Reformed Baptist Fellowship

My Pharasaic Heroes or Bible Babies in Fundy Bathwater

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on August 13, 2009 at 11:46 am

I’m a little bummed today.  I just found out something awful about some of my pastoral heroes of the past.  No, they didn’t commit adultery and they were not thieves.  It’s something worse.  I just found out that virtually all of them are Pharisees.  Legalists.  It’s awful.  I had no idea.  I’m not sure when this happened…especially since they’ve been dead for over a hundred years.   Chances are the same is true of some of your heroes.  It may be true of you.

You know the guys whose books we read and who we quote in our sermons? We may even have their pictures on our walls or have named our children after them.  Let me tell you about two of my ‘fallen’ heroes.  Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle.    Have you actually read what they have to say about Christian living?  About worldliness?  I can’t believe what fundy lunatics these guys turned out to be.   I am not saying they are not saved, but man, they have no idea about liberty!

What?  I thought Spurgeon enjoyed fine cigars and ‘adult’ beverages!  Doesn’t that put him in the cool category?  Have you read what he and Mr. Ryle said about the theater?  About dancing?  Card playing?  Sabbath breaking?

Interesting, isn’t it?  If these men were alive today and had the same convictions, they would be roasted by the very people who claim to adore them.  I’m not saying that they were right about everything, but isn’t it interesting how we allow for their time and place in history?

I believe we need some of the same gentleness today.  It is easy to attack certain believers as thieves of liberty or legalist or Pharisees because they do not indulge in culture or have questions or express concerns.  I’ve been around long enough now to witness some radical changes in Christianity and the generally accepted views of holiness and worldliness.  It wasn’t long ago that preachers denounced going to the theater and now we have it in churches.  It wasn’t too long ago that it was unthinkable that Christians would go to movies.  Then it was okay to go to a G rated and then PG and then PG13, and now R and unrated films don’t cause anyone to bat an eyelash.  Pastors and their people now view soft-core porn (naked people simulating sex on film) with regularity and can tolerate blasphemy without concern.   I know that sound judgmental, but the facts are the facts.   We not only go to these movies, we buy these movies.  We watch them in our homes and in front of our children.   Thirty years ago it was assumed that there were ‘bad’ words that Christians did not say, that’s not the case anymore.  There was a time when it was unthinkable that believers would have tattoos.  Now churches raffle them off.   Rock music?  Was universally viewed as immoral…now, loved and embraced.  Rap?   Ungodly!  Now—front and center in the church.  What was holy yesterday is legalistic today.

Is there anything today that all believers agree is sinful?  Any definition of ‘the world’, which we all reject?   The standard keeps moving.  Holiness, it appears, is culturally conditioned.  It is not an anchor, holding through the centuries, it is a raft that keeps floating downstream.

My heroes of the past have proven to be legalist.  My pastors from my youth have too.  I guess I’m in that category by just asking questions.  Sigh.

Jim Savastio, Pastor
Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville
  1. Good stuff! Very, very true.
    I was wondering whether Spurgeon or Ryle would have used the word ‘Bummed.’ I suppose that makes me a fundy too.

  2. […] Spurgeon and Ryle et al legalists and pharisees? Posted on August 13, 2009 by Jonathan Hunt Here is an excellent article by Jim Savastio. He says things that others should be saying, and pokes buttons that perhaps we would be more […]

  3. Dear Jim,

    There are several questions which come to mind:

    Do we love the Lord as much as we love our liberties?

    What are the consequences of the Law having been written upon our hearts at regeneration?

    Are we going to be distinguished from the world or are we going to be extinguished by the world?

    How many Reformed Baptists who flaunt their liberties are simply reacting against their fundamentalist roots?

    Can we ever restrain our liberties for the sake of our weaker brethren?

    Is it reasonable for us to be smug about our having more liberty than our fundamentalist brethren?

    How can the church that embraces beer drinking as an acceptable part of a church men’s function ever hope to minister to alcoholics?

  4. I think you will find that many of our dead heroes partook of adult male beverages. Luther is famous for his beer. Owen had some beer-making books in his library. You draw the implication. :-)John Murray enjoyed scotch, so I hear. Culture does not determine what holiness looks like, the Bible does. And, the Bible itself allows for some things which may be taboo in one culture to not be such in another. Partaking of such beverages is neither commanded nor forbidden. We must leave it at that. Now that is not to say that we should be libertine with our liberties. I am concerned about that. May the Lord help us all!

