Church Write-Up: Spiritual Pride and Humility

For church Sunday morning, I attended what I call the “Pen church” (since I receive a free pen when I go there).  The pastor started a six-week series entitled “No Perfect People Allowed.”  That is the motto of the church, and I figured that such a series would edify me.

Here are some points that the pastor made in today’s sermon, followed by my personal reflections at the end:

A.  The pastor was preaching about Jesus’ Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18:9-14.  A Pharisee and a publican were at the Temple praying.  The respected Pharisee was thanking God that he (the Pharisee) was not like other people—-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like that publican.  The Pharisees bragged that he fasted twice a week and gave tithes of all that he owned.  In contrast, the publican, who was in a despised profession (tax-collector), beat his chest and said, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”  Jesus said that the publican, not the Pharisee, went home justified before God, for those who exalt themselves will be humbled, while those who humble themselves will be exalted.

The pastor made a variety of points.  First, he said that many of us size people up in our minds according to how important we think that they are.  Some people who are rough around the edges may come to church, and they are scared off from following Jesus because a pompous Christian judges them.  The pastor referred to the 1995 movie Dangerous Minds, in which Michelle Pfeiffer played a teacher at an inner-city school.  The teacher started all of her students out with an “A,” and that brought the best out of the students, many of whom had never received an “A” before.  The pastor asked what would happen in our relationships if we started people out with an “A”: if we treated them as valuable and important, rather than requiring them to appease and to please us, only to get up to a “D” in our eyes.

Second, the pastor talked about how many of us pat ourselves on the back when we do something good.  The pastor was imitating God applauding the Pharisee while the Pharisee was bragging about his deeds.  The pastor, obviously, was being sarcastic: Why would God be impressed by the Pharisees’ deeds, when God’s deeds are so much greater? God created the heavens and the earth and selflessly sent God’s Son to die for the sins of the world.  The pastor quoted Romans 12:3, in which Paul exhorts the Roman Christians not to think more highly of themselves than they ought.  God values people as created in God’s image, but people should have a sober, modest, level-headed conception of themselves.

Third, the pastor talked about how the publican confessed that he had issues.  We all have issues.  It is when we are honest about that before God that God profoundly works in our lives.

B. The pastor quoted James 5:16, in which James exhorts people to confess their sins to one another.  According to the pastor, confessing our sins to one another is not what gets us forgiveness, for we need to confess our sins to God for that to happen.  But confessing our sins to one another can be valuable: we show others that we have weaknesses, and that encourages others to confess their weaknesses.  People can then encourage each other.

C.  At some point, the pastor quoted II Corinthians 5:19, which states (in the KJV): “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.”  The pastor was saying that this is the New Covenant.  He did not explain how he understood this verse, at least in this sermon.  He seems to believe that people need to believe in Jesus to arrive at the state in which God does not impute their trespasses against them.  After that, he said in another sermon, people are free to learn and grow, without fearing that God is judging and condemning them.  I wonder if he can reconcile this picture with what he was saying in (B.): that we confess our sins, then God forgives us.  And, presumably, if we sin again, we need to confess that sin to receive God’s forgiveness, and so on.  It sounds like a treadmill, unlike what II Corinthians 5:19 appears to imply.  Christians have had their ways of harmonizing these concepts.  A prominent solution is to say that Christians have been forgiven and are considered righteous by God, even if they fail to confess every single sin in the course of their lives.  Confession, however, is still useful because it can help their relationship with God: we feel closer to God when we confess our sins.  The pastor may believe that way, but I do not know for sure.

D.  The pastor was talking about how the church is successful this year, more successful than it has been in the past, and yet he is apprehensive that the church will become “the man” and that new people will be reluctant to come.

Here are some personal reflections:

A.  I fear, at times, that people see me as a Pharisee (as stereotyped by Christians): one who keeps the rules yet is cold towards people.  I wish, though, that they would accept me as a person with issues, just like they are.

B.  Conversely, I have judged certain Christians as Pharisees (again, as stereotyped by Christians).  I one time confessed something to a Christian, and he gave a smug response.  Has he never made a mistake?  He just strikes me as a person who loves righteousness and talks about how he loves righteousness, yet there is no humility there; at the same time, his approach is a refreshing contrast to Christians I have known who beat up on themselves before others, parading their “humility,” as if that shows how righteous they are.  I do wish that more Christians would be humble when they hear of somebody’s struggles or vulnerabilities.  Yet, I have to remind myself: can I legitimately judge that someone else is a Pharisee?  It is not as if I spend 24 hours a day with him.  Perhaps he has been humble.

C.  What the pastor said about being honest before God stood out to me, in light of my experience the night before.  I was griping in my mind about God and God’s standards (according to my understanding of them).  But I decided: Why not bring my struggles and my needs before God, rather than griping?  I did that, and I felt better: more at peace and more charitable towards others.

D.  I did not entirely understand what the pastor meant about the church becoming “the man,” but I thought about a church that I attended at one time.  A lot was going on there, and it was active.  It was like a force of nature.  I respect and admire that, but I was unsure where I fit in, or if I even could.

I’ll stop here.  I could interact with the question of whether I start people out with an “A,” but I am not inclined to be that vulnerable, right now.

 

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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