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Modern Day Pharisees

Legalism Doesn’t Die, it Merely Adapts
By: Jonathan Harris

When Jesus addressed the Pharisees He didn’t hold back. He publicly called them a “brood of vipers,” preached during His Sermon on the Mount that they were by implication going to hell, and warned their “constituents” to “watch out” and “beware” of their teachings. In the modern church I’ve heard many people champion Jesus’ opposition to these hypocrites by saying things like, “The Pharisees were evil for setting up laws. Everyone knows Christianity isn’t about rules, it’s about love!” Just two hours ago Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church tweeted, “It drives Pharisees nuts to watch God keep blessing ministries they ridicule & despise. God’s sovereignty is often humorous.” What drives me nuts is never knowing who exactly the “Pharisees” are? The modern church has made war with “Pharisees” throwing the term against anyone who smacks of having a “standard.” It’s like playing the race card. If you’re called a “pharisee” everything else you say is discounted. Are there really Pharisees walking around today offering sacrifices and “straining at gnats?” Obviously not – so who are evangelicals talking about when they use the term “pharisee?” They’re referring to “legalists.” They’re talking about those pesky individuals who abide by standards not found in the Bible (or at least not found by them). Without a doubt, at times this characterization is accurate.

I grew up in a church which use to be on the legalistic side. I remember people who thought alcohol itself was sinful, and that playing cards were of the devil. A number of local pastors believed drums shouldn’t be implemented in worship because they evoked sinful passions. Hollywood represented everything evil, and was to be avoided at all costs (but of course, television was fine). Men must wear suits on Sunday mornings, and women must wear dresses (and they better show up on Wednesday night too!). Some of these people are still around, and still advocating their viewpoints, but let’s ask the question, are any of their convictions really “Pharisaical” in and of themselves? In order to find out, we need to look at Christ’s “definition” of a pharisee. In Matthew 23, which everyone should probably take a look at before continuing, Jesus stated:

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. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
According to Jesus, Pharisees were “hypocrites.” They weren’t merely people who made up extra-Biblical laws (though that was part of it) – they were inconsistent. They were “lawless.” In other words, they didn’t follow God’s laws (The opposite of what people accuse them of being!) Their hearts were dirty while their actions (on the surface) seemed clean. If this is the true definition of the term, then the term has been widely broadened. It isn’t merely referring to some of the people I grew up knowing, it also refers to individuals who claim to be followers of Christ and then go home and watch lurid sexual behavior on television, or skip church because “its not important,” or use filthy language, etc. because they are transgressing the commandments of God while outwardly claiming they are keeping them. . . then again, (sarcasm) maybe I’m just a pharisee for saying such a thing! This means that the judges of pharisees can in many cases be classified as pharisees themselves. The blog “Pharisee Killer” describes the modern pharisee as follows:

The guy wearing the Converse is now the new Pharisee. The guy who believes that there is nothing wrong with drinking alcohol is now the new Pharisee. The guy with tattoos is the new Pharisee. The guy who uses buzz words like authentic, real, and community is now the new Pharisee. The guy who says he has an audience of One, is full of it and is the new Pharisee.

Why? Because the root of legalism is pride. Legalism doesn’t mean that you abide by rules. On the contrary, God has given us a list of rules summed up in the golden rule. Indeed, even “extra-Biblical” rules are perfectly acceptable so long as others aren’t held to artificial standards (i.e. the meat sacrificed to idols). However, we can’t gain merit and by implication salvation by keeping such rules. This is why the Pharisees were “blind guides” to the blind. They thought they were good enough that through their efforts to keep the law they could somehow gain salvation. As Paul said, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. “

It is human nature to look for a license to sin. Young Christians who use the legalism of their parents and grandparents as a justification by which they can have “freedom in Christ” to sin, don’t realize they have in essence become the very thing they’ve criticized creating for themselves a standard apart from God’s word and then calling it “God’s word.” There’s only one solution legalists both young and old and its humility. Let’s not “break the commandment of God” for the sake of tradition. Let’s instead uphold God’s laws, judging righteously from his standard, realizing that we will never be perfect – whether we dumb down God’s standard, or attempt to perfect it. We will always be sinful this side of heaven, and it’s through His grace that we can even follow some of His commands.

So the next time you or someone you know starts calling someone a pharisee, think to yourself, what constitutes a pharisee? Someone who merely keeps commandments (Jesus preached, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”) or someone who does it for the wrong reasons? Oppose genuine pharisees just like our Saviour did, but remember to examine yourself first.

1 thought on “Modern Day Pharisees”

  1. Dear Jon,

    My good friend Sarah Leslie sent me your DOCENT expose. So I thought you might appreciate my expose(s) on Rick Warren. I note many names in your document who are joined at the hip with Rick Warren.

    Were you aware of Rick Warren’s false advertising and marketing fraud claim that his Purpose Driven Life book (that John Piper of Gospel Coalition defends and says all authors who refute or expose this book are “slanderers”) is the “bestselling nonfiction hardback book in history”?

    Here is forensic proof it was fraud:

    I have written two books and produced to video documentaries exposing Rick Warren, but the following revelation is even more seismic concerning Warren than his retirement, that I discovered after my books and videos were published.

