As Jesus is the cornerstone upon which the Church is built, so are his teachings the unifying cornerstone of Christian doctrine.

Can those in Succession be Wrong

The Apostolic Succession:
In the First Two
Centuries of the Church
What is succession? It theorizes an unbroken line since the days of the Apostles. Some Baptists believe that there has always been a Christian group that practiced immersion style baptism. For seventh day churches it is the theory that there is an unbroken line of Christians who kept the seventh day Sabbath. For others it is the theory of apostolic succession, an unbroken line of ordinations from the early church. We don’t have to believe these theories, but let’s assume that one or the other is correct for the moment. Is there any guarantee in the Bible that someone in one of these successions would teach infallibly? Can those in succession be wrong? In Matthew 23:1-12 Jesus said that the scribes and Pharisees succeeded Moses and sat in his seat of authority. He also said that they were wrong.

Christianity is not a Harsh Religion

Christless Christianity:
The Alternative Gospel of
the American Church
Some teachers of Christianity require members to adhere to strict man-made rules about clothing, obligatory rituals, religious titles, ban certain foods or drinks, ban dancing, cars with any color other than black, ownership of a television or radio and other burdensome obligations. That was the kind of religion that Judeans had under the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-12). All this gives outsiders the impression that Christianity must be a harsh religion. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is our interpretations of the Bible that are often harsh, not Christianity. The religion taught by Jesus Christ, when rightly interpreted is free and generous. The faith taught by the founder of Christianity frees us from heavy, cumbersome loads. It is a religion of humility where the greatest among us are not those with grandiose titles but those who serve.

Pure Religion is Living the Gospel

Living the Gospel
A misunderstanding is that the Gospel is not about religion. But that contradicts the definition in James 1:26-28. Pure religion is living the Gospel not just preaching it. It takes the Gospel seriously by loving our most vulnerable neighbors in very practical terms. Most people think that religion is the heavy burden of tradition, rituals, special clothing and holy-sounding titles. It is that “religion” that people react against when they claim that Christianity is not a religion. Let’s not be swayed by popular definitions that contradict the Bible. James’ definition of pure religion is the opposite of the religion of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-12). Pure religion puts the Gospel into action by relieving people of burdens. The most religious among us are not those who love rituals, but those who humble themselves and live the Gospel by serving.

Release from Heavy Burdens

Jesus on Leadership
When we read how the scribes and Pharisees burdened the people, do we then leave it as a warning for church leaders and not the rest of us (Matthew 23:1-12)? Is that fair? Could the truth be that what we see in the scribes and Pharisees is true for every human being? Our humanity brings the burden of sin. Jesus encouraged us to come to him if we are heavily laden (Matthew 11:28-30). His ministry is to give rest to those who are burdened. He will give rest to our souls. There is no rest in gossip, slander and politics. There is no rest in all the promises of infomercials on television. There is no rest in false gospels. There is rest in Jesus. He invites us to join him in a ministry of release from heavy burdens.

We are the Pharisees

Holier Than Thou:
When Faith
Becomes Toxic
Do we love to read the Bible? Do we pray? Do we love to live according to the teachings of the Bible? So did the scribes and Pharisees. If Jesus were here on earth today, would he address his criticisms of the scribes and Pharisees to us (Matthew 23:1-12)? I believe that he would. What can we learn from his penetrating assessment? Do we practice what we preach? Do we unburden people and release them from heavy loads? Do we believe that clothing is unimportant? Do we take the less important seats and offer others the better seats? If we have a title, do we not demand it or allow others to treat us the same as everyone else? Do we emphasize that we are all taught by Jesus and have God as our Father? Are we humble servants?

Bad Church Leadership

Healing Spiritual Abuse:
How to Break Free from
Bad Church Experience
How might church leaders learn from Jesus’ criticism of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:1-12? Bad church leadership is no different than bad Jewish leadership. The Protestant Reformation was a protest against bad leadership, but it did not solve the problem, nor did it prevent Protestant churches from also having bad leadership. Bad church leadership is hypocritical. It places heavy and cumbersome loads on peoples’ shoulders. It crushes people with unbearable religious demands. Instead of teaching God’s word as food, it loads people down like pack animals with the rules and traditions of mere men. Bad church leadership focuses more on distinctive clothing, titles and public adulation than on saving and helping people. What kind of leadership does Christ expect of leaders in the Christian community? The greatest among us are those who humbly serve and relieve burdens.

