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What Luther Says

The Heavy Heart of A So-Called 'Confessional Pharisee'

I'm going to borrow heavily from a classic piece from another Christian blog, but revise it a bit to fit a Lutheran perspective.

Before I do that, however, a quick question to help set the tone.

Am I "A Lone Voice of Truth In The Wilderness" or a "Confessional Pharisee" like some have accused me of being?

This is the question I've been asking myself within the last 24-48 hours after a series of stunning discoveries involving my local church as well as some involving a few friends who are near and dear to me.

On one hand, the new creation that I am in Christ is rejoicing over the many things the Lord has put me through (is putting me through), because I know it's His will and I know for certain that it's all an answer to my prayers to make me more like His Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28-29; 1 Thessalonians 4:3).

On the other hand, the Old Adam in me is despondent over the "uncomfortable" and "unfair" position I'm in with my friends, and quite possibly, with my family (depending on how things play out from here). I believe it was either Martin Luther or Karl Barth who was reputed to have said, "I tried to drown the Old Adam in the waters of baptism, but the miserable wretch can swim!"

Despite that dichotomy between the "good" and the "bad" that you'd expect, this constant struggle within has made my heart is heavy over the thought that His Church is under attack from within at the local church I attend and that there are those I know who loudly proclaim His holy name although they're actually perverting it.

In the span of approximately 3 months, I've been refined through various afflictions and burdened with a broken heart and a convicted conscience due to the knowledge of certain truths involving those I love.

See, I believe in using the written Word of God as the firm foundation for everything I believe about God and how one is to honor and worship Him. When confronted with certain errors and outright lies, I tend to take the road less traveled with my family members, friends, and strangers alike and that means I will always strive to speak "the truth in love" in such cases in pursuit of unity in faith and not just unity in love (Ephesians 4). For that, I have been accused of being a "judgmental," "pious," "self-righteous "Pharisee" (a "Confessional Pharisee") by those who would rather lead the Body of Christ away from the clear teachings of Scripture, and into areas which are questionable (at best) and/or heretical (at worst).

Here are my questions: What exactly does it mean to be a "Pharisee" anyway? Am I justly accused of being a Pharisee by the Liberal/Seeker-Driven/Purpose-Driven/"Let’s All Just Get Along In Unity" church-goer who does not dare speak for fear that it may offend someone? Or is there a more accurate description of a Pharisee that will help us arrive at the real truth of the matter?

Those are some important questions. Let us examine the issue closely and quickly.

The Pharisees were outraged at being called sinners.

Evidence: Luke 18:9-12 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: "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.'"

Implication: If you deny that you are a sinner, and you think that your "good works" are enough to make you righteous in God’s eyes -- YOU ARE A PHARISEE!

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.

The Pharisees placed man-made traditions, rabbinical writings, and extra-Biblical oral teachings (e.g., the Mishnah) at the level of (and often times above) the importance of God’s written Word.

Evidence: Matthew 15:1-9 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.'"

Implication: If you give equal or greater value to man-made oral traditions, extra-Biblical writings, and other sources as you do to the Bible -- YOU ARE A PHARISEE!

2 Timothy 3:15 From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

The Pharisees taught that good health and material abundance indicated God’s blessing on that person, and that the rich were more likely to go to Heaven than the poor. On the other hand, illness and poverty were signs that the person was under God’s curse.

Evidence: Luke 18:18-26 Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother.'" And he said, "All these things I have kept from my youth." So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." And those who heard it said, "Who then can be saved?"

John 9:1-2 Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Matthew 23:13-15 "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."

Implication: If you teach that health, wealth, and prosperity are given to all who follow Christ, and you walk around in fancy clothes while living off of the last crumbs of the poor, and teach that if people are sick or poor because they are under some kind of curse, and you travel all around the world spreading these cancerous teachings, leading millions into Hell because of your blasphemous beliefs -- YOU ARE A PHARISEE!

John 16:33 "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

The Pharisees denied the Deity of Christ.

Evidence: John 8:58-59 Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM." Then they took up stones to throw at Him…

John 10:30-33 "I and My Father are one." Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, "Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?" The Jews answered Him, saying, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God."

Implication: If you deny the Deity of Christ -- YOU ARE A PHARISEE!

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

The Pharisees taught that a person was saved by keeping the Law of Moses.

Evidence: John 5:39-45 "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life…Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust."

John 9:16 Therefore some of the Pharisees said, "This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath."

Acts 15:5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses."

Implication: If you believe that a person is made righteous by keeping, on their own, every jot and tittle of the Law of Moses -- YOU ARE A PHARISEE!

