This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.
Did Jesus voluntarily suspend or sacrifice His liberty in the eyes of the watching world in order to make His proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God more successful? If He did, we need to follow His example. If He did not, we are free to ignore the pietist’s commandment to do so. What follows is a summary of the most relevant passages about this topic found in the Gospel of Mark, chapters one through ten. The first ten chapters of Mark cover, in a very truncated fashion, the entire public ministry of Jesus up until the final week. I have selected the passages in which Jesus had the opportunity to suspend His liberty in order to please the watching world by conforming to it’s amoral standards for behavior. Let’s see how He responded to those situations.
Mark 2:15-17. Jesus had a habit of “eating with the sinners and the tax-gathers”. In fact, to use the modern expression, the religious leaders of His day considered Him to be a bit of a party animal. This disturbed them no end. According to the amoral standards of the cultural, a religious leader was expected to conduct himself in a fashion that they deemed to be sensible, dignified and above reproach. Spending time at parties with known sinners did not fill the bill. The cultural leaders could find nothing dignified in the people Jesus was associating with. When informed of the consternation of the Pharisees, Jesus had the opportunity to suspend His liberty and modify His behavior so as not to offend them. What did He say? “And hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'” Jesus clearly repudiated the doctrine of pietism in this example.
Mark 2:18-20. Immediately after giving the Pharisees an opportunity to take offense (which they gladly did), Jesus gave the disciples of John the Baptist the same opportunity. Unlike the Pharisees, who were clearly His enemies, the disciples of John were at least sympathetic to Him. They came to Jesus’ disciples and inquired into the partying ways of their Master. Jesus immediately had another opportunity to suspend the exercise of His liberties in order to not give an opportunity for the disciples of John to take offense. What did He say? “While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom do not fast, do they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.” Jesus clearly established the doctrine of liberty in this example.
Mark 2:23-28. Shortly after sending off the disciples of John the Baptist, Jesus had another opportunity to deal with the Pharisees. He and His disciples were passing through a grain field on a Sabbath day and they were violating the cultural moral standards of that society by picking some of the grains and eating them. The Pharisees confronted Him and He was presented with another opportunity to suspend His liberty in order to not bring them cause for taking offense at his behavior. What did He say? “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” In saying this He clearly repudiated their cultural moral standards as well as repudiating the doctrine of pietism.
Mark 3:1-6: We next find Jesus in a synagogue doing battle with the cultural moral standards of the Pharisees. A man with a crippled hand is presented before Him and the Pharisees watch Him carefully to see if He will suspend His liberty and conform to their standards of behavior for the Sabbath day. What did He do? “After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart… his hand was restored.” Jesus healed the man, despite the cultural moral standard of the time. As you would expect, the Pharisees and the Herodians then teamed up to fight against Him. Doing the right thing and exercising liberty in the eyes of the watching world will almost always bring a negative response. Jesus did not care about the response of the watching world.
Mark 3:20-21 and 31-35. The family of Jesus became quite worried about Him as He conducted His public ministry in a way that was not consistent with their expectations. In particular, He kept telling people that they needed to repent of their sins and He insisted upon behaving in a way that alienated Him from the leaders of the time. They began to say of Him that “He has lost His senses.” At one point they became so desperate that they interrupted Him while He was teaching. His mother and brothers arrived outside the place where He was teaching and had word sent to Him that they were waiting. No doubt they expected to be given the royal treatment and ushered into the hall and given the most prestigious seats. What did Jesus do? In direct contradiction to the cultural moral standards of the day, Jesus ignored them. To add to their sense of injury, He went on to say, “And looking about on those who were sitting around Him, He said, ‘Behold, My mother and My brothers.'” Talk about offensive! Jesus clearly repudiated the doctrine of pietism by this behavior.
Mark 5:1-17. This section of Mark contains the story of the Gerasene demoniac. The story is well known. One part of the story, however, is frequently overlooked. Jesus agreed to allow the demons to go into the herd of swine that was feeding on the mountainside. Those hogs belonged to somebody. Those hogs were someone’s economic capital. By sending the demons into the pigs, Jesus caused the loss of a significant amount of money to somebody who lived in the area. Why did He not become all things to all people and send the demons somewhere else? Not surprisingly, the citizens of the area asked Him to leave before He could do any more harm to their property. Jesus certainly did not behave like a pietist in this situation.
Mark 6:1-6. After being on the road for some time Jesus returned to His hometown and His home synagogue. There He taught as He had taught elsewhere. No doubt the story of His offensive behavior towards His mother and brothers had circulated back to the home synagogue. No doubt many of the folks in town were watching Him with a jaundiced eye. He continued to live and teach as He had done everywhere else. What happened? “They took offense at Him.” Why did He not do a better job of modifying His behavior so as to not be a cause for their offense? Why did He not become “all things” to them in order to better prepare the spiritual soil for His teaching? Certainly He could have behaved with more moderation and prudence among His own people, couldn’t He? The answer is simple. He did not do those things because those things did not matter. The position of the pietist is thoroughly repudiated by His behavior.
Mark 7:5-13. The Pharisees and scribes were almost always angry with Jesus. In this particular case they were disturbed with His practice of ignoring the “tradition of the elders” with respect to hand washing. Jesus was given a clear opportunity to suspend His liberty and conform to the amoral standards of the culture by submitting to the ceremony of hand washing. What did He do? He ignored their complaint and rebuked them for sin by saying, “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” Obviously Jesus did not hold the traditions of men in high regard. He also refused to submit Himself to those traditions. He clearly did not suspend His own liberty in order to pave the way for His teaching by conforming to their amoral behavioral standards. The heart of pietism is repudiated by this example of His behavior.
Mark 7:24-30. This is known as the story of the Syrophoenician woman. This woman was a Gentile, and Jews were to have no social interaction with Gentiles whatsoever. At first Jesus conforms His behavior to the cultural standard of the time and refuses to grant the woman’s request. Nevertheless, the woman persisted and Jesus made the decision to go contrary to the amoral cultural standard of the time and grant her request. In the eyes of the pietist, if word about His behavior ever got back to Israel, His ministry would be finished. Three years of public ministry would have been wasted due to this one foolish act. He had brought shame and disgrace upon Himself, His disciples, and His entire ministry by engaging this Gentile woman. Jesus did not care about the shame and disgrace He brought upon Himself by doing what was right. He totally repudiated the doctrines of pietism.
What would Jesus do? He would ignore the amoral cultural standards of the day and do what is right. He would obey the law of God and ignore the traditions of men, regardless of the consequences. He would never modify His liberty in order to pave the way for His teachings. In fact, it seems that He would often go out of His way to stir up both those who opposed Him and those who were sympathetic to Him. Ultimately, when confronted by His disciples with the fact that His behavior was offending those around Him, He said, “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” A pietist would never say this. Jesus did.
It seems more and more clear that the Bible contains no teaching that supports the doctrines of pietism. What do the pietists use to support their position? The teachings of the apostle Paul are routinely removed from their context and distorted to teach pietistic principles.