Church

Throwback Thursday ~ It’ll Grow on You…

Originally published April 22, 2009

Have you ever wished your church would grow? Maybe your pastor talks about church growth from time to time? What should a church do if it wants to grow?

Before a church starts thinking about publicity, programs, attention-getters, etc., it should take some things into consideration:

1.

Is this a Bible-believing, Bible-preaching/teaching church? Do we stick to Scripture and preach the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth even if it makes people uncomfortable or (in a biblically appropriate way) offends them?

Since the Bible is God’s Word, it would make no sense for Him to want to grow a church that either doesn’t believe what He has said, or twists what He has said to fit what the people want to hear. Scripture is clear, our churches are to be focused on correctly handling and proclaiming God’s Word.

2.

How do we know God wants us to focus on growth right now? The church belongs to God, and we are to obey Him in all things. Have we as a congregation spent time in prayer both individually and corporately to seek His direction for the church? There could be any number of things God wants to do in the church before bringing a whole slew of new people in. He may want to do some pruning of the membership or the doctrine being taught. He may want to root out some corporate sin that needs to be dealt with. He may want to concentrate on building unity for some period of time. There could be a number of biblical things that are a higher priority to God for our church than growth.

3.

People can grow an organization, club, colloquy or group, but only God can grow a church. If you have a group of people that is growing strictly by man’s efforts and/or in violation of Scriptural principles, it is one of the former, not the latter. The question is, do we want to grow an organization here, or do we want God to grow a church?

4.

How did Jesus grow a church? After all, we’re to be about the business of following and imitating Him, right? If we take a look at how Jesus’ own following developed while He was on Earth as well as how the first century church grew, we don’t find that they had to go out and drag people in. They didn’t send out fliers, have space walks, barbecues, concerts and all that kind of stuff that so many churches do today just to try to draw people in. That’s a “top down” approach. Jesus and the first century church took a “bottom up” approach. They studied the Scripture, prayed, ministered to people as they had needs, and preached and taught the Word, and the people who truly wanted to know God and hear the Word came out and joined them.

Now, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with barbecues and space walks. Indeed, if a church is following Christ rightly and praying for God’s direction, they might decide to do some sort of outreach event that includes some fun activities. But the thrust of drawing people in should be the lifting up of Jesus in the church.

Want your church to grow? Make sure the church is completely in line with what the Bible teaches. Seek God’s direction for the church through corporate and individual prayer. Recognize that God is the only one who can cause a church to grow, and that growth – always in spiritual maturity, sometimes in numbers – is a natural by-product of an obedient, prayerful, true to Scripture church.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Nursing Home Ministry Questions

I recently received some questions about nursing home ministry, so I thought I’d put all the answers I’ve given in the past in one post so they’d be handy.

Originally published January 22, 2018:
The Mailbag:
Men attending women’s Bible study class at nursing home

A female relative of mine teaches a women’s Bible study at a Catholic nursing home (my relative is a Protestant Christian). Sometimes, a male resident or two – none of whom are saved – will wander in and attend her class. Occasionally, one of them attempts to correct her according to Catholic doctrine. Even though she’s not technically teaching “in the church” (1 Timothy 2:12) she’s uncomfortable with men attending the class, as well as with having to biblically correct their unscriptural Catholic doctrine. On the other hand, she shares the gospel every time she teaches, and she doesn’t want to turn away anyone who might receive the good news and be saved. What should she do?

I love it when Christians think deeply about issues like this. It is encouraging to interact with godly people who want to be obedient to Christ, and it pushes me to desire to obey Him better myself.

Foreword:

Just to lay a quick foundation for my answer to this question, it needs to be understood that people who currently believe and practice Catholic doctrine as it is written in Catholic documents are not saved. There are numerous unbiblical beliefs Catholics hold to (which I will not go into right now because that’s beyond the scope of this article) but for the purposes of understanding my answer, in a nutshell, the Catholic religion does not teach salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (in fact, Catholicism anathematizes {condemns to Hell} anyone who teaches this), works must be included in the salvation process. If you believe your own good works play any part in earning your salvation, you are not saved. Salvation is all of Christ, and Christ alone.