  5. […] My Pharasaic Heroes @ Reformed Baptist Fellowship […]

  6. There is one “preacher” that is the fav and the rav of many who are Reformed. He is cool, but being RB is drool, so we are often told. I asked one man if he would let his daughter marry preacher “cool.” His answer was as quick as it was clear, NO!

    Holiness is never in with the world, but it is always very popular with heaven!

    Thanks pastor Jim!

    BTW I also agree with Rich

  7. Jim — that was EXCELLENT! Thank you for a thought provoking article.

  8. To Rich B.

    I appreciate your response concerning alcohol consumption. Of course, the issue is moderation, and there is no Biblical basis for teaching total abstinence. I am sure that my responses are colored by knowing of two professing Christian who have been in jail on alcohol related charges. I have reason to believe that these two are actually saved. Nevertheless, they will both live with the consequences of their actions. I am also aware of others who either have in the past or are in the present ruining their families due to their alcoholism.

    As a point of comparison, I am a proponent of gun rights. Nevertheless, we all know that guns are dangerous. We need to realize that the misuse of either guns or alcohol can be deadly with lifelong or life ending consequences. We cannot afford to be cavalier with our use of either guns or alcohol.

    We must remember that the “weaker brother” is not the alcoholic but is the one who has the stricter conscience. Consciences should be educated but never violated. We must decide whether we are going to minister to our weaker brethren or castigate them as less enlightened. We must deal with both the alcoholic and the weaker brother.

  9. Ouch.

    What a timely and excellent article. We have so much to learn from the great men of our past.

    One of my heroes, John Paton, spoke vehemently against moderation. (BTW- I agree with Rich.)

    But it was reading Ryle and his comments here and there about the Sabbath that ultimately led to me seeing the perpetuity of the 4th commandment. So let’s read these men -not as if they are infallible- but with the understanding that their perspective might shed light on some sin of ours that has become culturally acceptable in our age.

  10. I really appreciate this article a lot. Perhaps the most out of all of the articles written on this blog.

    What a gong crash this was,”Is there anything today that all believers agree is sinful? Any definition of ‘the world’, which we all reject? The standard keeps moving. Holiness, it appears, is culturally conditioned. It is not an anchor, holding through the centuries, it is a raft that keeps floating downstream.”

    The world seems to always have the cultural opium readily available to many unwary and unsuspecting Christians. A faithful pastor once mentioned the “Military Mindset” in the pulpit. What an important concept.

    Another faithful pastor mentions going from A->Z as unthinkable, but A->B->C maybe; then what about C->D->E; then it is, “How did we get so far off the path now that we are at X?”

    This looks like reckless/dangerous spiritual Algebra to me.

  11. It is interesting to me how many (certainly not all) comments on articles such as these, that tend to question the possibility of maybe giving up something or thinking differently about our actions and our culture, seem to display a lack of really understanding what is being said. I think the point is being missed when you begin to bring up and defend the use and enjoyment of alcohol in moderation, I am certain Pastor Savastio was not singling that out to drown out the fun for those who do enjoy. I am pretty sure he understands basic issues of Christian Liberty, and the fact that scripture neither forbids it or commands it. The question is how much is our thinking and enjoyments like the world’s?… What is our commonly understood “limits” and standard for personal holiness in our time and culture, and really how much can that shift and sway through time while still being faithful to our bibles and Lord’s standards?

  12. Jim,

    Good questions and a good burden. I wrestle with the same myself. We must be holy, for He is holy. But, it seems to me that there is now a major reaction going on to what is often ACTUAL LEGALISM and traditionalism, especially in reformed churches. Some believers have grown sick of it (with and honest jealousy for Gospel liberty)so they sometimes overreact and abuse their blood-bought freedoms. Christ will correct them (if they are truly His) but in the meantime, it does challenge us to ponder what being “under the Law of Christ (Moses?)” (1 Cor. 9) really means. Thanks!

