Of Pharisees and Fish-bait.
Years of being on the road throughout North America have been an eye-opener. To be sure, God began to open our eyes to many of the things we have seen before we were in full time ministry, but we can say the picture has never been clearer than now. One great blessing to us has been meeting and fellowshipping with other like-minded believers who have seen, and learned from, the same things. Mercifully, God brings people together to show them that they are not the only ones -- regardless of what the multitudes say. But enough rambling... Allow me to explain my concern and burden for the church -- and maybe you'll agree.
Many churches are being led by Kings, Pharisees and fish-bait. Yes, this is speaking of many pastors, bishops, elders and deacons. Multitudes of churches have allowed -- rather, welcomed -- the wolves to dine on the sheep (see Acts 20:28-30 in box). Before explaining from scriptures, and by example, what we mean, it is necessary to elaborate on the symptoms that led us to the source of the problem.
We have met and talked with thousands of people who have grown-up in the church. Many, if not a majority, have attended Sunday school, youth group and other services since they were toddlers. Yet a staggering number of them do not have an understanding of even the basic truths of scriptures. Moreover, they testify that they have never heard entire sections of scriptures ever taught on. Confirming this, hundreds of written questions we have received have also come from individuals who have been in the church most of their lives -- questions concerning things that are directly and clearly spoken of in scriptures. This trend led us on a search for answers to the greater question of 'what's gone wrong, how did this happen?'. And we were shocked and grieved by what we found.
The Protestant reformation -- while dealing with extremely significant issues of doctrine concerning scriptures, faith, salvation, etc., also pointed to the excesses of what they frequently called "Popery". For centuries writers were quick to call the Pope in Rome "the Anti-Christ of Rome." To have any absolute earthly ruler dictating to the church was utterly rejected. Yet today many churches have a "Protestant Pope" or as another has called them "a King." (Perhaps these days, "a CEO"). Even as the Israelites wanted a King to rule over them, rather than the elders God ordained for his people, so too these churches want a supreme earthly ruler to rule over them in place of the elders that God has ordained to lead his church (see 1 Samuel 8:4-5, 7, 19-20 in box). To the people he will be exalted above all others, considered virtually infallible, and untouchable by the masses. He will be chosen because of his stature (1 Samuel 9:2, contrast 1 Samuel 16:7), (now measured by the school attended, degrees earned, or eloquence of presence and speech), regardless of his true character and preparedness for ministry as established by God. Indubitably, the people will desire for him to fight their battles -- for in their minds he must be far better than them. Anyone the King sees as a threat, he will attempt to slay by whatever means are at hand (1 Samuel 18:10-12) -- including deceit and lies. All he does will be done in the name of God, but he will be unwilling to hear what God's word truly says (1 Samuel 15:20, 22-23) -- much less preach and teach it to those under him.
Some churches have preferred a board of Pharisees -- regardless of their title, deacon or elder --and whether or not presided over (or joined) by a King or Protestant Pope. These Pharisees would have the chief seats (see Matthew 23:2, 5-6 in box). They are not chosen for their qualifications as given by scriptures, rather they point to their genealogies (see Matthew 3:7-9) of being prominent, long-time, members, etc. Otherwise, they are recommended for appointment by the King based upon their worldly prestige and what benefit they might be to himself. As for the qualifications and conduct clearly appointed by God, they will implicitly claim God made a mistake, "because no one can meet those qualifications" resounds as their justifying cry.
These Pharisees are concerned about pomp and circumstance -- how everything shall look... And whatever you do don't change any traditions that our fore-fathers have established. (see Matthew 15:3, 6-9 in box). The most common innovation allowed is "a new understanding (meaning reinterpretation) of scriptures."
These Kings and Pharisees will do anything to keep people from hearing and believing the truths they have wished to ignore. They will appeal to the latest "experts", "scholars" and "pop psychologists" to back their position. But most often, they will just be sure that those "controversial" passages are never spoken about in their kingdom. And should someone even convince them that the Bible actually says something contrary to common practice, you can rest assured you hear, "well we've never done it that way here -- so why should we change now." No matter how much they say, "We believe and live by the Bible", they have made null and void the Word of God through their actions.
Numbers become the primary focus of these Kings and Pharisees. The bigger the kingdom to rule over, the more the prestige. Preaching or teaching anything that would be "offensive" to the modern mind just won't do... someone might get offended and leave. But should someone stand on what is right and Biblical and make waves... well get rid of them any way you can -- "they're hurting our unity". Family programs nominally become the focus... "We need those new families (meaning giving adults) here... just keep those kids entertained, and those teens out of trouble, and we'll get along fine."
