Spot the Wolf: Part 4
Another post in the continuing series by Pastor Anton Bosch.
Today's post is particularly relevant to the new and deadly form of legalism that is emerging in the church today -- a formulaic legalism which utilizes the business methods of setting standards for "success," assessing and measuring performance, and demanding conformity to new extra-biblical "what works" criteria.
In this, the fourth in the series about how to recognize false and abusive leaders we continue to look at Jesus’ warnings from Matthew 23. In verses 25 to 28 He shows the hypocrisy of such leaders.
Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
You blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
Even so you also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Abusive leaders will often have an outward show of holiness while inwardly they are corrupt, sinful and destitute of the truth. Jesus speaks of them cleaning the outside of the cup while the inside is filthy and, of whitewashed tombs that appear respectable on the outside but are filled with death on the inside. Such men will go to great lengths to show how religious they are by condemning every form of sin in others and by putting on a holier-than-thou face when people can see them. Some of them even have a special voice and speak in a sanctimonious way to assure others of how holy they are. The problem is that this “holiness” is only skin-deep. At their core such people are wicked, filled with sinful thoughts, malice, hate and bitterness.
How will we know if a leader is such a hypocrite? There are a few tell-tale signs. Sometimes the front will slip, just for a moment. When you notice the occasional “slip” which seems out of character – beware. This may be the true nature of the beast showing through. If you pay attention to these little indicators, you may soon find that there is a pattern which indicates that the façade everyone sees is just that – a thin coat of whitewash that hides some serious problems.
What is the biggest reason why preacher’s kids are rebellious and wayward? Because the children see the hypocrisy of the father! Children have a prime seat from which to see that the man in the pulpit is not the same as the man in the home. When that happens, children will often reject the faith of the parents as something phony and false. Paul is adamant that a man, who is not able to lead his home, will not be able to lead the church (1Tim 3:4,5; Titus 1:6). Be very careful of a preacher whose children all go astray. Yes, we cannot all have perfect children and sometimes a child will be wayward, no matter how godly the parents are, but when parents have a zero success rate with their children, this indicates a deeper problem. This is especially true of those parents who are leaders in the church.
Another sign that you are possibly dealing with a hypocrite is when the leader is legalistic. One of the characteristics that is common to all cults is legalism. They make rules that control every area of people’s lives – what they may eat, drink, wear and do. Rules about church-attendance, tithing, holiness and worship are all spelled out in minute detail. The reason why such leaders make all these rules is because they do not trust themselves to do the right things from a heart that is right with God and so they have to make all these rules for themselves and then project the same onto the people.
A man who walks by the Spirit, does not need to be controlled by rules since the Holy Spirit will guide him in the paths of righteousness. Such a man will teach others also to live in obedience to God’s voice and will not impose long lists of man-made laws on them.
This does not mean that leaders who uphold high standards are legalistic. A godly leader will be concerned that outward lawlessness is an indicator of a heart which is not right. The Hypocrite does not care about the heart as long as the rules are not broken. Yes, both will desire to see similar things on the outside, but one is working towards seeing the outward things flow from a right heart while to the other the outward things are an end in themselves.
How transparent are the leaders? If they have a hard exterior that prevents anyone form getting too close, this may be a sign that they are hiding something. Jesus and Paul were not afraid to show their humanity to those around them. When leaders have nothing to hide and there is no veneer of religiosity, they will be transparent and will allow people to see them when they are tired, under stress and frustrated because it is often at those times that the true nature of the man becomes evident. Any leader who maintains his distance and never allows people to become familiar with his true self is suspect.
Jesus uses a few very strong words to describe the insides of these wolves in sheep’s clothing. He says they are “full of extortion and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25), they “are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (v28) and they “are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (v28). Note that He uses the word “full” three times. He is not saying they have a little bit of these problems, but they are full of them. Even though they appear good on the outside the inside is filled with evil things. This is what dominates their hearts and minds and it will come out and affect those around them.
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)
Apart from the extortion, self-indulgence, uncleanness, hypocrisy and lawlessness that fill these people, Jesus speaks about “dead man’s bones.” Jesus chose His words carefully and every word He speaks is important. He spoke of dead men’s bones because firstly, they themselves do not know the life that comes from walking in the Spirit and so they walk in the deadness of the letter of the law (2Corinthinas 3:6). But worse, they sow death wherever they go and kill the spiritual life in those around them. They do this because they are afraid that anyone with true spiritual life will expose the deadness of their own walk. So anyone with a little of the Christ-life is discouraged and legislated to death. Thus they carry around in themselves the corpses of others they have killed and destroyed by their legalism and dead religion. This is most clearly illustrated by the way the Pharisees treated Jesus, tried to bind Him to their rules and finally had him killed because the life in Him exposed the death in them.
In closing this episode, let me remind you that we are not speaking hypothetically or about dead leaders in “historic churches.” I am referring to leaders in many Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Maybe even of the man you fear and reverence as “the man of God.” Don’t follow a blind man and don’t choose to follow a hypocrite. Neither know the true ways of God and both will lead you to death. There are still some good shepherds who have a heart for God, His Word and His people. Find such a leader and follow someone who can lead you deeper in your walk with God and who will encourage you to be led by the Spirit and not by man-made rules that only generate hypocrisy.
(To Be Continued…)