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Holier Than God

By P. Andrew Sandlin
March 01, 1997

The young mother, a "pillar of the church," to whom other wives and mothers looked for guidance, lamented that the sight of her shirtless pastor playing basketball at an all-men's game at the local YMCA reduced her to "tears." To her, his lack of "spirituality" was evident (to her way of thinking, male shirtlessness was an instance of "carnality"). When soon this same mother had abandoned the church and her husband, and had begun copulating with high-school boys, more than a few associates recognized the irony.

A woman wrote Chalcedon that she appreciated our favorable review of Jim West's Drinking With Calvin and Luther, agreeing with the evident premise that the Bible does not forbid the consumption of all alcoholic beverages. She chided us, however, for refusing to recognize that God "holds his people to a higher standard [than the Bible (!)]."

A Pharisaic church member spoke condescendingly of the pastor, who showed his children the movie The Lion King, and refused to make ladies' attire in the congregation a hobby horse.

An anabaptist pamphleteer was scandalized that a Christian Reconstructionist author had noted God's blessings bestowed on those who deceived the wicked to advance God's cause (Ex. 1:16-20; Jos. 2:1-4; 6:17), as well as God's deception of the wicked himself (2 Chr. 18:20, 21; 2 Thes. 2:6-12). This Pharisee embraced what Reventlow identified as the left-wing reformers' dedication to "autonomous morality . . . the binding character of which lies in the fact that it is natural and therefore clear to all" (Henning Graf Reventlow, The Authority of the Bible and the Rise of the Modern World, Philadelphia, 1985, p. 71); that is, it was a denial of theocentric Biblical authority. This pamphleteer, who claims to believe the Bible "from cover to cover," was dedicated to the secular humanist notion of a morality to which both God and man must bow down. It is no surprise that the man is an Arminian, who (ironically?) has difficulty telling the truth about others.

These are common episodes among the modern antinomian Pharisees, who abominate divorce while excusing adultery, who abhor alcohol but overlook slander, and who excoriate movies but denounce tithing.

Because man cannot exist without law, Pharisees never abandon law altogether, but rather replace Biblical law with their own extra-Biblical humanistic version of law, usually suffocating and sometimes totalitarian. Nor is the sin limited to the Roman Catholics and the fundamentalists, who are often accused (and often rightly) of such humanism. This sin pervades all sectors of the modern church, including Reformed.

These Pharisees, almost always fanatical enemies of the Old Testament (the New Testament furnishes a "higher, spiritual" morality), erect in their minds an arbitrary standard, "the moral order of the universe," a standard they require of their fellows, and one which even God must reverence. The ultimate moral and ethical standard derives from their own depraved and guilt-ridden mind rather than from the objective, infallible word of God.

They often reek of the neo-Platonic contempt for things physical: as one noted Pharisaic Bible lecturer contended, it is evil for a husband to see his wife nude! (He himself, incidentally, was never married.)

For these Pharisees, salvation is largely defined in terms of escapeescape from the body, from the world, from godly obedience and responsibility. Escape is always easier than obedience, and they much prefer the lazy route.

By contrast, the obedient, world-conquering Christian perceives the Holy Bible as the only infallible ethical standard to which he can be held or to which he can hold others. The lust for "holiness" above and apart from the Bible is the lust of apostate man. The judgment on all such is the judgment of the Pharisees: "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" (Mt. 23:33).


Topics: Biblical Law, Reformed Thought, Church, The

P. Andrew Sandlin

P. Andrew Sandlin is a Christian minister, theologian, and author.  He is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California.  He was formerly president of the National Reform Association and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation.  He is a minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.. He was formerly a pastor at Church of the Word in Painesville, Ohio (1984-1995) and Cornerstone Bible Church in Scotts Valley, California (2004-2014).

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