“When you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues, that they may have glory from men.” (Matthew 6:2)
God sees everything we say and do behind closed doors and blesses us in secret. Therefore, Jesus tells us to give secretly if we want to receive a heavenly reward (Matthew 6:3-4). Do we really obey? I admire the work of Samaritan’s Purse, but they often give publicly, trumpted by Fox News. Other Christian charities receive much less news coverage. I wish people wouldn’t pass the plate in church either. It affords too much opportunity for showing off.
“You have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. … ‘In vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:6, 9, cf Isaiah 29:13)
Statements of faith are vital in Christian ministry. We must learn to discern biblical Christianity from cults. Yet many non-Pentecostals create doctrines out of “the commandments of men.” These cessationists think that spiritual gifts – tongues, prophecy, miracles, etc – died with the first-century church. God doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6). Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). People who don’t walk in the Spirit don’t experience these gifts. They’re dead and they want everyone else to be dead too. Truly they’ve made the Word of God “of no effect by [their] tradition.” “Once saved, always saved” has also been codified in some doctrinal statements.
“All their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad.” (Matthew 23:5)
Phylacteries are little boxes filled with Scripture that rabbis strap on their arms and foreheads. This religious practice came from a literal reading of Deuteronomy: “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. … You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (6:6, 8). In Jesus’ day, Pharisees enlarged their boxes so they would be seen as more religious. Today, it’s like bringing a giant Bible to church. [I’m not referring to large-print ones.] This practice misses the point. God wants his Word in our hearts so it will transform how we think, and how we see and approach the world. Our minds and bodies should also follow our hearts in obedience to God, choosing holiness rather than sin.
“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 23:6-7)
In some churches, pastors and select staff sit on the front rows of sanctuaries. I’ve seen others sit on stage with the choir and orchestra, both at Sunday services and at conferences. Many of these people love to be called “Pastor So-and-So” in public places. But we can’t blame only pastors today. Christian concerts and dinner theaters give “regular” people similar privileges. Front-row seats cost $25 and up, while balcony seats cost $10. Aren’t we discriminating against the poor (James 2:2-6)? When did the church decide that she wanted to be rich and famous?
“You shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; you neither go in yourselves nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” (Matthew 23:13)
Every “Christian” individual, church, or organization that refuses to preach an eternal hell or says that homosexuals can be Christians has “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men.” They don’t enter the kingdom themselves through repentance and faith, but they don’t let others in either. All these people are, or have become, “blind leaders of the blind” (Matthew 15:14).
- Ray Boltz, Natalie Grant, Dan Haseltine (Jars of Clay), Jennifer Knapp, Kirk Talley
- Episcopalian, Evangelical Lutheran, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Presbyterian (USA), Seventh-Day Adventist, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, United Methodist
- Liberty University, World Vision
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ The tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ … This man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” (Luke 18:10-14)
Some Christians today brag about visible obedience. They think they’re holy and they want everyone to know it. One pastor I used to follow on WordPress said he tithes half his salary. I don’t remember him talking about God’s blessings, just his righteousness. Yet our righteous acts are like filthy rags in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6). We’re all sinners in need of his mercy. Hadn’t we better pray for it instead?
If “Christians” in today’s modern, Western, and wealthy churches continue to live and act like Pharisees, then the words of Jesus will surely come to pass. “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (Matthew 21:43).