Messages of Faith: A Dragon is a Lamb’s Garment |

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The Pharisees…. What were these guys eating? Rewind to the period between the Old and New Testaments – Alexander the Great brought many nations, including Israel, under Greek rule. His vision was to make all peoples culturally Greek. It was so successful that Greek culture persisted even after the rise of the Roman Empire. At the time of Jesus, Greek was still the common language and the New Testament itself was written in Greek.

The Pharisees find their roots in this period when the Greeks pushed their cultural offensive. In Jerusalem, a handful of God’s people violently resisted the Greek forces after one of their generals ordered a pig to be sacrificed in the Jewish temple. The Israelites routed Greek control of Jerusalem and preserved their heritage. From these military defenders of the faith, a priestly group emerged. These continued to resist Greek culture and protect their faith, but not militarily. This group evolved into the Pharisees, which means “separate”. Their zeal for Hebrew tradition and their separation from non-Jewish cultures made them a social and religious force to be reckoned with.

The downside was that the Pharisees adopted a defensive posture. They have lost touch with God’s mission to draw all nations, not into Jewish culture, but into His kingdom. Instead of advancing the kingdom of God, the Pharisees were caught up in a culture war. Ironically, their fight to preserve what was godly brought them into conflict with God, and they had His Son executed.

This fact should make us think. As Western culture becomes less and less Christian, some reduce Christ’s mission to a culture war. Certainly, there are sins like abortion against which God calls us to take a prophetic stand. But overall, does a culturally defensive posture help God? Does God need our help? Jesus did not defend himself against the Pharisees, against Herod, against Pilate. Does he now need us to defend him?

Paul can teach us much in this regard. We don’t see him getting into cultural squabbles as he shares Christ. Paul was saddened by the idolatry of those in Athens. But he referenced Greek poetry and an altar dedicated to an unknown god while discussing the resurrection (Acts 17:23, 28). Although fully understanding that Christ was the end of the Jewish religious system, Paul underwent a Jewish cleansing rite in an attempt to reach the Jews (Acts 21:24-26). As he told the Corinthians, “I made myself all things, that I might save some by all means” (1 Corinthians 9:22). For Paul, Christianity was about Christ, not about any particular culture.

One final consideration: Christianity dominated Western culture from 312 (when Constantine made Christianity the state religion of Rome) until modern times. Even when Christianity enjoyed the cultural ascendancy that many fight for, Western culture was not the kingdom of God. Instead, culturally dominant Christianity was like the beast in John’s vision: it looked like a lamb but spoke like a dragon (Rev. 13:11). Resounding failures as the inquisitions demonstrate. Fallen human culture is fallen human culture, even if we dress it up in Christianity. The scriptures and history show us that a dragon in lamb’s clothing is the best we will find if we resort to culture wars. The alternative is to follow the true Lamb wherever He goes (Rev. 14:4).

Teague McKamey lives in Ellensburg with his wife and two children. He is an elder at Thorp Community Church and blogs at thevoiceofone.org.

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