In the book, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, 79, Ellen White writes that the attitude and philosophy of the Pharisees is the attitude of human nature.
“The principles cherished by the Pharisees are such as are characteristic of humanity in all ages. The spirit of Pharisaism is the spirit of human nature.”
Pharisaism is something that is almost universal in the religious world, so please do not think that we are trying to point a finger at this church or that church. It exists throughout historic Adventism. It exists throughout conference Adventism. It exists throughout the Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, and the Baptist Church. It exists all over the world.
Even though it is almost universal, God has decided to remove this Pharisaism from the church. He removed it when He first came to this earth, and when He was finished, Ellen White states that there were only 11 men and a few women left in the church. (See Testimonies, vol. 5, 130.) So this is an alarming topic to study.
I have offered many prayers that our church would not be engulfed, swamped, flooded, taken over, and controlled by the spirit of Pharisaism. I consider this to be one of our greatest dangers. I would rather be in a church of 6 people empty of Pharisaism than a church of 600 people full of Pharisaism. It is dangerous, because it is so subtle. It is much subtler than Sadduceeism. It is one of the reasons for the splits that we see, both in conference churches and in historic Adventist churches, all over the world. It is rife in historic Adventism, as it was in the day of Christ. People can see that something is wrong, but they cannot figure out what it is, because it is so subtle that their minds cannot grasp it.
Jesus, speaking in the Sermon on the Mount, made the following statement that left the people in a state of shock: “For I say to you, That except your righteousness shall exceed [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20.
Are there going to be any Pharisees in heaven? No! I want you to understand how serious this subject is. No Pharisees will be allowed into the kingdom of heaven. Not one! God will not allow it! Why? Because they do not have enough righteousness.
The people could not understand this. The Pharisees were the most righteous people in the church. If they could not go to heaven, who could?
Many home churches have been established as protest against Sadduceeism. Many historic Adventist leaders have spent the last few decades protesting Sadduceeism in Adventism. We have no argument with these people. But remember, friends, in the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy, the Holy Spirit spends at least ten times more time dealing with Pharisaism than with Sadduceeism.
We have no argument with those Seventh-day Adventist leaders who are writing books, publishing magazines, and sending tapes all over the world, protesting Sadduceeism in the church. But friends, if we concentrate on that and miss the big point, we are in trouble! The big point is not Sadduceeism. That is a huge problem, but it is not the biggest problem.
The really big problem is that Pharisaism is endemic in the home church movement, in the denomination, in other Protestant churches, and in the Catholic Church—it is all over Christendom.
At times, when I hear some of the sermons and tapes and read the books against Sadduceeism, I recall that, in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were against the Sadducees, too. But you know, you can spend your whole life proving that the Sadducees are wrong, and still be lost. Thousands of people did it in Jesus’ day. Jesus and the apostles identified where the really big problem was—and it was not with the Sadducees! The big problem was with the Pharisees.
We read, in Matthew 5:20, why the Pharisees were not going to the kingdom of heaven—because their righteousness was not enough! How could that be? They were the most particular people. Because, friend, they did not understand righteousness by faith. They had no conception of it. Paul spoke of it. He said that they go about to establish their own righteousness. (Romans 10:3.)
Nicodemus was a Pharisee. Remember that? And when Jesus told him that he would have to be born again if he was going to be saved, he was in a state of shock. In fact, he was so upset that he became sarcastic with Jesus about it. (See John 3:4.) Jesus did not back down. He just said the same thing again, only stronger. (See verse 5.) Why was Nicodemus in such a state of shock when Jesus told him that he must be born again? To understand why Nicodemus was in such a state of shock, we need to understand what the Pharisees believed.
Connection with Israel
“The Jews based their hope of salvation on the fact of their connection with Israel.” The Desire of Ages, 675. This is a major point in connection with Pharisaism, and is actually one of the few beliefs shared by the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Although they both believed it, the Pharisees enforced it.
Nicodemus, we are told in John 3, was a leader of the Jews. In their church organization, He was the equivalent of a leader in the General Conference. Was Nicodemus connected with Israel? He was not only connected with Israel, but he was one of their leaders. If anyone was going to be saved, it should be he.
