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Progressive Super Spiritualism
Copyright © 2001, 2002 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

Note: The following article is an extract from a larger work entitled: In Fear of Punishment.

Why Does Everyone Pick On the Pharisees?

Have you ever noticed how Jesus reserved His most abrasive comments and His most strident condemnations for the sect of the Pharisees? And it seems more true than not that even Baptist preachers favor targeting the Pharisees when they need to cite an example of sinfulness.

My own sinful human nature has a tendency to want to defend them. After all, these men did believe in God, their entire lives were centered on that premise. They appeared to be among the most honest men in town, literally the leaders of the community, and the last ones you would expect to find cheating on their spouses.

And yet, why is it that Jesus verbally condemns these men more so than any other group? Compare the stark contrast at how He deals with the unrepentant and sexually adulterous woman at the well with how he treats the Pharisees.

The Woman At the Well

There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink." Ö

Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."

She said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?"

Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life. "

The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw." He said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here."

The woman answered and said, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her," You have well said, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly. " Ö Jesus *said to her, "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father.

The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us."

Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He." (Extracts from John 4)

The Scribes and Pharisees

"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.'

"You fools and blind men; which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, 'Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering upon it, he is obligated.' You blind men, which is more important, the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

"You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? (Extracted from Matthew 23)

Even when we compare how gently Jesus dealt with the chief tax collector in Jericho, namely Zaccheus, it is an amazing contrast to His approach with the Pharisees. He spoke calmly to Zaccheus as did He to the woman at the well. He had a habit of drawing immediate attention to their sins, but He did not label them (as He might well have); for example He could have named them: "adulteress" and "thief". And yet, He yelled at the Pharisees, calling them seemingly horrible names, "vipers", "serpents", "tombs", "fools", "blind men", "sons of hell".

Why did Jesus so angrily condemn these men but not the others? What did the Pharisees do that warranted such extreme rebuke and confrontation beyond what the others did?

We have the partial answer in Matthew 15, from which is extracted the following:

Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from JerusalemÖ"You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, ĎThis people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Meí. ĎBut in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.' Öthey are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit."

Instead of teaching the pure Word of God, the actual laws of God, the Pharisees and scribes replaced them with their own interpretations of the laws. God calls these false doctrines the "precepts of men".

And again in Mark 7:5-9 we find:

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?" And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ĎThis people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.' Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men."

He was also saying to them, "You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition."

When we favor "tradition" or the "precepts of men" over the actual "commandments of God", then we are very guilty in Godís eyes. Guilty of making men who we disciple and teach into "sons of hell".

Man-made doctrines (precepts of men) always sound very spiritual. But in reality they are evil because they replace Godís word, which is the truth, the only truth. Teaching our man-made "false doctrines" is bad enough. But the Pharisees also began to judge how spiritual someone appeared to be by how well they kept the false doctrines. Eventually, just following the false doctrines became more important than following Godís doctrines because that was how you would be judged, and you knew it.

The Pharisees virtually invented new false scriptures and implicitly added them to their lists of sacred texts. This is something that God warned the Hebrew nation not to do from ages past.

"Do not add to His words Lest He reprove you, and you be proved a liar." Proverbs 30:6

"And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, in order that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you." Deut.4:1,2

Perhaps the most frightening warning against replacing manís rules over Godís laws is found in the Book of Revelation.

"I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book." Rev.22:18,19

The one who replaces Godís commands with his own preferences should shudder in the utmost fear of punishment, for he has sinned against Godís precious and jealously protected word.


What Are the "Precepts of Men" Today?

