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Plucking the Mask from the Face of the Pharisee

Filed in Book Reviews, Relationships by on December 13, 2013

Plucking the Mask from the Face of the Pharisee

That’s what Jesus did. If we belong to Him, we ought to have strength enough to do the same, when we are called upon to do it. Do you know why we don’t? We are afraid. What would happen if we exposed Pharisaical thinking? Pharisees wouldn’t like us anymore, and we can’t have that, can we? I mean – they call the religious shots, right? We’ve got to tow the line so we fit in.

I just finished an intriguing book called Unseduced and Unshaken: The Place of Dignity in a Young Woman’s Choices by Rosalie De Rossett. I want to share some quotes that have the potential to shift paradigms. God has already done some seismic shifting in my own life in 2013, and this book clinched many things for me. Maybe some of these things will be helpful to you, too.

The title of the book is taken from John Milton’s Paradise Lost where he writes about Abdiel, the one angel who remains loyal after the fall of Satan: “Abdiel, faithful found;/Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified,/His loyalty he kept.” This book seeks to help women have a vision for being this kind of woman—unshaken and unseduced.

The first chapter deals with dignity, and that’s the chapter I want to focus on here.

Dignity: formal, grave, or noble bearing, conduct or speech; nobility or elevation of character; the quality or condition of being worthy, esteemed or honored; inherent nobility and worth; poise and self-respect; formal reserve or seriousness of manner appearance, or language.”

“Dignity contains within it, as the definitions suggest, not only noble bearing, a facet of appearance, but also noble character which comes from inherent nobility and worth. That means the person is sure of her values and beliefs, she is sober and thoughtful about every part of her life. And, what this discussion is trying to do is to introduce you to dignity’s importance, not to present yet another unreachable ideal. If you can see the crucial role of a quality, it is possible to begin the journey toward that quality because it promises a life of greater integrity. The truth of the matter is that most of us are in process, no matter what our age. It is easier for some of us to look dignified than others, but to truly be dignified is something different that has a number of components.”

“When dignity is talked about among Christian women, it most often has to do with the passages about wives’ behavior in 1 Timothy and the proverbial “quiet and submissive spirit,” a phrase that is seldom correctly scripturally interpreted and is too often equated with passivity contributing to women’s voicelessness. Passivity, wrote one clinical psychologist, ‘is born of anxiety; it is a fear of using our energies lest we risk disapproval by others or risk failure in our own eyes….It is a disowning of our nobler part—our self-reliance, our courage under fire, our resolve to win, our determination to inspire others to greater heights.’”

“To be a Christian woman of dignity, a woman must know who she is before God; she must have dealt thoughtfully with her personhood and made decisions about who she will be. Dignity is a strong, chosen, deliberate way of life, the result of the totality of a person’s choices and worldview.”

One of the interesting things about this book is that the author uses literature to illustrate her points. In the first chapter on dignity, her classic of choice is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. She demonstrates how the main character, Jane, lives out dignity and true morality in the face of the self-righteous Pharisaism all around her.

Jane, who does not have the advantage of good looks or good fortune, survives in spirit because she chooses the path her life (spirit, mind, and behavior) will take, often against cultural mores and corrupt authoritative voices. She has a sense of voice from the time she is a child and tells the truth in every circumstance, even when it could endanger her well-being. Though she must learn to refine her expression, she will not silence the voice of her intellectual needs or mute her moral voice by compromising her character with poor relational or sexual choices for the sake of fleeting happiness. She rises to a higher standard, a God-given understanding of righteousness.

So, first of all, she tells the truth, a righteous truth. She trusts her instincts—something women are often prone to ignore. She doesn’t go along with the conventional wisdom that says, “keep quiet, take the abuse, answer questions the way you’re expected to.” She calls her aunt on her cruel behavior. She refuses to give pious answers to the evil school director, Mr. Brocklehurst, when he asks her supposedly “spiritual questions” about the Bible. Listen to the following exchange—starting with his attempt to intimidate her.

“Do you know where the wicked go after death?”

“They go to hell,” was my ready and orthodox answer.

“And what is hell? Can you tell me that?”

“A pit full of fire.”

“And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there for ever?”

“No sir.

What must you do to avoid it?