Galatians 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

The Pharisees demanded that Jesus give them "signs and wonders" to prove that He was Messiah

Evidence: Matthew 12:38-40 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You." But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

Matthew 16:1-4 Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, "When it is evening you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red'; and in the morning, 'It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah." And He left them and departed.

Implication: If you need signs and wonders to believe that Jesus is Messiah -- YOU ARE A PHARISEE!

Matthew 24:43-44 "But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."

My dear friends, that is the truth of the matter straight from the Word of God.

Shall we render a verdict?

The Bible tells us quite clearly that the Pharisees taught the following:

*- They denied that they were sinners by birth
------------> I believe that I am a sinner by birth

*- They placed man-made traditions, extra-Biblical writings, and oral traditions above the written Word of God
------------> an idea I do not believe or teach

*- They believed that health, wealth, and prosperity indicated God’s blessing on a person, and that the rich were more likely to go to Heaven. They also taught that illness and poverty were signs that the person was under God’s curse.
------------> ideas I do not believe or teach

*- They denied the Deity of Christ
------------> I, in fact, affirm the Deity of Christ

*- They taught that one earned salvation by works
------------> an idea I do not believe or teach

*- They needed "signs and wonders" in order to believe that Christ was the Son of God ------------> an idea I do not believe or teach

Hmmm.....So, how is it that I am a "Pharisee" if I don’t believe or teach anything that the Pharisees believed or taught? Ironically, it seems like the ones who are calling me a "Pharisee" are, in fact, Pharisees themselves.

The true Pharisees, of course, cannot comprehend what was just brought forth from the Word of God in the above referenced passages (1 John 4; 1 Timothy 4).

As with those who charge, "Judge not!" all the time while knowing nothing of the context of what they quote, if my merely quoting the Bible word-for-word (and quoting Jesus Himself) is akin to "being judgmental" and "unloving" to others than so be it. Their accusations are baseless.

Besides, I'd rather a family member or friend hate me for speaking the truth out of great compassion and concern for the salvation of their soul than to remain silent when certain topics come up in conversation or I'm asked to weigh in on things from a Christian perspective.

I love my Lord and Savior too much to act like I don't know Him at all when push comes to shove. What can I do except rest in Him and plant my feet firmly upon His Word?

Galatians 1:9-10 (ESV) 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Simply put, what does a young Confessional Lutheran like me do (one who has also only recently re-discovered Lutheran doctrine too) when he comes face-to-face with the reality that those who claim to be "Confessional" let alone "Lutheran" are merely giving lip service to such pronouncements?

What does a young Christian like me do when he comes face-to-face with the reality that those who claim to be fellow Christians themselves have several doubts about the truthfulness of the Bible and the deity of Christ?

That's easy. What he doesn't do is bite his tongue or look the other way to preserve the status quo in a relationship. I believe there are many verses in Scripture that make that quite clear (Romans 1:16; 1 Peter 4:16; Luke 9:25-26 and Mark 8:37-38).

No offense to my present company, but oh how I crave genuine flesh-and-blood fellowship with others who share my fidelity to the Lord and His Word! Such a sad turn of events and I pray that the Lord will open their hearts, minds, eyes, and ears to the truth sooner rather than later.

Whatever happened to contending for "for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3) or not yielding "in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you" (Galatians 2:4-5)?

Nowadays, "Thou Shall Not Offend" has become the 11th Commandment and those who stand up in church and/or approach another believer privately to discuss certain concerns one-on-one are called "divisive" and "judgmental" and treated as though they are modern-day Pharisees.

After all, "Who are you to question another person's faith!?!" they say. Well. if you must know, I am no one. I'm only a wretched sinner saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone and He expects me to judge, but to judge righteously.

I'll cut to the chase. I found this on the LCMS "Groups Ablaze!" portion of their website...

Did you know...

*- The United States makes up the 3rd largest mission field in the world

*- Only 18 percent of the U.S. population goes to church in a given week

*- The average church size is 75 in worship

*- 90 percent of churches are declining or on a plateau in worship attendance

*- 50 congregations in the United States close every week

*- Many congregations are faced with declining membership and resources for a variety of reasons. When this happens, the natural tendency is to focus on survival issues, and the Great Commission suffers.


All of those facts merely underscore what we already knew from the Bible.

John 6:44 (ESV) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

1 Corinthians 11:18-19 (ESV) 18
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.

1 John 2:18-19 (ESV) 18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

Folks, I can assure you that I'm not one to go looking for a debate. I really don't.