Did you know that that principle teaching of Pharisaism is still in existence today? In my own observations—and these are just my own observations—the two churches which are more steeped in this Pharisaic teaching than any other churches in the world are the Roman Catholic Church and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I am not saying that there are no others, but these two denominations are more steeped in this Pharisaism than any others I have seen.
The Roman Catholic Church is steeped in Pharisaical teaching. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, the pope stated in a papal bull that, to guarantee salvation, it was necessary to believe that you must belong to the Roman Church. They have never retracted this edict. I am not speaking inadvisably, friends. I have a 1994 Roman Catholic Catechism in my office with the signature of Pope John Paul 11 on it.
The other church that is steeped in this teaching is the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Let me read the quote again: “The Jews based their hope of salvation on the fact of their connection with Israel.” If you believe that you are going to be saved because of your connection with Israel, what is going to happen to you if you lose the connection? You will be lost.
That is why, during the Dark Ages, the Roman Catholic Church could put a city under what they called interdict. They would say, “We have the power of the keys. We have cut you off from the kingdom of heaven.” When a city was under interdict, they would not even perform a marriage inside the church, and they did not recognize the marriages performed outside the church as valid. If you wanted to get married lawfully, you had to go to a city that was not under interdict.
Not only that, but when people died, their funerals could not be conducted in the church; they said that no one was going to heaven because only the church had the keys. They could not even bury the dead in the churchyard. People became terrified. We would not believe anything like that, would we?
I remember when I was disfellowshipped from the Seventh-day Adventist Church for ordaining people. The church told me that I could not ordain people without going through it. That is what the Pharisees believed. They said that your salvation is based on your connection with Israel, and we are Israel, and everything the Lord is going to do in the world is going to come through us. The church said that I was ordaining people without going through them and baptizing people without going through them and organizing churches without going through them and preaching that they are in apostasy, so they disfellowshipped me. And I said, “Yes, all those things are true,” and I still stand on those things.
Do you believe that people should not be able to go to church unless they secure permission? And do you believe that people should not be able to be ordained or baptized unless they secure permission? “The Jews based their hope of salvation on the fact of their connection with Israel.”
One of the main problems with Pharisaism is that it is almost the truth. That is why it is so deceptive. It is almost the truth. In fact, it could be the truth, if you understand it in the right context.
How is a person saved? Are you saved because you say that you believe these doctrines, so now you are going to be baptized, and thereby you are connected with the church? Is that what makes you saved? The fact that you are baptized does not guarantee that you will be in the kingdom of heaven, because a church cannot save you. You see, that is sectarianism. And the two churches I know of that are the most sectarian today are the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
This spirit of Pharisaism was so rife in Jesus’ day that it permeated all of the disciples. That was their major problem, as you will find in reading the Gospels. The whole time Jesus was here they were permeated with Pharisaism and did not know what was going on. The Pharisees were sectarian, so the disciples were sectarian, too.
We read, in Mark 9:38–40: “John gave answer to him, and said, Teacher, we saw a certain person casting out demons in your name, and we forbid him, because he did not follow us. And Jesus said, Do not forbid him, for there is no one who does a miracle—or a work—in my name, and then is able soon to speak evil of me. For whosoever is not against us is on our part.”
Do you comprehend what Jesus is saying here? Let us think this through. Was this church apostolic? If there ever was an apostolic church, this was it! This church was composed of Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles. John was a member of the apostolic church; he was one of the apostles, and he saw someone performing miracles but not fol-lowing or being a part of the church organization of the 12 apostles. So he brought a curse on him and told him to stop, because he was not doing it through the apostolic church. That was sectarianism. Did Jesus agree with them? No, Jesus rebuked them for their sectarianism. He said, “Whoever is not against Me is for Me. He is doing it in My name, do not forbid him.”
Sectarianism has been a curse of the church in all ages. It is one of the first and principal identifying marks of Pharisaism.
Pharisaism Brings Division
The apostolic church had this problem. The first three chapters of 1 Corinthians disclose the fact that they were having divisions in the church. Pharisaism always brings divisions in the church. It brings church splits and all kinds of problems.
Within the Corinthian church, there were some people who said they believed the gospel the way Paul taught it. There were other people who said they believed it the way Apollos taught it. And there were other people saying they believed it the way Peter taught it. They had three splits in the church!
