The Pharisee and the Celebrity Pastor

Road to Emmaus  by James J. Tissot

Road to Emmaus
by James J. Tissot

If you spend some time listening to some Celebrity Pastors mishandling Scriptures, you’ll notice that while the doctrines they peddle may vary, they share a common problem, a problem the Pharisees shared. They strip-mine the Scriptures to justify their ideas and miss the point of the Bible. It is also interesting to note that many of these celebrity pastors are quick to accuse those who measure their words by the Scriptures of being “Pharisaical”.

The Pharisees did not faithfully handle the Word of God (the Law and the Prophets) for if they had, they would have recognized Jesus for who He is. A few months ago, we took a look at the sin of the Pharisee, but today I want to look at how their mishandling of scripture is alive and well today among celebrity pastors. I will do my best to point out the problem without naming names, because our goal here is to study what the Bible teaches, not what false teachers teach.

The Bible Isn’t About Us

It has been a while since we’ve visited this declaration that the Bible is not about us. The Bible is the very Word of God, and the Bible is about God. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Law and the Prophets point to Christ. The New Testament points to Christ. The Bible is the Revelation of God to His people.

John 5:25-47 (ESV) 25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. 30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. 31 If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. 33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36 But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

Moses wrote about Jesus. The story of the flood is about Jesus, not Noah. It’s about God keeping His promises, not about what Noah did to earn favor with God. The Story of the Covenant with Abraham, is a story about the Promise of Jesus Christ, not about Abraham and the circumcision. The Law, the 10 commandments, were given as a Testimony of the Greatness of God, not a means for earning favor with God. The Pharisees searched the scriptures hoping to find hidden laws, or secret meanings behind the texts that would grant them deeper knowledge and understanding, all the while missing the overwhelming point of the Scriptures, that being Jesus. They completely missed that Jesus was fulfilling the Law and the Prophets right before their very eyes. And Jesus called them on it directly. The Pharisees added to the Laws and created extra standards for keeping the Laws adding all sorts of rules to specify how people were to keep the Sabbath and creating detailed rituals in how they were to wash their hands to keep themselves clean. The Pharisees also made rules that superseded (wrongly) the Law as Jesus pointed out in Matthew 15.

Why is it a Problem?

When we teach from the Law in a manner that does not find both its anchor and its destination in the person of Jesus Christ, we risk placing a yoke of the Law upon the neck of those who have accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ and are therefore sheep needing to be fed and guarded from wolves.

Acts 15:1-11 (ESV)  15 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” 6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

We must teach the Law, for the Law points us to Jesus. Without the Law, we cannot fully understand the Gospel. However, we dare not teach the Law as if it were the Gospel. We dare not supplant the Gospel for the sake of the Law. We need Jesus to stand between us and the Law because He is the Only one who could fulfill the Law, and He did so on our behalf. He fulfilled the Law where we could not, and then died a death He did not deserve so that in Him we might find forgiveness of sin.

Galatians 2:15-21 (ESV) 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. 17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Galatians 3:10-14 (ESV) 10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

How Should We Teach the Law?

We should take our lessons from the New Testament. Look at the recorded sermons in Acts, look at the approach taken by the writer of Hebrews, and Paul’s letter to the Romans. They work through the Law and the Prophets to build the case for Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Remember, the Apostles had not yet written the New Testament when they were first preaching the Gospel. They preached the Gospel from the Law and the Prophets. When they refer to the Scriptures they are largely referring to what we call the Old Testament (though Peter does reference Paul’s writings in 2 Peter 3:14-18, which is pretty cool). Those who presume to teach the Law should also be perpetual students of the Law. This is another reason why we should follow the church structure given to us in the New Testament (plurality of Elders) rather than assume a Mosaic structure. Moses spoke with God face to face (Exodus 33), and wore a veil over his face after speaking with God because it shined such that fear would come upon the children of Israel (Exodus 34). Since we are NOT Moses, we should follow the Church structure set in place by the Apostles in the New Testament.

Here are some pitfalls I’ve seen in some of the derailed sermons I’ve witnessed (radio, TV, online, etc) and run into myself whenever I’m putting together these Bible Study blogs.

  • Attempting to turn a descriptive text into a prescription. This happens the most when the text being used is a once-in-the-Bible miracle that then gets broken down into steps that Christians should follow to get God to do the same miracle for them. “Sun Stand Still” is probably the most popular example right now, but there are new fads/trends popping up in Christian bookstores all the time.
  • Confusing the foreshadowing for the substance. This is when we look at the Tabernacle in Exodus and think that we are supposed to somehow return to those days when it was a foreshadowing for the in-dwelling of God the Holy Spirit within each of us as the promise from Jesus Christ. We also see this in churches that lift up the Pastor as a Moses, a Judge, or a Prophet from the Old Testament. That is not the leadership that Christ left for the Church. Jesus is our High Priest, the Head of His Church, we don’t have a singular vicar here on Earth.
  • Word-Search Proof Text. It happens most often when a topical sermon starts with an idea, a truism, a doctrine of man, where a term or phrase is searched in the Bible and exact hits are used to make the case that what is being presented is Biblical because isolated verses can be found in the Bible. Remember, Satan tempted Jesus by quoting Scripture out of context. While this is the most common pitfall, it is generally the easiest to refute. Simply read the text in bigger chunks so that you have a better idea of the context of each passage. Know the covenants of the Old Testament and learn to understand the blessings and curses tied to the covenants.

If you are reading this blog and are a blogger or teacher, I implore you to take note whenever someone challenges what you’ve shared. If you cannot defend your position Biblically, then either your position is faulty or you are simply lacking in understanding and need to grow in the Word. I’ve been blogging for a just under a year and can already see a lot of growth since my earlier posts. I am not a pastor or a teacher, but I am the head of my household. I bear the responsibility of being the spiritual head of my household, I must ensure that my wife and kids are being taught the Word and fed sound doctrine. A major part of that responsibility is in which church we attend on Sunday morning, which Bible Studies we participate in, and also what I write here and discuss with my family in my home. If my wife gets theologically ambushed while at the grocery store, I bear some responsibility for how she handles it. I know that whatever transpires, she will share it with me; not always in detail but enough to take the core question to the Word of God. We discuss each of these blog posts over dinner or before bed. As a father and a husband, I bear a great deal of responsibility.

That responsibility grows exponentially when one becomes an Elder, a Teacher of God’s Word, a Pastor (shepherd) over God’s sheep. James warns of this in his letter:

James 3 (ESV) 1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

That should not discourage us from preaching the Word of God; rather, it should compel us to take the preaching of the Word of God seriously. We must set aside arrogance and selfish ambition and humbly teach the Word of God in meekness of wisdom. We rely on the Word of God to explain the Word of God, and we take every question back to the Word of God. For we know that the all scripture is God-breathed and sufficient for every good work.

Notice also that James makes clear that “we all stumble”. That isn’t some clever use of the word “we” that doesn’t include the speaker. Therefore, if we all stumble, then we all share in our need to repent and ask for forgiveness. We share in our need for a Living Savior, One who has already paid the price for our sin, so that when we stumble and fall into sin, we have a Loving God who is Faithful and Just to forgive us our sin. In the same way that King David repented when he was rebuked by Nathan, so we must turn our hearts toward God whenever we are caught in sin… and God is faithful to forgive us by the blood of His Son, Jesus.

May the Lord bless you and keep you firmly in His Grace,
In Christ Jesus,

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s