he is much more nuanced than the list suggests.  This is a good thing, because the naked list is thoroughly misleading.  It sets up a series of unfair contrasts that demand a much more carefully explained context to be genuinely helpful.  The categories established and the judgments demanded by them suck the unwary reader into an ‘either-or’ quandary which is simply unnecessary, not to mention unreasonable.  The opposing lists feel edgy and radical, but – standing alone – they seem flawed and can be very easily misunderstood.  Indeed, almost all of the marks of a community of grace we are offered could very easily be ‘performed.’  I hope that by simply pointing this out, I will not be immediately consigned to one of those terrible ‘communities of performance.’

Some of the things that Tim identifies certainly can mark a community as tainted with Pharisaism and legalism and hypocrisy.  Some of the marks he suggests identify a community of grace are – rightly understood – indicative of spiritual health.  However, there is a mere surface contrast being demanded by these lists that could betray us into a denial of true grace at work.  Martin Downes makes plain that

Christ is enough. His obedient life is enough. His finished work is enough. The imputation of his righteousness is enough. It has all be done by Him for us. Grace has set us free from seeking to establish, maintain and advance our status on the basis of a false righteousness.

Where Christ is enough and known and felt to be enough, grace will reign and our communities will be awash with grace.  It will be grace in which we stand (Rom 5.2) and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Such realities are not advanced by false dichotomies.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 3 November 2008 at 14:24

Following Jesus

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With my father still away in the US, I had both services again.  He returns this week, but then I am away, visiting Emmanuel Baptist Church in Coconut Creek, Florida, for a couple of weekends.  On my return, I am preaching almost immediately at a Ladies’ Conference hosted by the church, and then our friend from the Reformed Baptist Church of Chelmsley Wood, Pastor Gearóid Marley, will be preaching on the following Lord’s day (when we shall be having a special ‘Sunday Listen & Dine’ service, inviting unconverted friends).

This morning I preached from Luke 5.27-32, on Christ’s calling of Levi, under the title, Follow me”.  The structure was very simple.  On the one hand, we considered Christ’s call: it was sudden, almost random to the eyes of men; surprising, because Levi seemed to have no expectation or desire of Christ, was in a business for collaborators from which you would not expect disciples to be drawn, and was in the grip of wealth which he was in the process of collecting; gracious, for the same reasons, and yet Christ is pleased to speak to him; personal, as the Lord bids Levi come into relationship with him; simple, being crisp and clear – leave your sin and life of sin and come after me; absolute, issued with no qualifications or options, demanding an absolute renunciation of his old life and absolute commitment to Christ; purposeful, because though men might have imagined Levi a waste of space, yet our Lord would use him to bring others, and would make him the Spirit’s scribe to record the gospel of the kingdom; and, effectual, working a response in Levi by the power of God.

Then there is Levi’s response: fundamentally, it is obedient – called to follow, Levi got up and followed; furthermore, it is immediate – there is no delay, he neither denies nor defers; sacrificial, for he leaves all behind, the unqualified call receiving an unqualified response; joyful, without regret for what is left behind, and honouring Christ with a great feast; public, for Levi did not so much leave his friends behind as seek to draw them with him, demonstrating a missionary spirit without leaving home; shocking, for such men and women as this to be found keeping company with Christ, and he with them – but this is just where we should expect to find the Great Physician; and, encouraging – if then, why not now?  If them, why not you?

We paused with the two enduring images of Christ: the Son of God looking at Levi, and – with authority, integrity, and tenderness, bidding him “Follow me”; and, the Saviour among sinners, the Redeemer among the lost, the light shining in the darkness, the Lord Jesus about his saving business.

With these images before us, we asked the believers to remember Christ’s gracious dealings with us, contrary to our deserts, expectations and desires.  Has he captured our hearts like he captured Levi’s?  Do we have the disciple’s grateful and missionary spirit?

Or has the spirit of the Pharisees crept in, whereby we preach for the pleasant but dismiss the perverse, look for the worthy and despise the unworthy?  Do we receive the righteous, or sinners?  How much we need confidence in this Saviour for all sinners, to call men of all sorts to follow him, and pray for the Spirit to make the call effectual.  Out and out Pharisees, too, need a Christ, but they must first humble themselves and confess themselves sinners: the church is not a moral club for the socially acceptable and outwardly upright, but a joyful gathering of black-hearted wretches saved by grace and made followers of the Saviour of sinners like us.

Then, this evening, I continued in Colossians: Beware the predators.  Paul now launches into battle on behalf of the Colossians, proceeding by way of admonition and affirmation – exposing error and affirming truth, applying Christ’s personal, saving and sovereign fullness to the errors being pushed on the church.

We began with a clear warning given.  Paul calls the church to be always on their guard.  Though danger is clearly implied and alertness demanded (a vigilance modelled by Epaphras), he does not merely give a general directive.

There is also a real danger identified.  A person or persons in the Colossian church is seeking to carry Christians off captive, to take them as prey.  This is a real danger, the very opposite of walking in Christ.  To false teachers, Christians are prey, and so we need to recognise that there are such enemies of our souls who have such designs; pastors must issue specific warnings as appropriate; and, the saints, once warned, must be on their guard.

Finally, there is a seductive method exposed.  The tools of the predator are “philosophy and empty deceit.”  Such weapons, used cunningly, are effective against all manner of Christians, striking at every weak point.  Philosophy here is (not a genuine love of wisdom but) the elevation of the human mind above revelation, a blanket term for claimed mystical, intuitive, imaginative ‘insights’ into the divine nature and natural phenomena.  By definition, such philosophy is empty deceit – seductive, impressive, even intimidating, but really just high-sounding nonsense, a pretty poison.  It is that which pleases fancy and ruins faith.  I gave some examples of this kind of material from hypercovenantalism (the Federal Vision), the emergent church, post-modern Gnosticism, the Lakeland revivals, and current philosophy of science, to take but a few.  Though a wide spectrum, they share characteristics of style or elements of untruth that put them firmly under this banner.  It is a mask for old errors, the garb of neo-paganism, and altogether dangerous.  Phil Johnson posts some words from Charles Spurgeon that echo some of the same issues.

The three marks by which such empty deceit can be identified are its being according to the traditions of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.  While intending to consider these marks in more detail, we paused simply to note that an accurate knowledge of Christ, in whom is all fullness, and in whom we are made full, is the antidote to such error.  This is why it is so vital, having received Christ Jesus the Lord, to go on walking in him.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 1 September 2008 at 13:31

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