Everyone Needs a Pharisectomy

The first issue to confront the apostles after Christ’s resurrection, particularly in their interaction with the Jews, was how to relate to the Old Testament scriptures.  The post-resurrection squabbles were all hermeneutical[1] fights. The apostles had the unenviable task of trying to claim continuity with the old order and differentiation from it at the same time. It wasn’t easy then, it’s not easy now.

The Jews took strong objection to how the apostles went about this with nonliteral interpretations and applications of Old Covenant prophetic scripture.  Paul hung the validity of Christianity on a hermeneutical point of grammar: the letter “s.”  If the “seed” of Galatians 3:14-18 is “seeds” (plural/many), then we all should be Jewish. If it’s singular, then our faith is legitimate. This is one highly nuanced interpretation! It’s a spiritual and nonliteral interpretation of the Abrahamic promise.

Saying the issue was controversial is an understatement. Paul’s nonliteral hermeneutics got him lowered over a wall in a basket trying to escape a “hit” that had been ordered on him by the conservative prophetic literalists of his day!  It is not enough to quote and apply various prophetic proof texts literally, as if in so doing, we are de facto, automatically, and unequivocally “being faithful to God’s holy Word,” by mere reason of our commitment to “literalism.”

To this day, there’s a wide spectrum of passionate opinion on this topic. Indeed, everything depends on the answer to this question: How do we interpret and apply the Old Covenant scriptures in the New Covenant era?

The issue is not whether or not the Old Covenant scriptures are equally inspired, valuable, or foundational. The issue is, how are they to be interpreted and applied in the light of what I call—the Christ-Act: Jesus’ birth, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, glorification, Spirit outpouring, and Spirit indwelling (the new creation).  How does the inauguration of the new creation affect our application of the Old Covenant scriptures?

There are some who seem to believe that other than not offering animal blood sacrifices any more, nothing much else has changed. I disagree. The values, thinking, and methodologies of the old economy, the old way of God relating to and with humanity, have been “abolished,” “done away” with.[2] A change has occurred. The scope of the change is the two thousand-year-old debate.

If you shop the scriptures looking for what you want to believe, you will find a supporting proof text for whatever you are looking for. The Old Covenant scriptures cannot be treated like a menu from a Chinese buffet, picking and choosing which scriptures one wants to believe “still apply literally” and which ones don’t. It rises or falls as a unit. We must have a theology of interpretation. I know that in the swamp of Gnosticism common in the church today, “theology” is considered a dirty word along with scholarship and doctrine. Therein is the reason “we is in the mess we is in!” Decontextualized, isolated, and chain-linked proof texts establish nothing.

It is my premise that the Christ-Act, the new creation, changes God’s relationship to humanity, and our relationship to each other, as starkly as light coming from darkness, as dramatically as in the first creation.[3] The Christ-Act is the great interpretive lens/filter of all scripture, including the Old Covenant scripture.

Invariably, our religious nature wants to claim the Old Covenant scriptures that promise us blessing for good behavior, and exempt ourselves from the verses of imprecation, judgment, and doom for failure to behave appropriately. That’s what legalists do: excuse themselves, and accuse others. Those judgment verses are for those “other people”—you know, those terrible ungodly people and sinners who deserve to be judged because their lives, doctrines, behaviors, and knowledge are not as “right” as ours.

Or, we shave the edges on those judgment verses: “Oh, they don’t apply any more, we are under grace.” Or worse (and more commonly) we believe they still apply and we live like Jesus never came and died for our sin—we better behave rightly to avoid God’s judgments that still loom over us for every misstep or sin! We live like criminals released on parole rather than pardoned at the resurrection and our record erased. We are beloved children who, if necessary, will experience faithful and incrementally severe child training for our redemptive good. We are not criminals on parole.[4]

Take for example, those who use innumerable Old Covenant prophetic proof texts to predict great natural cataclysms of end time judgment upon disobedient believers and unbelievers.[5] These individuals seem to claim for themselves the same prerogatives of divine authority to speak as the prophets of the old economy, to make their judgment prophecies, but conveniently excuse themselves from the standards of measurement and judgment upon themselves[6] if they are wrong in their predictions, from the same economy that they want to project on others!