I must keep in good health and not die.” [replies Jane]

The reader can’t help smiling at this childlike honesty, but also the kind of truthful spirit that will become “a strong moral sensibility.” That’s the kind of woman I think Jesus wants us to be—that’s the kind of biological and spiritual daughters He wants us to raise, women who have a righteous instinct for recognizing, naming, and resisting abuse and falsehood.”

Are we that brave? Do we dare to stand up for what the Word of God teaches – and not buckle when others want to add their own, self-appointed morality to the pot? Will we call a spade a spade? Are we OK when others disapprove because we have broken their rules?

Bronte wrote the following words in the preface to the novel’s second edition: “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.” In other words, what has always been done culturally is not the same as moral principle. Pointing out the hypocrisy of what a person or church has decided is appropriate is not an attack on the person of Jesus  Christ.

I wonder how many young women reading this feel that sense of self, that sense of worth before God, a worth that extends to their choices and ability to stand for what they know is right? I wonder how many women in general can make the distinction between what their subculture dictates (the church, the circles they occupy) and true morality, between the self-righteousness of peer pressure and true conviction, between Pharisaical demands and what Christ wants His daughters to be?

I’d like to share more from this book sometime if you are interested. Reading it has been an enriching experience.

About the Contributor

Natalie Klejwa is a Wemmick, loved by the Woodcarver, wife of 22 years to Joe, and mother to 9 Wemmicks ages 2-20. She is a business owner (Apple Valley Natural Soap), founder and administrator of the Visionary Womanhood blog, publisher and contributing author of Three Decades of Fertility, and a contributing author of The Heart of Simplicity: Foundations for Christian Homemaking and You Can Do It Too: 25 Homeschool Families Share Their Stories. You can hear her being interviewed on Kevin Swanson's Generations with Vision radio program. Follow Natalie on Facebook, Pinterest, and Google +. View all posts by Natalie →

Comments (16)

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  1. Laura Ellis says:

    Hi Natalie,

    (First, let me say I so appreciate your ministry on this blog… As a “mama of many”, I feel less alone whenever I visit here!:)

    This reply is also in response to your prior article about dating. In that piece, you mentioned being someone who tends to see everything in black and white. I can be that way, too, but through painful circumstances in my life, the Lord has freed me. Or I should say, is continuing to free me! In fact, I wrote a blog ( about that very topic where I address legalism in the church. The kind of legalism that does what the Pharisees were guilty of – “making into law the traditions of men.”

    Certainly, there are Black and Whites in Scripture (God’s clearly revealed will for all men), but there are also Grey areas (things not specifically addressed in the Word like the particulars of modestly, how to best be a “keeper at home”, the steps leading up to marriage, how to educate our children and so on) that the Lord will be faithful to lead us in individually as we seek Him.

    Can I be frank about something? Can I address what I perceive to be the “elephant in the room”? (And if I am wrong, please forgive me!!!):

    While I am very sad for Doug Phillips and his family and for those that were hurt by his sin, I am not sad that Vision Forum is no longer a ministry in the Body of Christ. That may sound harsh, but here is why: It promoted so much legalism in the form of “making into law the traditions of men” that I believe became a burden to some, perhaps many, families. VF promoted and created a subculture of Christianity that was often defined by the things they did rather than by who they were in Christ. And please, don’t get me wrong many of the things they did were good things! But when good things that are Grey areas (like homeschooling, family-integrated worship, embracing an open womb, courtship, etc.) become THE things ALL Christians are supposed to be doing, then there is something wrong.

    And this is what I believe was possibly the major fault with VF: a faulty Biblical exegesis that crafted rules from certain passages in Scripture that were not meant to communicate THE prescription for godly living. For example, I know that I know that I know that adultery is ALWAYS wrong; putting my child into Sunday School isn’t, unless the Lord has led our family otherwise. Scripture is clear regarding adultery. As to where our children are supposed to worship in the church building, Scripture is silent. Grasping the difference between the Black and Whites of Scripture vs. the Grey areas is tremendously important.

