Secular Pharisees

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.

John 8:44- 45

The spiritual landscape of America is a battlefield; a war zone where minds are enslaved and lives are in jeopardy every hour. Social turmoil, political futility, and lawlessness in government are some visible evidences of the war. More evidence of the war can be seen in the increasing loss of life to suicide and drug abuse. Although the fighting rages on many fronts, the central issue of the war is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel is always central in spiritual warfare because Christ himself is central in all the spiritual realm.

It would be very wrong to think that God and the Lord Jesus are not concerned with the destruction underway in America today. In fact, even now, the Lord Jesus is marshaling his forces to send the gospel with all its accompanying spiritual weaponry to free the captives, heal the wounded, and save those who are dying.

Nor is it the case that the Lord Jesus is impotent in this battle. In his resurrection, the Lord Jesus has already triumphed over the forces of darkness. The enemy is helpless in the face of the light and power of the risen Christ.

How then is that we see such devastation in our land? It is because the Christian church, which is the body of Christ, his representatives here on earth, have failed to understand his teaching. We have not discerned the shape of the spiritual battle nor have we recognized the enemy. Indeed a partial blindness has fallen upon the church in America, so that we have not understood the situation that has been staring us in the face.

The Lord Jesus is even now calling us to set aside our prior comforts and apathy. To shed the blinders that have shielded our eyes from the scene of conflict. To take up instead the sword of the spirit and the cross of Christ, and with them to wage spiritual warfare against the enemies of God and the deceivers of mankind.

But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

Matthew 23:13

It seems to be common knowledge in many Christian circles that Jesus was blunt, frank and even hostile in his dealings with the Pharisees. Although Jesus was marked with compassion and generosity in his interaction with sinners, with the self-righteous Pharisees he was in open conflict. He called them hypocrites, snakes, whitewashed tombs, and even children of the devil.

Jesus did not mince words or exchange false pleasantries with these enemies of the gospel. The Pharisees taught traditions that robbed the word of God of its power and enslaved those that learned from them. If they would have admitted that they were unable to understand truth or morality, they might have turned to Christ and been saved. But instead they claimed to see, thus ensuring their own condemnation.

The hypocrisy of the Pharisees is their defining characteristic. While claiming to be moral, they were vicious wolves. While feigning to love God, they loved only themselves. While pretending to teach righteousness, they invented schemes for gratifying their sinful desires and exalting their own self-righteousness.

This evil is not unique to the Pharisees, although they exemplified it. The seeds of such hypocrisy are found in every form of self-righteousness.

We make a mistake if we think that it was the outward religion of the Pharisees which Jesus condemned. Rather it was their refusal to acknowledge their own sinful natures which brought them stern condemnation and rebuke. In denying their own sinfulness they did not submit to the righteous instruction of God, and they did not seek his mercy. In their self-righteousness, they became arrogant and condescending. They despised any weakness they identified in others, having denied its existence in themselves. Where they might have had compassion, they were cruel. When they should have been humble, they knew only pride.

There is a modern day phariseeism at work in America today. It’s doctrines and practices dominate the cultural landscape. Self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and opposition to the gospel are its hallmarks. But it is not outwardly religious. Because of this many Christians have struggled to identify the appropriate response. What is the appropriate attitude of the Christian towards the modern day phariseeism that dominates our culture? It is the same attitude which our Lord displayed towards the historical Phariseeism that dominated Israel, namely direct confrontation.

This modern day phariseeism is called humanism, and it is the most significant enemy of the gospel in America today. If you study humanism, you will find that it is not primarily identified as a religion. It is usually considered a worldview, philosophy or life-stance. It is apparently secular in nature, thus the the title of this work, Secular Pharisees.

The central tenet of humanism is the glorification of human reason. Humanism rejects God, but especially it rejects the authority of God and the notion that mankind is dependent on Him in any way. Humanism asserts that reason is sufficient to achieve morality and happiness without God.

Humanism claims that all the progress of science and advancing material prosperity in the world is the result of humanist methodology. It has a long history, of which it is proud. It draws inspiration from the ancients such as Plato and Aristotle. It celebrates the renaissance intellectuals and artists, and prizes the godless skeptics of the Age of Reason, along with the depressing and futile modern philosophers.

Humanism has become the de facto standard in western civilization. The triumph of reason over revelation is everywhere. Humanism is assumed in our education, our entertainment and our politics. To suggest that reason is not a sufficient authority for our lives is to suggest an idea that is foreign to American culture today.

This worldview subverts American institutions and morals. It threatens American churches and intimidates individual Christians. Worst of all, it seeks to silence the gospel, because the gospel itself is a scathing critic of humanism.

The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.

John 7:7

The very nature and meaning of the gospel directly undercuts the central premise of humanism, which is the sufficiency of human ability.

Humanism is by nature a corrupting, judgmental, self-righteous school of thought. The leaven of the Pharisees is alive and well in the heart of humanism. The humanists reject the law of God, as did the Pharisees. (Mark 7:7-8) Humanist doctrine denies the sinfulness of mankind, thus humanists are consistent with their beliefs when they deny that they themselves have a sinful nature. In denying their own sin, they claim a righteousness based on their supposed inherent goodness. Such claims are only superficially distinct from the self-righteousness of the historical Pharisees, and they produce the same spiritual fruit.

You see, although humanism denies any revealed Law of God, it does not deny the principle of law, that some things are good and others are bad. The humanists are a law unto themselves. (Rom 2:14) Their own consciences dictate certain behavior (which they do not consistently uphold), and they’d like to dictate behavior to everyone else, too.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a judgmental attitude is found only among purported Christians. The judgmental mind is a symptom of the hypocrisy of self-righteousness. “For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself.” (Rom 2:1) But self-righteousness is not found only among the religious. The secular man, though he may accept more sins, more readily (or maybe not), would also stand in judgment of what he deems unacceptable. And so it is that the humanist must wear this scripture, originally spoken by Jesus to the Pharisees:

Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.

John 9:41

Self-righteousness is an inescapable facet of humanism. The judgmental, condemning attitude which it fosters is best seen in the phenomenon of political correctness. That American society is becoming increasingly pitiless and unrelenting is a sign that America has become a casualty in the war against the gospel. It is also a natural outcome of adopting humanism as the default worldview in our country.

Humanism is a secular phariseeism and an implacable enemy of the gospel. We must take our cue from the Lord Jesus. We must confront and rebuke these secular pharisees for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of the lives which they will destroy, if not confronted.