What Threatens the Church? (Today at Redeemer Pres.)


I have started taking church service notes again (I find as an academic, I am better able to concentrate when I’m writing down what I’m hearing) and of course I have once again felt compelled to let the pastor know that I am doing so on my iPhone, not ignoring his very important message!  I realized that there might be people out there who, like me, have found themselves in situations where getting to a service was not possible and might benefit from reading this post and am choosing to post the messages I scribe.

I would love to hear your thoughts on today’s thoughts about Matthew 15: 1-14.

What should you be asking yourself after reading this passage? Could that be me? Am I a hypocrite? Am I in some way creating an offense to God and other people.

Christians are often called hypocrites.  It’s a label when people go through the motions and do not mean what they say – Formalism.

1. What is formalism? Form without content. Appearance without reality. Plastic fruit. “these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are from me, in vain do they worship me.  A variation is when you do something just because it’s always been done that way before : tradition.  This is what fired up the Father.  They’re so upset they send a delegation for this great inquiry.
2. Jesus in this chapter returns their charge of hypocrisy with his charge of hypocrisy – in this situation, the Pharisees and law experts made tradition trump Truth.  Jesus was telling them that their traditions had no power to clean their heart.  He quotes Isaiah 29, and says that in vein they “worship me.”  Though they honor him with their lips, their hearts are far from them : formalism.  Worship is a response to all that you are to all that God is.
3. Jesus said : if you love me, you’ll obey me. Your greatest pleasure is bringing pleasure to the heart of God.

2. Why is formalism easy to fall into?
a. Consciously: it’s easy because its comfortable. Get church over with so you an go “out and play.” Can’t wait to get home to watch the football game.  It doesn’t require you to think or engage your mind.  “Do not question,” those religions are full of formalism.  It also makes you feel good.  It’s a uniform, that doesn’t say anything about your character, but makes you look good and makes you feel good.
b. subconsciously: any system left to itself will go from order to chaos : entropy. This is true in the natural world and the spiritual world. We will naturally regress from order to chaos. There is an idea stuck in our hearts that we are slow to disavow ourselves of that says, I want God on my terms.  Enough to be blessed and feel good but when the day is over I want control, not God.

3. What’s the price of formalism?
Jesus shows us that the cost is:
a. It’s a lie about God. All He cares about is going through the motions. David discovered this, as he had a very bad month but finally the grace of God tracked him down and he reflected on what it meant to receive Gods forgiveness (Psalm 51). Towards the end of the Psalm, he says you don’t delight in sacrifices or burnt offering (though God invented the sacrificial system) he dismissed it in one sentence.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart you won’t despise.  God showed him that the nature of His sin is ultimately an affront to God.  If David had just offered sacrifice but never engaged at the heart level you would deny our need for God to be the one that moves in and fixes our lives. If you think you can fix yourself and to say otherwise is a lie about God.
b. to say going through the motions is a lie about you, it’s like kissing the bride through the vail. We can not be fully human without having proximity to the heart of God.
c. Appearance of religion changes nothing. What goes in your mouth has nothing to do with your character. Matt 15:14. Cleaning your heart is the problem. Your words are an infallible indicator of what’s going on in your heart. Rules don’t change hearts. Religion doesn’t change hearts. The problem is, you need a new heart (Ez. 47).
d. You can hide who you truly are. You can go to church and look good but then leave and do as you like. The Pharisees were perfect examples of this, why he said they were like white washed graves.

4. What is the evidence you are escaping formalism?
a. You have offense (v12). Jesus knew they offended him but it was they who had offended God by twisting His words for their own intentions. Are you as offended at your own formalism as you are at the formalism you observe in others.  You rush through time with God so you can move on to checking your email and the weather.
b. You have fruit (v13).  One day God, in the view of the blazing glory of Jesus, will root up all those that do not abide by the law of God.  The fruit here is that you are beginning to delight in God for who He is and producing love and compassion to those who don’t. You will never be judgmental bc that is not the heart of God.
c. You have eyes – you can see what Jesus sees.  In this passage he brings up the 5th commandment, because he was thinking of His life and His cross. Every turn in Jesus’ life was to please and honor His Father.


He had something to purchase of immeasurable value : us.

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One thought on “What Threatens the Church? (Today at Redeemer Pres.)

  1. Jesus was an activist, not a literalist in spite of several verses where he says to uphold the Old Testament law (Matthew 5:17, Matthew 5:18-19, Luke 16:17). In Matthew 15:4-7 I believe that Jesus is being sarcastic when he refers to killing disobedient children that curse their parents. I don’t think Jesus would ever have condoned that practice in a literal sense. I think he would have had a more progressive view of the laws with an expanded understanding of how they applied in his time, which is why he quotes Isaiah:

    “‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
    9 They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’”

    This is why I am bothered by those that single out a verse from Leviticus 18:22 to condemn gay people, while ignoring the many other prohibitions, such as not eating pork, shellfish, not wearing clothing made of multiple fibers, not rounding off sideburns or trimming beards and other rules that now appear to be obsolete 3000 years later, from the exact same book. Also, in my opinion, formalism and traditionalism is what almost destroyed the Catholic Church until Pope Francis was elected, a great sign of a complete rebirth of that ancient original Christian denomination.

    I don’t think it’s wrong to call a hypocrite a hypocrite, while keeping in mind that everyone is hypocritical about something and to a certain extent; but, these types of judgments must always be made with forethought and compassion or they are simply another form of self-righteous bullying.

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