Christ had harsh words for the Pharisees. "Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 'Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.' He answered and said to them, 'Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, "Honor your father and your mother"; and, "He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death." But you say, "Whoever says to his father or mother, 'Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God' - then he need not honor his father or mother." Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." ' " (Matthew 15:1-9).
"Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, "Rabbi, Rabbi" ' " (Matthew 23:1-7).
"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.' Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, 'Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.' Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.' Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar" (Matthew 23:13-35).
"Then Jesus said to them, 'Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees'.... Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matthew 16:6-12).
"Then His disciples came and said to Him, 'Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?' But He answered and said, 'Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch" (Matthew 15:12-14).
What are we to learn from this? Did God include these passages in the Bible only so we would understand the history of the events leading up to the crucifixion of Christ? Or are there lessons for our time also?
Human nature has not changed in 2,000 years, except perhaps that it has gotten worse (2 Timothy 3:1-9, 13). The tendency of religious authorities in Christ's time to behave a certain way no doubt can exist in our time as well.
We need to learn the lessons of the bad examples of the Pharisees, to avoid them.
The Pharisees were the religious authorities of Christ's day. They were the respected teachers and rulers of Israel's religious system. Moreover, though Christ sharply rebuked the Pharisees for their sins and hypocrisy, He also commanded that their office be respected. "Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do" (Matthew 23:1-3). Jesus acknowledged that they sat in Moses's seat and had certain authority.
What would correspond today to the office the Pharisees held in Christ's time? The ministry of the Church of God. Like the office of minister today, that office was over God's people. It was an office of religious instruction and judgment. The Pharisees sat in Moses's seat, and as such had certain authority that was to be respected and obeyed. This is like the office of minister today in the Church of God, which office should be respected and obeyed. "Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:18). "And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17). Like the Pharisees, the ministry in the Church has a position of authority and rule and a role of religious instruction, an office and role given to them from God.
But the ministers today are not all like the Pharisees. While both the Pharisees and today's ministry have a teaching role instituted by God and access to the scriptures, many ministers in the Church today have something the Pharisees never had - access to God's Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to overcome our sinful nature and to serve God faithfully in spirit and in truth.
Nevertheless, ministers and members alike are tempted by our sinful nature. The same nature that worked in the Pharisees can work in Church of God ministers, and they need to be aware of the danger and resist the temptation. Members likewise should be aware of this so they do not follow the examples of ministers when those ministers behave like the Pharisees. "Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do' " (Matthew 23:1-3).
This is why Paul qualifies his statement to imitate him as he imitates Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). We are not to follow a minister when he does not follow Christ. We should respect the office but never follow a bad example.
So it is useful to look at what the Bible says about the Pharisees with these things in mind. How might the lessons about the Pharisees apply to some in the ministry in the Church of God today?
What were some of the sins of the Pharisees that Christ rebuked them for or warned His disciples about?
For one thing, the Pharisees relied on their traditions and their authority more than on the word of God. They added rules that God did not require in the scriptures, to the point where they actually nullified God's word in their teaching. In this way, they actually competed with scripture instead of supporting scripture. They competed with God's law, substituting their own law based on their man-made traditions. I have quoted this before, but I will repeat the quote: "Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 'Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.' He answered and said to them, 'Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, "Honor your father and your mother"; and, "He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death." But you say, "Whoever says to his father or mother, 'Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God' - then he need not honor his father or mother." Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." ' " (Matthew 15:1-9).
Some ministers in the Church of God may do that today. Ministers who may be tempted to rely on Church of God traditions or on their own teaching authority as ministers to command and teach things not even in the Bible even to the point of nullifying and contradicting the clear intent of God's word, need to take Christ's warning to the Pharisees seriously and resist the temptation to do what the Pharisees did. And members must not follow their ministers in going against the Bible. They must believe and obey the Bible first.
Christ also rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. Their hypocrisy was in saying one thing but practicing something else (Matthew 23:1-3), in placing burdens on the people they were not willing to bear (Matthew 23:4), and in behaving in certain ways strictly to appear righteous to men (Matthew 23:5-7).