✢✢✢✢

I am assuming that whoever invited this teacher to teach a Bible study in the nursing home knows that she is Protestant and will be teaching Protestant (biblical) doctrine. I am also assuming that the person who invited her to teach is OK with this. I would not advise someone to give the appearance of teaching in compliance with Catholic doctrine and then surreptitiously “sneaking in” Protestant doctrine. That’s deceitful and dishonest, and it would be understandable for the Catholic residents to be correcting her.

✢✢✢✢

If you’re unclear as to why having men in her Bible study class is a dilemma for the female teacher, I’d encourage you to read these two articles before moving on to my answer:

Jill in the Pulpit

Rock Your Role FAQs (this article expands on my brief comments below)

Here are my thoughts on the issue:

1. If the people attending the study are Catholic, then the female teacher is evangelizing the lost outside of the church, not discipling (teaching) Believers who are the church, unless some of those attending the study have gotten saved (the question indicates none of the male “drop ins” are saved). Evangelism falls under the “do” of the Great Commission, not the “don’t” of 1 Timothy 2:12. (see #11)

2. We always have to keep the definition of “church” in mind when we’re talking about women teaching or holding authority over men “in the church.” The gathered body of Believers is the church, not the building in which they meet. The mere fact that a group meets in a nursing home, house, park, community center, or other edifice that isn’t a church building doesn’t automatically mean a woman is free to teach men (see #7). It doesn’t automatically mean she can’t teach them either.

3. If the male attendees are being disruptive and introducing false doctrine, the teacher is well within her biblical rights and wisdom to say that this a women’s only group and exclude the men. (The same would apply to excluding any women who behave the same way.)

4. If, at some point, genuinely regenerated men begin attending the class because they want to be taught the Bible, praise God! The best case scenario would be for the teacher to go to her pastor, explain the dilemma, and have him ask one of the associate pastors, elders, or another appropriate male church member to volunteer to teach the men.


Originally published February 18, 2019
The Mailbag: Potpourri (Prayer quilts, Discouraged husband, Jesus Calling at the CPC…)

I need some direction. I’ve been teaching/sharing God’s Word at a nursing home for over two years on Sunday mornings. We have mostly women, but there are two men who join us. I was asked by the nursing home to lead our little church because they haven’t been able to find any men willing to do it. That’s my dilemma, I know Paul said he wouldn’t allow a woman to teach men, I don’t know how to handle this. I myself am not part of any other church, so I don’t have a pastor to help. I’ve reached out to some churches, but no one is getting back to me. Since we can’t find a man willing to lead, am I okay to keep doing what I’m doing? 

That is quite the dilemma! Let me see if I can help.

You started your e-mail by saying, “I need some direction,” so I hope you’ll be open to some direction that’s in a bit of a different direction than the one you’re asking about.

It’s wonderful that you’re wanting to help out at the nursing home and teach God’s Word. We need more women in mercy ministries like this, and I’m sure you’re a joy and a blessing to the ladies. But I’m afraid there’s a bigger issue you need to deal with than whether or not to be teaching at the nursing home.

You need to find a doctrinally sound church, become a member of it, and attend and serve it faithfully. Church membership, fellowship, and service are not optional for Christians (Basic Training: 7 Reasons Church is Not Optional and Non-Negotiable for Christians).

The Bible knows nothing of unchurched Christians, and serving at the nursing home is not a reason not to be joined to a local church. You could always serve at the nursing home on Sunday afternoons after worshiping at your own church, or serve on another day. If you’re asking around at churches for someone to volunteer on Sunday mornings, this is why you’re not getting much of a response – you’re contacting churches. Pastors and their church members are supposed to be in church on Sunday mornings, not somewhere else.

I know you might be thinking that your group of ladies at the nursing home is your church because you called it “our little church”. It might be an awesome group of ladies with super close fellowship, but what you have there is a women’s Bible study class, not a church. It doesn’t have a pastor, elders, or deacons. It doesn’t have a membership, so there’s no mechanism for church discipline. Nobody is giving offerings or serving the Body. You’re not performing the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (I hope). This is not a church.

Have you ever been on an airplane and noticed that when the flight attendant gives the safety instructions, she always tells you to put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others with theirs? It’s good advice in this situation too. Right now, you’re disobeying Scripture by not being joined to a local church, so you’re setting a sinful example for your ladies while simultaneously teaching them that they need to obey God’s Word. Put your mask on first. Repent and join a local church. You also need to be sitting under good preaching and teaching at your own church so you’ll have something to give these ladies and to keep your own theology on track so you can make sure what you’re teaching them doesn’t veer off into false doctrine. Put your mask on first. You can’t help other people breathe if you’re passing out from lack of oxygen. Finally, joining a local church will fix the problem you mentioned of, “I don’t have a pastor to help.” If you’ll put your mask on first by finding a good church to join, you will have a pastor, elders, deacons, and lots of other men to help.

