I have been in a wide-ranging e-mail discussion with a “brother” who accuses me, in his final analysis, of not believing the Bible. Just to set the record straight, Pharisees are the denomination who originated the statement, “The Bible is our sole rule of faith and practice.” Another way to phrase our belief is, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we remain silent.”
My accuser claims that I do not in fact practice either of these beliefs based on some of the things I have written about in this column. For example, he says that smoking is not in the Bible so I cannot scripturally take a stand against smoking. I don’t know if this brother wants to justify his own personal sin or if he was raising the point strictly for argument’s sake but it is easy to see how the Bible is against smoking. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19) and smoking is harmful to the body. Therefore, smoking is a sin because it defiles the temple of the Holy Spirit. What could be plainer?
This dear brother is apparently unclear on the use of logic to understand the Bible. Just because something is not mentioned in the Bible, doesn’t mean that the principle for it is not found there. For instance, there are no church buildings mentioned in the Bible, yet we build them anyway. Why? Because Hebrews 10:25 commands us to worship and we need a place to do so out of the rain and snow so we build a building. Next he will be telling me that using a car do drive to church is unscriptural because they aren’t mentioned in the Bible either.
This brother’s ignorance or obstinacy (I am not sure which) knows no bounds. He says that the Bible teaches in I Corinthians 11 that women are commanded to wear veils to church and that they are allowed to pray and prophesy in public. Once again, he fails to understand that Paul was speaking to a culture that was different than ours and that these verses only apply to us in principle not in practice.
The list would be too long for me to cite with regard to particulars but let me summarize. There are truths that are not mentioned specifically in the Bible and we are given liberty through the Holy Spirit to deduce them by the use of logic. Just because God gave us a Bible doesn’t mean he took away our brains. There are other things mentioned in the Bible that no longer apply to us in our day and age. Once again, just because it is in the Bible doesn’t mean we don’t use the brain God gave us. The final criterion is that we, as discerning spiritual Pharisees, are obligated to read and obey the Word of God as we interpret it.
“And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? . . . Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hears are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ “
Matthew 15: 3-9 (NIV)
Gamaliel - The Concept and the Mission
I would like to begin today’s column with an apology. Those of you who are expecting to read a screed from Gamaliel will have to put up with a word from me this week. I have received a number of e-mails from my readers and I feel the time is ripe for some clarification. For the rest of you who “get it,” please bear with me.
Most of you understand the idea that Gamaliel represents a parody of the mindset current among most Evangelical, Fundamentalist and Mainstream denominations today. I believe (based on e-mails I have received from subscribers) that there are Pharisees in every denomination. So I am not targeting any particular group of people, other than the Pharisees, even though you may see a lot of similarities in your current denomination.
However, I am not only writing about “them.” My intent is to hold the mirror up to all of us and see if a Pharisee is looking back or Jesus Christ. My personal challenge is to ask myself, “Whom do I most resemble?” My response to that challenge is to quote many of the things I used to say and believe from the standpoint of an outsider and see how it measures up to the standard of Jesus Christ.
Some misunderstand me because they think I am focusing on “issues” or “customs” or even “traditional worship styles” and practices. None of those are the focus of the Newsletter at all. To be honest, I fail to get excited about a person’s worship style preference, preferred Bible version, musical tastes or any of the other things that seem to upset people at church the most. And before you get bent out of shape on this, I have met Pharisees who preferred contemporary worship just as often as those who preferred traditional or even liturgical worship. There are just as many Pharisees opposing the KJV as there are defending it. Some Pharisees prefer music that is at least 25 years out of date while other Pharisees go in for hip-hop, rap, rock, techno, Gregorian chants, or whatever. Pharisees span the spectrum of church practice.
So what makes a Pharisee? What is it that I’m satirizing in my column? In a word: ATTITUDE. By reading Matthew 23, we see that Pharisees are characterized by a number of traits that distinguish them from Christians (follower and imitators of Jesus Christ).
- They are unmerciful about the burdensome practices they place on others.
- So how many times do we find ourselves burdening new Christians with behavioral expectations that we have trouble living up to?
- What is our attitude and treatment of others who don’t meet our high expectations? Are we merciful or condescending and judgmental?
- They practice their religion largely to be seen of others; to be praised and admired by them.
- “There is no end to the amount of good that could be done if no one cared who got the credit,” someone once said. How devoted would we truly be if no one were watching?
- What is our current level of activity when no one is watching?
- They are self-important and elevate themselves above others.
- Do we seek the low, humble positions or the high and lofty ones?
- Do we get upset if no one notices our privileged status or standing?
- They desire to be admired by others as knowledgeable teachers and authorities on all matters relating to the word of God (a personal temptation of mine).
- Do we feel like we must have an answer to all the current Biblical controversies?
- Do we feel that our answers must be right for us to be right with God?
- Do we expect that others will be right (i.e. agree with us) or they are not right with God?
- Do we feel that we are the only ones who have all (or most) of the right answers to the hard questions in the Bible and the world would be a much better place if only everyone saw things our way?
- They restrict the entry to God’s kingdom by their preaching and don’t practice kingdom principles by their lives.
- Do we have a quick and easy definition of a Christian and feel that we have a pretty good idea of who is going to be in heaven and who isn’t?
- Do we feel that we are definitely in the number who is going to heaven without a doubt
- They aggressively proselytize saved people from other denominational stripes to convert to their way of thinking rather than evangelizing the lost for Christ.
- When was the last time we led a lost soul to Jesus Christ?