Ministers in the Church of God can fall into that trap in a number of ways. A minister may tell his members, "Believe the teachings of God's ministers, believe our leader's interpretation of the scripture because Christ as head of the Church guides us in doctrine", yet, in private with other ministers or with the head man argue for a change in doctrine, saying, "We have been wrong and need to make a change". Yet if a member says the same thing to the minister, the minister says, "We have studied this, and you need to trust Christ to lead the Church". This is hypocrisy in the form of teaching one thing, but practicing another. The ministry teaches the members to believe the ministers' and the Church's interpretation of scripture more than what the members can see for themselves in the Bible, yet the ministers recommend or make changes in doctrine based on what they see in the Bible, not trusting that their past traditions and interpretations were right in the past. It is as if the ministers think they only are able to understand and interpret the Bible, but members are not able to understand the Bible themselves, except as the ministry teaches them. But there is nothing to indicate that in the Bible, and both members and the ministry should have the Holy Spirit to open their minds to spiritual understanding and truth.
Not that it is wrong for ministers to believe the Bible first, more than their traditions, and to correct their mistakes and change doctrine to more perfectly follow the Bible. That is exactly what they should do. But they should also teach the membership to believe the Bible first more than the ministry and past traditions.
Actually, not being willing to change Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong's teaching to be corrected by the Bible, yet while trying to preach the gospel to the world, may be another example of hypocrisy. Why? To preach the gospel to the public, we have to be able to say, in one form or another, "Don't believe us, don't believe your own ministers, believe your Bible, believe God". There is no other way to preach the gospel effectively. We have to prove doctrine by the Bible and challenge our readers and listeners to believe the Bible more than their own churches they grew up in. But while we do that, if we tell our own members, "Don't believe what you can prove in the Bible, believe us, believe God's ministers, believe the Church, because Christ is head of the Church and leads His ministry to understand and interpret the Bible correctly", we are hypocrites. We teach a double standard (Deuteronomy 25:13-16, Exodus 12:49, Numbers 15:16, Proverbs 20:10). We say one thing to the public, but the opposite to the brethren.
Another problem of the Pharisees was their rejection of Jesus as the Christ and His teachings without good cause. "But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?" (John 8:45-46). "The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil" (John 7:7). "He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, 'They hated Me without a cause' " (John 15:23-25).
Why did they reject Jesus Christ? Part of it was jealousy or envy (Matthew 27:17-18, Mark 15:9-10). Part of it was that they took offense when He rebuked them. "The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil" (John 7:7). "And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them. So they left Him and went away" (Mark 12:12). "And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people—for they knew He had spoken this parable against them. So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor" (Luke 20:19-20). Being offended at Jesus's correction was a wrong reaction - they should have received the correction with an open mind, willing to be corrected, even desirous and appreciative to have their faults corrected. "Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning" (Proverbs 9:8-9). But the Pharisees were not wise. They hated being corrected by Jesus, even though His correction was for their good if they would receive it.
The Pharisees envied Jesus (Matthew 27:17-18, Mark 15:9-10). Envy is a characteristic of human nature, and we must resist the temptation to envy others for the blessings they receive. A lay member of the Church of God should not envy the ministers because they are ordained ministers, and a minister should not envy a member who learns something in the Bible that is true but the minister had not noticed it before. If God chooses to reveal new knowledge through the Bible to a lay member first, and then by that lay member to the ministry in the Church, the ministry should not reject it, out of envy, because God opened the mind of the lay member to this truth before the ministry.
Another reason they rejected Jesus Christ was fear of losing their leading position under the Romans. "Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, 'What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation' " (John 11:47-48). The Pharisees forgot, or did not know (perhaps because, like the Sadducees, they didn't know the scriptures - see Matthew 22:29), that fear of man is a trap (Proverbs 29:25).
They rejected Jesus Christ because Jesus was a perfect reflection of God the Father, and the Pharisees were of their father, the devil (John 15:23-24, John 14:9-11, John 8:44, John 14:30).
They also rejected Jesus because He did not live up to their pre-conceived expectations. Perhaps they expected that the Messiah who would save Israel would come from among themselves, being a priest or a Pharisee.
I often wondered how today's ministry in the Church of God would react to Herbert W. Armstrong if he were among us alive today, not as an apostle, but as a member.
Just about all of the ministry in the Church of God today acknowledges in one form or another the work and contribution of Mr. Armstrong. They have to, because their doctrines are the doctrines God has given the Church through Mr. Armstrong, and these ministers know they would not be here if it were not for the work of Mr. Armstrong.