You cannot have it both ways. If we would insist on compliance with all the old law and its values, we must also bear the consequences of failure at any point of the law.[7] It is selective and manipulative exegesis to do otherwise. In spite of all the talk today about “accountability,” there is simply no serious self-governance among many who consider themselves predictive prophets of God’s holiness. There is no public discipline or repentance for “prophecies” that do not come to pass, but rather excuses, rationalizations, and blame.[8]

For those who believe God is going to send natural disasters to punish people and nations for their sins, I ask them to consider the implications of the following:

If in an inferior covenant, based on inferior promises, secured with the blood of goats and sheep, Sodom and Gomorrah would have been spared by the mere presence of ten righteous people who were not doing anything, (Note: not ten intercessors, nor ten prayer warriors, nor ten people seeking God with prayer and fasting, just ten people “being there”) why do we think that in an era of a better covenant, based on better promises, secured with the blood of the dear Son, God is going to punish individuals, cities, and nations with earthquakes, floods, and judgments? Why do we think that in an era of a better covenant, that we need tens of thousands of intercessors begging God not to judge us, or our unbelieving neighbors? There are more than ten righteous in the nations of the world.

In spite of all the accumulated “Bible knowledge” we might possess, deep down in all of us, there is a little religious, legal, Adamic-nature, Pharisee trying to escape. By our “rightness,”[9] we want to earn something from God and thereby set ourselves apart from, and above, others. This is an attempt by the rationalistic tendencies in humanity to neuter or domesticate the radical grace of God, thereby removing its offense to human sensibilities of justice/fairness. We want to be rewarded by God in this life for how “right” we think we are, and we expect Him to punish those in this life who are not as “right” as we believe ourselves to be. This thinking fails the grace of God. God is good to people who do not deserve it.[10] If it were not so, you and I would have no hope.

The Westminster divines coined a phrase that has stood the test of time. I believe it should be applied to end time speculations of naturalistic judgments:

  • In essentials, conformity
  • In nonessentials liberty
  • And in all things, charity (love/kindness)

Apocalyptic prophetic pronunciations of last day[11] naturalistic judgments are not faith essentials. If individuals want to believe in them, fine. That is their “eschatological liberty.” However, do not project those convictions on others, as if the entire future of the faith rises or falls in getting others to agree with those convictions. Doing so will only cause unnecessary divisions in the body of Christ. Those who do not share those convictions are not subversive apostates, unfaithful to God and His Word.

And remember . . . the measure where with you measure others, will be measured unto you.

[1] The science and art of interpretation.

[2] For fuller treatments, please refer to our published materials as well as All Things New by Carl B. Hoch, Jr.

[3] 2. Cor. 4:6.

[4] The Greek word for “punishment” is never used in the New Testament in relationship to God and his children. The word used is “discipline” or “child-training.” Believers are not “punished.” They either receive the logical fruit of what they have sown for violating God’s universal moral laws (sowing and reaping), or child training exercises, from a faithful Father. These exercises can be very circumstantially unpleasant. The presence of these unpleasant circumstances do not indicate divine wrath or judgment, but rather evidence sonship. See Hebrews 12:6-11.

[5] In this brief essay, I am not attempting a full treatment of the subject of judgment, justice, or God’s wrath. I am dealing narrowly with the quid pro quo mindset that believes God dishes out punishment in the form of natural disasters on people who fall short of His glory, and those who “prophesy” such events in a punitive sense.

[6] Capital punishment for inaccurate prophecies.

[7] Dr. Greg Austin.

[8] To often the common practice is to blame the “church” for not praying enough (or some other caveat) to bring the declared prophecy to pass. It is, of course, never the self-proclaimed prophets who are in the wrong. Their “anointing” supposedly inures them from any criticism.

[9] Rightness of doctrine, revelation, knowledge, insight, behavior . . . whatever.

[10] The temporal suffering of the righteous and the temporal prosperity of the wicked, has confounded God’s servants for millennia. A naïve, moralistic, quid pro quo theology of “God rewards the just and punishes the wicked” is not sustainable from the scriptures. It was that kind of thinking that God’s enemies hurled at God’s Son as He hung on the cross: “A good God would not let an innocent man suffer.” Really?

[11] We have been in the last days for 2,000 years. See Hebrews 1.

Copyright 2011 Dr. Stephen R. Crosby www.drstevecrosby.wordpress.com. This blog is an excerpt  of a 5-article booklet, done by five different authors, on the subject of new covenant prophets and prophecy. The full version can be downloaded at: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=KV65WXSA

Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact stephcros9@aol.com.

One comment on “Everyone Needs a Pharisectomy

  1. Great Article!
    Similar “apocalyptic prophetic pronunciations” are being heralded regarding the economy that I am growing weary of hearing. Excuse me if I take the “head in the sand” approach and try to ignore these apocalyptic prognosticators. Hoarding gold and food is not an option.
    After 30+ years of hearing this stuff ad nauseam with slight variations, I have no ear for it anymore.

    This needs to be committed to memory:
    •In essentials, conformity
    •In nonessentials liberty
    •And in all things, charity (love/kindness)

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