The Pharisees Of Truth


Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like we in the church have been hyper-focused on truth in recent years.

We’ve created coalitions to defend it, erected alliances to define it, and publish a never ending stream of blogs that claim to proclaim nothing but absolute truth.

The truth is, of course, a very important thing. And worthy of such endeavors.

But I worry we’ve reduced Christianity to little more than a list a propositional truths, doctrines and statements of faith we’re convinced will save us if we simply believe them deeply and defend them passionately.

In other words, the Christian life, for many of us, is exhausted by internal debates about doctrine and external arguments with those outside the church about why we’re right and they’re wrong.

In our never ending quest to be right about everything and have everyone acknowledge we’re right about everything we’ve become the Pharisees of truth, people who draw lines in the sand to exclude others if they don’t think like we think and believe exactly like we believe.

As Pharisees of truth, difference of opinion isn’t treated as disagreement between brothers. It’s deception that leads to damnation. And so we cast out and condemn anyone and everyone who doesn’t pass our tests of orthodoxy.

Like the Pharisees of old we’ve become obsessed with maintaining purity. For the Pharisees of old that purity was found in conformity to ritual. Those who adhered to strictly defined rituals were allowed to gather together to eat and fellowship at the same table, those who didn’t were excluded.

For us today, purity is found in conformity of thought. Those who adhere to strictly defined doctrines are welcomed to the table of Christian fellowship, those who dissent are denounced as heretics.

Where once the Law was meant to give life, the legalism of the Pharisees brought death. Today, the truth of Jesus is meant to set us free, but our righteous dogmatism has placed us in bondage.

Now, like the Pharisees of old, we claim that we’re just preaching the Bible, but too often our truth is carefully curated and culturally conditioned. Either because of the commitments of our tradition or simply our personal presences or some combination of both, we choose what parts of scripture to emphasize while ignoring our cultural biases in doing do. Some of this, of course, is inevitable. The problem comes in not so much in the doing but in the disavowing of the role our own interpretation and prejudices play in the development of our faith.

Even though we may be appealing to the Bible, when we fail to acknowledge the critical role our own interpretation and cultural conditioning play, we become blind to the reality that too often the truth looks conspicuously like our truth.

This doesn’t mean we have to abandon any sense of truth for absolute relativism. We can still proclaim the truth so long as we also proclaim that we see but through a mirror dimly.

But even in doing that, we need to rediscover the sort of truth Jesus was fundamentally concerned with.

And it wasn’t propositional truth.

Or doctrines.

Or statements of faith.

It was a way of life.

Unfortunately, we love to invoke Jesus’ claim to be the way, the truth, and the life as if those words were a line in the sands of orthodoxy. We’ve become so hyper-focused on the truth part of Jesus’ claim that we’ve turned it into a proof-text for our ideological crusades of purification and a formula for our own salvation.

Believing and defending the right truths, we think, is the way that leads to life. But in this conviction we miss the importance of Jesus placing being truth between being the way and the life.

The way to life doesn’t follow the truth. Rather, the truth is found within a way of life.

In other words, the truth Jesus proclaims and embodies is a way of life, a particular way of living that, as the gospels proclaim, is defined by love, grace, mercy, compassion, healing, and hope for all.

This is the sort of truth we should be contending for and defending and proclaiming. Truth that is defined and affirmed by the way we live our lives, not the sophistication of our arguments.

This foundation of right living (orthopraxis) rather than right believing (orthodoxy) is why Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” and why Paul proclaims that even if we can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, we are nothing.

You see, the simple truth of the matter is Christian truth is not found in a list of beliefs.

For, as James so powerfully points out, even the demons believe in one God and shudder. Which means if believing the fundamental truth that there is one God (and the beliefs that follow from that claim) does nothing to separate us from the devil, then the foundation of Christian truth must be found elsewhere.

And it is.

Christian truth, the kind Jesus embodies, is found in a life of love.

It’s found in the Greatest Commandment and the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount and all the others ways both big and small that Jesus taught us to love and serve our neighbors.

Which is my we must abandon the way of the Pharisees and our quest for ideological purity.

Abandoning the way of the Pharisees doesn’t mean abandoning truth and embracing every heresy under the sun.

It means following the path of Jesus and relocating the foundation of truth away from purity of belief to a way a life defined by love and grace.

It means actually living like Jesus instead of just talking about it.