Jesus’ Heart for Pharisees

Jesus showed a great deal of compassion for prostitutes and tax collectors.

Jesus was hard on religious authority figures.

Why?

What was Jesus’ heart for Pharisees?

We’re quick to say that Jesus loved the outcasts.

But Jesus also loved Pharisees and teachers of the Law.

He didn’t want them to go away.

He wanted them to continue to serve, but with his heart for the people who had been overlooked and cast aside.

We can see it in an encounter with Jesus, a Pharisee named Simon and an unnamed ‘sinful woman’ in Luke 7. Simon was questioning Jesus status as a prophet because of his allowance to allow this woman close to him.

‘Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender…’

In a recent message I asked why Jesus told Simon this little parable.

Notice Jesus didn’t say something like, you are a disgrace and a total loser Simon. Get out of my face because I want nothing to do with you…

No.

Jesus wanted Simon the Pharisee to share his heart from this woman and many other men and women like her.

Jesus wanted Simon to really see her.

Jesus loved Simon the Pharisee. Even though he didn’t get it.

In Matthew 23, Jesus really lays into the Pharisees. If he holds anything back, I’m not sure what it would be.

You hypocrites, blind guides, blind fools, whitewashed tombs, snakes…

By that point, Jesus had many interactions with them. Probably many, many more than we have recorded in the Gospels.

Yet even at the end of that section where he really lambasts the Pharisees, I believe the it concludes with his heart.

Yes, I believe that the deepest expression of God’s heart isn’t anger, but brokenheartedness at people’s failure to see his desire for people.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Matthew 23:37

Jesus longs to gather even Pharisees and hypocritical teachers of the Law under His wings.

If you want to see God’s heart toward Pharisees, all we need to do is look at a man named Saul who would become known as Paul. A Pharisee who had his heart broken open by Jesus himself to see with new eyes.

And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Matthew 13:52

Yes, Jesus loves Pharisees.

He wants those of us with tremendous knowledge and yet hard hearts to experience his grace and bring our treasures and some new ones to the broken world.

He sets a table and invites Pharisees and Prostitutes, Zealots and tax collectors, rich men and blind men. Jews and Gentiles. You and me.

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How Did Luke’s Gospel Get Written?

Most Christians I know seem to have one of two ideas in their minds of how the biblical Gospels were composed.

One idea is that the Holy Spirit gave them the words or inspiration and they wrote it down. This view gives us sort of a picture of someone sitting alone in a quiet space and God mystically telling them what to write down.

The second idea is that the gospels are the varied recollections of different disciples who walked with Jesus. They each recall things just a bit differently, as any of us would in remembering the same events from some years ago.

The interesting thing with Luke’s Gospel is that he actually tells us how he wrote it!

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you.”

Luke 1:1-3

Luke is not recalling his experience witnessing Jesus’ ministry. He was not one of the disciples. He isn’t on any of the lists. He was not there (although interestingly, he likely was around for some of Paul’s journeys).

What Luke does is investigate. He’s not an eyewitness, but he’s able to research eyewitness material and likely interview eyewitnesses himself.

Luke wanted to be thorough and faithful. So he does careful investigation of everything from the beginning (probably with Mary) and put it together into a cohesive picture of the life and teaching of Jesus, “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Luke 1:4

Luke’s description of his work also means that the idea of him sitting in a room hearing the words from the Holy Spirit isn’t an accurate picture.

He did the work.

This doesn’t mean that the Spirit wasn’t involved in Luke’s work! I think God had a very significant investment in what Luke was up to in preserving a reliable ongoing written witness of Jesus.

Things that Jesus taught about the Holy Spirit seem relevant here:

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” John 16:13

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:26

There is a lot of be said about the reliability of the biblical Gospel accounts, but we we need to move beyond simple answers if we are going to be diligent students of the Scriptures and represent our faith well.

What about you? Did you tend to hold to one of the two views I mentioned at the beginning?

What questions do you have about the writing of Luke’s Gospel in particular?

Does God Call People to The Pastor Role?

Does God specifically call a limited number of people to serve in the role of pastor / elder / minister?

It’s a question that we typically assume a ‘yes’ answer to. But I’m not sure the New Testament evidence is so clear that it’s a particular call to be discerned.

Certainly, throughout the Bible, God has called certain people to certain tasks, roles and responsibilities. Leaders like Moses. Kings like David. Prophets too many to list.

Jesus specifically called disciples who became Apostles.

But what about after that?

What’s does the New Testament indicate about those who serve in particular capacities?

It’s clear that we are given various gifts for the mission of the kingdom and building one another up and serving the body.

But how do these gifts relate to formal roles?

Most specifically, is there a strong discernment of personal call to an official role?

