Australia Christian Living Ethics Health Online Articles Theology

Secular Pharisees, Publicans and Puritans – AP

This weeks article in Australian Presbyterian 

As I listened to Dan Andrews explaining the rules again for Victoria, apart from losing the will to live, the thought struck me that the spirit of the Pharisees, Publicans and Puritans is alive and well in our world today. Let’s compare our modern secular versions with the biblical ones.

The Pharisees.

They took the ten commandments and added 613 laws – 365 negative and 248 positive. Some commandments we smile at…it was forbidden to look in a mirror fixed on a wall on the Sabbath…You couldn’t light a candle or fire on the Sabbath, but you could hire a Gentile to do it for you.

A friend in Scotland tells me that he went to a wedding in a hotel and when it was the religious part of the service, everyone, including the bride and groom had to wear facemasks, but then it came to the reception part and they were all facing each other in the same room – they were permitted to take their masks off!

In the UK they shut down pubs at 10pm with the result that crowds poured into the streets and partied there.

As of October 19, regional pubs and restaurants in Victoria can have 40 patrons indoors and 70 patrons seated outdoors. Churches, however, can only have 20 people gathered outside and no church of any size is permitted indoors. Why? What makes a café or pub safer than a church? Why are weddings only allowed five people and funerals ten? Perhaps if they held them in pubs? What ‘science’ tells our politicians to make these kind of distinctions?

How’s this for Pharisaic gobbledygook: “However, weddings held in a person’s residence can occur if one or both of the two people getting married are at the end of life. In this situation the wedding can occur with a maximum of two witnesses and one other guest. These people could include members of the household where the wedding is occurring, or other guests if there are less than three additional people in the household who are eligible to witness weddings.”. Just to think – someone was actually paid to sit down and make up these discriminatory laws!

The Publicans.

I feel for the pub owners today – they face a greater threat from the new Pharisees than they ever faced from the temperance movement. But the publicans in biblical times were tax collectors, not pub owners. It seems to me that the policies being made today are being done just as much for economic reasons and political reputations as they are for public health. Why would the state of Nevada declare that cannabis businesses are considered ‘essential’ (although their opening has to be approved by the Marijuana Enforcement Division) and that they, along with casinos, restaurants, bars and indoor amusement parks can operate at 50% capacity but churches are limited to 50 people? In Victoria why did the government consider it acceptable to permit 1,000 race horse owners to gather in public, but ban churches from gathering? It has nothing to do with ‘the science’ and everything to do with money, thoughtlessness and discrimination.

The Puritans.

I am using ‘Puritan’ here in the way that the ‘world’ does – as a synonym for self-righteous, joyless, moralistic hypocrites. Who would have thought that in the 21st Century we would have our secular politicians banning drinking, partying, dancing and soon Christmas! (As an old-fashioned Scottish Cromwellian Presbyterian, I have to admit that every cloud as a silver lining) …

But worse than that – with the advent of 24/7 news, social media and the Internet keeping track of every careless word, deed and photo, woe betide anyone who commits any kind of sin (sin of course being defined by whatever ‘progressive’ group happens to be in vogue at any current moment). It’s been a lesson in hypocrisy to see the shock/horror reporting about the love life of the NSW Premier, as her private life is put on full display in every media. One suspects that if the motto ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone’ had been applied there would have been a lot less written and said.

Douglas Murray in his The Madness of Crowds has a beautiful little chapter in the middle on the subject of forgiveness. “In some manner with which we still haven’t begun to wrestle, we have created a world in which forgiveness has become almost impossible, in which the sins of the father can certainly be visited upon the son….the consensus was for centuries that only God could forgive the ultimate sins. …today we do seem to live in a world where actions can have consequences we could never have imagined, where guilt and shame are more at home than ever, and where we have no means whatsoever of redemption.”

The Real Puritans.

