12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me) has impacted people more than any book I’ve written. Story after story reveals how people have been set free from legalism and the resulting bondage it creates — bondage to authoritarianism, to frustration over never making the grade, and to insecurity and fear. Fear is the big one — fear of punishment, fear of banishment, fear of not belonging, fear of living a lie and being found out. Fear is a powerful motivator, and a strong personality with manipulative skills can use legalism to literally enslave people.
Pharisees have an answer for everything. In many ways, it is an appealing formula. There is no ambiguity with a Pharisee. You are either in or you are out. You are buying the whole thing or nothing at all. Pharisees know nothing of process. All things are right and wrong; good and bad; black and white. For someone who wants an easily manageable universe, the Pharisees provide an attractive option. You know who your friends are, and you know your enemies.
Grace, of course, upends all of this. It makes life messy and very complicated. That’s why many Christians lean more towards pharisaical attitudes and practices because life is easier to control. That is, indeed, the big word for Pharisees. Whenever I study the Pharisees, what keeps coming up as the dominating element is the issue of control. Pharisees simply have to be in control.
It starts with being in control of your own righteousness, but soon leads to being in control of everyone else’s. Even people who don’t know or don’t care; the Pharisees control them too.
One of the most amazing stories I encountered about this book was the story of four couples I met at a church retreat in Colorado. They were not even members of the church sponsoring the event; they had just heard I was going to be speaking there and wanted to meet me and tell me their story.
All four couples were members of a cult and one of them somehow stumbled upon 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me). In the process of reading this book, the scales began to fall off the first couple’s eyes, and they started to see the errors in teaching and attitude that were being thrust upon them. At the same time, their inner Spirit was being fed by the truth and longing to be free — a freedom they didn’t even know about before they discovered they were in bondage. They knew that the other three couples were beginning to question what was going on inside the cult, and wanted to share the book with them, but they were so afraid of being found out that the one couple ended up reading the book to the others, chapter by chapter, over the phone! Eventually, they all gained enough strength to leave the cult and seek freedom in the wider body of Christ.
To be sure, this extreme case of Pharisaical domination is rare, but it does show what happens to a lesser degree in all our churches and Christian circles, and why the doctrines of the Pharisees are so prevalent and hard to shake. I marvel at how normal, intelligent people could be held captive by invisible chains for so long, until I think of how, to one degree or another, I have been held by those same chains and probably others I don’t even see yet. That’s why this study is so important, and why I can’t wait to get started, and hope that you will take advantage of every opportunity we have to participate, study, comment and grow. For the next few weeks, we here at the Catch want to operate — as much as possible — as a virtual Recovering Pharisee group. Who knows, maybe you’ll even call up somebody and read them the Catch over the phone. By clicking below, you can hear me read it, and if you have a smart phone, it’s even easier to share the Catch, reading or listening, with our new App.
I’m going to try to get one of those couples in Colorado to talk to us on our Tuesday night BlogTalkRadio show, but tonight, we have Canadian author and humorist Phil Calloway as our guest, to talk about the Pharisee in all of us. You’ll love Phil. He makes you laugh, think and go “Ouch!” all at the same time. Even though you can hear these programs any time on demand, we hope, especially during this series, you will take the opportunity to call in at 6pm Pacific Daylight Time and chat with us. That’s, in fact, why we do it “live;” so you can be a part of it.