Pharisees (2): Who Are They Now?

Harry R. Osborne

Last week, we examined several passages which dealt with the Pharisees and with Jesus' condemnation of them. The Bible plainly shows that the central error of the Pharisees was their supplanting of God's word with their human traditions. If you have not read the previous article dealing with this subject, please do so before continuing the present study. Today, we will examine some claims being made in our time regarding modern "Pharisaism" keeping in mind the principles learned on the subject from the Scripture in our previous study. Who are the Pharisees today?

The charge of "Pharisaism" is commonly made towards those who try to live strictly by the commands of God as recorded in the Bible. As we noted last week, the Pharisees rejected the commands of God to walk in their own traditions (Mark 7:8-13; Matt. 15:3-9; et. al.). Despite that fact as declared in God's word, those standing upon book, chapter and verse teaching and practice have been called "Pharisees" by every advocate of error. Supporters of institutionalism commonly labeled as "Pharisees" those brethren holding to the pattern of truth. Leroy Garrett and Carl Ketcherside charged brethren who opposed their "unity-in-diversity" concepts with Pharisaism. Others did the same during the "Grace-Unity Movement" of the 1970s. In October of 1982 through March of 1983, Darwin Chandler wrote a series of seven articles in Gospel Anchor entitled "Neo-Pharisaism" in which he made such charges against brethren who were simply holding to a "thus saith the Lord" while he was in the process of rejecting it. Those who were members of this congregation during that time remember with sadness the souls led into apostasy through that fallacious, emotional charge. Ultimately, it led the teacher and many followers into acceptance of the charismatic world of "anything goes" in the name of religion. Ultimately, the destiny of those who reject God's will for their own is made clear by God (Matt. 7:21-23).

It has gotten to the point that one of the identifying marks of apostasy is such a false charge of "Pharisaism" made towards brethren who are holding to the old paths. Thus, it should not be surprising that such false accusations can be heard in many quarters today. Over the past few weeks, I have been reading an excellent example of such misrepresentation in a book by David Chadwell, Beware of the Leaven of the Pharisees. The book makes it clear that Mr. Chadwell is not only a supporter of institutionalism, but isamong the number calling for a "New Hermeneutics" which would justify things that even many liberal brethren call "liberal." Though it is almost expected from those who left Bible authority behind a generation ago, it is sad to see the bitter misrepresentations and cunning defense of apostasy present in such a book. Far more distressing, however, is the fact that some among our own brethren have encouraged the reading and acceptance of such a book containing rank error. As a means of dealing with the false charges of "Pharisaism" made towards faithful brethren, I would like to note a few of the more glaring problems found in Mr. Chadwell's book which is appropriately encased within the label Beware of the Leaven of the Pharisees both on the front and back cover.

Pharisaism and a False Premise

One of the time honored methods of turning people away from the truth is to start from a false premise. If the false teacher is allowed a false premise, he can prove al-most anything. Much of Chadwell's introductory material depends upon non-biblical sources and assumptions to "prove" his premise, rather than letting the word of God define the issue. He assumes that if he asserts several likenesses between the strictness of brethren demanding Bible authority for their actions and the strictness of the Pharisees, then both can be condemned alike. I wonder if he would think his status as an air-breathing mammal with two eyes and two ears in likeness to a donkey makes all statements about donkeys also true about David Chadwell. He would recognize that significant differences need to be considered as well which would establish that the two are not fairly viewed as synonymous.

Chadwell's argument for greater tolerance of those teaching diverse doctrines and those in some sinful practices rests upon a false premise as well. He says, "One can accept Scripture as authority, but be unable to determine the true meaning of Scripture" (p. 27). That will come as shocking news to the apostle Paul and the Holy Spirit who inspired him to write, "Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17). Chadwell continues the same theme by repeatedly claiming that much instruction found in Scripture lacks sufficient "clarity" for us to understand and apply it. He terms such "gray areas" (p. 81). This false assertion forms the premise upon which much of his argument is made for tolerance of those teaching diverse doctrines and practicing some sins. Failure to accept such diversity is labeled "Pharisaism" despite the fact that the Pharisees in Bible times made the same claim that the law was not clear in some points, thus, paving the way for their binding of human tradition in rejection of God's law.

