Permit me—even forgive me if need be—for tampering with Scripture for a moment to make a brief but vital point:
Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt… The conservative Christian, standing by himself, was blogging thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: ignoring God’s clear commands against homosexuality, not upholding Scripture as inerrant and infallible, giving an ear to biological evolution for human origins, decrying God’s sovereignty in all matters, challenging the historicity of the Old Testament, or even like this liberal Christian.”
Wait, I’m not finished, tolerate me just once more:
Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt… The liberal Christian, standing by himself, was blogging thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: bigots for their stance on biblical marriage, supporting fast food chains who are against homosexual rights to marry, hold to Scripture as inerrant and infallible in all matters, teach conscious torment in hell for eternity, actually believe in the historicity of Genesis 1-3, or even like this conservative Christian.”
(I am fully aware of the over simplifications of the above, but its accuracy is not germane to the main point)
Now in writing this, I must be cautious that I do not fall prey to a third, but often unmentioned category: “God, I thank you that I am not like either of these liberal or conservative Christians!” Catch the drift? That is, in light of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector recorded in Luke 18:9-14 there is no righteous high ground for those slugging it out in the in the muddy trenches of the recent culture wars.
After all, Jesus is not here addressing a correct view per se, but an incorrect arrogant mindset. Moreover, what is important to highlight is that by all normal standards of the Second Temple period, the Pharisee was no doubt representing the “biblical side” of things, and thus, making sure to clarify—to God no less!—that he is not a part of those “others.”
Nevertheless, I am not advocating, to any degree, that all sides just lay down their theological, exegetical, hermeneutical, or sociopolitical weapons so we can hold hands across the America (though, that might not be such a bad idea). I am however attempting to convey that while we continue to engage our ideological foes that no matter how right our cause maybe in our own eyes, that we be ever vigilant of a higher meta-sin: presumptuous self-adulation.
Lest we catch ourselves in the just scope of the only righteous Judge of all matters past and present, Jesus himself. By all means let the discussions continue, (“war” is not the correct description) only let us put on Christ with all humility and gentleness keeping in mind the ever present threat of the graver sin abhorred by Christ, human pride.
There were, after all, moments when the various tribes of ancient Israel fought ferociously with one another, but there were other more pristine moments; like the moment the eleven tribes prayed for the tribe of Benjamin who failed to make face at an assembly after their near extinction. Scripture records, “But the Israelites had compassion for Benjamin their kin, and said, “One tribe is cut off from Israel this day.”
I suggest that though we may be absolutely convinced of the just nature of our particular cause, it is more imperative that we engage in a way that safeguards both against religious-self-conceit and the possibility of one less guard assembling to worship God and his Messiah. I rest my case with words from N.T. Wright on the parable referenced above:
But this doesn’t mean that one can tell in the present who God’s elect are, simply by the outward badges of virtue, and in particular the observance of the minutiae of the Jewish law (or for a particular sociopolitical cause for that matter). If you want to see where this final vindication is anticipated in the present, look for where there is genuine penitence, genuine casting of oneself on the mercies of God. ‘This one went home vindicated’; those are among the most comforting words in the whole gospel.
Lawrence is the Senior Teaching-Pastor of Academia Church in Goodyear, Arizona. He is a pastor devoted to the educational growth of his congregants, and the raising up of a new generation of disciples, who will think, tell, and live out the Christian story. Lawrence is currently attending Liberty University.