    I am sorry for getting on my “soap box” here; I just have such a passion for those burdened by legalism to be freed. To be free from burdens God never intended them to bear. His yoke is easy! His burden is light! And if I have offended anyone by addressing VF, please know
    my intent was not to cause strife. Rather I am passionate for all of us as God’s daughters to never let anything other than the MAIN THING (JESUS!) to
    become the Main Thing. Any ministry that veers from a Gospel and Christ-centered focus to a list of man-made
    rules is in dangerous waters. Oh, that God would keep us all at the foot of the cross and that His church would be purified from the leaven of the Pharisee!

    in His love,

    • Thank you for taking time to share more at length, Laura. I agree with you completely. I have to say, I am smiling though – because the first two comments today are about Doug Phillips, and he never crossed my mind when I wrote this. Not even once. He’s obviously on the minds of a lot of people who read this blog though. When I think of Pharisaism, I think of it more on a personal level. It’s what we do – all of us – every day. We are constantly fighting the urge to think more highly of ourselves because “we do, or don’t do, such and such.” It’s what I see around me during the week in my children. It’s what I experience from well-meaning friends at church. It’s what I hear in conversations.

      Yes, sometimes ministries have a greater effect on how this attitude is propagated – but every ministry does this, to a certain degree, and every human being does this. Christian or not. That’s because we all tend toward “religion.” It’s in our nature. And we all want power. Even the quiet, seemingly submissive woman. Her quietness can be a power play. Do we realize the subtle wickedness of our hearts?

      None of us will ever have it all together. We are broken. Just as you pointed out, Laura, we need Christ every single day. Amen? Amen.

    • Laura Ellis says:

      Dear sisters,

      Having read through your comments I feel I must apologize for referring to a VF “subculture”. I was broad brushing and that is NOT okay! Just as I do not wish to be categorized in any “camp”, I was convicted by the Holy Spirit that I need to treat others the same. Please forgive me!!! And let me say I do not doubt for a moment that VF was a blessing to many. Much of what they taught was true and many of the things they promoted were good!

      I would like to add something to our discussion regarding Pharisees (and then I promise I won’t comment on this thread again :):

      The Pharisees weren’t just guilty of believing they could be good enough to get to heaven (a form of legalism). Jesus accused them of “making into law the traditions of men” and for placing “burdens on men’s backs” (another form of legalism). And since they were the perceived spiritual authority in their day, their sin of legalism had widespread influence.

      We all may struggle with the Pharisaical tendency to believe our decisions are BEST or THE right way(speaking of Grey areas here), but not everyone takes a public platform with it and promotes it to the degree that VF did. There are times where it can be appropriate to address such groups for the greater good of the Body of Christ.

      Please know, I write all of this knowing I am a “Wemmick” just like any other!!! I am simply someone who, having been so burdened by legalism in the past, has a passion for others to avoid it.

      In Jesus,

  2. Cindy says:

    I think my upbringing in a faithful and completely non-Pharisaical home has protected me from worrying too much about what legalists might think of me. Or anti-legalists, for that matter. The Gospel does just fine for us. :-) I was startled by the whole idea that Pharisees among us might have some power over anybody in that way. I’ve always just walked away from them because they don’t look authentic to me after years of living with my parents.

    Then I realized I’m just slightly damaged. I stopped caring what anybody thinks of me so long ago (because I realized nobody thought of me very often at all ;-) ) that I steer clear of anybody who might use their own moral standing, rather than the gospel, to spread their “faith”. There are legalists and Pharisees, for sure (did you see my joke about it on FB? Nobody thought it was funny, but I’m still smirking), but I wonder why so many are speaking against them right this minute? Is it the Doug Philips thing? I could see that, I guess, but I’m not sure how much power he and his “ministry” had, so I can’t really comment on it. I don’t see this as a huge problem in the church *right now*, at least not the one I go to. Jesus warned about Pharisees because they had the power to lead people astray in those days. Who has that power in these days? Not the legalists, for sure! Nobody likes them very much in mainstream America, do they? I see a lot more damage coming from celebrity Christianity, new agey Christianity, etc., and they wield an inordinate amount of power over the rest of us. Not that you shouldn’t speak against Pharisees, too, since they are very damaging to Jesus’ body. Just, why are so many thinking about it right now? *Is* it the Doug Philips thing? Inquiring minds want to know…
    Cindy recently posted…Comments are Wide OpenMy Profile

