Sunday, December 24, 2006

Salvation for Pharisees and other Fundamentalists

I know what it is to be a Pharisee.

I was a war baby, and I grew up in the Cold War. The first time I heard a fighter jet overhead I was sitting in a back corner of Primary Sunday School and I thought it was the end of the world, Judgement Day. I was surprised when I got outside to see that there were no mushroom clouds, no parting of the sky, no trumpets blowing.

My family attended church every time the doors were open. A lot of other kids did, too. We were Southern Baptists, humble and proud of it. We prayed for the boys in Korea fighting for our freedom. We quoted John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

But our parents, preachers, and most other adults were trying to teach us to be "good". We believed John 3:16, but we were spending a lot of time on the Ten Commandments. Nobody meantioned anything about the prohibitions of eating barbecued pork and fried catfish, and all that other stuff in Leviticus.

Even the Ten Commandments threw me for a loop. I tried to keep them, but at age 10 or less I had no idea of what they meant about adultery. Trying to keep the Lord's Day holy was a toughie. I loved reading the Sunday funny papers, but I wasn't sure whether such frivolity was "fittin'" to read on Sunday, so for a while there, I'd stash the Sunday funnies and read them when I got home from school Monday afternoon.

You laugh? I was one of the best Pharisees a young fellow could be! Like other good Pharisees, I expected the same high standards of everybody else.

I wished later that we had spent more time on John 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Jesus is about Salvation, not about Condemnation.

I should have paid more attention to what Jesus said about applying the law to others in Matthew 7:

1Judge not, that ye be not judged.

2For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

3And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

4Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

5Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

Jesus was considered a teacher of the Law, but he is one with the Father and the Spirit. He knew the letter of the Law as much as any Pharisee, but he taught the Spirit of the Law as His Father created it.

The Apostle Paul knew the letter of the Law full well, and he did all he could to kill every leading Christian. You might call him an extreme fundamentalist. But he saw the light. He found the love of Jesus. He preached some hard lessons and laid down some rules for the early church. But in his writing and in that written by others about him, Paul's message was that of His Lord's - Salvation, not Condemnation.

As for myself, today I find good advice in what Paul said to the Philippians in chapter 2, verse 12. It was quoted often by the leading Deacon of my childhood church: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."

Merry Christmas!

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