The Religion of the Pharisees (Part 1)
Matthew 11:28-30 ESV
(28) Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
(29) Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
(30) For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
This subject has been on my mind now for some months. I keep seeing it crop up in the stories that many of you tell us. In particular, the stories about your experiences with your church when you asked for help with an abusive marriage. Issues of divorce, marriage, separation, remarriage, submission and headship – all of these and more arise in these kinds of scenarios, and what is so often being applied to them as God’s Word just doesn’t seem to ring true with what Jesus says is His easy yoke.
I do not want to stereotype, categorize, and slam every local church, every pastor, or every Christian. That would be to slide into an ugly self-righteousness. Nor do I want to be some kind of crazy conspiracy theorist who suggests that there is some united, malevolent scheme in place that wars against abused Christians. Well, let me think through that last sentence and re-phrase. I don’t want to be the kind of nutcase who imagines conspiracies that aren’t there. But when I wrote that phrase about “a united, malevolent scheme in place that wars against Christians (abused or otherwise)” – it struck me that I am not imagining something that doesn’t exist. There IS such a conspiracy. The god of this world is at the head of it. It is united. It is malevolent. And we are in the fight whether we like it or not, or whether we know it or not.
If Satan has, in centuries past, established false religion in place of true religion, are we so foolish to think that he would not keep trying the same thing over and over again? Scripture, in both Old and New Testaments gives us many accounts of how the true shepherds of the people of God were usurped by false shepherds. The Pharisees, scribes, priests and Sadducees are the New Testament example, but the same types were around in, for instance, Jeremiah’s day -
Jeremiah 2:8, The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?’ Those who handle the law did not know me; the shepherds transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit.
Jeremiah 10:21, For the shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.
Jeremiah 12:10, Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard; they have trampled down my portion; they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.
The Lord promises a day when these false shepherds would be no more. Instead, true shepherds – undershepherds of Christ the Chief Shepherd would pastor His flock:
Jeremiah 23:1-4 “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. (2) Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. (3) Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. (4) I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD.”
Once more, do not misunderstand. I am not setting out in this series to label as a false shepherd every pastor or theologian we have criticized in regard to their mis-handling of abuse. But what I do want to accomplish is to bring to light the mentality, the nature, the tactics and teachings of the oppressive religion that the Enemy of our souls has so often introduced among the people of God. Then, I want to search out (with your help) examples of how that false religion is cropping up among us in our churches – and maybe in our own thinking as well. This study cannot be a mission of speck-searching in the eyes of others unless it is preceded by some major logging in my own eye. And I suppose that one of the chief reasons this matter has been on my mind of late is that the more I am seeing of what I call the New Pharisaism, the more I wonder how much of it is in me.
My plan is to begin at Matthew’s Gospel, and move right on through it, stopping every time the religion Jesus so harshly condemned makes an appearance. We will examine it. Think about it. Ask questions about it and mark down its qualities and tactics. Because I believe that it is this religion that strains out a gnat but swallows a camel that is behind the almost unbelievable teachings that abound in our conservative, Bible-believing churches today. The thing has taken hold of us and we have accepted it without question. And like a virulent virus, we just keep passing it on.
The remedy has to be in the infallible, inerrant Word of God. We just need to find it.