Which brings me on to the real Puritans. Not the caricatures of the ignorant, but the real men and women who knew that what mattered most was the heart. Reading Richard Sibbes over these past few months has been a real tonic for my soul. He takes us out of the pettiness of the bureaucrats, the powerplays of the politicians and the confusion of the populace, into the heart of Christ. He offers real hope. Our politicians tell us that we are great, and we can beat this virus ourselves. Sibbes reminds us:

“A holy despair in ourselves is the ground of true hope”.

This little virus has revealed a great deal about our society (both good and bad). Sibbes tells us that that is what sickness does – it exposes who we really trust.

 “Health is at his command, and sickness stays at his rebuke. In the mean, the time of sickness is a time of purging from that defilement we gathered in our health, till we come purer out; which should move us willingly to abide God’s time. We are best, for the most part, when we are weakest”.

When you remove the law of love found in the Bible – you end up with tens of thousands of laws, sub laws, and sub, sub laws. You end up with secular Pharisees, dominant publicans and hypocritical ‘puritans’. Is it not time for the church to stop endorsing the methods and delusions of the world and instead call us, and our country to prayer and repentance? Let’s follow the way of Christ, not the way of the Pharisee.

Tom Holland: How Christianity Gained Dominion and a Secular Historian Loses His Faith (in Liberalism) – AP

The new secular ‘Puritans’, Jordan Peterson’s book and Churchill’s Finest Hour | Quantum 117



  1. So true. But, as you say, every cloud has……..the virus and our reaction to it is exposing the sickness and sin at the heart of humans. Secular liberalism being shown as hollow, with no answers to real challenges in life. We all need the Lord

    1. Wow – that’s put a positive spin on things.

      “The virus and our reaction to it is exposing the sickness and sin at the heart of humans”.

      And you say secular liberalism is hollow.

      1. I don’t do spin – I prefer truth – uncomfortable as it is. The truth is that you seem to think dealing with reality is ‘hollow’…..perhaps you need to think again?

    2. I was replying to the comment by Zacchaeus.

      How on earth the virus itself has “exposed” the sickness and sin at the heart of humans” is beyond me.

      You don’t get any secular attitude labeling humans as sick and sinful, that is exclusively the domain of religious thought.

      1. Yes – I accept it is beyond you…and you have to have a faith which sees human beings as healthy and good. The rest of us deal with reality….

  2. Complexities in law are more often than not forged in response to attempted exception-seeking – you will be very familiar with the “how far can we go?” and “is this a sin?” stuff, and Jesus pointed out the how the law of “dedicating assets to God” could be twisted to avoid a more unwelcome legal obligation. A law that starts off as simple gets endlessly questioned, subverted and riddled with loopholes and exceptions as the “what ifs..?” multiply and people are paid to comb through it for clients’ advantage.

    I have often said – and from experience, in the tax field – that a sound religious education is a splendid training for dealing with those seeking to drive loopholes through the rules that bear down on everybody else. Christ, on the other hand, simplified even the basic ten down to just two clear and unambiguous instructions – the mark of a good legislator. And even then He got “well, then, who IS my neighbour?” and we all still quibble about “what is the truly loving thing to do for them?”

    Because the will of the person commanded makes all the difference to how the law plays out in practice. Begrudging obedience will always be looking for a way out.

    Pray for a safe virus or a certain treatment (or both, since God is generous!). Human nature has proven itself for what we all knew it to be, but His hand is still stronger.

  3. What is the purpose of law? What and where is the distinction between, criminal law (an act against the state, with the Queen as head in England and Wales, and civil law, and what are the drivers and influence of change?
    In Christian terms does love of neighbour, which creates obligations, or duty, rather than individual rights, have a priority over individual freedom, as a servant of others?
    The conflation of the law by Jesus into two, creates a miriade of how to applications, which in one sphere of English law, the tort of negligence was know as the “neighbour principle.”
    In another sphere say criminal road traffic laws, why do we obey the speed limit? Do we do it joyfully? And rage at those in breach? Or self justify breach and weigh the consequences of risk, of being caught, of causing damage and injury? It is an offence of strict liability, even if there may be factors in mitigation and in effect it is three stokes, offences and you are out. ?
    Compare and contrast all of these aspects of law, with Covid 19 and the philosophy of science, and of public health, locally, nationally, internationally.
    Where is the fulcrum, balance, the tipping points with multiple factors and priorities?
    O yes, we opine to our disgruntlement, with an unsaid underlining assertion that we would be better, while running a mile at any notion that we would survive microscopic and searchlight public scrutiny.