It is common knowledge that the way the Pharisees replaced Godís commands with their own was by the process of what I will call "progressive super-spiritualism". It works like this:

  1. Pick a genuine command of God. Letís use, "do not work on the Sabbath".
  2. Ask yourself, "what is work?" Answer yourself, "work for me is driving a car since I am a professional chauffeur."
  3. Establish a rule for yourself that you will not drive on the Sabbath because that is work. You are a spiritual man, so you will not work on the Sabbath.
  4. This is the tricky part. Say to yourself, "if driving on the Sabbath is work, and we cannot work on the Sabbath, then anyone who drives on the Sabbath is sinning and is not spiritual."
  5. Tell everyone you know that driving on the Sabbath is a sin.
  6. Begin condemning and judging as being "unspiritual" all who drive on the Sabbath.

Even before you know it, you have created a false doctrine, a precept of man, using "progressive super-spiritualism". The Pharisees actually had a huge number of such false doctrines.

Today we are no better. We flagrantly create new false doctrines all the time. For example, we know that the scriptures command us to know and understand the Word of God, hiding it in our hearts, constantly meditating on it, and teaching it to our children during the quiet moments of the day. How do you accomplish this? For me, one or two nights a week I like to study specific doctrines and issues at my desk in excruciating detail, using the computer facilities I have available along with Greek and Hebrew dictionaries. During the days, with every like-minded person I can find (my children included), I will chat about those biblical truths I am studying, trying to find the flaws in my thinking so that I may practice and teach those same truths (I really do love doing this).

Other Christians may use an entirely different approach. For them, if they have not read a certain quantity of passages or meditated on a passage for a certain number of minutes, they do not feel they have truly hidden the word in their hearts. God gives us the liberty to use whatever method is most productive for us. He does not dictate anywhere in the Bible how many minutes we must read, or on which days we must study, or even at what hours of the day we must do so.

For some people, however, the temptation to give in to "progressive super-spiritualism" is overwhelming in the matter of how to "hide the word in you heart". Their thinking goes something like this:

  1. I must hide the word in my heart.
  2. I will consider "hiding the word in my heart" to mean "read the Bible every day".
  3. I am a spiritual man so I will make it a rule for me to "read the Bible for 15 minutes every day".
  4. Everyone who is spiritual reads their Bible for 15 minutes every day, and it would be a sin for me if I did not read it at least that much.
  5. Tell everyone at Bible study that it is a sin not to read the Bible for at least 15 minutes every day.
  6. I will begin to confront and rebuke every husband who does not read their Bible at least 15 minutes every day because they are unspiritual and poor leaders of their households.

From a good intention of wanting to follow genuine biblical commands, we can progress into evil judges over others, and even convince them the precepts we invented (our original "good idea") give us superior spirituality. This then is the birthplace of "legalism".


Legalism is the supplanting of Godís "laws" with our own "more precise" and narrowly defined "laws" that are always far more restrictive than those of God. Legalism requires men to virtually "add words to" and "subtract words from" the commands given in the Bible. A practitioner of legalism always feels that the man-made laws lift them to higher planes of spiritual conduct. This inevitably leads to legalists acting as judges over others, because, after all, they are on a higher spiritual plane.

Take a legitimate law of God, for example this paraphrase from 1Timothy 3, "deacons must not be addicted to much wine". Use your imagination and justify why deacons should not drink any wine, and now you have a new law: "deacons must not drink wine". Now say to yourself, "If our deacons do not drink, they certainly will never become addicted! This is far more spiritual a stand than those other churches who allow their deacons to drink. We obviously have a more spiritual church." Or, maybe not.

The scribes and Pharisees were legalists. They espoused their own restrictive man-made laws over the more merciful laws of God. They then became the judges of others to ensure everyone conducted themselves according to their man-made standards. God was extremely angry at them for this practice, as is evident from the names He called them ("vipers", "serpents", "tombs", "fools", "blind men", "sons of hell").


We commit grievous sins against God and men when we begin to accuse others of being sinners simply because they do not conform to our man-made laws (Cols.2:16,20-23). Never attempt to begin a Matthew 18 confrontation with a brother or sister in Christ if you are judging his spirituality by using your own man-made standards of conduct. Violation of a "precept of men" is not a sin at all. Guard yourself from making false accusations. Do not become a false witness or an evil judge against your brother.

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