Excerpted from “Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith” (Zondervan)
For over two thousand years, those who fashion themselves as spiritual leaders haven’t been able to leave well enough alone. They keep trying to raise the bar to entry higher than Jesus placed it. They pile on heavier and heavier burdens and call it discipleship. They shut the door to the struggling and weak and call it purifying the church.
Their intentions are noble. But their fruit is rotten. They unwittingly play the same role as the Pharisees of old, trying to keep out the very people Jesus came to reach.
So why do we do that? What tempts someone to want to thin the herd that Jesus came to expand?
The Desire for Exclusivity
The first thing is our fallen human nature. We have a natural bent toward creating and maintaining exclusivity, especially after we’ve found our own way into the fold. We want to hold on to what we’ve earned. We want to keep the undeserving out. And sometimes we simply don’t want to share what we’ve gained.
It’s a pattern found in virtually every profession. Whether it’s hairdressers or accountants, people who are already in the field will sooner or later find a way to raise the standards and entrance requirements to make it harder for others to get in. They will tell you that it’s to maintain quality. In reality, it’s to cut the competition.
Consider higher education. Most colleges and universities start out with a desire to put education within the reach of the masses. But once they attain a measure of success, they leave the masses behind. They demand higher GPAs and institute tougher entrance requirements in a desire to join the ranks of the elite. The alumni love it. It increases the value of their degree. But ironically, many of them couldn’t get in under the new standards.
The same holds true in our neighborhoods. After the pioneers have moved in, they almost always band together to keep the future settlers out. Land developers cal it NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). It shows up as the obligatory lawsuit that’s filed anytime someone wants to build on a vacant piece of land. The NIMBY mindset says, “Now that I’m here, we’ve got just the right amount of people.”
Though an outsider can see how self-serving these kinds of behaviors are, people on the inside rarely see it. They really believe that they’re maintaining quality, creating a better school, or protecting the neighborhood.
It’s not different in the spiritual realm. People who decry low standards of salvation and spiritual maturity tend to forget their own past. And most are unaware that their definition of a genuine and mature Christian bears an uncanny resemblance to their own current walk with God. It’s an interesting form of spiritual NIMBY.
But here’s the real problem. Such thinking and actions aren’t only self-serving; they are also diametrically opposed to the purpose and work of Jesus. They are at odds with the very reason why he came.