When we do things God’s way, in God’s order, most of the secondary things, like your dilemma about the men at the nursing home, tend to fall into place. Tell you what. You find a good church to join – maybe one of the ones you contacted for help (check out the “Searching for a new church?” tab at the top of this page if you need it) – get plugged in, and ask your pastor for some help with this. If he can’t or won’t help you, write me back, and we’ll go from there, OK? I’ll bet you won’t need to.


Originally published July 5, 2021
The Mailbag: Asked and Answered

Is it appropriate for a woman chaplain to teach men, evangelizing and then answering questions using the Bible to present truth in nursing home one on one or in a coed worship service at the nursing home?

I think I must have a number of followers who visit and care for those in nursing homes, because I’ve received several questions over the years about nursing home ministry. Can I just take a moment to say – thank you so much. What a blessing and an encouragement you must be to those precious ladies and gentlemen.

Let’s unravel your question just a bit because there are several issues at play:

First of all, should a woman even be a chaplain? I don’t want to give an across the board “no” because “chaplain” is such a catch-all term these days, and different organizations (hospitals, prisons, the military, nursing homes, etc.) probably all have different job descriptions for their chaplains which may or may not require a woman in that position to violate Scripture.

But if I were asked, “Should women be chaplains?” and I had to give a yes or no answer, my answer would be no, for the simple reason that most lost people (or even Christians) aren’t going to differentiate a chaplain from a pastor. To them, a chaplain is just a pastor who works in a hospital (or wherever) instead of a church. And it’s unbiblical for women to be pastors, so you don’t want to give the evil appearance of someone living in unrepentant sin. Even if you’re not technically violating Scripture in your position, you appear to be.

OK, for your next several questions, it’s immaterial whether or not these things take place in a nursing home:

Is it OK for women to evangelize (share the plan of salvation with a lost person) and answer biblical questions one on one with a man? Yes. Carefully and with wisdom: Rock Your Role FAQs #11

Is it OK for a woman to evangelize (share the plan of salvation with lost people) a co-ed group? Not if she’s essentially preaching a sermon and functioning as a preacher, which is what I’m inferring by your use of the term “worship service”. Rock Your Role FAQs #11

If it’s something more akin to you hanging out with 5 or 6 friends, some male and some female, and you start sharing the gospel with them, that’s different. That’s really more like a one on one situation.

Is it OK for a woman to preach/teach in or lead a co-ed worship service? No, regardless of the venue or her title. Rock Your Role FAQs #7 Rock Your Role: Jill in the Pulpit


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Church

Throwback Thursday ~ All Word and No Play: The Importance of Fun and Fellowship in the Doctrinally Sound Church

Originally published November 10, 2017

The mingled aromas of cakes and cookies, chips and dips and pasta salads, wafted from the kitchen into the living room and wove its way through the the quiet din of treble voices and joyful laughter sharing stories and recipes and tales of the work week.

Sunday School ladies were in the house.

I had invited them over for a time of fellowship and a brief discussion to gauge their interest in a women’s Bible study class I’d been hoping to start. Would any of them want to attend a weekly women’s Bible study? Which day of the week would be best? Morning or evening? Which book of the Bible or biblical topic would they like to study? My questions were met with a few polite and perfunctory answers until one of the ladies bravely ventured, “You know, we have good, solid preaching at our church, and we get great Bible study every week in our Sunday School class, but we never get to just sit around and visit and get to know each other better like we’re doing tonight. I think we need that more than another Bible study class.”

If I still had a hoop and could remember how to make a French knot, I’d embroider that on a pillow. Or maybe a pew cushion. She was right.

In recent years we’ve been privy to numerous churches who seem to be on mission to transform themselves into Six Flags Over Jesus. Pastors who deliver stand up comedy routines instead of preaching the Word. Helicopters dropping Easter eggs for the annual hunt. Disney-designed fire truck baptistries, video games, and bubble machines in the children’s department. Car, sports tickets, and vacation pacakge giveaways. Over the top Christmas variety shows. The evangeltainment force is strong on the high places.