Paul talks about this. One person says, I am of Paul; one says, I am of Apollos, and one says, I am of Cephas, that is, Peter. (1 Corin-thians 1:12.) Since Paul is writing, would you not expect him to set everyone straight and show him or her that he is the one who is right? He rebuked them. He asked, “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you?” Verse 13. He told them that when they were acting this way and had all of this strife among them, it proved they were not converted. They were still carnal. (1 Corinthians 3:4.)
Jesus rebuked sectarianism to His disciples. The apostle Paul rebuked sectarianism to the Corinthian church. Sectarianism is always a result of Pharisaism. Wherever you see people thinking in a sectarian way, you can be absolutely sure that there is Pharisaism at work, because it is one of the identifying marks.
What did Jesus teach concerning this? How is a person saved? The Jews said that they “based their hope of salvation on the fact of their connection with Israel,” and if you were cut off from Israel, you were lost. That is why, when the Jews came to the parents of the blind man whom Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, and asked, “Is this your son who was born blind? How does he now see?” they said, “This is our son, and we know that he was born blind, but how he sees now, we do not know, and who healed him and gave him sight, we do not know.” (John 9:19–21.) That was an absolute falsehood. That was not a white lie. That was a black lie. That was breaking the Ten Commandments.
They were willing to break the Ten Commandments in order to not be disfellowshipped from the church! Why were they willing to break the Ten Commandments to stay in the church? Because they had been taught that if someone was cut off from the church, they would lose eternal life. But the fact of the matter was that they were going to lose eternal life for breaking the Law of God. That is what Pharisaism does.
When you believe Pharisaic theology, the very thing that you believe is going to ensure your salvation actually ensures your damnation. Is that not demonic? So what did Jesus teach concerning this?
Now the Jews taught that their hope of salvation was based on the fact of their connection with Israel. Isaiah said that Israel is a vine that the Lord planted, and one must be connected with this vine to be saved. (See Isaiah 5.) So Jesus decided, the night He was betrayed, to correct His disciples’ thinking on this point. They had believed and had been taught by the Pharisees their whole lives, that Israel was the vine. Now notice what Jesus says about this. “I myself am the true vine.” John 15:1. (See also The Desire of Ages, 675.)
I have often wondered if those few words did not hit them, as we would say, like a ton of bricks. It was totally contrary to what they had been taught their whole lives. The prophet had taught that Israel was the vine, but Israel was only the vine if it was connected. We are only part of the vine, if we are connected. So, if Jesus is the true vine, to what do we need to be sure we are connected?
The Pharisees taught that if you were connected to the church, you were saved. That is what the Catholics teach. That is what the Seventh-day Adventists teach. If you are connected to the church, you are going to be saved. If you are not connected to the church, you are going to be lost.
What did Jesus say? “I myself am the true vine.” So, if the church is likened to a vineyard, how does one become connected to the vine?
The Pharisees will say that you have to profess faith in the doctrines, become baptized, and then your name is written down on the church books. They vote you into membership, and then you are connected. Remember, the problem with Pharisaic theology is that it is almost right, but there is always a fatal flaw in it.
The following statement from the Spirit of Prophecy will show you what the fatal flaw is. “There are two kinds of connection between the branches and the vine stock.” The Signs of the Times, July 27, 1888. How many kinds of connection are there between the branches and the vine stock? There are two kinds.
“One is visible, but superficial.” Ibid. You can see it. When you declare that you believe the doctrines, you become baptized, and the church votes you into fellowship, you then have a visible connection with the vine stock. That is an outward connection. It is a visible connection, but that connection, by itself, will not get you into the kingdom of heaven.
“One is visible, but superficial. The other is invisible and vital.” Ibid. If you have ever raised grapes, you know there is an inward connection, and an outward connection and if the inward connection is not complete, the branch dies. Then, when you prune the plant, you cut off that dead branch. That is what Jesus talks about in John 15:6. Eventually, the branches that have only the outward connection are going to get pruned. You cannot see it, but inside there is a vital connection, and the sap from the vine runs into the branch, clear to the outermost twig. That is the really important connection.
