CTT | Playing the Pharisee Card by Todd Wilken

CTTIn Politics, we’ve learned to spot those who play the “racism card”, the “war on women” card, and the “nazi card”. We should all recognize these as bad arguments, and signs the one ‘playing the card’ has no argument and has resorted to ad hominem attacks. While we do see these from time to time within the church, something we see that is unique to the church is the Pharisee Card. It is generally used to silence those who voice disagreement or objection to a church doing something innovative that cannot be clearly supported in scripture. Celebrity pastors/teachers use this to vilify Discernment ministries.

Last week, Chris Rosebrough commented on Beth Moore’s ad hominem attack and recommend the following article by Todd Wilken of Issues, etc.

Here’s a quick snippet of the article:

Sample Article: “Playing the Pharisee Card
I have been called a Pharisee more times than I can remember. It goes with the territory. I host a conservative Christian radio talk show. I publicly defend the teachings and practices of the historic Church. I also publicly point out false teaching and practices in the Church today. For these reasons alone, some believe that I deserveto be called a Pharisee.

But I’m not alone. Today, the label “Pharisee” is applied to many Christians just like me—perhaps you’re one of them. We are Christians who cherish God’s Word, the Church’s historic Creeds, confessions and practices. …

When we see the Church abandoning these things to follow the latest fads and entertainments, we lament. When we see the Gospel itself being left behind in the Church’s rush to mimic popular culture, we are grieved. And when we question the Church’s infatuation with the spirit of the age, we are labeled Pharisees. (continue reading…)

Related Faithful Stewardship Articles:


CTT | Discernment or Critical Spirit?

A recent radio segment by Beth Moore called “A Word with Beth Moore” was entirely dedicated to an ad hominem attack on discernment ministries. She began with a caveat of, “now spiritual discernment is important but…” and then she launched into her diatribe that people cloak their critical and judgmental spirits behind discernment and that it just makes her sick to her stomach. She didn’t differentiate between the sin of being mean and the practice of discernment. She ended her segment demanding that everyone should be loving leaving the trailing implication that discernment (broad stroke) is the opposite of love.

More recently, I was accused of being “too critical” and “judgmental” myself for bringing up questionable memes taken as memes in a Facebook forum I created specifically to practice discussing matters Biblically. It is interesting to me how long and hard some will fight to defend an unbiblical statement/meme/concept as “maybe having some value to someone” without ever opening up the Scriptures to see what God has to say in His Word. That’s the result of our post-modern society influencing the church, being conformed to this world’s rationale and philosophy. So let’s talk about this “critical spirit” thing, shall we?

Critical Spirit?

There is no “critical spirit” in the sense of a particular demon whose job it is to make people mean and overly critical. What makes us mean and overly critical is sin. Don’t look to blame demons for sin, we do that all on our own. Demons practice deception, false teaching, temptation, and pose as angels of light. We sin when we follow our own fleshly desires. Sometimes the enemy tempts us, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we sin plenty on our own.

Galatians 5:16-26 (ESV) | Keep in Step with the Spirit

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Discernment and Sin

The major problem with Moore’s ad hominem is the conflation of discernment with sin. Discernment is differentiating between Truth and error. It can (and should) be done in love. Is it possible to sin while practicing discernment? Yes. We are all sinful creatures in need of a Savior. Does that mean that we should avoid practicing discernment? That’s ridiculous. It simply means we need to be humble in our approach and ready to confess and repent from sin. We repent from the sin, not the Truth of the discernment. For example, the Apostle Paul issued the following command to exercise discernment in love without compromising the truth:

Galatians 1:6-9 (ESV) | No Other Gospel

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Those are strong, direct, and harsh words… and they are spoken in love, and there is no sin in this. Paul did not have to repent of these words. The church would be out of line to rebuke Paul for disguising a “critical spirit” behind discernment. Later in the same letter, Paul also makes the following statement:

Galatians 5:7-12 (ESV)

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

The context of Galatians is that they were being told that in order to be a true Christian, Gentiles had to become Jews (circumcision). Therefore, Paul is saying that in this case he wishes the individual who is forcing them to be circumcised would just go ahead and remove his own member. Very harsh words… because the error is so great. The error here hindered the Galatians from obeying the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is loving, and the rebuke was warranted and ordained by God the Holy Spirit. Ms Moore may not like it, but discernment isn’t just avoiding pitfalls, but calling out the charlatans.

Now, having established that discernment can be simultaneously harsh and loving (hence discipline), where men are involved there is always room for sin. We’ll be looking at the Sermon on the Mount later this week, but let’s look at how Jesus taught on Anger (since it can burn both the one practicing discernment and the one being rebuked).