But while churches need to be careful not to fall into the ditch of foolish fluff and worldliness, neither should doctrinally sound churches jump into the ditch on the other side of the road of turning every single church get together into a Bible study, worship service, or outreach project.

Some of you ladies are gasping in holy horror. (Don’t try to deny it. I can hear you.)

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. Please. I am by no stretch of the imagination suggesting that churches should turn into amusement parks like the ones cited above. I’m not saying we shouldn’t hold copious numbers of worship services and Bible studies and outreach projects. We absolutely should. Preaching, teaching, discipleship, and evangelism should be the main focus of the church.

What I’m saying is that – in the hustle and bustle of studying and serving – we need to make sure we’re also leaving space for brothers and sisters in Christ to simply spend unprogrammed time together. Growing to know one another more intimately. Sharing our little everyday joys and sorrows. Laughing together. Deeply loving one another. Blowing off steam and having a little fun.

Those things don’t happen while we’re listening to a sermon, paying attention to a Sunday School lesson, or busily working on an outreach task. But they’re a vital part of growing in Christ together. As a family.

One of the many reasons local church membership isn’t optional for Christians is that it places us in the required environment for practicing the “one anothers” found throughout the New Testament. But how can we “through love serve one another” if we don’t know a sister well enough to know how best to serve her? How can we “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” if we never take the time to sit down with each other and find out what those burdens are?

If your church has solid biblical preaching, doctrinally sound Sunday School or Bible study classes, members who joyfully serve the Body when opportunities are presented, and who share the gospel with the lost, it’s OK to have the occasional event that doesn’t revolve around those activities, and instead provides the opportunity for simple fellowship between brothers and sisters in Christ. A church picnic. A men’s breakfast. A ladies’ night out. A potluck dinner on the grounds. A coffee klatch. A Christmas party.

And it’s not necessary to turn any of these events into a Bible study.

Why? Because when Christians get together, the talk invariably and organically turns to things of a spiritual nature.

I gave a lot of thought to what the lady from my Sunday School class said at our fellowship that evening. And instead of planning a weekly Bible study, I started planning the occasional ladies’ night out – a simple dessert fellowship at my house, or dinner at a restaurant. Every time we get together, we inevitably end up talking about spiritual matters. Once, we spontaneously gathered around and prayed for a sister who had shared some things she was struggling with. Another time, we brought up some Scriptures to encourage one of the ladies who was walking through a particular issue with her child. We’ve discussed and recommended good godly books (and warned against some poor ones) to each other. We’ve laughed a lot, and sometimes cried, but mostly, grown…together.

People talk about what they’re most passionate about. And Christians are most passionate about the things of God. We need to be sure we’re trusting and believing that, not fearing that if we don’t have a devotion at our dinner, or have our coffee in one hand while doing a missions project with the other, that church members will suddenly abandon Christ and start dancing around the Asherah pole. And we need to know God well enough to know that He is not somehow displeased when His people simply interact with each other over whatever comes to mind without a biblical outline and three commentaries on the table.

Also unbiblical and, thus, spiritually unhealthy, is the mindset that if we’re not meeting for organized preaching, teaching, or ministering, we have no reason for meeting at all. Not true. When I hear from women who attend doctrinally sound churches with that attitude, what I most commonly hear from them is that they’re lonely. They have no one they can call, or talk to, or pray with when they have a problem to sort out or joyful news to share because they don’t feel close enough to anybody in their church. That’s a crying shame. No healthy Christian in a doctrinally sound church should regularly feel isolated and lonely.

Good preaching, teaching, and outreach are imperative for every church. But so are the heart to heart relationships between Believers in the Body. So do the studying, listen to the preaching, and work your fingers to the bone serving, but don’t leave out fun and fellowship. All Word and no play makes for an unbalanced, unhealthy church.

Church

Recommend a Church

UPDATE 2: Your response has been overwhelming! Thank you so much for your recommendations! At the moment, over 100 churches have been recommended. As I mentioned at the end of this article, I am vetting each one individually, so that will take some time. Thank you for your patience.

UPDATE 1: Folks, I really appreciate all of your recommendations, but I’ve already deleted about half the comments I’ve received so far because the commenter did not include the name of the church and/or the website. I don’t have time to track these things down for multiple recommendations. Please read and follow the directions below. Thanks.