    Based on the following revelations concerning Rick Warren and his unholy alliances and endorsers (some named in our previous exchanges), I hope that you will seriously consider alerting your faculty, administration, and students to one of the greatest marketing fraud and false advertising, and coverup in Christianity in the modern age. I have a candidate and can forensically prove it! It is Rick Warren and his publisher Zondervan. I wrote two books and produced two video documentaries exposing Rick Warren before I made this discovery.

    Regarding the command of John the Baptist to make restitution, at $10 (wholesale, $26.99 retail) a book times 50 million = $500 million (wholesale) $2.35 billion. And if you were to follow the proposal to Jesus of Zacchaeus to pay back 4 times what he defrauded if he had done so, then calculates out to $2 billion ($10 billion retail). Is that a story that should be told in obedience to the Apostle Paul to “expose the deeds of darkness?” The silence has been deafening! No repentance from Warren and no restitution to customers or Publishers Weekly, whom he falsely attributed the claim. PW would never do that. It is farcical. Why haven’t any Christian publishers, scholars, professors, national Christian leaders or anyone in the SBC or the AOG called him on this?
    Here is the evidence that you should demand on Warren:


    Warren and Zondervan made this claim when Warren had sold only 22 millions copies of his PDL book:

    “the bestselling non-fiction hardback book in history.”

    I received an email from Os Guinness (Guinness Book of Records). He spoke at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church. He said he teased Rick Warren that the Guinness Book of Records sold more books than Warren’s PDL Book. He would know. But Guinness own site states 138 million sold. They sell 2.5 million per year. So in 2012 that figure would have been about 123 million, when Warren had sold 32 million, when they made their claim they attributed to PW. That is about 7 times Warren’s sales (both are nonfiction). But even 123 million does not make the top ten.

    So this is one more proof of Warren and Zondervan and HarperCollins have committed have published false claims and false advertising.

    Now for anyone to name their book as number one, it always comes from a list. Where is the list? All other books in top twenty, 50, or 100, lists the book and the number as well as the ranking of everyone who is NOT number one.

    Rick Warren and his publisher Zondervan (now Harper-Collins) claim that Publishers Weekly stated that Rick Warren’s is “the bestselling non-fiction hardback book in history.” If this were true, Warren’s book would appear on PW’s own website list of best selling non-fiction books in history. PW does have such a top 25 list, here it is, and Rick Warren is not on it!:

    Secondly, note that on that link PW and the industry at large does not use the term “hardback”, rather they use the term “hardcover.”

    For example, you can type in Publishers Weekly site search engine any book such as Purpose Driven Life, or Southern Baptist author Daniel Darling’s IFAITH book:

    The printed version of the review in Publishers Weekly shows the page number. In the case of Darling’s book, page 54, and date of the PW Issue: December 13, 2010.

    Go to Publishers Weekly search engine to verify anything Publishers Weekly ever said about any book. In other words, if a statement is made by Publishers Weekly about a book, it is in Publishers Weekly.

    One more thing here is a statement by George Slowik, President of Publishers Weekly regarding Rick Warren’s statement about his PDL book:

    George W. Slowik, President of Publishers Weekly:
    “I’ve checked our site which includes all of our content from about 1995.
    Also touched base with our religion editors and there is no finding of a
    quote like that…We don’t generally use the term hardback.” September 30, 2013 11:33:08 PM EDT
    I am trying not to editorialize or comment on this because the facts speak for themselves. I simply copy what Warren claims and compare it to the various lists.

    Sometime books are fiction, but because they are based on a real character or real life story like Ben Her which is the story of Jesus, I include them in non-fiction list! posts the top 20 “best-selling nonfiction books of all time”.
    (scroll down) Rick Warren’s book is not listed in the top twenty.

    Ranker puts Warren’s PDL book at 36:

    James Clear’s Best Selling books list:
    (Warren’s book does not even show up)
    (No sign of Warren’s book)
    Warren is not even in the top 1,000

    “Bestselling non-fiction hardback book in history” according to Publisher’s Weekly
    Sources: (Rick Warren’s website) (Warren’s publisher)

    What I find even more amazing than these facts, is that most pastors and professors and denominations who have been promoting Warren learn of these revelations concerning him, don’t even care about the truth, keep right on promoting him, and even attack me.

    Here is the complete original expose on Rick Warren re this matter:

    Finally, here is the link to my original white paper report:

    Suggested title:


    Here are the relevant Scriptures Rick Warren has defied and disobeyed in order to keep this grand global fraud and delusion going (and why you should publish an expose to warn the saints):

    “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16) Ninth of the Ten Commandments

    “You shall not circulate a false report.” Exodus 23:1

    “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.” Proverbs 6:16–19

    “Well done, thy good and faithful servant.” Matthew 25:21

    “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbour.’” Apostle Paul, Ephesians 4:25

    “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Ephesians 5:11

    “We do not follow cleverly invented stories” 2 Peter1:16

    “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Rev. 21:27

    Second question: Have you written any exposes on Rick Warren and/or any direct or indirect relationship with Docent?

    I eagerly await your response! Might you tell the whole story to your readers and sound the alarm and warn everyone!

    Thank you!

    Kindest regards in Christ,

    James Sundquist

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