No one ever sets out to create Pharisees in their church. Pharisees are the Bible’s favorite bad guys, the “Klingons” (for all you Star Trek fans out there) of the New Testament. Everyone loves to hate them, and for good reason. They show up on the opposing end of Jesus more than anyone else in the Gospels.
And yet if we look closely, we should be alarmed at just how simple it is to reproduce Pharisees in our own churches today. Don’t believe me? Here are five simple steps to creating Pharisees in your church:
1. Cling to tradition for tradition’s sake. Of the many times the Pharisees mixed it up with Jesus, tradition played a big part (see Mark 7:1-5). The Pharisees were big on the tradition of a ceremonial washing of the hands before a meal, not only to signify your own personal holiness but as a way to judge the uncleanness of any non-Jews you might have come into contact with. For several reasons, Jesus chose to reject that tradition, and the Pharisees took offense. You want to create Pharisees in your church? Start by clinging to tradition for the sake of tradition. What traditions are your church unwilling to give up to better reach a lost and dying generation?
2. Value head knowledge over actually living it out. A second necessary step to creating Pharisees is to value Bible knowledge over Bible obedience. The Pharisees were the kings of Bible trivia (see Matthew 23:3). They knew what the Law said. Living it out was another matter entirely. If you want Pharisees in your church, create an environment where Bible knowledge is valued high above actual Bible obedience. How much time in your church is spent celebrating and cultivating biblical obedience as opposed to merely transferring biblical knowledge?
3. Place disproportionate importance on outward appearances. If you want to be a Pharisee, you’ve got to look the part. Being holy isn’t as important as appearing as holy (see Matthew 6:2-5). Dressing up in your Sunday best is a non-negotiable for a Pharisee. You have to look convincing if you want to convince others of your spirituality. If your Sunday services double as a fashion show for the latest and priciest clothes in town, congratulations! You’re well on your way to creating Pharisees. Is the dress in your church casual or formal? Does it reflect the everyday culture you live in, or does it place a disproportionate emphasis on outward appearances?
4. Make condemnation your default stance towards the world. If you want good Pharisees, skip past all those pesky scriptures where Jesus is seen embracing the least and the lost. Too accommodating! Pharisees need to be culture warriors, ready to defend their rigid view of tradition/scripture and willing to mete out healthy doses of judgement to those who don’t share their values and lifestyle (see Matthew 9:11). Good Pharisees will be careful to avoid anything written by the apostle John (too much ‘love’ nonsense in there). Pharisees are much better suited to the prophetic passages of condemnation in the Old Testament. Who cares if that was primarily meant to the nation of Israel? There’s good hellfire and brimstone in there! Is your church’s default stance towards the world one of embrace or condemnation?
5. Be unwelcoming to those not like you (see Luke 15:1-2). If any of the aforementioned sinners actually has the gall to show up in your church, make sure they know their place. Pharisees are great at judging people with their eyes the moment they walk into your sanctuary. A cold stare, a withdrawn hand, a refusal to make eye contact, and a request to move out of your pew are all ways to channel the heart of the Pharisee and ensure that the least and the lost stay least and lost. Whatever you do, don’t talk to guests! This is you’re church, and they’re intruding! Don’t do anything (like host team, parking lot greeters, information desk, non-septuginarian ushers) that actually make the unchurched welcome in your church. In the mind of the Pharisees, church is for church people only. How intentional is your church to making the Sunday worship experience open and welcoming for guests and visitors?