Christians who have strong biblical convictions are often labeled “Pharisees.”
The following are a few examples of the probably hundreds of times people have written to called me a Pharisee.
“I wonder what makes Mr. Cloud so sure he’s right and everybody else is wrong? Look at the Pharisees, Mr. Cloud, and then look in the mirror!”
“You’re the best example I think I’ve ever seen of the Pharisee who sits at the front of the synagogue giving thanks for not being a sinner like everyone else.”
“I figured you were a Baptist organization. You are nothing more than modern day Pharisees! Judgmental ignorant people. Get a grip.”
To label a Bible-believing Christian who is passionate to honor Christ and to obey God’s Word a Pharisee is a slander, because the error of Phariseeism was not their zeal to obey the Scripture. They had no such zeal. They were zealous, rather, to create their own religious system and to exalt their own self-righteousness.
A biblical definition of Phariseeism is as follows:
1. Phariseeism is supplanting the Word of God with man-made tradition and thereby making the Word of God of none effect. “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mat. 15:7-9).
2. Phariseeism is rejecting Jesus Christ. “Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils” (Mat. 12:22-24).
3. Phariseeism is perverting the Gospel of the free grace of Christ into a work’s salvation. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Mat. 23:15).
4. Phariseeism is self-righteousness. “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Lk. 18:9-12).
5. Phariseeism is the practice of religious hypocrisy. “In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Lk. 12:1).
The Pharisees were at the forefront of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and of the persecution of the early Christians.
It is a great error to label a Christ-loving, Bible-honoring, grace-preaching, self-debasing, peace-loving Christian a Pharisee.
Jesus did not reject the Pharisees because they loved God’s Word and took it too seriously.
Jesus did not reject the Pharisees because they were careful to honor the details of God’s Word. Never did Jesus reprove them for such a thing.
Jesus did not reject the Pharisees because they judged by God’s Word. They didn’t judge by God’s Word; they judged by their own vain tradition. Jesus warned against hypocritical judgment, but He encouraged judgment based on truth.
Jesus did not reject the Pharisees because they marked and avoided false teachers. Jesus Himself warned about false teachers and instructed His people to beware of them (Matthew 7:15-23). Jesus commended the church at Ephesus because they had “tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” and for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:2, 6). Imagine that! Jesus commended the church for hating the deeds of false teachers. Obviously, that type of thing is not Phariseeism.
Zeal for God’s Word is right and godly. The following testimony expresses the very essence of true spirituality and godliness:
“Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way” (Psalms 119:128).
Was the Psalmist speaking here as a Pharisee? Of course not. It is spiritual to esteem all of God’s precepts concerning all things to be right and to hate everything that is contrary to God’s precepts. Note the emphasis on ALL precepts and ALL things and EVERY false way. This is the very strictest sort of Biblicist mindset, and it is encouraged in the pages of God’s Word as the correct mindset and attitude of the man who loves God passionately.
Jesus reproved the Pharisees for turning the law of Moses into a way of salvation, which it was never intended to be, and for their hypocrisy and for their lack of love and grace and compassion. Consider the following reproof:
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matthew 23:23).
Jesus didn’t say, “You Pharisees make far too much of tithing and other such things in God’s law. You are much too zealous for God’s Word. Don’t you know that God never intended you to take everything so strictly. Why don’t you lighten up?”
No, Jesus said they did well to take God’s Word strictly by honoring even the details of tithing. What He hated was that they had missed the heart and soul of the law of God, which was judgment, mercy, and faith. Observe that “judgment” is commended by Jesus!
The law was not given as a means to obtain righteousness; rather, it revealed God’s extreme holiness and man’s fallenness and pointed to Christ as the believing sinner’s justification (Rom. 3:19-24; Gal. 3:10-13, 24-25). The Pharisees missed the heart of the law which is to love God with all one’s heart and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. The fact that they were complicit in the death of the Son of God is clear evidence that they did not love God.
Candidly, there are a lot of fundamental Baptist preachers that I have little respect for, but I don’t know of any full-blown fundamentalist Pharisees. In my experience, every fundamental Baptist preacher believes too much in grace and delights too much in God’s free righteousness to be a Pharisee. There has been a lot of hypocrisy, though, and there is an element of true legalism within some aspects of the fundamental Baptist movement. I have warned about this often. (See, for example, my free eBook THE HYLES EFFECT, which is available at http://www.wayoflife.org.)
While I can’t speak for everyone, I can speak for myself. And I don’t preach works for salvation and I don’t preach works for sanctification. Everything is by God’s grace and His grace alone. Everything is Christ in me the hope of glory. The essence of the Christian life is not me doing something for God. It was described by Paul as follows: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
This might not come across in every single sermon, but it is clear in my thinking and in my personal life and in the overall perspective of my ministry.
As for hypocrisy, I don’t always live up to what I preach. Far from it, but I confess my sins to God (and to man when the situation necessitates) and don’t pretend to any self-righteousness. I know at every moment that the only righteousness I have that is acceptable to God is in Christ and in Christ alone. That is not the thinking of a Pharisee.
We see in Matthew 23:23 that Christ did not rebuke the Pharisees for paying attention to the less weighty things in the law. He rebuked them for focusing on the lesser matters to the neglect of the weightier ones.
The Bible-believing “fundamentalists” that I know do not neglect the weightier matters of the New Testament faith. They aim, rather, to follow Paul’s example and to give heed to “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). They preach Christ’s virgin birth, blood atonement, resurrection, and ascension. They preach justification by grace alone and the Trinity and the personality of the Holy Spirit and the other “weightier” matters of the faith. They also preach church discipline (1 Cor. 5) and the divine restrictions upon the woman’s ministry (1 Tim. 2:12; 1 Cor. 14:34) and other things that are less weighty.
When a Christian today preaches against pop music and Hollywood’s moral filth and calls for modest dress, he is called a Pharisee, but the Bible demands a very strict separation from the world, and this is not Phariseeism; it is New Testament Christianity.
Following are just some of the commandments on this issue, and they are indeed commandments and not suggestions.
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).
“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11).
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:11-12).
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).
“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:15-17).
“And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19).
Separation from the world by a born again, blood-washed, saved-by-grace-alone believer is not Phariseeism. It is obedience to God and conformity to His character and will.
The Pharisees were at the forefront of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and of the persecution of the early Christians.
It is a great slander to label a Christ-loving, Bible-honoring, grace-gospel-preaching, self-debasing, peace-loving Christian a Pharisee.
The modern Pharisee would be more akin to the Roman Catholic priest with his sacramental gospel and his traditions exalted to the place of Scripture and his long history of persecuting the saints. The ecumenical crowd doesn’t call Catholic priests Pharisees, though. They don’t seem to be concerned about all of the souls who have been led astray by these contemporary Pharisees.
The only men they seem to be concerned about are those dreadful old “fundamentalists” with their strong Bible convictions and their refusal to smile at error.
Oh, those dreadful fundamentalist Pharisees!