- Would we rather convince other Christians to join our particular party, church or denomination or would we rather witness to the lost and bring the newly saved into our church?
- They practice customs that actually negate God’s intentions and claim they are obeying God when they do so.
- Are we remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy or are we performing a perfunctory duty once a week and calling it worship?
- Is the Sermon on the Mount something we weep over because we are unprofitable servants or something we explain away because Jesus was only using figures of speech and he doesn’t really hold us to those high standards?
- They religiously practice traditions and customs while refusing to practice mercy, sound judgment and faith.
- When someone worships in a different style than we do, are we judging our preferences or the content of what they are saying and doing?
- When we watch others attempt to live out the Christian life, to we criticize their failings (i.e. not being like us) or encourage them?
- They exalt the fathers of the faith while breaking fellowship with contemporaries who are just like them.
- Think of Spurgeon, a cigar smoker. He is widely quoted and nearly idolized in Pharisee churches but would never be welcome as a member and certainly could not serve as a pastor with such conduct. For more details see: http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/cigars.htm
- They feel it is their God-given duty to vilify, oppose, denigrate and otherwise tear down any who are different from them.
Am I accusing any of being Pharisees? I don’t need to because Pharisees accuse themselves. And if I were, then my accusations would mean nothing to the true Pharisees who are incapable of seeing themselves for who they are. Instead they see themselves as they wish others would see them. Pharisees take great pride and pleasure in their exclusivism (a subject of a forthcoming column) and have no desire to join the wider body of believers.
No, my column is for the rest of us who know Pharisees or were once practicing Pharisees ourselves (that’s me!) and would like to break out of the trap that Pharisaism offers. Instead we are now trying to be like Christ. Ironically, many of the traditions that we held to, we still practice. What has changed is our attitude. That, and our practice of grace and mercy to our brothers and sisters in Christ, are the vestiges of our Pharisee past that we are trying to eradicate. It grieves me to the quick that those who preach God’s grace the loudest put it into practice the least. That to me sums up the crux of what makes a Pharisee.
Clap Trap Christianity
There is a poisonous practice common in non-Pharisee churches that is beginning to infect our congregations. Our greatest fear is that doctrinal error will somehow creep into our assemblies but even more insidious are worldly customs that have no place in our houses of worship. Many of you know where I’m going with this because we have discussed this often and that is the practice of clapping in church.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not against other churches including applause in their assemblies. If they want to be in error and mimic the world with their behavior, that is fine with me. I am certainly not one to criticize other denominations for not being like Pharisees. That is between them and God alone. But when I see Pharisee churches starting to imitate false churches, then I have reason to be concerned.
First of all, clapping in the Bible is a sign of shame and derision. Lamentations 2:15 says, “All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men call The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth?” This is a clear indication of shame. By extension, any church that allows clapping should be ashamed.
Second, clapping applauds the performer or even the performance but certainly not God. Concerts and athletic events are places to praise men. When I give speeches outside the church, I expect applause because I have worked hard on what I am saying and deserve the recognition for my accomplishments. When I preach in church, even if I did work as hard on the sermon as I do a secular speech, I would not want applause because all the glory goes to God. I am just His Chosen vessel.
Finally, applause is a sign of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm has no place in the church. Worship services are to be solemn assemblies filled with awe and reverence. One cannot enthusiastically worship and magnify the name of our great God in an atmosphere that is more like a concert than a funeral. After all, the saving of the lost and the maintenance of doctrinal purity is too serious a matter to take lightly. Our job is not to make people comfortable in church but to afflict their souls with the preaching of sin, sanctification and spirituality. Anything less is an affront to the name of Pharisee.
Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth!
Psalm 47:1-2 (NIV)
A Thankful Heart
I believe it is very important for us to have a truly thankful heart. So often pride rears its ugly head and we need to pause and reflect on what it really means to be a Pharisee. I believe that Luke 18:10-12 sets a pattern for the kind of thankful heart that we should have.
Let me express first of all my thankfulness that we are not like other men. The world today is populated by thieves, extortionists, ungodly, unholy, evil, adulterers, homosexuals, drunkards, smokers, lawyers and sinners of every kind. It is so comforting to know that we are not a part of such a crowd. Certainly we should express our thanks to God for our association with Him rather than the scum of the world.
God has called some of us out of the ranks of sin as the Bible says, “such were some of you.” But most of us, who have been raised in Pharisee churches all our lives, need to thank God that we have been kept by his grace from ever falling into any of those sins. We should express our undying gratitude that we have never been subject to the temptations of lesser men, and that God has prevented us from ever descending into impurity and unholiness. We should be appreciative of the special protection that God has placed over us because of the great love wherewith he hath loved us and thus making us even more worthy of His love by doing so.
Not only that but we should be thankful for our level of religious service. Spiritual discipline is a mark of the spiritual Christian and we should express our gratitude to God for the privilege that we have of being numbered with the saints. We are the kind of people who tithe of everything that we own. We never miss a service. We read only the correct version of the Bible. We properly condemn sinners whether they are professing Christians or the unsaved. We maintain doctrinal purity and are members of a True church.
But we can take no unwarranted pride in this for that of course would be a sin. Instead we give all the credit for our personal holiness and worthiness back to God. We should be thankful that we are able to stand holy and unblamable before Him because of all the goodness that He has shed abroad in our lives. We need to keep in mind that all the good things we do – and there are a great many of them – come from God. Had he not written them down in His Word, we would never be able to know all the good that we could do for Him. And because He has given us clear instructions, we can follow them Religiously. For that, I am truly thankful.
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 13:13-14 (NIV)