The following was written on 9/13/06. It should be noted that I am not quite as optimistic about the state of American Christianity as I was when I wrote this piece last year. In my book, "Reformation: A Biblical Response to Holy War" I will be showing how some of the same tendencies that exist in radical Islam also exist in certain sectors of evangelical Christianity right here in America. The point of the article is still valid though, Pharisees are those who want to rule over others in the name of God.
Question: I was wondering if you would ever do a teaching or side by side comparison of the
Pharisees in Jesus time and the Pharisees in our time. I am very drawn to learn more
about not being a Pharisee.
Answer: Thank you for the question. I think your desire to avoid becoming a modern day Pharisee is an admirable one, but I don't think you have much to worry about if you are a sincere Christian seeking to follow Jesus. I have to confess that in the past, I have thrown the word "Pharisee" around a little too lightly, as many others have done. It seems the word is used most often when one particular group of Christians wants to insult another group of Christians. This trivializes the word and loses sight of who the Pharisees really were and what the modern equivalent would be. Even Paul the Apostle when He was persecuting the church was not as depraved as the other Pharisees who were responsible for delivering up Jesus to be crucified (I Timothy 1:13)
First of all, the Pharisees thought that Jesus was demon possessed even though He did nothing but heal the sick and love the poor (John 8:48). They burdened people with rituals and laws and condemned people for not following their rigid demands (Matthew 23:4). They were powerful religious rulers who had married their zeal with the power of the state (John 11:48). They had a strict interpretation of the Old Testament law which did not allow for mercy. They thought nothing of stoning a woman to death for adultery (John 8:1-12). Lastly, they were motivated not by love for God, but by greed, envy, and power (John 11:48,Luke 16:14).
Do we have an equivalent in our day and age? Yes we do. I believe the religious police in Saudi Arabia and the Mullahs in Iran fit this description perfectly. Check out the book Iran: Desperate for God for a description of the Mullahs and Blink by Ted Dekker for a description of the religious police in Saudi Arabia. Of course, the Taliban would also be a fitting description of a modern day Pharisee. I would put the medieval Catholic Church responsible for the Inquisition in the same category. They used religion to condemn and kill rather than to love and save.
Yes, we have religious people with Pharisaical tendencies in American Christianity, but none to the same level as the actual Pharisees in the Bible as far as I am aware of. One safeguard against a Pharisaical spirit is to have an all-inclusive view of God's love for humanity. It is a human tendency to think of God's chosen as us four and no more, whether it is extreme Pentecostals who think that only tongue talkers will be in heaven (a minority view)or Fundamentalist Christians who believe that all Catholics are destined for hell for believing in purgatory and praying for the dead. Surely God is bigger than our theological squabbles! I am not suggesting that all are saved or that docrine doesn't matter. What I am saying is the cross of Christ has far more ability to save than does Adam's sin to condemn (see Romans 5). May we rejoice that our sins are forgiven and extend the same hope to the rest of humanity. When the gospel is such good news, who needs Pharisees?