Bad Leadership Everywhere

The Dictator's
The examples of bad leadership in Matthew 23:1-12 are not exclusive to the Church. Self-centered leadership that places heavy burdens on others is everywhere. When a bank CEO takes a quarter billion dollar bonus, a bailout from the government but asks employees to sacrifice bonuses and pay raises, that is bad leadership. When a congressional leader asks the poor to pay higher taxes than the wealthy, that is bad leadership. When the medical community demands high titles, earns among the highest incomes in our society, charges Americans twice as much as the rest of the world, yet cannot provide health care for the poor and cannot guarantee insurance coverage for every need, that is bad leadership. Bad leadership is all around us. The Church is called in the midst of all this to provide good leadership individually and collectively.

Bad Leadership Characteristics

Bad Leadership
Two main characteristics of bad leadership from Matthew 23:1-12 are that it is burdensome and self-centered. When leadership places heavy, cumbersome loads on people’s shoulders, that is bad leadership. It crushes people with unbearable demands. Instead of making life a joy, bad leaders seem to take pleasure in watching people stagger under heavy loads without lifting a finger to help. Bad leadership is also self-centered. It focuses on its own self instead of those it is called to serve. Bad leaders love to get dressed up in clothing that emphasizes their position. Bad leaders love the places of honor instead of the places of service. Instead of focusing on those they are called to help, bad leaders love to be greeted with their titles and be noticed in public. We are called to selflessly release people from their burdens.

Religious Titles

Recovering from
Religious Abuse:
11 Steps to
Spiritual Freedom
In Matthew 23:1-12 Jesus appeared to ban religious titles like Rabbi and Father. Is that true? The Gospels refer to Abraham several times as Father Abraham and Paul referred to himself as a Father in the faith. There is no contradiction here. Let’s understand that Jesus often employed what we call hyperbole, an exaggeration to make a point. In comparison to God then, no man is our father and in comparison to Jesus, we have no other teacher or rabbi, and we ought not idolize any such teacher. Jesus was condemning those who love religious titles for the purpose of self-aggrandizement and adulation. On the other hand, he recognized certain believers as spiritual fathers of the faithful. The issue here is not to create a new rule banning titles, but showing the proper honor to whom honor is due.

Burdensome & Biblical

Healing Spiritual Abuse:
How to Break Free from
Bad Church Experience
The other day I drove past a number of Bible churches and asked myself what it could mean. It could mean that the Bible is taught. But don’t all churches teach the Bible? They do. Sometimes it seems as if Christians who cry the loudest about believing the Bible are the most oppressive and burdensome. How could that be? Yet sometimes all churches, which claim to teach the Bible add cumbersome loads, heavy burdens, bundles of rules, unbearable religious demands over and above what the Bible teaches. Jesus said that his burden would be light (Matthew 11:28-30) and later contrasted that with the heavy burden of those in his day who taught the Bible (Matthew 23:1-12). Teaching the Bible does not guarantee less burden. In the hands of hypocrites who love power, it can be a greater burden.

Burdensome & Overbearing Leadership

12 Steps for the
Recovering Pharisee
How should we approach burdensome and overbearing church leadership? In Matthew 23:1-12 Jesus addressed that in the religious leadership of his day. The scribes and Pharisees sat in seats of authority which had descended from Moses. Jesus encouraged his hearers to follow what they said when they cited the Bible, but not their interpretations which were fatally flawed. Why? Because their interpretations and applications of the scriptures tied up heavy burdens upon people and they used their positions not for service but for show and prestige. The Pharisees began with good intentions, to return Israel to covenant faithfulness so that they could be blessed and freed from oppressive Roman domination. This is a warning to all who would lead churches — that Pharisaic tendency exists in all of us to turn the freedom of God’s way into a heavy burden.

When Government Fails

Render unto Caesar
I come from a capitalist country, that did not experience a recent recession, which has private and government programs to cover 100% of people with affordable health care. Now I live in America where a quarter of my income pays health care insurance and my grown working children cannot afford health care coverage. If they have a major health crisis, what will they do? The government cannot solve the problem and the privatized health care Caesars demands high tribute. Sooner or later human government fails. Thankfully, we are not under an even more oppressive regime such as the ancient Roman Empire. Jesus was, and in Matthew 22:15-22 he was asked whether or not it was right to pay taxes, implying to a government that was a miserable failure in human rights. His reply? Render to Caesar what is Caesars.