If you’re searching for a new church (rather than wanting to recommend one) click here.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I’m passionate about helping people find doctrinally sound churches to join. I’ve recently been updating my list of Reader Recommended Churches, but we can always use more recommendations for doctrinally sound churches, church search engines, and church planting organizations, especially in the states that don’t have very many recommendations and in countries outside the United States. So I’d love it if you’d help out by making a recommendation!

Please read this part before recommending

Here are the guidelines for submitting a recommendation:

  • You must have a personal connection (ex: you’re a member or recent former member, you know the pastor personally, etc.) to the church you’re recommending
  • Please check this list to see if the church you’re recommending is already listed. (It takes time for me to weed out recommendations of churches that are already listed.)
  • Please check this link to see if the church search engine or church planting organization you’re recommending is already listed. (Read carefully. The Master’s Seminary, Founders, Grace Advance, and several others are already listed.)
  • The following types of churches, church search engines, and church planting organizations will not be added to the list (due to doctrinal or other issues)1:

~ United Methodist churches
~ Calvary Chapel churches (continuationist)
~ Continuationist churches
~ Churches that consider Calvinism/Reformed theology to be false teaching
~ KJV Only churches (Churches which consider the King James Version to be the only acceptable and/or inspired translation of the Bible. Churches which merely prefer using the KJV are fine.)
~ Any church that uses music from Bethel, Jesus CultureHillsongElevation, anyone connected with these groups, Catholicsnon-Christians, or any other musician who isn’t doctrinally sound.
~ Any church that does not have a statement of faith (“What we believe,” “Doctrinal statement,” etc..) on its website.
~ Any church that does not have an actual website (a social media page alone is not sufficient).

If the church, church search engine, or church planting organization you’re considering recommending meets the criteria above, I’d love to consider it! Please comment below (it would really help me if I could have all the comments below, in one place, rather than scattered between this article, social media messages, social media comments, and emails) with:

  • The full, correctly spelled name of the church, church search engine, or church planting organization
  • The city and state, or city and country the church is located in
  • The church’s, church search engine’s, or church planting organization’s website. Submissions without websites will not be considered.

Just a reminder – as it says above the comment box, I handle all comments manually, so your comment will not appear immediately. When I add (or decline to add) your church to the list, I’ll post your comment.

I vet every church that’s submitted, so it may take me a while to get to your recommendation. Your patience is appreciated.

Thanks so much for helping your brothers and sisters in Christ find a good, solid church!


1I am not saying any church or person who falls into one of these categories is automatically a heretic, unsaved, or a horrible person/church. These are merely the requirements for a church to be on this particular list because these are the requirements most of the people who use this list are looking for.

Church, Obedience

Throwback Thursday ~ Neo-Pharisaism

Originally published May 3, 2019

Has anyone ever called you a Pharisee? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been called that name by professing Christians from all walks of life. And let’s not try to sugar coat it, when somebody uses that term, it’s not meant as a compliment. It can be anything from rage-fueled “Christian profanity” to a well-intentioned but biblically misinformed attempt to quash perfectly scriptural words or actions  – but it’s a pejorative term, whatever the motive behind this name-calling might be.

The Bible first introduces us to the Pharisees in the gospels, during the ministry of John the Baptist, and right away, it’s clear that anybody who’s truly on God’s side of the aisle is going to have a problem with these dudes. “You brood of vipers!” is the first sentence spoken to or about the Pharisees.

But why? Why was this group of respected Jewish leaders and Bible scholars consistently painted in such a negative light by John, Jesus, and the Apostles?

Because the Pharisees were the false teachers of Jesus’ day. They were teaching the false doctrine of legalism – the idea that Jews could earn right standing with God by obeying His laws. And because they didn’t want to even come close to disobeying God’s law, they came up with their own man-made laws that were way more restrictive than God’s laws. The Pharisees required the people to obey those man-made laws and said people who broke them were sinning.

It was kind of like having a pool in your back yard with a fence around it. The pool was sin. The fence around it was God’s law. The Pharisees came along and put an additional fence around the perimeter of the property, keeping people out of the back yard altogether. Only God didn’t say we couldn’t use and enjoy the yard, He just said, “Stay out of the pool.”¹

And then Jesus arrived on the scene and put His foot down – God’s law reigns supreme, not man’s law. For those who follow God from the heart, His commands are not burdensomenot a yoke of slavery. And by burdening the people with laws God had not commanded, and setting those laws on equal footing with God’s laws, the Pharisees were the ones in sin.