Perhaps less than we’ve been led to believe.

Regarding deacons: “Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them.” Acts 6:3

No personal calling detected there. Spiritual maturity and wisdom are the qualifications. Ultimately, any mature disciple would qualify.

“Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.” 1 Timothy 3:1

This statement is interesting because it puts the ‘desire’ on to the person, but doesn’t say, ‘whoever thinks God might be calling him to be an overseer…’ It doesn’t seem like a leap to assume God put that desire in their hearts, but not much info is given.

“The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” Titus 1:5

This statement doesn’t really say anything one way or the other about personal calling.

And yet, Paul elsewhere says this to the elders in Ephesus:

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Acts 20:28

He provides no elaboration on what that means. Certainly the Holy Spirit is involved in this shared shepherding responsibility, but we’re not told how that played out.

We don’t really know very much about the personal ‘call’ of people like Timothy, Priscilla and Aquila and Apollos.

We don’t see much question about ‘are you called?’

Personally, I don’t think called / not called is really a New Testament thing.

The picture I see is that we’re all called. Called to belong to and follow Jesus.

Called to recognize and grow into the gifts He’s given us.

Called to be his ambassadors in our community and world.

In short, I don’t see the question, ‘Are you called to be a minister’ in the New Testament.

The question I have for all disciples of Jesus is, what has he gifted and called YOU to do?

The whole community along with it’s elders and deacons ought to have our eyes open for the fruit that the Spirit is producing in every life and encourage and equip each one to live into maturity in their own calling.

As for myself, I feel a deep calling and passion. And I’m privileged to have an official role that enables and even compensates me to focus on what I feel called to do.

But for me, I don’t need to be called a pastor or an elder or a minister to do it.

I’m going to love and serve and minister in the strength that he provides wherever I can – Wherever God leads me.

What about you?

What do you think?

Have we imposed a more extensive calling process than the New Testament really shows?

Church Unity and Uniformity

Local churches, networks and denominations all have to decide what’s required to be in and what pushes one out.

I think almost every group does this.

As I recently wrote about, I believe it’s best if churches and groups are primarily focused on a central mission rather than a long list of beliefs.

At the same time, the core characteristics of a group will exclude some.

A theist group will leave out atheists. And vice versa.

A Christian group will leave out those who aren’t open to belief in Jesus.

Additionally, very few Christians and denominations are looking to affirm ‘Mere Christianity’ – what is basic to all Christians. There are additional distinctives.

While I hope that most of us can be charitable and humble enough to realize that not everyone has to agree with us on every distinctive to be called Christian in the broadest sense, we have varying degrees of what we consider required to be a faithful Christian. And even more specifics to be our kind of Christian. And we all believe we are the most faithful kind, of course. 🙂

Christians who baptize babies aren’t likely to fit in in a Baptist church

5 Point Calvinists tend to not fit well in a Wesleyan church.

Soldiers can have a hard time fitting well in a pacifist church.

People who believe that speaking in tongues stopped after the first century don’t make very good Pentecostals.

These groups aren’t hateful toward those who disagree with them. At least they aren’t necessarily so.

Denominations and movements almost all set parameters (hopefully that flow out of their core beliefs) that will likely exclude others.

Most groups, however, have some measure of diversity within their core unity. This, I believe is healthy.

Those who don’t allow any diversity on positions or beliefs might be referred to as fundamentalists. Some churches have long lists of detailed beliefs.

So, how do we decide who we can get along with in our church or denomination?

One core factor, as I’ve indicated along the way, is how important various issues are to our core beliefs and mission.

Additionally, whether or not we can articulate it well, most of us have some positions or beliefs that we feel can faithfully be held differently.

Many Christians feel this way about different ways to interpret end times beliefs (eschatology).

There are other beliefs that we find alternatives to be deeply unfaithful to our particular identity as a group.

When there are differences between us that we can’t respect others’ positions on, our group unity can’t work. The central mission is continually distracted by this difference.

It’s really hard for us to partner with people we believe have something really important fundamentally wrong.

I think we saw this play out recently in the United Methodist Church.

Many in leadership in that denomination (the Bishops amongst others) were hopeful that those in the church could work alongside others who disagreed substantially about the faithfulness of same sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ+ persons.

While there are surely some (many?) who agreed with them, the majority at one major gathering did not.

The Bishops were hoping that the church would adopt a plan that allowed everyone to disagree on this under the tent of United Methodism. They wanted those who opposed same sex unions and those who supported them to work together in spite of those differences.

I believe that we saw those divisions to be too deep amongst Methodists to maintain any substantial unity.

Many ‘affirming’ people feel they can’t work alongside of people who feel that they are fundamentally unfaithful (sinful) in their position and personal choices.

