God’s heart is grieved and rain falls from the sky when He sees the abuse and activity of a Pharisaical spirit at work in any church.* That rain is the tears of God and is not the rain of a blessing, but is the sadness of God expressing itself in nature. Those of His prophets who have the Holy Spirit can partake of this grief in their emotions, and they can weep like Jesus did, and cry, “O Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Thou that killest the prophets!” (Matt. 23:37). Who is it? It is the Pharisees that do this, but under that external façade, is a kind of religious demon, or group of demons, which I will call Pharisaical spirits (Matt. 12:45). The Pharisees mentioned in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are definitely not the first people to be under the influence of these evil spirits. Jesus implied that other people had been guided by these spirits before them—namely, their forefathers who had been responsible for slaying many of the Old Testament prophets (Matt. 23:29-36). In this they are shown to be prophet killers: in fact, if they could have their way, all of the activities of the Pharisaical spirit seem to point to the final outcome of stamping out the gift of prophecy, the influence of prophets, and drive toward the martyrdom of saints or the killing of prophets—not the least of which was the Son of God Himself. If they can’t physically kill a prophet, then they will try to fire him or ruin his reputation.
All of their malevolent words and actions are essentially persecuting in nature; but they also have the nature of trying to enter in contentious conversations with God’s prophets, to trap them in their words (Matt. 22:15-22), and finally build a case against them, so they can take some kind of formal action against them, and bring them into some kind of council and accuse them, and sentence them. They are very accusatory and litigious and they get a high off of this. They are heresy hunters for sure; but worse than that, they are also hunters of true prophets, and they can accomplish this just as easily as they attack rank heretics, by showing that these saints and prophets have dreams and visions that are not already written down in the Bible, and they can make the case that these prophets are going beyond what is written and are hence really heretics: merely because they’ve seen visions. This was what happened when David Wilkerson’s The Vision came out in 1973 and he lost a lot of his supporters in Assemblies of God leadership (Gary Wilkerson’s David Wilkerson, p. 174). The problem is, there is nothing in his series of visions that contradict the Word of God: in fact, they only served to enforce it, confirm it, and make more real the prophecies of God’s Word concerning the last days. I believe that when Annas, Caiaphas, and the Pharisees of the first century died, their demons flew out of their bodies, and sought other religious leaders to inhabit and influence; and I believe this has been going on for two thousand years (Matt. 12:43-45). You can see the face of the Pharisees in the corrupt Catholic priests before and during the Reformation; in the Anglican priests during the Puritan and Methodist revivals; you can find the Pharisaical spirit in the “proper” clergymen who opposed evangelical revivals in the United States from the Great Awakening to the Brownsville Revival.
As we wrap up this study on pastoral abuse, true Christians can only do themselves a favor to acknowledge what the Bible says concerning the marks of a Pharisaical spirit:
1. There is no fruit of the Spirit: no love, peace, or joy that surpasses understanding, no patience, no gentleness, or kindness, or goodness (Matt. 3:7; Gal. 5:22-23).
2. There is an element of showmanship, of being a religious show off: to make a public demonstration of their ability to pray, fast, or wear fine church clothes (Matt. 6:5, 16).
3. There is a nitpicky attitude, of making mountains out of molehills; focusing on minor issues, and ignoring major issues; being extremely judgmental of others who don’t fall in line with their foolish opinions and practices that don’t even center around true kindness or righteousness (Matt. 7:5).
4. They are prophet killers: either of their bodies or their reputations (Matt. 21:33-45).
5. They are adulterous: since they have no guidance or consolations of the Holy Ghost, what else can they do but resort to fornication or adultery for comfort? (Matt. 19:3; cp. 12:39).
6. They are authoritarian: they literally worship the idea of authority. They push others around, they are pushy, rude individuals; if they do attain to a level of leadership through arrogant self-promotion, then they imbibe the Pharisaical spirit at its greatest depth and give into a power trip that never goes away (Matt. 21:23).
7. They are unrepentant: and why should they repent? They think they are always right; and after all that hard work at getting into a place of authority, do you think they have the presence of mind to be humble and contrite or even transparent with others about their sins? No sir! (Matt. 21:32).
8. They obsess over the condition of their church building, in an unhealthy way. They seem to think that the building itself is more valuable than mystical experiences with the Holy Spirit. And so while they are busying themselves with blessing the house of God, praying for the house of God, and fundraising for the house of God—they also find the time to preach against charismatic prophets and mystics that might have found their way into their church (Matt. 12:6-7; 27:62).
9. They abuse their church members, if not physically, as that has happened in some very extreme cases—then definitely verbally and emotionally, and sometimes sexually. They can even bring themselves to go to bars, hang out with drunkards, and get drunk themselves, and be back in time for Sunday morning service (Matt. 24:49).
10. If they have to, then they will resort to bribes, lies, and false accusations to snuff out their enemies—no doubt, enemies that they have created by their annoying and controversial attitudes (Matt. 28:12).
11. They are in a state of damnation, on their way to Hell (Matt. 24:51).
12. They reject the deity of Christ and demonize the Holy Spirit: though I wouldn’t say that “Christian pharisees” always do this in doctrine, but definitely in practice (Matt. 9:3; 12:24).
13. Their hearts are far from God (Matt. 15:8); they talk about sports a lot; and often have worldly, macho attitudes. Although I will admit the sports aspect is not mentioned in the gospels, nor do you see it often in church history, other than King James’ Book of Sports: which was originally a measure against nitpicky Puritans who preached against playing sports on Sunday, because they saw it as a violation of the Sabbath day’s rest. Still, in modern times, a Christian man can easily observe that other Christians or church leaders who happen to be football, baseball, or basketball fans, etc, or tend to fall in the “jock” category, tend to give into a lot of the same spirits or attitudes held in common with the Pharisees: namely–the spirits of competition, authoritarianism, abuse, aggression, murderous or violent spirits, one-upmanship, cockiness, pride, arrogance, showmanship, greed, etc. The references to football plays during church services and sermons are too innumerable to mention, far exceeding Paul’s passing reference that a failing boxer is beating into the air (1 Cor. 9:26), even as these worldly-minded men often do with their empty speeches. The Puritans mainly opposed football because of its violent nature:
In 1531 the Puritan preacher, Thomas Eliot, argued that football caused “beastly fury and extreme violence.” In 1572 the Bishop of Rochester demanded a new campaign to suppress this “evil game.” In his book, The Anatomie of Abuses (1583) Philip Stubbs argued that “football playing and other devilish pastimes…withdraweth us from godliness, either upon the Sabbath or any other day.” Stubbs was also concerned about the injuries that were taking place: “sometimes their necks are broken, sometimes their backs, sometimes their legs, sometimes their arms, sometimes one part is thrust out of joint, sometimes the noses gush out with blood…Football encourages envy and hatred…sometimes fighting, murder and a great loss of blood” (John Simkin, “Football and the Church” in The Encyclopedia of British Football, 1997).
14. They don’t practice what they preach: there’s a disconnect between orthodoxy and orthopraxy (Matt. 23:3).
15. They are sly political schemers, bent on entrapping and incriminating God’s prophets (Matt. 26:3).
*Most of my Biblical proofs on the Pharisees here are from the Gospel of Matthew.