pharisaism



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Pastors need Bereans in their congregations—members “who received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Those who would teach God’s Word must be held accountable to its exacting standards. Unfortunately, the opposite is true for those who desire to preach personal opinions and exegete experiences. Their very survival depends on their ability to suppress all theological scrutiny.
Defenders of mystical phenomena such as “holy laughter” frequently admonish critics that they are in danger of grieving, quenching, or worst of all, blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Often this is nothing more than a form of spiritual intimidation. But it usually proves quite effective, silencing the voice of reason and absolving the promoters of mystical phenomena from any responsibility to give a sound biblical basis for what they are doing.
Notice, however, that all the stern warnings against quenching the Spirit constitute a very obvious circular argument. They assume from the outset the very point they wish to establish—that these phenomena are the work of the Holy Spirit. This is the essence of the argument: if things happen we cannot explain or find a basis for in Scripture, we dare not question or challenge them. Such phenomena are de facto proof that the Holy Spirit is working. Thus sheer mysticism is equated with the moving of the Holy Spirit. Any discerning souls who attempt to “examine everything carefully” in accord with 1 Thessalonians 5:21 are warned that they are sinning against the Holy Spirit.
One of the fullest efforts to defend this perspective is a book by William DeArteaga titled Quenching the Spirit. The blurb on the book’s cover reads, “Examining Centuries of Opposition to the Moving of the Holy Spirit.” [1] William DeArteaga, Quenching the Spirit (Lake Mary, FL: Creation House, 1992). This book is neither scholarly or accurate but must be addressed since many have used it in an effort to give historical legitimacy to charismatic mysticism. DeArteaga is convinced that all who oppose modern charismatic phenomena are simply latter-day Pharisees—and he implies that some may have already committed the unpardonable sin. [2] DeArteaga, Quenching the Spirit, 24–25.
Pharisaism becomes the metaphor for all that DeArteaga opposes. His appraisal of the Pharisees is revealing:
The Pharisees’ real problem came from two sources. First, they drastically overvalued the role of theology in spiritual life and made theological correctness the chief religious virtue. Somewhere in the process the primary command to love God and mankind was subordinated to correct theology. Second, they had a man-given confidence in their theological traditions as being the perfect interpretation of Scripture. They falsely placed their theology, referred to as the traditions of the elders, on the same level as Scripture. [3] DeArteaga, Quenching the Spirit, 18.

Notice that DeArteaga’s portrayal of pharisaism amounts to a not-so-subtle attack on theology—especially “theological correctness.” He implies that love for God is somehow in conflict with a concern for correct theology. He even pits sound theology against Scripture, suggesting that those concerned with “theological correctness” are guilty of placing their theology on the same level as Scripture.
But those are false dichotomies. Real love for God is inseparable from love of the truth. The heart that genuinely loves God will be inclined to truth (see 2 Thessalonians 2:10; 2 John 6). And true theological correctness is found only in an accurate understanding of Scripture (1 Timothy 6:3–4; Titus 1:9). Those determined to cast sound theology aside must also abandon Scripture (2 Timothy 4:2–3). Scripture and sound theology are not antithetical; they are indissolubly bound together. One simply cannot esteem Scripture highly yet scorn sound doctrine. One cannot love God and remain indifferent to His truth. Scripture is how He makes Himself known. So a sound understanding of Scripture is essential to a true knowledge of God.
Moreover, DeArteaga completely misunderstands the real error of pharisaism. The Pharisees were in no sense guilty of an undue emphasis on theological orthodoxy. If anything, their problem was the opposite. They weren’t careful enough in seeking to understand the Scriptures. In fact, they set Scripture aside in favor of their own rote traditions. Tradition, not theology, was their downfall. If they had stuck to Scripture and built their theology on that alone, they would not have fallen into error. Jesus confronted the Pharisees for their pride, their spiritual blindness, their legalism, their want of compassion, their love of power and recognition, and their lack of knowledge about the Word of God. At no time did He rebuke them for overemphasizing “theological correctness.”
DeArteaga’s book is a freewheeling romp through revisionist history. For example, he uses the Great Awakening as a model to show how “theological correctness” poses a threat to the working of the Holy Spirit. This argument is worth examining more closely, because the Great Awakening is becoming a favorite paradigm for modern-day mystics. But as we’ll see next time, that great eighteenth-century revival was actually derailed—not driven—by mystical phenomena.

(Adapted from Reckless Faith)
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