Playing the Pharisee Card [Excerpts]
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 deserve to 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.
The “race card” is a political term of art made famous during the 1988 presidential race between George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. In today’s presidential politics, we also have the “gender card.” The Race and Gender Cards aren’t designed to raise the legitimate issues surrounding race or gender. Instead, both the Race and Gender Cards are political tactics that exploit racial and gender divisions among voters, and appeal to the worst racial and gender stereotypes.
Just like the Race or Gender Cards, the Pharisee Card is not designed to raise a legitimate issue of doctrine or practice. Rather, the Pharisee Card is used to discredit someone by implying that he is narrow, rigid, and unloving--a Pharisee.
Why did Jesus so often condemn the Pharisees? Was it because (as those who play the Pharisee Card assume) the Pharisees were ultra-conservative doctrinal purists, with no love for the lost? No.
Were the Pharisees Concerned with Doctrinal Purity?
The Pharisee Card is played against Christians who are concerned with doctrinal purity. When used this way, the Pharisee Card is intended to discredit the doctrinal purist and silence any further questions about false teaching. It works beautifully. Those dealing the Pharisee Card know that many Christians would rather suffer silently under false teaching than speak up and risk being labeled a Pharisee.
The only problem is, Jesus never faulted the Pharisees for being doctrinal purists. He faulted them for being false teachers who abandoned the truth of God’s Word in favor of the erroneous word of man (Matthew:16:11–12; 15:1–9; Mark:7:6–13).
Jesus called Christians who demanded doctrinal purity “disciples,” not “Pharisees.” “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John:8:31–32) In fact, Christians who demand doctrinal purity are really following the example of Jesus, of Paul and the other Apostles (Matthew:7:15; see also Matthew:24:10–11; Mark:9:42; 2 Corinthians:13:5; 1 Thessalonians:5:21; 1 Timothy:4:16; 6:3–4; Titus:1:7–9; 2:1, 7–8; 1 John:4:1; 2 Peter:3:17).