I am convinced that Pharisaism is alive and well (or perhaps dead but still causing a stink). I fear that one place it happily takes up residence is in my own heart. To try to detect Pharisaism in the corridors of my heart (whether in the hidden recesses or obvious for all to see) I thought it wise to study Matthew 23. I hope to post a series of reflections on each of these woes. I want to consider where I struggle with Pharisaism and perhaps suggest where it could be stinking up the church. Today we will consider…
Keeping the Keys, Shutting the Door
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” Matthew 23:13
For the most part I am not guilty of what Jesus is condemning here. The fundamental thing being addressed in this passage is rejecting Jesus and encouraging others to do the same. The Pharisees vigorously opposed Jesus and his message and distorted it with their own competing claims. This shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s face. They refused to enter themselves and by their example they discouraged broken and downtrodden people from coming to their much needed redeemer.
I’m not guilty of intentionally encouraging people to reject Jesus. But there is something about the Pharisee’s heart that can be present in mine: a keeper of the keys mentality. This mentality stands at the gate of heaven with a set of keys and assumes it has the responsibility to decide who goes in and who stays out.
This is where it gets confusing. If I read Matthew 16 correctly all those that stand in line with the apostolic message of the gospel do hold keys to the kingdom. Part of the role of the church is to decide, as best we can, who is in and who is out. This is what church membership and church discipline is. (Before you decide to disagree read The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love and then come back to me). We have to be careful not to reject this “keeper of the keys” thing outright.
However, there is a heart attitude that I sometimes see in myself that is Pharisaical. It’s the attitude that has a long list of what is required to truly be called a Christian and acts with an ungracious spirit towards those that don’t fully match the list. It’s a heart that has certain levels of spirituality based upon certain doctrines held. The “majors” on the list are all of the things that I hold dear and the “minors” are all the things that I don’t care to address in my own life.
This is not a simple issue. Dr. Mohler engages this issue when he calls for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity. His central thesis is that there are some things that are essential for being a Christian, some things are essential for being in the same local church, and some things are differences that can be held by those in the same local body.
In my opinion, this is a helpful way of thinking, though some have disagreed. A Keeper of the Keys mentality makes third-tier issues first-tier issues and refuses to fellowship with those of a different theological bent.
I have to be honest and say I am still working through these issues. I am growing in learning to place the non-essentials in their proper perspective. There are third-tier issues that I hold strongly and I think that they have an impact on first-tier and second-tier issues. So, it is tough for me sometimes to make certain that a majority of my passion lies in first-tier issues instead of being relegated to third-tier.
I have to ask myself am I more passionate about Calvinism (third-tier) or that Jesus alone saves (first-tier)? Calvinism will get blog traffic, generate attention, and sell books. The Trinity probably won’t generate much attention. And at the end of the day that, I think, garnering attention is the motivation behind the keeper of the keys mentality. It is rooted in a deep desire to be noticed, to stand out, to look like an authority, to have it all together.
Do I reserve my greatest amount of effort and passion for the “main things” or am I most passionate about the “differences” that really come down to no more than pride?