As I listened to Dan Andrews explaining the rules again for Victoria, apart from losing the will to live, the thought struck me that the spirit of the Pharisees, Publicans and Puritans is alive and well in our world today. Let’s compare our modern secular versions with the biblical ones.

The Pharisees. They took the ten commandments and added 613 laws – 365 negative and 248 positive. Some commandments we smile at…it was forbidden to look in a mirror fixed on a wall on the Sabbath…You couldn’t light a candle or fire on the Sabbath, but you could hire a Gentile to do it for you.

A friend in Scotland tells me that he went to a wedding in a hotel and when it was the religious part of the service, everyone, including the bride and groom had to wear facemasks, but then it came to the reception part and they were all facing each other in the same room – they were permitted to take their masks off!

In the UK they shut down pubs at 10pm with the result that crowds poured into the streets and partied there.

As of October 19, regional pubs and restaurants in Victoria can have 40 patrons indoors and 70 patrons seated outdoors. Churches, however, can only have 20 people gathered outside and no church of any size is permitted indoors. Why? What makes a café or pub safer than a church? Why are weddings only allowed five people and funerals ten? Perhaps if they held them in pubs? What ‘science’ tells our politicians to make these kind of distinctions?

How’s this for Pharisaic gobbledygook: “However, weddings held in a person’s residence can occur if one or both of the two people getting married are at the end of life. In this situation the wedding can occur with a maximum of two witnesses and one other guest. These people could include members of the household where the wedding is occurring, or other guests if there are less than three additional people in the household who are eligible to witness weddings.”. Just to think – someone was actually paid to sit down and make up these discriminatory laws!

The Publicans. I feel for the pub owners today – they face a greater threat from the new Pharisees than they ever faced from the temperance movement. But the publicans in biblical times were tax collectors, not pub owners. It seems to me that the policies being made today are being done just as much for economic reasons and political reputations as they are for public health. Why would the state of Nevada declare that cannabis businesses are considered ‘essential’ (although their opening has to be approved by the Marijuana Enforcement Division) and that they, along with casinos, restaurants, bars and indoor amusement parks can operate at 50% capacity but churches are limited to 50 people? In Victoria why did the government consider it acceptable to permit 1,000 race horse owners to gather in public, but ban churches from gathering? It has nothing to do with ‘the science’ and everything to do with money, thoughtlessness and discrimination.

The Puritans. I am using ‘Puritan’ here in the way that the ‘world’ does – as a synonym for self-righteous, joyless, moralistic hypocrites. Who would have thought that in the 21st Century we would have our secular politicians banning drinking, partying, dancing and soon Christmas! (As an old-fashioned Scottish Cromwellian Presbyterian, I have to admit that every cloud as a silver lining) …

But worse than that – with the advent of 24/7 news, social media and the Internet keeping track of every careless word, deed and photo, woe betide anyone who commits any kind of sin (sin of course being defined by whatever ‘progressive’ group happens to be in vogue at any current moment). It’s been a lesson in hypocrisy to see the shock/horror reporting about the love life of the NSW Premier, as her private life is put on full display in every media. One suspects that if the motto ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone’ had been applied there would have been a lot less written and said.

Douglas Murray in his The Madness of Crowds has a beautiful little chapter in the middle on the subject of forgiveness. “In some manner with which we still haven’t begun to wrestle, we have created a world in which forgiveness has become almost impossible, in which the sins of the father can certainly be visited upon the son….the consensus was for centuries that only God could forgive the ultimate sins. …today we do seem to live in a world where actions can have consequences we could never have imagined, where guilt and shame are more at home than ever, and where we have no means whatsoever of redemption.”

The Real Puritans.

Which brings me on to the real Puritans. Not the caricatures of the ignorant, but the real men and women who knew that what mattered most was the heart. Reading Richard Sibbes over these past few months has been a real tonic for my soul. He takes us out of the pettiness of the bureaucrats, the powerplays of the politicians and the confusion of the populace, into the heart of Christ. He offers real hope. Our politicians tell us that we are great, and we can beat this virus ourselves. Sibbes reminds us:

“A holy despair in ourselves is the ground of true hope”.

This little virus has revealed a great deal about our society (both good and bad). Sibbes tells us that that is what sickness does – it exposes who we really trust.

 “Health is at his command, and sickness stays at his rebuke. In the mean, the time of sickness is a time of purging from that defilement we gathered in our health, till we come purer out; which should move us willingly to abide God’s time. We are best, for the most part, when we are weakest”.

When you remove the law of love found in the Bible – you end up with tens of thousands of laws, sub laws, and sub, sub laws. You end up with secular Pharisees, dominant publicans and hypocritical ‘puritans’. Is it not time for the church to stop endorsing the methods and delusions of the world and instead call us, and our country to prayer and repentance? Let’s follow the way of Christ, not the way of the Pharisee.

David Robertson

1 Comment »