Notice how Ellen White explains this: “There is an apparent union, a membership with the church, and a profession of religion, which, though in itself good, is too often unaccompanied by saving faith in Jesus or living obedience to the commandments of God. The branches that are connected with Christ, the living vine, will make it manifest by bearing much fruit in good works to the glory of God. But the branches which have nothing but an apparent union, will be fruitless. As the branch cannot possibly bring forth fruit without a vital connection with the parent stock, so the Christian can be fruitful in good works only as union with Christ is made and preserved. The ruin of those who are not connected with Christ, is as complete as though they had no name to live; for they are dead. Christ compares them to lifeless branches that are gathered and burned in the fire.” Ibid. “Every branch in me that bears not fruit he takes it away: and every branch that bears fruit, he purges [prunes] it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” John 15:2.
Who to Believe
Jesus said, “I am the Vine.” The Pharisees said, “Israel is the vine.” Do you want to have eternal life? If so, you have to be connected to Jesus. We are not criticizing Israel. We just want to recognize who the vine really is. If you want to have eternal life, Jesus said, you have to be connected to Me. Another time, He said, ”No one”—how many is no one?—“comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6.) Do you want to be saved? Do you want to go to heaven? Do you want to have eternal life? There is only one way. You are only saved because you are connected to the true Vine, Jesus Christ.
There were people in the apostolic church who ended up losing eternal life. Yes, there were, because the New Testament mentions several by name. You can read through the New Testament and find the names of several people who had been members of the apostolic church, but they still lost eternal life even though the human leaders of their church were the 12 apostles. You see, being connected with the church will not save you—you must be connected with Jesus.
I am so glad that Peter finally figured that out, because when he got it figured out, he shared it. Peter did not teach the people that they were going to be saved because they became members of the apostolic church. He did not teach that, and neither did the other apostles. The people who were being saved joined the church, but notice what Peter said in Acts 4:12: “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which it is necessary for us to be saved.”
Ephesians 1:22, 23 and Colossians 1:18 identify Christ as the head of the church. The church is likened, in the New Testament, not only to a vine, but also to the body of Christ. (See 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:12.) Now, if Jesus is the Head of the church, it just follows that if you are going to be part of the church, you have to be connected to Him. Does that make sense? And if you are not really connected to Jesus, you are not really part of the church.
Profession or Reality
When we began preaching these things about 12 years ago, the Pharisees in the church went ballistic. The Pharisees in the church cannot figure out the difference between profession and reality. The Spirit of Prophecy teaches very clearly that there is a difference between the professed church and the true church. Ellen White draws a line so clear that I cannot comprehend how anyone can miss it. But if you are a Pharisee, you can miss it, because Pharisees have a different idea in regard to the church. They believe that if you are connected with the church, you are going to be saved, and if you lose that connection, you are going to be lost.
In 1993, a person wrote to me expressing great sorrow for my disfellowshipping—since I was not part of the church anymore. And I said, “What? I am not part of the church anymore? When did I decide not to keep the commandments of God? Ellen White says that the church is the people who love God and keep the commandments. When did I decide to turn my back on the Lord?” I am a sinner, but friends, I have not turned my back on the Lord. I am still part of His church.
If Jesus is the Head of the church, then to be part of the church, really—not just by profession—you have to be connected with Him. Ephesians 5:30–32 says, “Because we [the church members] are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones, on account of this, a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave [stick] to his wife, and they shall be the two unto one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I am speaking about Christ and the church.” You see, if you are really going to be part of the church, you have to be a member of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.
The Pharisees said that they were connected with God. We cannot contradict them; they had the outward connection. But, having an outward connection with the church will not save your soul. If you do not have the inward connection with Jesus—if you are not part of His body, if you are not bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh, if you are not really connected with Christ—you are not really part of Him. You only have the outward connection, and the Lord says that you will be cut away.
I am not concerned that I have been told by certain groups of people that I could no longer be part of their church and that I would be disfellowshipped and defrocked. I am not concerned about that. But I do not want the Lord to come and say to me that because I have only the outward connection, I am not truly connected, so I must be severed from Jesus. This is something about which I pray. It can happen to preachers; it can happen to deacons; it can happen to anybody; and when it happens, you are no better than is any other Pharisee in the world. You are still connected outwardly, but the inward connection is gone.
Do you want to be vitally connected to Jesus Christ? Do you want your life to be connected with Jesus Christ so that you are bone of His bones, flesh of His flesh, a member of His body? Do you want the inward connection? Ask the Lord in prayer for that vital, inward connection. He will give it to you.
[Bible texts quoted are literal translation.]