catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 24 :: 2006.12.29 — 2007.01.12


Confessions of a recovering Pharisee

At the meeting

Hello. My name is Ryan and I’m a recovering Pharisee. I really don’t think that I was born that way (although I think there may have been a tendency in my human nature to judge others). My behavior and judgmental thoughts seemed to begin shortly after I re-dedicated my life to God.

As a teenager and young adult I had a drug and alcohol problem. I was not physically addicted to anything except nicotine, but I routinely abused other substances. The big change in my life was prompted by a near death experience. I went from being a rebel to a radical for Jesus, or so I thought. I had so much guilt and fear of God that I was sure He would strike me dead for all my sins. As a result, I began to clean up my life, hoping for God’s mercy. I found security in rules. I burned all my old tapes and CDs. I stopped watching “bad” movies. I became a teetotaler regarding alcohol and tobacco. It bothered me that other people who professed to be Christians would not do the same. It also bothered me that other people did not have my same standards regarding movies and church attendance.

I regularly sat under preaching that encouraged and re-enforced my Pharisaical tendencies. I have heard these statements and more thundered from pulpits:

  • True believers could not attend Catholic or Episcopal churches.
  • Men should have short hair and be neatly groomed.
  • Women should not wear pants.
  • It is never God’s will to divorce; if you are divorced, it is never God’s will to remarry.
  • Music with a strong beat is sensual and of the devil.
  • True believers will not vote democrat.
  • The words “tolerance” and “compromise” should not be in a believer’s vocabulary.
  • God’s will is for all people to completely abstain from alcohol.

In this environment it was easy to assume that the more conservative a person was in her theology, lifestyles, and political views, the more spiritual she was. The fact that I had at one time gone too far in certain areas in my past was proof for me that it was best to be as conservative as possible in order to avoid the slippery slope toward the “evil” of liberalism.

My recovery has been happening gradually over the past decade. These points summarize this re-orientation:

  1. At first I began to notice inconsistencies in different churches—even the most conservative churches did not agree with each other over many issues like music, dress, and the Bible. I was beginning to get confused about where to draw the lines between right and wrong in my own life.
  2. While in seminary, I began to study certain issues like music, divorce, and alcohol using the Bible, reason, and the Holy Spirit as my guide. I found that many preachers tended to take more conservative positions than were biblical.
  3. I studied the passages on Christian liberty and the weaker brother. It surprised me to learn that the weaker brother was the one with the more conservative position.
  4. I studied the teachings of Christ. I found his teachings to be both liberal and liberating on many social issues. I saw little similarity between the teachings of Christ and the teachings of the churches I attended. I noticed a disparity between loving one’s neighbor and certain social problems in the world today.
  5. I began praying for discernment. I asked to be guided into the truth wherever it took me. I had a feeling that this would take me into some very uncomfortable places. I was right. However, what I did not anticipate was the tremendous spirit of liberty and courage that I gained as I began to change.

Sometimes I still struggle with Pharisaical tendencies. My most recent struggle has been with judging modern day Pharisees who are oblivious to their legalistic ways. One person I know told me that she feels more pure because she knows that she has never tasted alcohol. I pity this kind of religion that measures itself by such arbitrary standards. I want to help others who are in bondage to this kind of thinking; therefore, I plan to use my words, both written and spoken, to encourage people to examine their faith and confront their legalistic ways.

A New Perspective on Alcohol

I am convinced that the alcohol issue fits into the category of Christian liberty. Of course drunkenness is discouraged in the Bible. The reasons for this are evident by an analysis of the statistics related to health problems, violence, and accidents related to irresponsible drinking. Furthermore, there are some with a particular weakness in this area who should abstain. However, the majority of us can enjoy this blessing guilt free.

Every good gift comes from the Father in Heaven (James 1:17). Alcohol is a blessing from the Lord. One would only call this flippant who has not enjoyed a cold beer with a good pizza or after a few hours of hard work on a hot day. A glass of Merlot or Pinot Noir accentuates a good Italian feast. Alcohol in moderation is conducive to good conversation with friends or family. It has the ability to set the nerves at ease in social situations. It can help one relax. It has many health benefits ranging from decreasing one’s risk to heart disease to having the ability to fight cancers.

Of course all of these blessings are negated if one overindulges. This is true with many other things like food and sex. Sex is a blessing from God, but there are inappropriate ways to enjoy this gift. Irresponsible sex can damage health, destroy relationships, and make a jackass of you. In excess, alcohol can damage health, destroy relationships, and make a buffoon of you. A good measure of personal discipline never hurts in any area of life. Some have the gift of celibacy. This is God’s will for some. Likewise, abstaining from alcohol is God’s will for some. That is a decision that each person should make for himself.

It seems absurd to tell people that they are in sin for doing something that brings pleasure and improves health, out of fear that they might go too far. Yet that is precisely what Pharisees do—they control the masses with strict laws using fear as a motivation. When someone like Jesus comes along and breaks their rules, they get irate.

The Bible speaks of alcohol as a blessing. One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Psalm 104. It includes the phrase “Wine that makes glad the heart of man” in association with other blessings of God like oil and bread. This phrase is significant because it acknowledges that God created wine. It is found amidst a list of other blessings that God has designed as part of His creation. Wine is not part of the curse of sin. The curse comes when people misuse it. Furthermore, wine is meant for humans to enjoy. This is a tough concept to believe for a recovering Pharisees like myself. Yet I no longer will remain silent on this issue, and more importantly the broader issue of Pharisaical legalism.

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