Matthew 5:21-26 (ESV) | Anger

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

So, you see, if the motive is wrong in the one pointing out error, there is sin in his heart. That sin is separate from whether or not the error is in-fact an error. If what he is speaking is Truth, the sin in his heart has no bearing on the Truthfulness of God’s Word. He needs to repent and be reconciled to his brother, but the Truth remains the Truth. Similarly, if in being offended one chooses to reject the Truth of God’s word and refuses to repent from wrong doing or false teaching, their guilt remains on their heads. It’s not like you get a bye on your false teaching simply because you found the other person “offensive”. Ms Moore twists scripture and has been joining with many a popular false teacher of late, as she enjoys much notoriety, fame, and honor of women in the public square. While it remains our duty to speak in the Truth in love at all times, it is also incumbent upon ourselves to remain humble and receive rebuke and correction as noble Bereans.

Stop Straining at Gnats and Focus on Essentials

This is one of those times when I really want to open up the scripture and point out how someone is misusing a passage. The average evangelical would probably not know where to find this reference, and would most likely assert that the problem of the Pharisees is that they were too busy fussing about unimportant things… just like some Discernment bloggers myopically focus on the unimportant things in order to disparage their favorite “anointed” ones. This comes from Jesus’s 7 Woes to the Pharisees, recorded in Matthew 23. I’ll make a quick list and then point out what this passage is really about.

  1. But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
  2. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
  3. Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
  4. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
  5. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
  6. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
  7. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.

So, is this passage about fussing over inconsequential matters? No. It’s about hypocrisy. Notice in the 23rd verse the clause, without neglecting the others. All of the Law is important, and the sin of the Pharisee was his hypocrisy and rejection of Jesus Christ.

Discernment in the Little Things

In closing, I’d like to address the notion that there is such a thing as discernment wasted on “the little things”. The idea that one should wait until something is important to speak up and exercise Biblical discernment. Rather than spell out my objection to this thought, let’s look to one of Jesus’ teachings as He closes out one of the tougher parables and expounds upon it to call out the Pharisees.

Luke 16:10-17 (ESV)

10 One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

Is this only about money? I don’t think it is limited to money.

Jude 1:24-25 (ESV)

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present youblameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

May the Lord bless and keep you,
In Him,

When prayer and warfare become idols

prayerI recently sat through a rather painful “bible study” on prayer. The text that was read at the beginning of the study was:

Matthew 16:13-19 (ESV) 13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

To be fair, I had happened upon a study that was in a series of studies, so there is naturally going to be some overlap of previous themes. However, when we got to verse 19 of this passage, we immediately lost sight of the meaning of the passage and of the notion of having a bible study. In a whirlwind of high-motivational pep speech (reminiscent of Joyce Myer or Beth Moore) the meaning of the passage was presented as follows

  • v17 Peter’s identification of Jesus as the Christ came by direct revelation (which was explained as being a result of having learned to pray)
  • v18 Jesus was going to build the church upon the revelation from the Father in heaven, not by flesh and blood (which was interpreted as prayer)
  • v19 the keys of the kingdom of heaven was prayer, and that having prayer as the key would grant authority to bind and loose (personal anecdote employed about how if I give a set of keys to my house to someone else, then I am giving that person authority to enter my house and use whatever is in there).

The point of the passage is the confession of Jesus as the Christ, Son of the living God. If the keys to the kingdom of heaven were “prayer”, the disciples had already been taught how to pray back in Matthew 6; however, Jesus clearly stated that He will give the keys, so there is more to this than prayer. I believe He is referring to the authority in Matthew 28:18 (ESV), “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…” as a result of having laid down His life and raised it back up again. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the keys to the kingdom of heaven, for by His Grace we are made righteous in the sight of the Lord and are granted entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven by the blood of the Lamb. If there remains any doubt, let us look at what Peter had to say in his Epistles. Surely since Jesus was building His church upon this rock, then Peter should at least echo this interpretation on some level, right? Well, prayer only gets mentioned 3 times in 1&2 Peter:

  1. 1 Peter 3:7 (ESV) 7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
  2. 1 Peter 3:8-12 (ESV) 8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (Peter quoting Psalms 34)
  3. 1 Peter 4:6-8 (ESV) 6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. 7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

The over-arching theme of 1 & 2 Peter? I think it best to read the introduction to 1 Peter:

1 Peter 1:1-12 (ESV) 1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Peter understood the point of it all to be the Grace and Mercy of God the Father in sending His Son Jesus so that we might be saved. While Jesus did call Simon  “Peter” (which means rock) and said that “upon this rock I will build My church”, Peter clearly identifies Jesus Christ as the cornerstone in 1 Peter 2. Since Peter’s confession of Jesus Christ is the foundation of the church, it stands to reason that every stone laid on that foundation would in-turn be measured, trued, and lined up with Christ as the Cornerstone. I don’t think it was Peter (the man) who is the foundation of the church; rather, his confession of Jesus as the Christ, Son of the Living God is the foundation of the Church. Though, the argument could be made that both interpretations are valid given Peter was the first to preach on the Day of Pentecost, and was the first to be shown that God is calling Gentiles also into the fold.

