Modern day Pharisees bear most if not all of the same theological and spiritual characteristics of the Pharisees in the four Gospels. In essence, this is what is meant when someone says a person has a “religious” spirit. It’s actually a demon power. It’s what Jesus meant when He called the Pharisees “children of the devil” (John 8:44). Their attributes are:
1. Hypocritical. They are hypocrites (lit. “stage actors”); they pretend to be godly, real Christians; but they put on a vain, public, social face (Luke 12:1). Why they bother to do this is anyone’s guess. It would be better if they did not go to church at all. Perhaps it is loneliness that drives them to “fit in” with church friends. But in the end, it turns the church into a “den of thieves” and a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 21:13; 23:33).
2. Malevolent. Pharisaic church goers are ill-willed. They are malicious gossips; intentionally, and not accidentally, harmful; cliquish; they really do hate other people (John 15:25). They bother, annoy, and abuse people verbally and emotionally; particularly people who are not like them. They are “weeds” planted in our churches by our enemy, the devil (Matthew 13:25).
3. Slanderers. Not only are Pharisaic church folks liars, they lie with the intent of demeaning other people; they are especially keen at lying about real Christians in their midst. They did this to Jesus when they lied that He was demon-possessed (John 8:48); and that He claimed to be a king instead of Caesar (Luke 23:2). The reason for this is rather simple: their attempts at tearing down the reputations of saints are meant to “level” things out, so that the saints’ godliness doesn’t seem to make a big difference from the Pharisees’ carnality and hypocrisy. Otherwise, the Pharisees’ social influence in the church is undermined; and church people can see more clearly through their moral pretending.
4. Authoritarian. The military is a necessary institution for the governments of countries to defend their borders. This demands hard, disciplined, driving male leadership. But in the church, which is a spiritual army and FAMILY, led by Jesus Christ through faith (1 Corinthians 11:3):–leadership is NOT supposed to take on a secular army-type of character. “It shall not be so among you,” Jesus said (Matthew 20:26). Leadership in the church should be spirituality-focused and should imitate Jesus in every aspect (1 Corinthians 11:1)…not Winston Churchhill, and not General Douglas MacArthur. Nor does Jesus intend on bishops and pastors imitating business managers featured in Forbes magazine. Pharisees, ancient and modern, totally fail to make this distinction; so it is no wonder why they think it’s normal for district superintendents and pastors not to be like Jesus, or John the Baptist, or spiritual mystic prophet-types. In psychology, authoritarian personalities are largely to blame for very many mental illnesses and psychological disorders; because they are usually very abusive, and inhibit other people’s emotions, imaginations, creativity, and overall freedom of spirit.
5. Institutional. Pharisees are “denomination men.” They were in the time Jesus, regarding the temple and the synagogues. Note: that both Jesus and John the Baptist were independent preachers (Matthew 3:1; 21:32). Nearby Bethany at the Jordan River, John the Baptist had an open-air ministry which was non-denominational, independent, and not connected to the temple or the synagogues; it was a non-denominational ministry; the same was the case with Jesus, which is probably why He said it “fulfilled all righteousness” for Him to be baptized publicly by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:15), so Jesus could continue the same non-denominational ministry begun by John the Baptist. The Pharisees, for this very same reason, opposed Jesus as they did John. “By what authority are You preaching?” they questioned Jesus (Mark 11:28). He replied it was the same divine authority by which John the Baptist was commissioned: direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. An authority which the Pharisees labeled demonic, simply because it did not comply with the human authority of the temple and the synagogues (John 12:42). Modern day superintendents and pastors are no different: all they ask is that you comply with their denomination. But if you don’t, then something must be devilishly wrong with you.
6. Diplomatic. In order for Pharisees to be good institutionalists, they have to be diplomatic, politically correct, compromisers of theology and morals. If they were totally authoritarian all the time, it would probably not lead to numerical success or church growth. All parties must be pleased. In the spirit of pleasing people with great customer service, they try their utmost to make sure their target audience feels like their needs are met at the local church: the family. Moms and dads, kids, grandmas and grandpas are their targets. This usually means love-centered sermons and family-friendly church events (2 Timothy 4:3). Preaching like John the Baptist or even most of what Jesus Christ Himself preached would be considered inappropriate, controversial, impolite, immature, and not befitting the church context. Hell, the Day of Judgment, the Atonement, keeping God’s laws, and deliverance from demons must rarely if ever be preached; and if so, only in the most indiscernible and watered-down manner possible. Hence, Pharisees stray away from preaching the lordship salvation Gospel! (Galatians 1:8-10). Justification by faith leading to holiness is a discarded old-time message. Holiness-or-Hell? (Hebrews 12:14). Forget it! Pharisees always intentionally preach the most lukewarm understandings of God.
7. Greedy. Pharisaic church leaders are covetous for tithes and offerings, because they have to manage the denominations they are so committed to (2 Peter 2:3). The church buildings and social programs of denominations often cost millions of dollars to fund on a large-scale basis. Some church leaders are transparent about the financial needs of their church—TOO TRANSPARENT. That is, it leads to the most distasteful BEGGING and guilt-trip sermons on giving and donations. If they were non-denominational, the pastors would not have to succumb to this. They would have no annual financial reports to be graded on by their superintendents; and there would be no pressure from the top to “grow their churches” numerically. They could work “tent-making” jobs like Paul, take some of the income generated from their jobs, and pour it into the churches’ financial needs (Acts 18:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8-9). There would be no need to fleece the flock so frequently; but rather, there would be plenty of food to feed the sheep. “We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word” was what the apostles said about pastoral ministry (Acts 6:4). Pharisees aren’t like that; they say, “We will give ourselves continually to man-pleasing, family-friendly church events, fund-raising, and building projects.”