  13. I agree with Stacey. It’s helped me to remember that the same law that is written on my own heart is also written on the hearts of my brethren. Also, I can be too focused on the details and forget the big picture: that indeed “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). And the chief Christian virtue is love, which “suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8).

  14. Stacey also wrote: “The question is how much is our thinking and enjoyments like the world’s?”

    Exactly! “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). That’s what sets us apart, we live as if God is real and is to be reverenced and obeyed.

  15. I hope I did not leave myself open to misunderstanding. Beleive me, I am very concerned about worldliness in my own life and in the broader Christian world. I abominate flexing liberties in the name of Christ. I do not think it pleases the Lord at all.

  16. Richard you were clear. And, as I know you very well, you are NOT a worldling! Point in fact, when you say “Culture does not determine what holiness looks like, the Bible does” you are indeed expressing what Pastor Jim is also hoping for us all to see.

  17. Before we condem Ryle or Spurgeon or others of our fathers of legalism, I think we need to ask: What were the scriptural principles and passages they based their convictions on regarding these matters? Perhaps they may have been right after all in the matters they condemmed as worldly. We may be missing something they saw. Because of our cultural conditioning, we may be allowing as liberty that which the Bible does condem, if only we had the humility and exegitical skills they had, and the love for holiness that they did. I think some self distrust is in order here, and we need to listen very carefully to our fathers in the faith, who by common consent were better men than we are.

  18. Max,
    My use of Spurgeon and Ryle was meant to be ironic…I certainly don’t think they were legalist at all! In today’s churches anyone who dares to speak as they did to the ‘sins of the age’ are instantly branded as legalist, even among RB’s as I have found out. To call anything into question (movies, TV, music, etc) is to be called a fundamentalist/pharisee/legalist.
    Hope that makes sense!

  19. I hope my own comments didn’t add to your confusion, Max. Many of the sins I personally deal with are actually toward the legalist side of the spectrum. So, the article got me thinking in a round-about way about how I need to be gentle when I have a disagreement with a brother or sister over whether something is Christian liberty. Instantly branding someone as an antinomian is just as bad as branding someone a legalist.

  20. Jim and Marie – No problem. My comments were meant to be of a general nature, not an address to any particular person or their statement. I understood Jim’s irony and appreciated it. He was clearly tongue in cheek. I have gotten the legalist label often for positions I have taken on issues, but when I demonstrate the biblical passages and principles on which those positions are based, my critics tend to be left a bit flustered for a response, and frustrated with me, for not justifying the prevelant sins that virtually all professing christians in our day allow themselves as being christian liberties.

    My point was only this: Let’s root our limits on behavior in scriptural passage and principle, and recognize that is what our Fathers in the faith attempted to do as well, and listen carefully to what they had to say, and try to follow their reasoning as to how they arrived at their positions, before we reject them, because they are so much more strict than the consensus that prevails today.

  21. Jim,

    Is it legalism to withhold church membership from someone (whom you have a fair amount of confidence in their profession of faith) who is not convinced attendance at every prayer meeting, SS, or evening service is required by the Lord?


  22. Fantastic, well thought-out post Jim!

    John Charles Ryle is still my hero, regardless if he was/is branded as a legalist. 😉

    Heck, we need more guys like Ryle who are not “Jelly-fish Christians” as Ryle would say.

  23. I sort of think of it this way-
    “Even in reference to things that may not in themselves be sinful, we are to judge our participation not by the standard of what is our personal right, but what will best safeguard our testimony.
    We abstain for testimony’s sake. Leaving aside the considerable exegetical controversy as to whether the Bible does in fact sanction the use of alcoholic drink, there is good reason for the temperance stand. This is a case where our abstinence is a step to protect our testimony and enlarge our usefulness in gospel witness.”
    Now that, I believe, is a reasonable and balanced perspective. One member in our church recently lamented that there are far more Christians ready to defend their “liberties” than there are those willing to contend for the faith. The prophet Haggai was sent to such a people who had left their first love and who’s priorities were consequently set out of order. God brought revival to those people. Why have the public standards of Christianity slidden to such an extent that the church holds little to no influence on our ultra decaying culture? Could it be because the churches in this country have not known any genuine true, sky blue, heaven sent revival in their midsts since the days of Billy Sunday?

