“We want to understand the time in which we live. We do not half understand it. We do not half take it in. My heart trembles in me when I think of what a foe we have to meet and how poorly we are prepared to meet him. The trials of the children of Israel, and their attitude just before the first coming of Christ, have been presented before me again and again to illustrate the position of the people of God in their experience before the Second Coming of Christ—how the enemy sought every occasion to take control of the minds of the Jews, and today he is seeking to blind the minds of God’s servants.” Selected Messages, vol. 1, 406.
As we analyze this statement, it becomes apparent that we could learn a great deal by studying the experiences of the Jews at the time of the First Advent. This is a type of what we are going to go through just before the Second Advent. There was a very powerful group of leaders among the Jewish people of that time. They were wealthy, highly educated and their counsel was accepted as the voice of God. These men claimed to be the thought leaders of the people of God and they had control of their church organization. They did not believe all of the inspired writings, but they claimed that they believed the most important parts. In other words, they had no confidence in the Spirit of Prophecy. Ellen White said that they were skeptics, materialists. But, despite all this, they were in control of the professed church, in Jesus’ day.
They did not believe the historic message that God had given to the children of Israel. These Sadducees were even guilty of removing some of the primary landmarks that God had given to His people, some of the peculiar truths, which had made them different from the world. Educated in Greek schools, such as the one in Alexandria, Egypt, they adopted many worldly philosophies. Today, we would call them “liberal Adventists.” (And yes, they were “Adventists,” because they were looking forward to the First Advent of Christ. They were even Seventh-day Adventists because they kept the Sabbath.) Under the control of Satan’s delusive power, they had left the historic doctrines that God had given to His people, and the majority of the people went along with them. If you had been a self-supporting worker, such as John the Baptist, you might have thought that this group was one of the most dangerous developments among God’s people. They held a lot of influence among the leadership in Jerusalem, and they even had connections with the Romans.
Many people, today, think that those who have removed the doctrines concerning the sanctuary, the investigative judgment, the necessity of overcoming sin, the divine authority of the Spirit of Prophecy and other landmark Adventist doctrines are the greatest danger to the truth. Of course, we would never deny that we need to spend time attacking and trying to correct these falsehoods. Jesus publicly condemned the sophistries of the Sadducees in His day. However, there was another influence even more dangerous which Jesus put much more effort into counteracting. This group was so insidious that even Jesus’ own disciples were strongly influenced by it. These men were called Pharisees.
When we try to focus our energies attacking the errors of Sadduceism (liberalism), I say to myself, are we missing the point? That is dangerous and we should be opposed to it, but that is not the biggest danger.
What is Pharisaism?
What is Pharisaism and how do we avoid being influenced by it? Ellen White described Pharisaism as the spirit of human nature, manifested in all ages among the human family. Jesus said concerning the Pharisees: “The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not.” Matthew 23:2, 3.
Pharisaism is the spirit of self-exaltation, seeking to be in control of others and of the work. In a speech, in 1901, Ellen White declared that God’s work is to advance without asking permission or support from those who have taken to themselves a kingly power (Pharisaism). (See General Conference Bulletin, April 3, 1901.)
“For years a degree of Pharisaism has been springing up amongst us . . . A spirit which desires to rule . . . but very little of the spirit which leads men to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn of Him . . Human inventions and human plans are eclipsing sacred things, and excluding divine instruction. . . They rule without a vestige of the authority of God . . . and others are becoming leavened by this wrong influence.” 1888 Materials, 1558, 1559. Jesus told His disciples, in Matthew 16, to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. We hear much today about properly constituted church authority, but the Pharisees did not have any divine authority for what they were doing.
The essence of Pharisaism, as described in Hosea 10, is professed service to God when a person is actually working for himself. It results in a critical, unforgiving spirit that is devoid of love. Those who exhibit this spirit show a resistance to the truth and are involved in evil surmising. Where does evil surmising come from? Ellen White says, “Surmisings are a repast from the enemy, a banquet of his own preparing.” Review and Herald, October 17, 1899.