    • Actually, Doug Phillips never even crossed my mind when I wrote this. (There’s so much going on in my life right now, I don’t think I’ve even thought of him more than once or twice since I heard the news.) Last year I read the book Accidental Pharisees – and it really rocked my world. Mainly because I was deeply convicted by my own Pharisaical attitudes. It was more of an inner heart thing than an outward manifestation, although I’m sure there are people in my life who would attest to seeing my pride in action too. Once I saw the prevalence of the problem in my own heart, I began to see it in its subtle forms throughout the church. Locally and at large. And then in 2013 God cracked open a huge issue in our family, and the fallout has been an even deeper recognition of how Pharisaism is at work in powerful ways even in our “helping” of other people. A friend recommended the book highlighted in this post – which really has nothing to do with Pharisaism, for the most part – but this chapter touched on it, hence the blog post title and focus. I hope that satisfies your curiosity! ;)

  3. Cindy says:

    Coming back to this (it’s on my mind. I should probably just write a blog post) Jesus never said the Pharisees had their own *personal* morality. In fact, he said quite the opposite: that they *should* have done everything that they did, but that they shouldn’t have been doing it for their own gain and power. It was their heart motivations and their not caring about the spirit of the the thing that so offended God, not their tithing. So taking that to its logical conclusion, is it possible for anyone to root out Pharisaism except in his own heart? We might be able to identify a posture of pride in others, but, not being Jesus ourselves, what can we do, except not giving them the accolades they obviously desire for their (self)righteousness? Is that enough? Are we supposed to be out there examining hearts the way the Savior did? I don’t think that’s the kind of power the Holy Spirit gives us!
    Cindy recently posted…Comments are Wide OpenMy Profile

    • If our young people are not equipped to recognize it when it is making power plays in order to control them, they will be unable to walk away from it. They’ll be sucked in to its demands that they act a certain way, look a certain way, and do certain things in order to be deemed a “good Christian.” Pharisaism is a controlling thing. Nobody is recommending that we examine other individual hearts, but we do need to be discerning when it comes to our own choices and motivations. I recommend Accidental Pharisees for a better understanding of what I’m trying to communicate and obviously doing a poor job of it.

      I also disagree with you that “they should have done everything that they did, but that they shouldn’t have been doing it for their own gain and power.” They made many extra-biblical rules that were above and beyond the law – and imposed those rules on the people. They were playing God. God doesn’t like that. :)

  4. Cindy says:

    I see what you mean, Natalie. That’s correct. I guess I’m just a little concerned that the morality baby is going to get thrown out with the Pharisee bathwater. ;-) Jesus *did* say that the Jews should listen to the Pharisees, but on a better reading, I see that he didn’t mean the legalism, but because they were sitting in the seat of Moses. Until Jesus took his throne, that was the right thing to do; even though people were instructed to listen to them, they were further instructed NOT to do as they did. So yeah.
    Cindy recently posted…Comments are Wide OpenMy Profile

    • “I guess I’m just a little concerned that the morality baby is going to get thrown out with the Pharisee bathwater.”

      LOL! Yes, that was my concern, too, for many years. That book (Accidental Pharisees) opened my eyes. Yes, people can have a problem with throwing out all morality and calling that freedom – but the Bible talks about that too. (Shall we continue to sin that grace may increase? May it never be!) By exposing what is under the Pharisee mask, we can’t dismiss God’s law. Just man’s law based on individual preference and choice. The rub is that we tend to think our preferences are God’s law. Even if we give others freedom – we often secretly THINK we are “better than they are” because WE choose to do something differently – not because God’s Word directs us to do it that specific way. I could roll out examples here, but I will let imaginations run wild with this.

  5. Wow, I am so happy I signed up for your newsletter as I would have likely missed this post otherwise. It is nice to read what those words in the Bible really mean for women of God. I was in a very abusive relationship and those Biblical teachings were transformed as a means to manipulate and control me. I have struggled for years to figure out who I am and as I have begun to walk with God {the real God, not the one whose words were used to hurt me} I find that everything seems new and bright and what once was a very scary thing like having faith is actually something that is natural for me and not only is it a decision I have made but one that I learn from on a daily basis. I may have chosen to walk with God but through all of these years God has always walked with me :)
    Marisa Slusarcyk recently posted…Kirby Puckernut and the Christmas SurpriseMy Profile

    • I’m so glad you are here Marisa! My heart especially aches for women who are in, or have come out of and are healing from, abusive relationships where the Bible is used as a weapon for oppression. This is not the heart of God. Welcome to hope. :)

  6. Sarah D. says:

    Love this post, Natalie. Especially the author’s definition of ‘dignity’. I’m a big proponent of women NOT being doormats or mousy. God did not intend for us to be voiceless!