But this just didn’t compute to the prideful, hypocritical, self-righteous Pharisees. They were so set in their ways and ensconced in their power and position that they doubled down on their false doctrine to the point that their self-deception led them to view simply obeying God’s law as written – nothing added, nothing taken away – as sin.

This is why we see the Pharisees losing their cotton-pickin’ minds over Jesus and the disciples plucking and eating (harvesting and threshing to the Pharisees) kernels of grain on the Sabbath, and Jesus healing (“working”) on the Sabbath, both of which – eating and doing acts of charity – were lawful.

The legalist Pharisees saw Jesus and His followers as antinomians – those who were a threat to the people of God by preaching license, disobedience, and “everybody can do what’s right in his own eyes.”

My, how the pendulum has swung in the other direction.

Today what we have is antinomians calling some of Jesus’ followers Pharisees because these modern-day antinomians believe that striving to obey God’s Word as written – nothing added, nothing taken away – is legalism.

Is it wrong to label everyone an antinomian who has called a brother or sister in Christ a Pharisee? After all, antinomianism is heresy. It’s a pretty serious charge – not one that should be casually and superficially flung around. Well, so is the charge of legalism, which these folks are leveling every time they call someone a Pharisee. If they’re going to dish out charges of heresy, they ought to be man or woman enough not to cry foul when that same charge is leveled against them.

But the truth is, among average Christians, there are very few actual full-blown legalists or full-blown antinomians. As with nearly every other aspect of Christianity, there’s a spectrum of antinomianism and legalism with heresy on either end, and the majority of Christians falling somewhere in the middle. Most genuinely born again Christians hover somewhere around that sweet spot in the middle that we would call obedience to Scripture, but we all have a general fleshly tendency toward legalism or antinomianism. And furthermore, we can tend toward one or the other in various issues in our lives. There are issues in my life in which I tend toward antinomianism out of fear of man, or because I want to give in to the desires of my flesh. And, there are issues in my life in which I tend toward legalism out of pride or a lack of trust in God. We can all fall into the ditch of antinomianism or legalism depending on the circumstances and our personal weaknesses and sins.

So when I say that Christians today who call their brothers and sisters in Christ Pharisees are antinomians, I don’t mean that the vast majority of them are full-on heretics who think Christians can go out and sin as much as they want and nobody has to obey Scripture. Honestly, I’ve never even met anybody like that. I’m talking about Christians who tend toward antinomianism when it comes to the specific area of ecclesiology. What does that look like in the life of the church? Often, it takes the shape of overlooking sin instead of dealing with it biblically in order not to make waves or hurt someone’s feelings. It can also find itself in those who get on the bandwagon of the latest Christian – or worldly – fad, method, celebrity, or worldview, and chiding those who rightly deem it unbiblical. A few examples I’ve experienced or been told of:

Do you expect Christians to be at church every week unless Providentially hindered? That’s legalism. You’re a Pharisee.

Dare to speak up against false teachers? That’s legalism. You’re a Pharisee.

Think worship should be reverent and orderly rather than evangeltainment hoopla? That’s legalism. You’re a Pharisee.

Do you believe it’s sin when women preach/teach the Scriptures to men or hold unbiblical authority over men in the gathered body of Believers? That’s legalism. You’re a Pharisee.

Have you ever asked why your church doesn’t practice church discipline? That’s legalism. You’re a Pharisee.

Do you warn your friends in apostate churches of the false doctrine they’re being taught? That’s legalism. You’re a Pharisee.

But who’s really the Pharisee today? Well, just like in Jesus’ day, it’s people who might (or might not) know Scripture, but they’re not handling it correctly. Sometimes, it’s well-known Christian leaders protecting their position and power. Sometimes it’s the people in the pew who like the status quo in evangelicalism, their church, or their family just fine, thank you very much, and they don’t want you bringing the Bible in and messing everything up.

Who’s today’s Pharisee? It’s often the person calling other Christians Pharisees.

As you might expect, the legalist Pharisees of Jesus’ day had hundreds of very specific, clearly defined laws you had to obey: You could only walk so many steps on the Sabbath. You had to wash your hands in a certain manner. You probably even had to fold your underwear a specific way.