She warns that there is far more Pharisaism among our people than they suppose. “It is a spirit of wanting to be first . . . A spirit of criticism toward others . . . Envy, jealousy, suspicion, faultfinding, and false witnessing . . . A spirit of retaliation is secretly at work: yet those who are thus creating disaffection and disunion . . . all the while claim to be firm believers in the truth. Such do not practice the spirit of the truth. The leaven of their evil surmisings permeates the company where it exists.” Review and Herald, December 18, 1888. Simply speaking, Pharisaism leads people to make a profession of that which is true, while their lives are not in harmony with their profession.
When Jesus came to this earth, a war was waged between His humble, self-sacrificing spirit and the spirit of Pharisaism—the predominate spirit in the church among the professed people of God at that time.
New Wine Must Have New Bottles
Jesus said, “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wine skins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:16, 17.
You cannot put new wine into old wineskins. You cannot unite the teachings of Christ with Pharisaism. Many people have tried it, but always to their own destruction. Ellen White says, “The principles of Christ’s teaching [could not] be united with the forms of Pharisaism. Christ was not to close up the breach that had been made by the teachings of John. He would make more distinct the separation between the old and the new . . . The effort to unite the teachings of Jesus with the established religion would be vain. The vital truth of God, like fermenting wine, would burst the old, decaying bottles of the Pharisaical tradition.” The Desire of Ages, 278, 279.
When Jesus came, what He taught could not be united with the insidious and deceptive forms of Pharisaism. This group, which outwardly professed the truth, had made a god out of their church organization. The words of Christ, Ellen White says, were an arraignment of the whole system of Pharisaism. He declared, that by placing their requirements above the divine principles, the rabbis were putting themselves above God.
Remember, that the experience of the children of Israel at Christ’s first coming illustrated the position of God’s people just before the Second Coming. Can the forms of Pharisaism be united with the truth anymore today than they could two thousand years ago? No, never! What is the only hope for us, then?
“Only in Christ Jesus will the church near the period of Christ’s coming be able to stand. She is required of her Redeemer to advance in piety, and to have increased zeal, understanding better as she nears the end that her own high calling is of God in Christ Jesus.” 1888 Materials, 333.
I often hear people say today, “It is all right. Just let the tares grow. The tares and the wheat have to grow together until the harvest. This apostasy will just have to continue until Jesus comes.” How does God’s prophet answer this? She said that as we (the church) approach the end, we are required of our Redeemer to advance in piety and to have increased zeal. We must have a better understanding of our high calling in Christ Jesus.
However, the devil has a far different plan. He intends to leaven the camp with so many tares and so much Pharisaism that the wheat will be choked out. And the success that he is having is almost unbelievable. Parents come to us from all over the country, telling us sad stories of what has happened to their children. They say, “My children are all out in the world. They grew up in an Adventist home, they went to an Adventist church, they went to an Adventist school, and now they are gone.”
A Reformation and a Coming Out
Ellen White wrote, “Pharisaism (is) . . . leavening the camp . . . Seventh-day Adventist Churches were affected; . . . but the Lord had given me a message, and with pen and voice I would work until this leaven was expelled and a new leaven was introduced, which was the grace of Christ.
“I was confirmed in all I had stated in Minneapolis, that a reformation must go through the churches.” 1888 Materials, 356, 357. God is telling us that we cannot go to heaven the way we are. There must be a reformation in our lives and in our churches. Inspiration says, “Reforms must be made, for spiritual weakness and blindness were upon the people who had been blessed with great light . . . As reformers they had come out of the denominational churches, but they now act a part similar to that which the churches acted. We hoped that there would not be the necessity of another coming out.” Ibid.
That last sentence has direct bearing on the home church movement that is springing up all over the world. Some of us that should be leaders in Adventism are so blind. The Lord is taking the work into His own hands. I see people without education, training or knowledge, starting churches all over the world. God is at work. If you and I do not do our part to save our children and the people around us, the Lord will use someone else, and we might lose our souls.
Continuing from 1888 Materials, 356, 357: “While we will endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace, we will not with pen or voice cease to protest against bigotry.”