    About Pharisees… Our minister did a good job with that topic a few weeks ago. It opened my eyes to my own “Pharisaical” ways. The point was that, ultimately, the Pharisees believed that if they could just be better than everyone else they would make it into Heaven. They lived like they believed God would grade them on a curve, the “best” grade winning. They didn’t understand that the Law wasn’t given to us to ‘follow as best we can so we can earn our salvation’, but to show us that we can never in a million years be as Holy as God and could never, ever earn our salvation. We need a Savior!!! Only He was/ is Holy. Only He can satisfy the whole Law. He is the only One that ever walked this earth that kept the whole Law! I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive to follow God’s laws as best as we can. But, we must realize that no matter how well we follow the law, we will never save ourselves.

    Since others have mentioned it… I’m going to be honest: I’m sorry to see Vision Forum go. I’m sorry that Mr. Phillips did whatever it was he did. I’m sorry for his wife and children. People can say what they are going to say about the matter, but Vision Forum has been a huge encouragement in the lives of many people. My husband has told me that without some of the teachings from VF through his minister at the time we would never have come together. He comes from a “normal” public schooled Christian background and I am from a homeschooled Christian background. If not for the “legalistic” (as one commenter put it) teachings of VF, he would have never looked twice at me. I’m not “normal”! Our “pre-marriage” relationship was not “romantic movie perfect”. Do we agree with everything that VF put forth? Of course not. Only God is perfect, remember? ;-) But, God used VF to turn us both to Himself. We both have learned so much from the resources and have used them to search deeper into God’s Word for ourselves. If you found things that VF taught “legalistic”, ask yourself one question: Did you look for it in God’s Word or did you just use your own judgement/ whatever you ‘felt led’ to do? I’ve been convicted many times to rethink my stand on things by someone bringing up a topic *and then* going to God’s Word to see how my thinking and the other person’s thinking line up. If they get it right, I’m not too proud to admit that I was wrong. =)

    Anyway, as I was saying before, we can’t save ourselves. This is true for being “legalistic” or being “free” from legalism. God created the Law. Not so we could follow it and be saved (legalism); but neither does He want us to forget the Law and live as we please (free from legalism).

    Sorry this was so long. I’m sure it was clear as mud. =)

  7. Kim says:

    I appreciate your article, Natalie. I think we all need to be aware of our own tendencies. I happen to know families, who on the outside would be viewed at legalistic because of certain convictions they have, but who actually are making decisions based on true convictions of the heart and on their love for The Lord Jesus. (Which I think you are saying is a good thing so long as they don’t impose them on others.) But there are also others, who camp out on the “freedom” side who stand in judgement, accusing them of legalism, when in fact, they are only doing what they truly believe to be right, and from right motives! I think we need to know our own tendencies and be careful not to point fingers. It’s pretty easy to stand in judgement on either side.
    It ‘s also easy to make decisions out of fear on either side. We don’t have a television because we believe it is the best choice for our family. Others can look at that and say, “That’s legalistic. And your kids are going to grow up and live in front of the tv because…” First of all, it may not be legalistic at all. It just may be from a prayerful, thought out, decision. Secondly, should I change my decision because of FEAR that my kids might grow up and live in front of the tv? No. We have to do what we believe God has laid on our hearts, regardless of the results. All of this to say, I think we all can make decisions out of fear, which is never a good thing. Thanks for encouraging moms to make decisions prayerfully and not just follow blindly in either “direction.”

    • Yes, Kim, these are things I have puzzled over for a long, LONG time – coming to the same conclusions you have. Live before God – and give others freedom to live before God. We will all battle our pride (on both sides of the spectrum) until we die. But it’s a battle worth fighting. Thank you for sharing here, Kim.

    • Sarah D. says:

      So true, Kim. =)