  24. Several years ago I preached a series of sermons entitled “A SECOND LOOK AT CHRISTIAN LIBERTY.” I had the temerity to state that it was my conviction that a truncated view of the doctrine of Christian liberty was “The Trojan Horse” in our circles,especially with the second generation. I plan to preach a sermon at our forthcoming pastors conference entitled “A CLARION CALL TO GOSPEL HOLINESS.” I am quite sure that this sermon will land me in Jim’s list of those preachers he must now regard (tongue in cheek, of course) as misinformed legalists.
    Thanks, Jim, for your bold and perceptive article.

  25. Interesting and thought provoking article Jim.

    This is an issue that I have been thinking about and considering for a number of years now and might eventually put something into writing about it due to the serious nature of the issue and my concerns about it.

    Presently as I think it through your feedback would be appreciated in the light of your article. As a fellow-reader of and lover of JCR and CHS it would seriously disappoint me to label such heroes as Pharisees and Legalists 🙂

    These things apart, let me ask you, and this has no reference to JCR or CHS, but the subject of Pharisees and pharisaism.

    Would you say being a Pharisee and being pharisaical are exactly the same thing or different? Let me lay out how I see it and give me your feed-back.

    Pharisees are committed to establishing their own righteousness and everyone elses by their own set of rules and regulations and they bury the truth of the word of God under their own misinterpretation of scripture and misapplication of it. This is clearly not Christianity, but false religion.

    Being pharisaical or legalistic at times due to immaturity regarding the gospel and its implications is not the same, and can and indeed does characterise Christians at times. Our Lord warned his disciples about it many times.

    So we must say that true Christians are not Pharisees, grace has delivered them definitively.

    However true Christians can be pharisaical, ie due to immaturity regarding the gospel and its implications, true Christians can be judgmental perhaps,Jesus warns against this in Matthew 7, or prejudiced perhaps, James 2 warns against this. These are sins we all need to mortify and sadly we can be all too prone to if we know our own hearts and are honest before God. These are things that we need to shed by grace and replace with mercy and kindness.

    True Christians can also make rules and regulations for others that are based on their own opinions and misapplication of the word of God, a rather common tendency of the Pharisees as we know.

    These are all things that I must identify in my own soul and put away by grace, they are also sins that I have been guilty of over the years and in need of repentance from.

    So being a Pharisee is I am persuaded not the same as being pharisaical and we must understand the difference. The real rub comes of course if the reality is that we are in fact not merely pharisaical due to immaturity in our understanding and application of the gospel but deceived into thinking we are Christians when in fact we are still actually Pharisees.

    As those called to earnestly contend for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints and to beware of the leaven of the pharisees, surely we need to take heed to ourselves and our doctrine and shed any vestiges of pharisaism that might characterise our lives, this is a lifelong pursuit. Yet this battle does not constitute us pharisees or legalists. As a minister of the New Covenant a pastor is called to identify pharisaism in his people and warn them to flee from it. This is surely modelled well for us in our Lord’s ministry.

    Thanks for the article, I look forward to hearing your input brother. Fond memories of our time together in N.Ireland greeting Air Force 1 🙂 Looking forward to seeing how the Lord uses James W in Zambia.

  26. Dear Briggsy,
    Thanks for your interactions…I think that is a good distinction to make. The essence of the Pharisee, as I see it, is that he is self righteous and despises others. He preaches duties beyond the scriptures and is unwilling to embrace the duties he places upon others. I fear too many view a Pharisee as one who has stricter standards! My own heart has too much of the Pharisee and sometimes too much of the antinomian! Bless God for grace and the hope of ongoing sanctification!

  27. I agree with Jim!

    Rich B.

  28. I do not believe that the issues behind the alchaholic temperance standards necessarily constitute “legalism” or “liberty”. It is just as ungodly to despise your brother who lives according to these standards AND teaches others to do so, as it would be for him to despise others who do not. If we’re really honest, we would have to admit that neither side on this issue have been able to definitively make their case regarding their positions, by way of biblical exegesis. Defending so-called “personal rights” and “bewaring the leaven of the pharisees” are not the same thing. Defending personal liberties are not even near the same level of importance as contending for the faith once delivered unto the saints, especially in these days. Let’s consider our ways. (Haggai 1:7)

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