  4. I thought I discerned a glimmer of hope today, as explained in the following tweet I published (q,v,):

    That was after Boris Johnson’s press conference, but before the news broke that he proposes to close all places of worship for four weeks. He spoke of humility, but practices defiance in the face of God, whom he euphemises as “Nature”. I was willing to overlook the politically correct euphemism. I cannot let his double-speak pass. Humble my foot!

    1. And it seems that Roman Catholic Nichols was one of the first national figures to ask Johnson to justify the decision to close worship places.
      Nevertheless, the invisible church will continue.
      Today, as not many of us met in the building, it struck me as it always does, the importance of seeing and being with others in the flesh, in person, and how necessary praise, sung praise is to our spiritual health and wellbeing.

      1. Certain of the Calvinistic confessions of the reformation identify the pope (not any particular pope, but the papacy) as The Man of Sin of 2 Thess 2. The man of sin is of the type of those who usurp, setting themselves up in God’s temple. It follows that even the Christians most opposed to Romanism implicitly recognise that the Roman Catholic Church is a true church, with a false leadership. It ought not to surprise us who are either Protestant or Orthodox (etc) in our churchmanship when Roman Catholics are moved to do God’s work that we too should be doing.

        We are instructed to worship God alone: “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” But we are also instructed to worship together, praying, “Our Father …”, not “My Father”. Multiple governments, including those of post-Christian liberal democracies, are prohibiting the full practice of Christianity, and any other religion whose adherents meet, exalting the secular governments above “all that is called God” as the apostle Paul puts it in the NIV translation of 2 Thess 2.

        Processes that are not in the least transparent co-ordinate this clamp-down, this repression not only of Christianity but also of every other theistic faith. There is a common purpose or agenda, Who is behind it, who pulls the strings of what, day by day begin to seem more and more like puppets of a hidden empire whose tentacles of clandestine influence stretch worldwide, receives little or no publicity in the press.

        2 Thess 2 describes the conspiracy and predicts its final short-lived victory and rapid demise when Christ returns. History records many of the manifestations in different eras of unsuccessful efforts (many of them papal) to procure a world order, a global governance, in which a secular state whose jurisdiction covers the whole planet dons the garb of religion and interferes in what we would nowadays call the Article 9 ECHR right to freedom of religion and thought and the Article 10 right to freedom of communion (assembly and expression).

        Because history records so many failed mischievous attempts (so-to-speak) to “topple God” (in the usurpers’ dreams!) and to rule the world as the only god on earth, a fake god who is also the state, we ought not to assume that the latest attempt at this is the beginning of the final and temporarily successful attempt. We should challenge this.

        Until “he who is holding back” the “secret power of lawlessness” which was “already at work” when Paul wrote 2 Thess 2 is “taken out of the way”, the worst that God’s enemies can do will continue to fail. God’s providence is personfied in 2 Thess 2 as a “he”. I don’t claim to understand the second half of the book of Daniel, but I think it names the so-called “restrainer” of 2 Thess 2 as Michael, an archangel, for what that’s worth.

        The best thing I can think of doing now is to fight the new church lockdown in England in the courts of England. I said I would if it happened. Now I have to, to keep my word. My barrister-friend is tied up with Page v NHS and Page v Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice for the next few days. Give me a week.

  5. From Glenn Scrivener: we don’t get to save Christmas; Christmas saves us.
    What a vaccine to secular hubris, that is.

  6. David, your call to prayer is echoed by:
    VfJUK: Covid 19 – God holds the key … God is the key

    but seems to be falling on deaf ears.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: