Phariseeism: Alive and Well

Jerry C. Brewer

The Pharisees were the mainstream denomination of the first century. There were others, but Phariseeism largely predominated and its devotees were some of the fiercest opponents of Jesus. The term “Phariseeism” has come to mean the height of hypocrisy and is often hurled at Jesus’ followers in our day by those who are, in fact, the real practitioners of Phariseeism—the modern denominational industry.

There is a striking parallel between those of Jesus day and modern denominations. Jesus said of them, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say and do not. …But all of their works they do to be seen of men…” (Matt. 23:2-3, 5a).

Jesus’ description of the Pharisees in His day fits perfectly with modern denominations. They purport to teach the doctrine of Christ, but refuse to observe it. They loudly proclaim, “Jesus is Lord,” but refuse to submit to His Lordship in obedience. His indictment of them is found in Luke 6:46: “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” Denominational Phariseeism says Jesus died for our sins and shed His blood for us, but refuses to teach the means of contacting that blood in baptism (Rom. 6:3-5). Modern Phariseeism says we should observe the memorial of Jesus’ death in the Lord’s Supper, but refuses to do so every first day of every week and sometimes observe it on days other than the one authorized (Acts 20:7). Modern denominational Pharisees insist that we sing praises to God in worship, but add the element of mechanical instruments which was never authorized by the One they claim is their “Lord” (Eph. 5:18-19). Modern denominations are “church-oriented” and seek the “unchurched” to increase their numbers while absolutely denying that there is only one church which Jesus established, over which He is head, and which He saves (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22-23; 5:22). In their insistence that, “one church is as good as another,” they are as hypocritical as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and exalt their traditions (creeds) above the teachings of Jesus. In this, they are as condemned by the Lord as those of His day: “For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition” (Mark 7:8-9).

Modern Phariseeism prides itself on an outward display of religion while within it is full of evil. That is clearly demonstrated in the words of one modern Pharisee who “Pastors” the Trinity Fellowship Church at Sayre, Okla. In his weekly free column in a local paper, he wrote,

There are hundreds of things, which are specifically covered by Scripture, and on those things we mustn’t compromise, especially where sin is concerned. But there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other issues which are not specifically covered in the Bible. What do we do about those things? Things such as drinking alcohol, watching ‘R’ rated movies, whether or not to observe Halloween or which political party to vote for, among many others. These are things that believers have strong convictions about. And if our conviction is to abstain from these things then we should do it… provided that our convictions are the result of the Spirit’s activity in our lives. But if Scripture does not specifically cover the issues then we can’t hold them as ‘law’ over someone else (Andy Taylor, “Issues of Life,” Daily Elk Citian, Friday, April 3, 2012, p. 5A).

His skewing of Scripture brands him as a Pharisee of the deepest dye. He and others of his ilk put on good shows with their theatrics, music and bands, wear clothing outwardly proclaiming their love for Jesus, making “broad their phylacteries,” but they “are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matt. 23:27- 28).

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day twisted and perverted Scripture and added their own traditions to it in order to justify their wickedness while appearing to follow the Law of Moses. That is precisely the modus operandi of modern Pharisees in the denominational industry today. Modern Pharisees are not those of us who insist on a “thus saith the Lord” for all we preach and practice, but those who, lay aside God’s commandments to keep their own traditions, such as “drinking alcohol” or “watching ‘R’ rated movies.”

Like those of Jesus’ day who laid aside God’s commandments to satisfy their own lusts (Mark 7:9-13), today’s Pharisees refuse to “deny self” (Matt. 16:24) to pursue a life of hedonism while saying, “Jesus is Lord.” Phariseeism is alive and well in our time and as long as man lives upon the earth it will always be. “There is no new thing under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9-10).

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