Others, who believe that the ‘traditional’ view, which they deeply believe to be the only acceptable ‘biblical’ view, is clear enough that they can’t realistically partner with those who feel differently.

In my view, unity is good. Bible readers will know that it’s quite important to Jesus. But it can’t be imposed on churches and denominations. It can’t be faked.

Every church and every denomination is made up of different people with various degrees of variance and around different issues.

How we treat those with different views than our own is another (very important) matter.

But every group will eventually decide for themselves what’s nonnegotiable for them. And people will have to decide whether or not they can be a part of these churches.

Centered Set vs. Bounded Set

How should churches and Christian movements think about their identity and who is a part of their group?

Often, we point to specific beliefs that identify who can be in a particular Christian group, church or denomination.

Some examples:

Do we baptize babies or people who have made a profession of faith?

Do we allow women to serve in ministry leadership positions?

Are we Arminians or Calvinists?

Do we believe ‘charismatic gifts’ are valid today?

How do we talk about the Bible – inerrant, infallible, or something else?

These are bounded set questions. Questions that designate who can be a part of our group, church or denomination and who cannot.

They are valid questions and almost all groups make decisions about which of them are non negotiable to be a part of the group, and which might be disagreed on within that same group.

One major limitation of this as the only or primary approach is that the core of what we’re really about (and the things many / most Christians have in common) can get lost in the midst of defining the distinctions.

For instance, if asked what the Churches of God (my group) is about, other Christians often want to know what makes us different than Baptists, Methodists or Presbyterians.

They want to know where we ‘stand’ on the list above and other issues.

Again, there is validity to that discussion. But at the same time it makes me a little sad.

And, I think the bounded set lens is not a mission driven lens. It’s more of an organizational or institutional lens.

I’m more invigorated by the centered set approach.

Instead of focusing on an outside fence or in vs. out distinctions, a centered set focuses on what’s most important.

What drives us.

What we are most passionate about.

What we cannot compromise on.

What we’d lay our lives down for.

A hill to die on, so to speak.

I believe that churches, movements and denominations should all have a strong, passionate centered set of convictions.

These are the things that drive us and what we do.

When somebody asks about our church, they should be the primary answer we give.

When we make decisions, these core beliefs should guide us.

When we think about what ‘success’ is, it should be in terms of these central values.

So, what do you think?

Is your church or network of churches primarily bounded set or centered set oriented?

How would you answer the question if somebody asked you about your church?

Elders and Ordination

The New Testament shows us several passages that relate to Elders.

We can see in the Bible that God gifts different people in various ways – apostles, prophets, evangelist, shepherds and so on. My reading is that these aren’t necessarily roles or jobs to be fulfilled but rather people that Jesus empowers to collectively build up the body into maturity (See Ephesians 4)

Peter, while an apostle, considers himself to be a ‘fellow elder’ along with those serving in the local church. (See 1 Peter 5)

Today and throughout much of church history, we’ve made a pretty BIG distinction between pastors and other elders. Presbyterial polity calls the pastor the teaching elder and the others ruling elders. I’ve previously argued that this substantial distinction feels quite forced onto what the New Testament actually teaches.

The concept of ordination (and often licensing) is another aspect of ministry that we can probably find some loose connections to in the New Testament, but it’s not strong there. In the group I’m familiar with (and I believe many other denominations) local church elders are not licensed or ordained but pastors or ‘teaching elders’ are.

Again, a practice of distinction that doesn’t really flow very well from the first century church story.

So, in light of this, how might we think about what ordination means today?

When it comes to deepening commitment to the way of Jesus, I believe we’d do well to think of the church as being stewards of the ‘gospel DNA.’

What is DNA? The fundamental and distinctive characteristics or qualities of someone or something.

In the church, it’s the core message and mission of the church. This is what must be held unto firmly and must be passed on in order for the Jesus mission to be replanted in various contexts.

In a particular Jesus movement (sometimes called a denomination) this will certainly relate to our understanding of the gospel and perhaps the essentials of our particular Jesus tribe.

For instance, I’m a part of the group called the Churches of God.

The more involved one gets in our movement, the more faithful of a steward of the DNA of the gospel and that movement they should be.

We can – and probably should – also tie this into the idea of membership. Membership is another concept (like formal ordination) that strictly goes beyond the New Testament, but may have some practical value in a healthy understanding.

When someone becomes a member, they should be understood to have a commitment to that gospel DNA. It’s what enables them to share the gospel message with others and allows them to understand the core commitments of that particular tribe (movement or denomination).

Eldership goes a substantial step further in being entrusted with holding fast to the gospel in light of potential distortions to it as well as having shown a deeper level of character development.

