Mar 7:8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men."
Mar 7:9 And he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!
Having been raised in Fundamentalism it is not difficult for me to see a connection between it and Pharisaism. I want to be clear that I am not saying that all Fundamentalist are hypocritical legalists, but the system lends itself to some similarities. Also, some of the things I am going to point out are things that we all must be on guard for because it is easy for any of us to miss the point of biblical principles and go to one extreme or the other.
I remember my pastor of a large Fundamental church saying on more than one occasion that if the world moves away from biblical principles in some way, we Christians must move the other way. So for instance, if the dress hems moved up I guess our women’s dress hems should move down, if the world drinks we must be teetotalers, etc. This preached well in such churches because Fundamentalism tends to over react to the world around them.
And in that we can see a connection to the mindset of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were so concerned that God’s Law not be broken that they went too far the other way and made up laws so that they wouldn’t get near to God’s actual law and then taught that these man-made laws were equally important as God’s laws. Of course, the result was that they became judgmental because they assumed that if you didn’t live like they did you were not as holy as they were; your standards were lower than theirs.
Growing up we would hear a lot about keeping your standards high and your convictions uncompromised; to lower them was to compromise with the world. This is all well and good if your “standards or convictions” were biblical. But if your standards are a result of over-reaction to the standards of the lost then you are in danger of making up things in order to be different from the world in ways that God has not commanded.
In the above illustration, if I am living as best I can based on my understanding of God’s Word and the world moves further away from God’s standards; why do I have to move at all? To move in the opposite direction is to do something similar to what the world has done; it is to do things my way rather than trust that God knows best. If I am living biblically then to move either way is to move away from that which is biblical. So I end up making up my own list of rules in an effort to be holy which is exactly what the Pharisees did.
This results in my becoming “more holy than Jesus”! The principles laid out in the Bible aren’t enough to be a good testimony of the grace of God so I need to develop stricter standards than God thought necessary. And the real problem here is that I then must assume that those who don’t do as I do are sinning and so I can see myself as a “better, more committed” Christian than those compromisers out there. And, again, this is exactly what the Pharisees did.
To be sure the Bible doesn’t give us detailed commands in every area of life. It sets forth principles to guide those that love the Lord and want to honor him in the way they live (which describes every true believer, by the way). So we consider these principles, such as “Do all for the glory of God” and we decide what is wrong for us and right for us in gray areas or subjects that the Bible doesn’t speak to directly. What should happen is that we can agree to disagree with other saints in these gray areas and work and fellowship together in service to the Lord. But when we have a spirit that what I think is right is right for everyone, even in those things that the Bible doesn’t address, then I begin to judge everyone else’s hearts and motives and I become a Pharisee.
One way this is practically important is because if I don’t have this level of maturity it will be impossible for me to fellowship with people who don’t agree with me on secondary and tertiary matters and the church becomes even more splintered than it is anyway. I have yet to be in a church in which someone (usually a husband and father) who assumes he knows it all and so if the church leaders don’t see things his way, it is his responsibility to take himself and his family away from the ministry of God’s Word because evidently only he knows the truth in every matter and so only his views are safe for his family. Evidently the pastor will lead his family into all manner of sin if he lets anyone else but himself lead them.
We all have to decide what is right and wrong for us according to the principles of God’s Word but we can’t make such things into laws that we then expect everyone else to live by. Such legalism only divides and it is making obedience to the Lord more than the Bible teaches; it is being “more godly than Christ” and that, of course, is nonsense.