For those who haven’t noticed the schism of saints evidenced in their own spiritual backyard, the annual or biennial leadership conference held by most denominations, whereby some are invited and others are not, should be ample proof of the division within evangelicalism.
The pharisees (and others) were the ‘clergy’ (or ‘ministerial’) in Christ’s day. Studying them is studying the human heart. To a degree, they are us. Yes, we experienced a dynamic spiritual shift when first “born of the Spirit”, but still retain lots of yuck. Who we are is much better than who we were, yet who we were has blemished and bruised who we are.
Jeremiah 17:5 (NLT): This is what the Lord says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans.”
Others cannot trust us and we cannot trust others. None are fully trustworthy. And yet we work hard at getting people to trust our character and perspectives. The clergy/ministerial assumes they are worthy of our trust, and yet the very existence of this non-Biblical ruling class is proof of their unworthiness and inability to shepherd.
When The Christ exposed the pharisees He exposed the heart of man. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Our hearts have similarities to theirs. So let’s be really, really brave and peer into the pharisee heart to get glimpses of our own.
Matthew 23:13: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees hypocrites.”
Lord Jesus called the pharisees hypocrites, which leads to a most important question….
Did the hypocrite make the pharisee, or did the pharisee make the hypocrite?
Is it possible to be a member of a ruling class, be it secular or christian, without assimilating a sense of elitism? Who cannot be ill affected by undue reverence, by titles, by special consideration?
Man-gazing was a reality then and a reality today, repugnant though it be. It takes a special person to be both humble and adulated. We naively assume the man behind the pulpit has somehow, at some time, attained a place of spiritual eminence whereby he is immune from the ill effects of fawning…. but is he? When did he make the transition from not-so-special to special, from susceptible to invulnerable? Was it upon graduation from Bible school? When he received his denominational certificate? When he landed his first job? At his ‘ordination’? Just exactly when did he become special…. wiser, holier, anointed?
Or do these externals simply give an appearance of superiority?
John 9:22 (NLT): They were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue.
The pharisees were serious controllers. Anyone ejected from the synagogue would undergo upheaval of every aspect of life, and they used this leverage against those daring to express an opposing view. How cruel the heart of a controller.
A controller is one having a need to control. It’s a sickness, a bad fruit of the fall. A controller in the church is at odds with the Holy Spirit who guides. (“He will guide you into all truth.”) One guided by the Holy Spirit cannot be controlled by man, and one controlled by man cannot be guided by the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps this need to control is in most of us. As there are degrees of all good and bad traits, there are degrees of a need to control. Marriages are often a battleground because of one’s abnormal need to control the other.
Most of us are not, as were the pharisees, control freaks.
There is a sick pleasure in dominating others. The unsanctified heart loves power and loves money, and a control freak always wants more of both. That’s why a freak often becomes the c.e.o. of the company. That’s what compels him to reach for the top of whatever occupation and organization he is in. He wants people under him, not over him.
A control freak is not necessarily the smartest, but often the most ambitious. When the most ambitious in the church is also the smartest the results are catastrophic. Now back to….
Matthew 23:13: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees hypocrites.”
Not all pharisees were pharisaic, but we must accept most were. Nicodemus who humbly questioned Jesus about the salvation He promoted, and Joseph, “a good and just man”, who requested Pilate for the body of Jesus to be laid in his own tomb (to the serious displeasure of his colleagues) were seemingly exceptions.
But why were the bulk of pharisees hypocritical? The law of average suggests much less than half would be so artificial.
Matthew 23:5-7 (NLT): “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’”
Sounds like a bunch of narcissists.
Why, oh why were so many in such need of prominence and adulation? Did they all have inept parents? Were they not loved as children and teens? They had memorized more Scripture than a dozen of us together; shouldn’t that have positively affected their character?
Luke 16:14: The Pharisees, who were lovers of money…
Sure, we all have an unhealthy attraction to money, but it seems these guys loved money intensely. Caiaphas lived “in the palace”. Leadership “devour[ed] widows’ houses” and insisted people give money used for the care of aging parents “to the (ahem!) temple”. Why such an uncommon love for money?
Luke 16:14: They derided Him.
These guys were practiced mockers. And they were extremely cruel, actually scoffing at (what had the appearance of) a helpless, tortured victim nailed to a cross, barely clinging to life. (“The rulers…. sneered, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself.’”) Somehow these gentlemen became seriously twisted over the years.
But how and why did these religious leaders become the despots they were? – hypocritical, controlling, narcissistic, obsessive of money and power, derisive and cruel. Perhaps the answer is simpler than we might think, an answer we have heard more than once over the years….
Power corrupts! Power corrupts! Power corrupts!
Does power corrupt everybody in places of power and authority?
Luke 23:50-53: There was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man. He had not consented to their council and deed. He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb.
Joseph is proof power doesn’t corrupt all. There are survivors. But the pharisees have taught us the dangers of the leadership side (the clergy/ministerial side) of organized religion. Catholicism, with its long history of unbelievable corruption, and other religions, echo the same dangers.
It would be a mistake to compare christians – “born of the Spirit”, washed in the blood of the Lamb, sanctified, justified, sons and daughters of the living God – with non-christian pharisees. But it is folly to refuse to be warned by others who have tread similar paths.