We have seen and have met people, even pastors, who have seen all I have just described and more. For example: Kings who have entered into deception, lies, and misleading and treat other Christians in ways even non-Christians wouldn't -- all as standard practice. Not to mention stealing from love offerings taken up for missionaries and ministries. All done supposedly "for the greater good" in their own eyes and usually concealed from the eyes of the congregation. Some of this is condoned, concealed, even aided and abetted by the board of Pharisees "for the sake of our ministry" -- meaning their position of prestige and appearance before others. But there's more. Youth programs have been canceled because "they're hurting the floor of our gym," and young children have been banned from using crayons in the church because "they've marked on some fixtures," and outreach programs have been rejected "because it won't be held in our church." The monument they have erected to show their success ultimately has become more important than the people -- regardless of their words .
These monuments are increasingly becoming country clubs for the prestigious and well-to-do. The Kings and Pharisees don't want many lower class, uneducated, or poor in their regular company (even though they may talk like they do). Social gatherings and activities are becoming more-and-more for those who can afford to pay. It may only be $10 or $20 here and there, but this makes sure the truly poor and working poor, on a week-to-week hope-I-can-make-it budget, are sure to not come.
Many of the Kings started out with good intent. But pride and power and money have seduced them so they are unwilling to change. They want the accolades, the reverence, the power, and most of all the money (and/or job security). (See 1 Timothy 6:3-12 in box). We have even been told by some pastors that if they rock the boat they will lose their jobs (i.e. income) and it would be difficult to find another church of the same caliber (i.e. income) if they left in controversy (i.e. standing for the truth.) More than once we have been told by a pastor, "you can come in and deal with these subjects -- you get to leave again -- we have to stay here." What message are they giving to their church by their silence?
Some of these Kings have no intent to be a servant. Nominally they would profess to be one, but they want to make more, and have more, than the people in their pews. (See Mark 10:42-43 in box). They twist and misuse scriptures to justify such abuses -- no different from the Romish Popes of old; who also would live in the lap of luxury at the expense of their people. They point to their pedigrees and titles as justifying such abuses, but squander the resources given to God upon their lust for material goods and luxuries. And to keep these things they will do whatever they need to (i.e. compromise), regardless of right or wrong, to please the people.
What suffers is the teaching and preaching of scriptures. Telling stories and cursorily passing over a passage of scripture has become a staple of many (i.e. gloss over verses that are "controversial" or "offensive" or "too deep for the people"). And don't preach hard (or at all) about things that you don't want to deal with in your own life.
Because we (and others we have met) unashamedly stand on the truth of God's Word regarding creation, the need of repentance (and calling sin for what it is) we have had some Kings tell us, "I don't speak about those things here, they're too controversial. Besides we have too many educated professionals in our church that might be offended" and even "Maybe a smaller, rural church would be better suited for that message." They have sacrificed God's truth on the altar of prestige and money.
Kings and Pharisees who would distort, ignore and compromise the Word of God for earthly gain (whether in the form of money or prestige), can be known by other scriptural names such as "false teachers". One title the apostle John liked to use was antichrists. Harsh words you say? Yes. But the popular misconception that antichrists and false teachers will all be blatantly evil is not supported by scriptures. More passages warn us of the subtle nature of these deceivers... that they would slip in unawares to destroy through destructive doctrine and vain traditions. (See 2 Peter 2:1-3 and 1 Timothy 4:2-4 in boxes, also Jude 1:3-4). John clearly taught that Jesus is the eternal, unchangeable, Word of God in the flesh. It follows that anyone who would distort the Word (as revealed by the unchangeable God), through deception, omission, or the like, becomes by definition an anti-christ -- someone opposed to the Word as revealed . "Oh but he's well meaning", "he speaks so eloquently", "he's such a people person" or any other excuse does not change the facts. It's time we started standing for what is right.
As for the Fish-Bait (see Mark 9:42 in box). Children and Teens are being taught to sin or, at-the-least, not being taught what is right. When the leadership of the church becomes self serving, when doctrine is glossed-over, ignored, or explained away, and when hypocritical life-styles are exalted or condoned within the church, children and teens are being taught that the Bible is NOT important. The majority of teens we have met will give the superficial answer they have heard in their church, that "the Bible has the answers", yet they have no idea what the Bible says. Those who do have some Biblical knowledge, regarding issues they are facing, are perplexed by the mixed messages they are being given from their teachers, youth leaders, and pastors. Many are actually amazed that the Bible has clear statements concerning things they have been told the scriptures are inconclusive about, or silent over. Perhaps the single biggest myth they have heard perpetuated by leadership (who don't want to change their own lifestyles) is that they can continue in their sinful lifestyles and still call themselves Christians (see John 14:15). The message they hear is merely that they should get closer to God.
