Tuesday, November 06, 2007

New Pharisees

The title may lead some to think I’m about to start harping on some sort of self appointed ‘sin patrol’. If that was your initial impression you either have a shallow understanding of the 1st century Christ-Pharisee conflict or you think very little of my perception of it.

I have argued before (borrowing heavily from N.T. Wright) that the simplistic understanding of the conflict is to be dismissed outright. That is, the Pharisees affirmed the wrong kind of religion and Jesus, traveling sage of timeless wisdom that He was, rebuked them – meanwhile offering a new type of internal, Platonic religion. Recent scholarship has thoroughly destroyed these historic fantasies yet the legends live on in the feeble minds of churchgoers everywhere.

To put it another way – Jesus was not a liberal. In the Sermon on the Mount, the ‘mount’ signifies the new Sinai and Jesus Himself is the new Torah. The Christology behind the event is a call to loyalty and obedience to Christ as the Jews had previously been called to the Torah.

So then, Christ didn’t rebuke the Pharisees for too strictly enforcing the Law - proposing instead that we just realize the true message of it all – love, peace and forgiveness. Instead He told them “you allow men to divorce but I tell you, what God has joined man must not separate” and “the Law says you shall not kill, I say if you even think about it you’re already guilty”. Then Christ’s Law is not less strict, less judgmental, more forgiving – His is even more difficult!

The Prophets, by the Holy Spirit, gave us further clarification on how we were to follow God’s Law. It became even clearer in the deutero-canonical period to the point where many of Jesus’ teachings can find comfortable roots in the DC books (further evidence of their divine origin) and finally- Jesus, the Word incarnate, came to eliminate all confusion and to fulfill the Law.

To summarize, Christ didn’t rebuke the Pharisees for following God’s Law too closely but for not following it! It doesn’t do the situation justice to say they merely ‘missed the point’. Jesus saw them as being disobedient to the true commands of God. (See Wright and others for more detail on that). This excessive introduction has served only to make sure we’re all on the same page before I continue.

In the parable of the wicked tenants, Israel’s religious leaders (usually the Pharisees) were the wicked tenants and Israel herself was the vineyard. It seems to me that the same thing is happening all over again. Perhaps it is the perpetually true parable – it’s always happening with God’s people.

Now the vineyard is the Church – and the wicked tenants are those resisting the pope – the liberals who have massacred the liturgy and the heretical groups within the Church promoting homosexual agendas and rebelliously petitioning for the ordination of women. They call themselves Catholic but have shamefully neglected their duties. The USCCB has no shortage of wicked tenants these days.

In my diocese, the diocese of Charlotte, we have a lay ministry course that would make the Jesus Seminar proud. Other officially sponsored educational programs like the Deaconate teach open heresy from what I’ve been told. It’s no secret and nothing’s being done about it. The pastor of my parish has good theology but has been woefully uneducated regarding liturgy and is actively participating in what Peter Kreeft called “the liturgical holocaust” of the Catholic Church. I can think of no better phrase to describe it.

Once the vineyard was adorned with art that would leave the workers awestruck, inspiring them to continue their vital labor. In fact, the vineyard was so beautiful that it attracted new workers and converted her enemies. The workers were nourished by prime rib and asparagus – halibut with lemon sauce but now the tenants have done away with it. They serve skim milk and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a bag of greasy potato chips to go along with it.

It all begs the question – why? Why would the tenants be so opposed to beauty? The answer is quite easy – spiritual warfare. Do you think the enemy wants reverent worship of God or irreverent? Which would Satan prefer, a mass with a feel-good homily and lifeless contemporary music or a deliberate sermon (maybe somewhat hard to swallow and not well suited to immature palates) and the sacred tradition of Gregorian chant in a language people no longer understand?

Do you think the enemy would prefer we disobey the bishop and hold hands during the Our Father to promote ‘the community’ or would he rather us act in fidelity to the Magisterium regardless of what “feels good” to us?

If Satan were alive and active, do you think he’d be the one trying to “restore the liturgy to the dark ages” or would he be the one acting in defiance of the pope on repeated exhortations to revive the lost beauty of the Catholic Church?

I ask these rhetorical questions to emphasize this one fact – we are in the midst of a spiritual war. It should come as no surprise that the enemy continually focuses his most devious attacks on the tenants of the vineyard he wishes to destroy. Who better in a position to rend the land fruitless than the farmers? We again need to remind ourselves of Christ’s promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail against her (the Church). And at frustrating times like these, that’s about all we have to hang on to.