Our modern-day antinomian-leaning “neo-Pharisees” have just a few nebulous, loosely defined rules of which they, not Scripture, are the final arbiters:

  • You can’t be unloving.
  • You can’t hurt people’s feelings.
  • You can’t rock the boat.
  • Why can’t we all just get along?

And though it was relatively easy to count the number of steps you took on the Sabbath or make sure your underwear stacked up at a 90° angle so you could stay on the right side of the legalistic Pharisees’ rules and regulations, it’s much harder to tell whether or not you’re obeying the neo-Pharisees’ laws.

Their laws, though few in number, are subjective, broadly interpreted and applied, and constantly changing. Charges of being “unloving,” for example, are not supported by Scripture passages in their proper context clearly defining biblical love, but are based on the personal feelings and opinions of the person leveling the charge. A “peace, love, and harmony” definition of “unity” is frequently prized over fidelity to Scripture. What was right last month could suddenly be wrong next week because it has upset someone.

It’s not easy to hit such a fast-moving target, and practically anything you say or do (even if it’s straight from Scripture) that rubs the neo-Pharisee the wrong way is going to break one of these rules – man-made rules that they insist other Christians keep or those other Christians either aren’t saved or are sinning. So while the quality of their rules is antinomian-ish, the application of their rules is legalistic. This is fleshing itself out in dozens of different ways in evangelicalism.

Case in point: progressive Christians who have taken up the social justice cause, particularly as it relates to race. One recent example – if you don’t see whiteness (whatever that means) as wicked and something you need to renounce, you’re not being loving to people who have darker skin than yours, and you’re hurting their feelings, and you’re refusing to get along with them. So because you’re breaking these laws the neo-Pharisees have made, you’re sinning at best and not saved at worst. But what is whiteness, precisely? How can I tell whether or not I’ve fully renounced it? What if I’ve fully renounced it in the eyes of one person but not another? Who is supposed to pronounce me absolved of this so-called sin? And daring to ask any of these questions or push back against these ideas can earn you the label of Pharisee.

Another example I’m hearing more and more people say they’ve been taken to task about is tone. For some neo-Pharisees, it doesn’t matter how gently, kindly, and patiently you state a difficult biblical truth, if it hurts someone’s feelings or rocks the boat, you’ve been unloving and said it in a harsh tone. And you’ll probably get called a Pharisee.

But who is the judge of my tone or yours? One person’s “harsh tone” is another person’s “matter of fact tone”. One person’s “loving tone” is another person’s “spineless tone”. I once wrote an article about a certain false teacher about which I was told my tone was too harsh by some and too nice by others – about the same article! We all have different personal, subjective opinions about tone. The problem is that the neo-Pharisee is elevating her opinion about what constitutes an acceptable tone to the level of Scripture. Because if you use what she thinks is the wrong tone, you’re sinning.

So what is the solution to this messy morass of legalism, antinomianism, and neo-Pharisaism we suddenly find ourselves in in evangelicalism?

The Bible.

We must become good students of the Bible so we know exactly what it says – and doesn’t say. The Bible doesn’t condemn anyone as wicked based on the shade of her skin. But it does tell me I’m to love my brothers and sisters in Christ. It tells me that God shows no partiality and I shouldn’t either. The Bible doesn’t qualify which tones of voice are harsh and which are acceptable. When it talks about speaking the truth in love, it’s talking about motivation of heart – which only I can know and only God can judge – not tone of voice. Am I motivated by love? Does the Bible say we need to be faithful to the gathering of Believers or not? Does it really say women can’t preach to men or not? Is that person actually a false teacher according to Scripture or not? We need to know Scripture, so we can rightly obey Scripture, so that no one will actually be a Pharisee.

We’ve all got to do our best to present ourselves to God “as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) When I lean too far toward legalism, I need Scripture to pull me back to that sweet spot of simple biblical obedience. When you lean too far toward antinomianism, you need the Bible to bring you back to center on diligent biblical obedience. We need to help each other, iron sharpening iron, not call each other names.

Let’s get rid of Pharisaism once and for all and simply spur one another on toward holiness and obedience to God’s Word.


Additional Resources:

Sacrificing Truth on the Altar of Tone

What Does it Mean to “Play the Pharisee Card”?

Basic Training: Obedience: 8 Ways To Stop Making Excuses and Start Obeying Scripture


¹Pool photo courtesy of Protect-A-Child Pool Fence Company