A false premise is also established by misrepresenting his opposition and assuming that which he must prove. Chadwell claims that faithful brethren "commonly" recognize "no area of opinion today" (p. 75). Were you aware of that? He goes on to claim that "many congregations" would regard "as a model Christian" a man "who does not drink, who does not smoke, who forbids his wife and children to wear brief or tight apparel, and who faithfully attends the weekly assemblies" and yet "his covetousness is accepted without comment" (p. 75). He says it is "frequently" the case that "knowledge of the Word, personal faith, and personal understanding have nothing to do with personal righteousness" among faithful brethren (p. 75). At one point, Chadwell says, "There are even those who have concluded that unless a person responds during the invitation song his conversion is suspect" (p. 101). Re-ally? Who says such? After such misrepresentations of his opposition, is it any wonder that those blindly accepting his assertions will look with suspicion on such unloving and ungodly straw men? Of course, such is easier for Mr. Chadwell than a serious discussion of the real issues.

Pharisaism and Autonomy

One of Chadwell's specific charges of "Pharisaism" is hurled at brethren who have opposed the sponsoring church arrangement, misnamed "cooperation" by our liberal brethren. They refer to us as the "anti-cooperation movement" because we have shown that there is no Bible authority for the elders in one congregation to oversee the work, in part or whole, of another congregation. Peter instructs elders to "tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight thereof' (1 Pet. 5:2). That is what the Bible teaches about the autonomy of the local church, but here is what Mr. Chadwell says,

To define and to preserve autonomy, one must define "a congregation." Perhaps the most critical definition made in the church today is the definition of "a congregation." The accepted definition today is a reasoned conclusion. From that reasoned conclusion have arisen some stringent laws about "a congregation," laws which often produce hurt and division. Those laws are the spirit and essence of the divisive anti-cooperation movement. They are the emotional flames of many brotherhood confrontations. They legislate a thousand matters about which Scripture is silent (p. 102).

It would be interesting to have Mr. Chadwell list the thousand laws made by brethren opposing the unauthorized sponsoring church arrangement. Who made a new law when the elders of the Highland church in Abilene took it upon themselves to oversee a national program called "The Herald of Truth" and called for all churches to subordinate themselves to that work by sending funds from autonomous churches to be overseen by the Highland elders? Who made a new law when the Prestoncrest church in Dallas called upon all churches to work under their over-sight in taking the gospel to Eastern Europe? Who made a new law when a board of directors set up the "World Bible School" to oversee evangelism by correspondence courses throughout the world and called upon churches everywhere to work under that oversight? It would indeed be interesting to have Mr. Chadwell explain how the one who simply holds to the truth in teaching and practice that elders are to "tend the flock of God which is among [them], exercising the oversight thereof " is the modern parallel to the Pharisees binding human tradition. In fact, when I read further in his book, it is hard for me to believe that Mr. Chadwell has even read passages like 1 Peter 5:2, Acts 20:28 and Acts 14:23. Consider his words as follows:

Like the Pharisees, many Christians allow reasoned conclusions to void specific revelation. . . . That reasoning declares (1) congregational autonomy is sacred and must be preserved. (2) Leadership must be confined to a single congregation. (3) A congregation is a group of Christians meeting in the same building. (4) The autonomy of that group must be preserved regardless of the cost (p. 104).

Amazing! Whether one calls it "autonomy" or not, the principle of limited oversight of a congregation by the elders of that flock is plainly stated in Scripture. How much plainer could it get? The fact that those elders may only oversee that one congregation is explicitly stated. Though Mr. Chadwell misrepresents faithful brethren of believing a congregation is a group of Christians meeting in the same building (I know of no one who says they are any less a congregation if they meet in the open air as many do in the Philippines), he could surely understand that a congregation is a group of Christians who agree to work and worship together in a given locality (1 Cor. 1:2; 11:18). Mr. Chadwell's "gray area" regarding autonomy is the result of his smokescreen rather than a lack of "clarity" in Scripture.

Pharisaism and New Hermeneutics

After much preparation, Mr. Chadwell gets to his real agenda in chapter 12. He says, "With deeper study, it became apparent that those perceptions of scriptural authority were flawed" (p. 99). He proposes to reject approved examples and necessary inferences as means of God expressing his binding authority. No replacement approach other than an ever widening tolerance is suggested. Through whatever hermeneutic Chadwell now uses, he tells us that Romans 14 will allow for us to differ in "ethical questions" like drinking alcohol, dancing, and immodest dress (p. 99). His method of interpretation also allows him to include us with the Christian Church in the "restoration church," whatever that is. And many other things he would have us receive (Mark 7:4). Now, who are the Pharisees today?

Guardian of Truth XL: No. 18, p. 8-10
September 19, 1996