October 22, 2014
When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.) Then a great clamor arose, and certain scribes of the Pharisees’ group stood up and contended, “We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” When the dissension became violent, the tribune, fearing that they would tear Paul to pieces, ordered the soldiers to go down, take him by force, and bring him into the barracks.
There are at least two ways to think through what happened in today’s text.
First Line of Analysis
On the one hand, it looks like Paul pulled a trick play right out of the playbook of Sun Tzu. A common enemy produces allies, but if the allies can be turned against one another the focus on the common enemy is lost. And if the alliance can be broken by appealing to a deeper bond between the common enemy and one of the allies, all the better. You’ve heard the saying, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.”
Though it’s not a great analogy, Paul knew Sadducees and Pharisees were something akin to the Democrats and the Republicans today. They weren’t so much political parties as they were theological parties. In my estimation, they weren’t so much theological parties as they were ideological factions. Whenever an ideological faction masquerades as a theological movement people get murdered in the name of “God.”
I’m not sure why, other than a pre-Machiavellian experiment for effect, Paul did this. He essentially lobbed theological grenade into their midst with this announcement, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” You’ve heard the saying, “Politics makes strange bedfellows”? That’s what we see here. Some of the leaders of the Pharisees, the ones trying to kill Paul, actually took Paul’s defense. In the end, though, it didn’t work. Rather than getting the attention off of himself, Paul had to be forcibly removed by the soldiers to keep him from being literally torn to pieces. He became the proverbial rope in their game of ideological tug of war.
This is our first sign that the conflict is far more ideological than theological in nature. Do you remember the day when avowed enemies, Herod and Pilate, shook hands in a common alliance against Jesus? That’s the problem with so many religious disputes. They are often just power battles clothed in theological garb. When theology devolves into ideology it’s a short step to idolatry which inevitably pushes out doxology. The power of the Gospel, by its very nature as the ontological power of God, threatened to undermine and undo the power of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
This kind of thing continues to happen in the Church among the people of God to this very day. In our efforts to fight what we consider to be false ideologies with good theology we usually wind up becoming ideologues ourselves and the whole thing becomes about power and winning. We tend to slaughter our opponents not so much with weaponry as with our words; and yes, it still happens in the name of “God.”
Second Line of Analysis
It brings me to the second way to think through what happened in today’s text?
What would have happened if instead of throwing the pipe bomb, Paul had bowed to his knees and simply proclaimed, “Jesus is Lord.”
True theology (words about God) is inherently political without being ideological because true theology is profoundly personal and relational. To say Jesus is Lord is not triumphalistic. It is the humble truth that alone saves the world. To declare, “Jesus is Lord,” is the only true doxology and the sole antidote to idolatry.
This is yet another reason why the name of Jesus is the only name under heaven by which people may be saved.
The way to remain theological and not ideological is to become more Christological, which at very minimum means becoming more humble (and wherever possible remove the suffix “-ology” from most of our speech). ;0)
And somewhere in all this I think there’s a message for both the Mayor of and the Church in Houston, Texas. Madam Mayor, theological speech (i.e. preaching) is inherently and unavoidably political. And Church, resist the temptation to fight this one on the ideological grounds of religious freedom– rather stay close to the ground of “Jesus is Lord.” The Church cannot depend on the rights afforded it by a man made government. We trust God. For a brilliant letter to the Mayor from a local Houston Pastor– click here.
COME HOLY SPIRIT!
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