Characteristics of the Neo-Pharisee

In 2004 and 2005, my friend Rey and I planted what we called “la Iglesia del Mesón” – The Mesón’s Church – It was a church of only 2 people, sitting at El Mesón, a sandwich place in Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico, late at night while we ate stale cinnamon rolls and weak coffee.

La Iglesia del Mesón, was a theology salon and a collective in relational spirituality. We explored everything, from local politics in Puerto Rico, theology, arts, globalization, literature, emerging church stuff and Rey’s love of 80’s music. During  those long talks we discussed a movement in contemporary Christianity, which later on we called the new-pharisee movement. This was our intent to identify the groups and doctrines to which we were reacting against and looking to proclaim an alternative kind of  Open (or generous if you would) Christian spirituality and praxis. A lot of our time went into exploring and practicing a different kind of Christian (church) spiritual life and discipleship.

La Iglesia del Mesón disappeared 2 years ago. Rey now lives in Dallas, TX and I live in Seattle, WA.  But we still conspiring to live meaningful spiritualities.

Here is a link, plus a recent reflection from Rey about the Neo-Pharisee movement – Nubios

Characteristics of the Neo-Pharisee

Characteristics of the Neo-Pharisee


In contemporary Christianity we find leaders that instead of doing good to its work and testimony, contribute to disparage it. This is not a new thing. During the days of Jesus the same happened. The religious leaders (Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, etc) who were supposed to help people know God, did the opposite making it hard to have an enjoyable spiritual life because of their human rules and regulations. Jesus strongly condemns these religious people and in his Gospel Matthew testifies of such (see Chapter 23). Below you will find an outline based on Matthew 23 on how a “Pharisee” looks like today.

The Neo-Pharisees:

  1. have a distorted view of community. (vv 13-14) With their theory of us vs. them they make hard that some might have a vibrant relationship with God. They misunderstand the meaning of the World and think that our only reason to relate to the un-churched is to proselyte them.
  2. have a distorted view of discipleship. (v. 15) They work hard to make disciples according to their image and not according to the image of Christ. Their interest is in making copies of themselves, they do not like to be questioned but to be followed unconditionally. By doing this their products are miserable people who can not reflect Christ’s image in every area of their lives.
  3. have a distorted view of life. (vv. 16-22) They keep a dualism between “secular” and “divine” that promotes a fragmented life. They are Christians while in church and among churched but it is a different story while they are at the park, school, with the neighbors, at work etc.
  4. have a distorted view of social responsibility (vv. 23-24) Define the social evil based on the things that scandalize the high classes. They are scandalized by abortion, the media’s profanity but ignore the poor (as a matter of fact most have demonized poverty placing the blame on the poor and not on the injustices of our economical system). Fight against the homosexual marriage but ignore the single mother, the battered women, the elderly, the orphan, the homeless and the less privilege.
  5. have a distorted view of holiness (vv. 25-28) They keep the external appearance to the expense of the internal improvement. They are concerned for the things that can be seen and ignore those who are more harmful but hard to see. (It is no surprise that they are attracted to the cameras and want to be seen by the people. Most neo-Pharisees use the media to promote their enslaving “gospel”) Condemn the believer if he/she is sharing a beer with an unbeliever (probably at a bar). However, they prepare feasts where food is more than abundant and joke about gluttony. They ignore professional ethics and because of their envy and competition on who has more people sitting on their chairs on Sunday, use any trick to “steal” people from other congregations.
  6. have a distorted view of the past (and tradition) (vv. 29-30) They are arrogant about the past pretending to say that it does not affect them. They are also arrogant when they pretend to ignore the past and dismiss it thinking that they are over it. There is no sense of tradition and undermine it by looking for new and convenient interpretations.


Matthew 23:34 begins with a “therefore” a sign that the judgment of God was about to be revealed. Jesus, as a prophet, declares judgment and declares, “so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” (35-36 NASB)

The neo-Pharisee are not necessarily assassins using guns. They kill with their mouth, with what they say and with what they do not do. Therefore, lets be careful of being like them and much more of doing like they do. Faith in Jesus, justice, mercy and love are the essentials of the Christian faith, NOT THE APPEARANCES.

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