But if Mr. Armstrong came into the Church of God today, not as Herbert W. Armstrong, not as a minister, but as a young man, a "prospective member" with a different name and a different face, but thinking and behaving as Mr. Armstrong did when he came into the Church of God Seventh Day, how would he be received?
Would he be rejected because he believed the Bible more than the ministry and tradition? If he submitted doctrinal papers to correct the Church on some point of doctrine, would he be rebuked and told, "You need to trust Christ to lead the Church"? Would he be rejected by the Church of God today as the Church of God Seventh Day actually rejected Mr. Armstrong in the 1930s and later? I think that with many Church of God fellowships, I think he would be rejected and disfellowshipped faster than the Church of God Seventh Day rejected him.
Another characteristic of the Pharisees, part of their hypocrisy, was doing things for the sake of appearance, to seem righteous before men, but not in sincerity of heart. "But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi' " (Matthew 23:5-7). "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matthew 23:27-28). "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward" (Matthew 6:1-2). "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward" (Matthew 6:5). "Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward" (Matthew 6:16).
Ministers in the Church of God today can be tempted to try to appear righteous to their members apart from actually being righteous in obedience to God. In their effort to compete with other fellowships for tithe-paying members, either to attract members of other fellowships to come over to them or to retain their own members, they may do or say things to put on a "front" that isn't based on reality or their true intentions. They may try to measure the mood of the membership in order to say what the members want to hear, whether they the ministers really believe it or not.
An example of doing things for appearances might be talking about reconciliation and unity between fellowships while actually behaving in a competitive manner towards other groups. Members need to spot clues if this is the case. A fellowship that says it would like to know how to use the writings of other fellowships without giving attribution to those fellowships may be showing a competitive spirit. (For the record, my book, Preaching the Gospel, is in the public domain, and I do not require attribution or credit from those who wish to use my writings in that book, so I am not referring to my book but to the writings of other Church of God fellowships. A fellowship that wants to ask another fellowship for permission to use its writings should normally not mind giving attribution and credit to that fellowship, if it is really not competitive.)
Likewise, if the ministry of a fellowship does not want to spend money on preaching the gospel to the world but would rather channel all tithes and contributions to their own salaries, yet has members that are desirous of preaching the gospel to the world, that ministry can give the impression and appearance of planning to preach the gospel to the world by setting up a website for that purpose and by soliciting its members for articles for the public.
And that may be a good start. Any fellowship can start a work of preaching the gospel by building such a website. That is especially important for a small group that has neither the money nor the expertise to immediately launch a TV program. But after that must come more.
You can build a great website, but unless you advertise it, few people will read it but your own members. You might get a few people to come to the website through member-level promotion in blogs and forums. That can help. But the numbers will usually be small. To be effective takes money, advertising money for pay-per-click search advertising or other types of advertising.
The real key or test as to whether or not a Church of God organization is serious about preaching the gospel to the world is how they spend the tithes and offerings of the membership. Mr. Armstrong and Dr. Roderick C. Meredith both have spent roughly as much on preaching the gospel as feeding the flock, typically about 40-50% of revenue.
That will be the long-term test. Once a website is built (and it should not take six months or longer to do that), then the test of an organization's true intent becomes the money they are willing to spend to bring readers to the website.
Honest organizations will publish their financials for their membership on a regular basis (at least once a year). These financials can easily show how much is spent on feeding the flock (minister salaries and expenses, hall rentals, and member-oriented websites and publishing), preaching the gospel to the world, sometimes called "public proclamation" (websites for the public, advertising to the public, radio and TV, printed publications for the public, etc.), and overhead. An organization zealous for the gospel might spend 45% on feeding the flock, 45% on preaching the gospel to the public, and 10% on overhead. Even 30% spent on preaching the gospel may be good.
But if an organization spends something like 10% or less on preaching the gospel to the world, or refuses to give figures, that is not a sign of zeal for the gospel.
So published financial statements will tell the story, assuming the organization is truthful about spending, which is likely because there is serious legal risk involved in lying to contributors about where their money is going.
The lessons in the Bible about the Pharisees are for us today. At a time when the Church of God is in the Laodicean era, when the ministry as a whole is scattered and competing with each other rather than cooperating, at a time in human history when evil will wax worse and worse (2 Timothy 3:13), the danger has never been greater that the characteristics and attitudes of the Pharisees can appear in the ministry. This danger is something that both ministers and members need to be aware of and on guard against.