In the last post I thought a bit about the dangers of Pharasaism re-producing itself.
If you pastor out of the Pharisee's mindset, here is how you will conceive the Christian life.
Here the Christian life is about minimizing sins and maximizing performance. You will keep your sins private and your righteousness public. Of course Jesus tells us to do the exact opposite. He is the Doctor only for those who own the public label 'sinner' (Mark 2:17). And He commands us not to perform our righteousness 'to be seen by men' (Matt 6:1ff).
But in this world performance is everything. Life works because we've learnt the ropes, tried hard and never given up. Things go wrong because of bad performance. This holds for suffering too. We might not be so crass as the disciples when they looked at the blind man and asked 'Who sinned?!' (John 9:2). But actually the Pharisee will find themselves asking those same questions internally and will, in the long run, find it impossible to love an inveterately suffering person. 'If only they'd take my advice, live right, try harder, keep going they'd be well by now.' Sustained suffering (not to mention on-going sin) will force the Pharisee to either abandon their Pharisaism or abandon the struggler. But if they hold onto their works mentality they must eventually abandon the struggler.
Pastoring in this world will not be a long-term journey alongside people. It will be an impatient 'fixing' of people. It's all about whitewashing our tombs (Matt 23:27). The pastors will be the experts, dispensing advice from on high. The pastored will be those who progress outwardly through pressure.
The community might seem to be very judgemental. And on one level, it is. But in fact, while the accusations will be brutally harsh and backed by intense self-righteousness, they will be hopelessly superficial judgements. The outside of the cup will be addressed in scathing attacks. But the insides of all will remain full of every kind of uncleanness. (Matt 23:25ff)
And, in collusion with one another, this community will consistently fail to address sin on any meaningful level. Life will exist within a very narrow band. No one will be very bad (or at least admit to it). And no-one will be particularly good either. They'll tithe their spices for sure. But because of the self-centredness of works-righteousness, no-one will actually go out of themselves into the kind of 'justice, mercy and faithfulness' that Jesus identifies as 'the weightier matters of the law'. (Matt 23:23)
So the Pharisee will show a very shallow gradient of Christian growth and level out early on. They find the level of their Pharisaical community and stick there.
The world Jesus asks us to inhabit is completely different:
This diagram is ripped off from World Harvest Mission. I learnt it from a friend who learnt it from a friend who got it from WHM. Any good and profitable insight is entirely due to WHM, any misunderstandings or unwarranted developments are mine alone.
On this understanding, we begin the Christian life when we see Christ crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. (Rom 4:25) He has bridged the gap between ourselves and our Holy Father and He has bridged it entirely in Himself. Christ crucified becomes precious to us - He is our wisdom; our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Cor 1:30)
However as we continue in the Christian life, we realize that we are actually much more sinful than we'd ever realized. The Lord begins to show us more and more features of our lives that need addressing. And He reveals greater and greater heights to His redeeming love. In this sense, the cross gets bigger and bigger in our understanding as we realize "Ah, the Lord shed His blood even for that; He justifies me even in that wickedness."
And so in the gospel world, our knowledge of sin increases not decreases. But, correspondingly, our knowledge of Christ's gracious atonement increases. Thus our love for Christ grows.
Except that... we are a strange hybrid of Christian and Pharisee. The default state of our hearts is always to hide our sins and justify ourselves. From the very beginning we've hidden our nakedness and sewed together fig-leaves. Therefore my Pharisaical tendency will always be towards self-deception - 'I'm not really that bad. There are plenty who are worse. The Lord's more interested in X, Y, Z - the really bad sins.' And I'll self-justify - I'll draw my sense of peace, joy, OK-ness from self and world and not from Christ crucified.
In doing this, I keep the cross small. After all I'm not that bad and in fact I am quite good, all things considered.
The work of gospel pastoring will be to continually confront my self-justifying, self-deceiving heart with the grace and truth of Jesus. In my right mind, I should welcome this pastoring because its goal is to reveal to me Christ in all His grace and wonder.
A community that seeks after this magnification of Christ and Him crucified will be radically different to the Pharisaical one. Here I can never be shocked by my sin or by yours. If I've seen anything of the cross then I'm convinced that my sins demanded the blood of God. Not a moral pep-talk, not a 12 step programme or rigourous accountability structure - only God's blood spilt in wrath averting sacrifice can ever atone. I'm so much worse than I'd ever imagined. And when you point this out, you are my friend, because you are showing me fresh depths to the love of Christ.
Here, community is about coming out from our hiding places, standing naked before the Lord, peeling off our fig-leaves and being clothed in the sacrifice He has made.
It will be a life-long journey, not a quick fix. And it won't be one expert dispensing advice from on high, but one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.
More to follow...