I have, in recent weeks, been writing about how to deal with disagreements within the ranks of our denomination, describing some of the biblical models for handling debate. I have, so far, worked through a few of the positive approaches and I thought that I’d write today about a negative approach– a what not to do.
In John chapter 7 we find the Pharisees, in conjunction with the chief priests, sending the temple police to arrest Jesus because there was talk amongst the crowds of him being the Messiah (7: 32). (We will set aside, for now, the historical questions of whether or not the Pharisees would have worked so closely with the chief priests, and whether or not the Pharisees would have had the authority or the influence to send the temple police out to arrest Jesus, and we’ll accept the story as it is.)
As it turns out, the temple police returned without making an arrest, and the Pharisees were infuriated. “Why did you not arrest him?” They shouted. The police answered, “Never before has anyone spoken like this!” Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you haven't been deceived as well, have you? Has any one of the authorities or any of us Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd following him, which does not know the law—they are damned.” (7: 45 – 49)
The Pharisees (who have, unfortunately, come to us in caricature – almost like the mustachioed villains of old-time melodramas) in their zeal to defend the truth (as they understood it) could not abide the idea that the crowds were listening to this upstart Jesus, and that they were beginning to think and talk of him as the Messiah. The Pharisees considered themselves learned in the way of the law and scripture. They condemned Jesus for his teaching and dismissed the rabble following him as “accursed” or “damned.”
Just then Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees (who had made some steps toward believing Jesus and his teaching - see John chapter 3), attempted to slow this rush to judgement and condemnation; he reminded the group that the law didn’t actually allow them to condemn Jesus or the people following him without first giving them a hearing. They needed to investigate and weigh the issues carefully before making judgment (7: 50 – 51).
But, no. The Pharisees of this story had already been convinced that Jesus was a deceiver and that those who followed him were to be damned. They turned and attacked Nicodemus – one of their own – as well. “Are you one of them?” they asked him. “Are you from Galilee? Are you a part of that damned mob?” (7:52).
This is a model of what not to do, how not to behave. Don’t be quick to judge. Don’t be quick to condemn. Don’t start attacking members of your own fellowship. You may miss something.