These are unrefined reflections. That means I’m just writing what I think, and if people don’t understand what I’m saying, then they don’t have to read it. I’m not in the mood right now to phrase everything smoothly and accurately. Plus, everyone should expect to be offended by this post.
Luke 18:10-14 has the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, in which the Pharisee brags to God about all the good things he does while looking down on the sinful tax collector. The tax collector, meanwhile, beats himself on the chest and prays, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
I feel that a lot of evangelicals fit the profile of the Pharisees. “No I don’t–I believe in salvation by grace through faith,” I can hear them saying. Sure, but they still think they’re better than everyone else. “I’m so good because I believe the Gospel,” the Arminian types say. “There’s evidence that God has saved me, for I do good things, plus I don’t sin that much,” the Calvinist types say. When evangelicals gather together and display that “joy” they love to express, are they truly happy, or are they just trying to show others that they’re better than everyone else because they have a “happy, happy” facade?
I see a lot of self-righteousness in the alcoholic recovery community as well. In one group I attend, a person relapsed, and he’s not been back to the group. One of the members said in his absence, “You have to want it” (recovery), implying that the guy who relapsed didn’t truly want to recover. No wonder the guy’s not been back. I wouldn’t come back either, if I had to put up with such self-righteousness.
In evangelicalism, if a person doesn’t believe 100% like evangelicals and runs into problems, the evangelicals can be really judgmental. “That’s what happens when one doesn’t follow God,” some of them say (or imply). Some may interpret the problems as a divine punishment. Others may see them as divine chastisement. Still others may view them as the natural outgrowth of sin. There’s not a lot of humility in any of the approaches. It’s all basically, “This person fell because he’s not perfect like I am.”
I also hate the way that evangelicals treat people as projects. One time, I was looking at Christian books at an evangelical’s house, and I asked about one of them. “You’re not ready for that book,” he said. That’s really condescending. It screams, “You’re not ready to read that, since you’re not as spiritually advanced as I am.”
When I hear evangelicals brag about all the unbelieving friends they have, there’s a sarcastic thought that goes through my mind: “Well, aren’t you salt and light?” I hope they’re making friends with them because they like them, not to show how they’re such good Christians because they’re reaching out to unbelievers.
Evangelicalism is rife with “I’m so much better than the next guy, because he doesn’t do all the good things that I do.”
Now let me criticize mainline Protestants. Mainline Protestants look at a parable like this and say, “Aww! Jesus is so compassionate! He’s reaching out to the tax collectors, who were the outcasts of society. And so we should reach out to the outcast.”
Indeed, Jesus reaches out to the outcast. But the tax collector really was a sinner. He wasn’t just misunderstood or shunned out of prejudice. There’s a reason he was beating himself on the chest! John the Baptist told the tax collectors not to take more money than was due them (Luke 3:12). Why? Because they were extorting people! The tax collector Zacchaeus paid a lot of people back when he turned to Christ (Luke 19:8). These guys were bullies and oppressors, not victims.
Of course, who knows? Liberal Protestants may not care when the federal government oppresses people, especially when it’s collecting taxes. But if a corporation exploits people, watch out!
Part of me admires the tax collectors. They earned lots of money, and they didn’t give a rip whether their neighbors liked them or not. They had a fairly comfortable lifestyle. And I guess they had community–they ate with each other. In times when I feel like an outsider, I think, “Well, I wouldn’t care about this if I had lots of money and was set for life.” And that’s how the tax collectors were.
But, as I was saying yesterday, the way of the flesh is a dead end. They needed to make their peace with God. And so that one in the parable asked God to be merciful to him, a sinner.