Bigotry is Pharisaical control—human control over the church. Human beings are never to control the church of God. Read that in The Desire of Ages, 414, 415. She says, “Many will close their ears to the message God sends them and open their ears to deception and delusion . . . Our brethren separate themselves from God, by reason of the homage they give to human beings.” 1888 Materials, 357, 358.
“There was much talk, but very little of the mind of Christ . . . The enemy often employed them in his service . . . Under the influence of the great deceiver they would take a position to oppose the most sacred things of God.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 16, 219.
“There must be no rings of men to unite together in unholy fellowship to strengthen each other in ways and ideas that are opposed to the spirit of God . . . Unless they were changed in spirit and confessed their mistakes, they would go into greater deceptions.” 1888 Materials, 359, 360.
“As long as you maintain this spirit of Pharisaism, God’s Spirit will not, cannot work with you.” Ibid., 410.
Pharisaism and Christ’s Teaching Do Not Mix
We must realize that preaching and teaching and all religious service is utterly vain, worthless, and helpless unless the Spirit of God is working. As long as the leadership maintains the spirit of Pharisaism, God’s Spirit will not work with them, because they do not feel their utter dependence upon Him. When they humble their hearts before God, they will see the danger of Pharisaism in every church. That includes home churches. As the disciples lived and worked with Jesus, and listened to His teaching, they began to understand what really counted in religion. It is important to have a faith that works by love in the heart and purifies the mind and soul.
The more they understood that principle, the more they knew that there was no place for union with the old religion of the Pharisees. The disciples found that an effort to unite the teachings of Jesus with the established religion would have been a mistake.
As Ellen White says, “The new doctrines, like fermenting wine would have burst the old decaying bottles of the Pharisaical tradition.” Signs of the Times, September 19, 1892. To the Pharisees, the teaching of Jesus was new in almost every respect. It was unrecognized, unacknowledged as truth. They professed to have great respect for the religion of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Moses. Nevertheless, when Christ taught the original truths that had been committed to the fathers, His teaching was new to the Pharisees.
That is the exact condition we are in today. Historic Adventists are not teaching something new, although we meet that accusation frequently. The reason people think it is new is because the doctrines they hold have been perverted. We are teaching the original truths that were given to Adventism, just like Jesus was teaching the original truths that were given to the fathers. They were new to the Pharisees, but they were actually the old, original theories.
In this type of situation, the devil comes with a very skillful, sly temptation. The leaders in Adventism were tricked by this in Minneapolis, in 1888. The people were confused about what the truth was. When a message was presented to them, which they thought was new (it was really just the good old truth), they rejected it. Their minds were so distorted that they said, “We must cling to the old-theories (their distorted beliefs).” The result was that they had no part in the message that God was sending to His people, right then.
Today, just as at the First Advent, Christ is looking for new bottles. Bottles which are not warped and perverted by long-held traditions and fallacies. Ellen White wrote about this in Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, 333: “Now, those who have had years in this same experience, know not God nor Jesus Christ whom He has sent, and should such go forth as representatives of Jesus Christ? These men will never give the right mold to other minds; they have not grown up to the full stature of men and women in Christ. They simply have the name of Christians but are not fitted for the work of God, and never will be until they are born again, and learn the A.B.C. in true religion of Jesus Christ. There is a little hope in one direction. Take the young men and women, and place them where they will come as little in contact with our churches as possible, that the low grade of piety which is current in this day shall not leaven their ideas of what it means to be a Christian.”
God is finding new bottles today. I am amazed as I travel and visit God’s people. God is taking people who have been drug addicts, and those who have been involved in all kinds of crime, and He is showing them the gospel, and they are accepting it. Among this class, who have a willing heart and are not self-sufficient, God is finding new bottles to carry on His work.
Ellen White gives us the promise that if we were willing to become new bottles, the Lord will fill us with wine. Do you want to be a new bottle? Do you want to say, “Lord, I want to be converted? I do not want to have a Pharisaical heart anymore. Take the desire for kingly power out of my heart. I am willing to do whatever You say. I am willing to take my place among the brethren.” If this is your sincere prayer, the Lord will answer you.