Thos said...


Aren't there complaint processes you can initiate? Perhaps you should persue some of this, say in the instance of the Deaconate training that consists of heresies? Maybe you're the guy meant to do it!

I loved the New Torah-New Mount thought - thanks!

Peace in Christ,

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

First - the Torah point I owe entirely to Pope Benedict XVI in his recent book Jesus of Nazareth. I would recommend it.

Second, there are complaint processes as I understand it and I fully intend to do the best job I can in urging fidelity to the teaching of the Church. The largest brunt of the work is education - most Catholics are just woefully uneducated about ...well Catholicism. I have a PCA elder friend who is/was flirting with the idea of becoming Catholic. I told him, you're already more Catholic than 95% of the people at my parish.

Our diocese is actually in pretty good shape I think. Our bishop is fairly orthodox as I understand it (if even a bit complacent). I'm going to try to seek audience with him. Maybe I'm dreaming but stranger things have happened.

TheDen said...


That's some good stuff. I've been contemplating Spiritual Warfare a lot as I can sometimes sense dark forces (whether real or imagined) around me.

One time, after spending some time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I wanted to share a CD of mine with a friend. The CD was of my wedding and she wanted to hear the Homily. Well, lo and behold my CD player REFUSED to spit out the CD. She attributed it to spiritual warfare and left.

The second she got in her car, the CD spit out (which i then gave to her.) This is but one example of what I've experienced.

In the Archdiocese of Detroit, I can see the attack on the clergy constantly as they are brought down. We need to pray for them to fight the good fight as it's not easy being them.

Then again, God never said anything about life being easy.

Have you checked out saint-mike.org? Especially the Padre Pio center? Great stuff in there.

I think you'll be in agreement with all of it.

God bless.

Thos said...


Good to hear. A discussion of spiritual warfare fits nicely in the context of complacency and seeking (proper) reform. We all need to be active defenders of the faith.

I often wonder how things would look in the PCA if congregants were more active in pursuing an orthodox eldership (and by 'orthodox', I mean in conformity with our Standards, since I can't mean the other kind of orthodoxy). Maybe then everyone would realize how few people are "True Reformed"! Maybe they'd realize they all had their own views, and very few were really interested in submitting to their elders!

I brought a complaint to Presbytery a few years ago on a large church we used to attend, because they had elders openly opposed to infant baptism. Those elders claimed infant baptism wasn't a fundamental or central tenet of Reformed faith, so their exception to the Standards was permissible. Lo and behold, the Presbytery agreed with my view (that baptizing our infants is central), and those elders were required to step down.

MY POINT: it was painful for my wife and me as we went through the complaint process. People talked. People gave us dirty looks and shared angry expressions. People told me I was elevating the Confession to the level of Scripture -- who was I to impose my views on them?! Seeking reform to orthodoxy (i.e., *changing hearts*) is not easy.

Sorry to preach. I just mean to say that I did feel sin and perhaps satan pulling me back - telling me to drop the complaint, to quit. I'm so glad I didn't!

Peace in Christ,

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Theden - I'll check out the site. It's likely I'll be attending mass in Detroit before too long, I have lots of family there. Haven't been up that way since I've been Catholic though.

Thos - thanks for the encouragement. You sound like my PCA-Elder friend. I told him, I'd like to tell you things are different in the Catholic Church - but the truth is, there are dissenters from every faith everywhere you go.

The only difference I can see is that the official governing body of the Catholic Church is actively pursuing the repair of abuses suffered over the last 40 years. It's not an overnight process and it's moving too slow for my comfort level but Theden is right - we have to pray pray pray.

I'm ashamed to say that until recently, my diocese hasn't been in my daily prayers except on rare occasion. Now I have the diocese and Bishop Jugis in my prayers daily. Before the 60s, every Catholic mass was followed by the prayer to Saint Michael the archangel. The cathedral in my diocese still upholds that tradition though it is no longer required.

Pray for the Catholic Church and for all Christians. We all have one common enemy and one common Lord.

TheDen said...


Let me know the cities you plan on visiting and I can point you to some good parishes.

TheDen said...


One more item...

I stumbled on this guy's blog. You may be able to help him through...please keep him in your prayers.