Contrary to what I've shared in this forum in recent weeks (particularly those challenges and spiritual struggles with others within my own local church), my life is not characterized by constantly looking at other people's lives just waiting for an opportunity to pounce on them and point out the inconsistencies with the faith that they proclaim to possess.

I know who I am (Romans 7:24; Philippians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 13:5). Unfortunately, I learning that many people who I thought were brothers and sisters in Christ actually don't know who they are in Christ, or what it means to be a Christian. They think that as long as they love people and do good works, then that's all that matters. "Who cares about doctrine?" they often say. Well, um, Jesus does.

I guess I just can't get over how easily and quickly "Christians" can abandon the fundamentals for other things they've set their hearts and minds upon in this world all while doing it "In Jesus' Name!" they'll say too.

Matthew 7:15-29 (ESV) 15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. 21 Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' 23 And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.' 24 Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it." 28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

How can I not recall this sobering passage in light of recent events?

First, it was a close friend and leader of both our church's Family Ministry and Small Groups Ministry deciding to use Francis Chan's CRAZY LOVE book for a church-wide study. He pressed forward even though he agreed with me (after meeting with me for a total of 9 hours over the course of 3 separate one-on-one meetings) that the book is dangerously un-Biblical and irresponsible in several areas to the point where he actually decided to rip out several pages from each book before distributing them to each person.

Next, it was the issue of the existence, role, and use and "Lay Deacons" within our church and during the Divine Service. Despite my heartfelt concerns as they relate to God's Word and our own Confessions of faith, the response has been mixed or non-existent when you consider the Interim Pastor's official response in which he asserted his belief that I am misinterpreting things.

Now, I found out last night during a casual conversation with another friend from church that he is an Agnostic! This is a man who attends our church weekly with his family, who sent his two girls to a private Christian school, and who even works at the private Christian school where my wife works and where my children attend.

He's agnostic because he doesn't believe the Bible is the Word of God and, therefore, doesn't trust it at all. Although he will quote Jesus from time to time since "Those are the only words that matter in that book..." even then he's inconsistent though because he prefers to pick-and-choose the parts he likes while ignoring the parts he doesn't like.

Oh yeah, and forget about that whole "God Created The Universe In 6 Days" stuff! He believes that Science and Evolution explains all of that quite nicely and we should just ignore the entire Old Testament anyway.

There's also no such place as Hell and everyone will get a "second chance" to "choose Jesus" after they die (especially Muslims). Who knew that our commentary on Liberal Christianity a few weeks ago would feature prominently in my own personal life just a few weeks after it was published?

My dear friends, my jaw hit the floor immediately, and for the first 5 minutes of our conversation I thought for sure he was twisting my arm. I mean, that's how out-of-left-field this revelation from him was.

So, ever since, I've been sitting here dumbfounded trying to figure out how and why I never knew this about him all this time. Again, we've been friends for awhile now, our families attend church each week, and I even started playing basketball with him and his buddies a few weeks ago.

I'm truly concerned about his soul, but when I asked him if we can get together sometime over a cup of coffee or lunch he quickly retorted, "No thanks! I don't need you to save my soul. I used to be like you, but now I know the truth." I said that's good since it's not up to me to save his soul and that only God can do that anyway. I pressed to makes plans. He resisted. I've done all I can for now so I will resort to prayer.

Though I continue to be completely blindsided and shocked by some close friends -- from church -- who have revealed little by little just what it is that they truly believe and don't believe when it comes to our cherished faith, I will gladly continue to serve Him faithfully in this role knowing what He promises in Isaiah 55:11, Romans 10:14-17, and 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.

Please pray for my friends. Please pray for my church. Please pray for me and that I would honor the Lord by being a faithful witness by merely confessing the truth whenever put in a position to do so.

I may not like being A Lone Voice In The Wilderness at times (it does get rather lonely out here), but I trust His will for my life, and I trust what Romans 8:28-29 tells me.

Thank God that I don't have to go through any of this without Him (Philippians 4:10-20)!

In a Lutheran Layman's terms, Pharisees divided FROM Biblical truth, while we so-called "Confessional Pharisees" divide from error TO Biblical truth. That’s a huge difference.

Pharisees used themselves as the standard of who's "in" or "out," ignoring Scripture; we use Scripture to determine who is of God and who is not (Mark 8:15; Matthew 16:12; Galatians 5:9).

[NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with Lutheran doctrine -- in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word -- so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Thank you in advance for your time and help. Grace and peace to you and yours!]


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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