Authors: Dr Jonathan Ingleby, co-editor of Encounters and Postgraduate lecturer in mission, Redcliffe College. Dr Cathy Ross, manager of the Crowther Centre for Mission Education at CMS in Oxford and JV Taylor Fellow in Missiology at Regent’s Park College and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.
I am going to begin with a rant and if there any of my few remaining friends or members of my family in the audience, I give them permission to leave now. The trouble with the title ‘speaking out against injustice’ is that we – you and I – are part of the problem rather than the solution.
Many years ago I heard Professor Bruce asked the question: which group that we encounter in the gospels do evangelicals most resemble? He answered unhesitatingly ‘the Pharisees’. I was quite shocked. But the more I have thought about it since, the truer this seemed. Are we like John the Baptist and the Essenes? – no deserts for us: there’s not a trace of asceticism among us evangelicals and we’re proud of it. The Zealots then? Heavens no! Revolutionary politics is the last thing that we’re into. Are we the poor to whom the good news is preached? I don’t think so. Just wander round the car park and you’ll see what I mean. I know: it’s the disciples. Well, possibly, but on the whole evangelicals are much more interested in salvation than discipleship; we leave that to the Mennonites and the Anabaptists.
I reckon it’s the Pharisees – good, earnest, respectable folk, familiar with the Scriptures, elect (i.e. not like other people), concerned about all sorts of ‘purity codes’, particularly purity of doctrine. We could press this a little further. The Pharisees are the evangelicals, the Sadducees are the liberals – a bit too reductionist and rationalistic for their own good, but, if truth be told, coming from the same stable as we do, and the Scribes are the college lecturers. Always telling people what they should do, but seldom doing it themselves.
Where is all this leading to? Have you noticed that fundamentally what Jesus had against the religious leaders of his day was not that they were religious but that they used their religion as a cloak for injustice. ‘Woe to you Pharisees. For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds and neglect justice and the love of God’ (Luke 11:42). ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in church and places of honour at conferences. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers’ (Luke 20:46,7).
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