Teens often hear the contradictory message of the leadership in other manners as well. "We should always base what we do on the Bible" they're told. And then rule-upon-rule is applied to them for no other purpose than vain traditions or personal preference of the leadership... So much for basing what we do on scriptures. They see and talk about these contradictions. ... And if becoming more Christ-like will turn them into some of the leaders they've seen -- well, who wants it?! (Contrast Hebrews 13:17). They are surprised when they see and contrast all this to the real standard of scriptures.
In many churches teens are merely a necessary evil (i.e. "they'll outgrow it" and then become productive members of our church.). One statistic showed churches on average spend 2-4% of their budget on youth ministries, while better than 80% of Christians profess to have made their decision to follow Christ while under the age of 18. So much for putting our money where effective evangelism is. The teens have heard all the excuses. "The adults give more, so we should invest more money in those who will benefit the church." Physical benefit that is.
In summary, what's the solution?... Here goes ...
1) People in the pew need to know the Word. Don't buy the deception that you need a pope to interpret it for you. His message was written to you and is clear. God designed his word so that YOU can understand it. And He's provided His Spirit to make sure of it (see John 14:16-17, 26).
2) Church structures that encourage creating the office of King Pastor as the sole or ultimate authority need to seriously examine scriptures on this subject. And then do what needs to be done regardless of denominational tradition. From the old to the new testament God intended elders (note the plural) to rule over (i.e. serve) His people under Him. He never wanted His people to have a King or Pope. Elders are always referenced in a plurality in scriptures plus they have distinct Biblical qualifications. If we profess to believe that God gifts and equips all who are necessary for the local church (see 1 Corinthians 12), then you must have only those who fit these qualifications in positions of leadership. To do it any other way is to tell God He made a mistake! And if you follow the qualifications, you'll end up with true servants as leaders. (See 1 Peter 5:1-3 in box, plus 1 Timothy 5:17-19, Titus 1:5-9).
3) The church, and specifically the elders of the congregation (see Hebrews 13:17 in box), have a responsibility to examine the doctrine and teaching of anyone who would instruct any of their flock -- from the youngest to the oldest. Non (or nominal) Christians teaching children, "because it makes them feel useful", is feeding the kids to the wolves. And from the pulpit, we've often said that you could preach from the Book of Mormon and no one would stop you. In similar manner, multitudes of pastors are hired on the basis of their schooling and credentials rather than a knowledge and examination of their beliefs. Many a congregation would be shocked if they knew what their pastor truly believed concerning numerous fundamentals of scripture (maybe that's why they never preach about those things?). It's far better to have a godly, Bible knowing, Bible believing, Bible living, tentmaker as a teaching elder (or Pastor) than a Rev. Dr. Been-to-School-For-Years who doesn't believe (preach and live) the Word. (See 1 Timothy 3:10 in box).
4) Buildings, properties -- things that the church owns -- should all be used as tools to accomplish a purpose (see 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 in box). When the building and objects within become objects of worship, God can never be glorified. When people can direct the use of things :"because my family gave this to the church" or "it has a plaque on it." these things were never really given to God for His use -- they were given as monuments to the people or families that gave them. When we worry more about the paint then the people, things are out of perspective. This idolatry in the church needs to stop. God help the church and leadership who will one day stand before him and give account for the things that have been hoarded up in God's name rather than being used as needed. Likewise, I have no idea how any church can respond to God, who has hoarded tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank (or investments), "for later use" when the need is now and the harvest is ripe (see Matthew 6:19-21 in box, plus Matthew 9:37-38). These churches ultimately are trusting in themselves rather than God... Do they really believe God will meet their needs as they come along? (See Philippians 4:19).
5) If the church is going to treat the poor as equals to the rich -- as we are commanded in scriptures -- all activities of the church should be free for all. (You must read James 2:1-9!, plus 1 Timothy 6:17-18 in box). When those who can afford to, support the ministries through their giving -- for the sake of Christ -- the church is truly sharing with those in need.
In conclusion, read the Old Testament verses from Jeremiah and Ezekiel, that we have placed in the large box on this page, they speak so clearly to the church of today.
If enough people are willing to stand unashamedly on God's Word and do what needs to be done -- we will see churches that are truly alive. Pray, and work, for much needed reformation in our churches. It's happened before. Lord willing it will happen again. AND it has begun in some churches, and with some pastors and leadership. We have found churches where the things we have written about are not a problem, or are a problem they are actively working to correct. Pray for these churches that they would be a beacon of light and an encouragement to others around them. God will bless them for following His Word.
More on this subject is here
Written by Brent
MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 1997.