The person conducting the study launched into what was clearly a personal soapbox issue. Once the confession of “being called to intercessory prayer” was made, I realized that there was a great deal of iesegisis at work, so I just let it go and smiled through it waiting for it to end. Do I have a problem with intercessory prayer? Absolutely not! There is a great need for intercessory prayer in the church. There are, however some problematic themes that come up whenever the topic of prayer becomes taught as a profession or ministry unto itself rather than a communion with a loving Heavenly Father, or an in-dwelling God the Holy Spirit.

The only text in the bible where we are specifically taught how to pray is when Jesus (God the Son) taught the disciples how to pray (Matt 6, Luke 11). We are told to pray without ceasing. We should live our lives in constant prayer, and we should also make daily time to pray. But the act of praying isn’t the point, it is to whom we pray and by whom we pray. Even in the realm of intercession, it is the Holy Spirit that intercedes for the saints, not the saints themselves (Romans 8:18-27), so we must not allow our fleshly need for credit to shade our speech/instruction in the discipline of prayer. Whether we are encouraging our brothers to seek the Will of God in their daily walk or for them to engage in intercessory prayer, we must always anchor the charge to pray onto the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within each of us who are called Children of God.  As we pointed out in our discussion of the Gifts of God the Holy Spirit, we must always keep our focus on the fact that it is God who does the work, not men. The individual giving the bible study had to stop several times to issue the caveat “not me, of course, but God working through me”. I’m very happy to have heard that confession in the form of a caveat so many times during the study; however, if a caveat needs to be issued that often then there is a language/emphasis problem with the discussion that should be addressed. Here, it was an over-selling of the “power of prayer”.

Prayer is not unique to Christianity… Our God is. Our understanding of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is unique to our Biblical Christian faith. Stop looking at routines/ceremonies/principles for power, and look to the person of God the Holy Spirit and His work in our hearts. I want to take a few moments to include any discussion of “spiritual warfare” that focuses entirely too much on the redeemed rather than the Redeemer. Spiritual warfare takes place primarily in your mind and in your flesh. The Spirit of God dwelling within you has made your spirit alive and it wars against your flesh, and your flesh works against the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26). When it comes to declaring the Word of God, our focus should be fixed on Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For Only by the Grace of God can anyone be made alive in Christ, set free from the bondage of sin and death, and made the recipient of the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit does all of this work. We pray so that we can grow in the fullness of the Knowledge of Christ, and for boldness and for the Holy Spirit to give teach us how to speak and what to say in the hour of need.  We must guard ourselves against pride and folly. Our authority will forever be a derivative of Christ’s authority; therefore, we must never allow ourselves to lose sight or focus on the work of the Holy Spirit. Stop looking for some “extra outpouring” of the Spirit… God the Holy Spirit has already been promised to those who believe and are baptized in His Name. If you are in Him, then He is in you. There is no extra anything! Walk by faith, pray without ceasing, and remain vigilant in your focus upon the Gospel of Grace, of which you are a Steward. The role of the Church is to preach the Gospel, not to specialize in private prayer and launching special attacks on demons, principalities and powers. Christ defeated them, and it is only by His Blood that we have been made free from them. We expand the Kingdom of God by preaching the Gospel, not by “waging war in the heavenly”.  The Apostles were over-comers not because they were never jailed, hungry, thirsty, persecuted, killed… but because the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached, and those who were dead in sins and trespasses were brought to salvation by Grace through Faith in Christ.

The Book of Jude stands as a strong warning against this sort of stepping beyond one’s authority. A single chapter full of wisdom and warning. Stepping back from that extreme, though, let us remember how Jesus introduced his lesson on prayer in Matthew 6:

Matthew 6:5-8 (ESV) 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Adorning your prayers with militancy is more likely to erode humility than it is to rightly charge your faith, or the faith of those around you. We pray to our Heavenly Father, not to the enemy. We declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those lost in the world, so that they might repent and be saved. As with prophecy, we do not presume to “declare the Word of the Lord” on our own, and we dare not blaspheme against things we do not understand. We yield in humble submission to God the Holy Spirit in all things.

Prayer is as essential as breathing. In the same way that breathing can become its own distraction (yoga, tantra, lamaze, etc.), so can an over-emphasis on the art of prayer, rather than the God to whom and by whom we pray. Is the focus of your intercessory prayer self-feeding? Do you spend more time reading about prayer than you do the Bible? Has your quest for spiritual warfare changed your study of the Bible into a search for special phrases to “declare” for defense and for offense (the Harry Potter approach to bible study)? Has your prayer specialization made you unavailable for sharing the Gospel, fellowship with the saints, and meeting the physical needs of the brethren? If so, then prayer and warfare might have become an idol. Just as the Praise and Worship Leader can allow music or his own ability to become an idol, or the pastor who preaches himself rather than Christ, or the affluent giver his affluence, etc. Idolatry is very subtle, and requires constant vigilance to avoid.

Jude 1:24-25 (ESV) Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

May the Lord bless and keep you,
In Him,