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing…” 1 Peter 5:2

“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Titus 1:9

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you…” Acts 20:28-29 – Paul to the elders from Ephesus

In the church, elders have a deep responsibility to be stewards of the gospel movement DNA, because there WILL be challenges to it. They must know the good news, love it and hold fast to it.

I wonder why we don’t more officially ‘ordain’ these people in some way.

Nobody who reads the New Testament can tell me that these folks are elected to a two year term on an administrative team and then no longer elders. I say that so boldly because it is so obvious to me.

In a view that starts where we are and asks how to be most biblically faithful, perhaps this would look something more like our current licensing. We license people who know enough that we extend some level of trust to them and yet recognize that they are still on a particular growth path and something like mentoring and further equipping is needed.

There does seem to me to be people in the New Testament who have a potentially deeper stewardship and passion for their understanding of the way of Jesus and the mission. These people aren’t content with gospel faithfullness in their local congreagions but have a passion and level of commitment to bring in into any context, either initially in the case of an apostle or evangelist or in a strengthening / teaching capacity. Certainly the initial apostles were in this category. But also people like Barnabas, Silas, John Mark, Timothy, Titus, Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos etc. I see them as potentially trans-local elders.

These were people who were on the pursuit of deep learning and often trans-local mission such that they could be entrusted to bring the gospel movement DNA into various cultures and contexts and know it well enough to raise up others in similar ways.

They weren’t only entrusted with the overall shepherding capacity in the local congregations and communities, but to help initially (and on an ongoing basis) plant the gospel DNA in new soil and cultivate it. They were people who were entrusted to raise up local church elders when none had been there previously.

So my contention and proposal is this: Our primary lens for the idea of local church elders as well as potentially trans-local elders ought to be stewardship of the core beliefs of our movement.

Eldership can be seen as stewarding the gospel DNA in the local context.

Ordination can be seen as stewarding the gospel DNA in a deep way that might potentially move amongst various cultures and equip others (including elders) in a more substantial way.

What do you think?

An Equipping Approach to the Ordinances / Sacraments

I’ve recently written about both baptism and the Lord’s Supper and contended that neither are indicated in the New Testament to be the exclusive responsibility of a select few (pastors) in the church.

My basic understanding of New Testament ministry is that there is not anything ongoing that only a select few are permitted to do.

And yet…

It’s very important that we teach well and live and worship in a way that honors and exalts Jesus in all things.

The first century church did not always do this well. We see this quite clearly in churches like Corinth. They really messed up the Lord’s Supper.

I believe that we’ve responded to real and potential abuses by putting certain people in control. We think that if we have pastors who are trained well enough and only they baptize and serve the Lord’s Supper and preach, then we’ll be a lot safer. It’s less risky that way.

To a certain extent we are right. We are less likely to do and say problematic things when we’ve had more training and more tightly control what we do.

BUT, this is not the approach of Jesus and the apostles and I think our (overly?) careful approach has ultimately worked against their intentions.

The New Testament approach to ministry is always teaching and equipping, not controlling.

Ephesians 4 tells us that all of those who are given to the church in what we sometimes call ‘leadership’ roles are given for the deepest purpose of equipping, not just doing.

“…to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:12-13

What would an equipping approach to baptism, the Lord’s Supper and other areas of ministry look like?

The approach seems pretty straightforward to me. It’s the approach of discipleship. It’s bringing others along so that they see us doing things, we do things together, and then we watch them do things and guide as needed.

Those of us who currently lead in these vital practices could simply invite others to learn from us and gain confidence and ability over time.

As a local church elder/pastor myself, I might start by inviting various other elders at different times to assist in various aspects of these ordinances. Guidance and correction and teaching will be offered along the way.

Eventually, I (as a pastor) might sit with the congregation and receive communion from another (non-ordained person who has been equipped in this area of ministry.

Then others could be engaged in that same process – perhaps by us or perhaps by those we have equipped.

That’s how multiplication happens.

When a fellow mature believer shows him or herself to be competent and have a solid understanding, there is no reason why they couldn’t serve the Lord’s supper at a gathering I’m not even at.

Why not?

Personally, I believe this kind of approach is exactly the kind of thing that would please Jesus very much and someone like Paul would consider a success.

What’s important is that Jesus is exalted, people are equipped and

“…we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

So what happens when there is a problem? Imagine the regional denominational office gets a call that this or that is going on and something unusual is happening…

The local church licensed or ordained minister can’t say, “I don’t know, I didn’t do it.” That person (or people) are entrusted to be equipping that congregation in these areas of ministry. If there is a problem, that minister is responsible just as he or she would be if they led the ordinance themselves.

Let’s equip and unleash the church from the restraints we’ve placed on our own growth.

What do you think of this proposed model? What difference might it make if your church adopted it?