Have you ever heard someone’s speech described as pontificating? If so, they are being accused of expressing their views in a ‘pompous and dogmatic’ way! It’s a rather strange word and I am always interested to know where these words originate.
Pontificate comes from the latin words- Pontifex – Pont – bridge and fex (from ‘facere’) – make. So, in effect, it means to make a bridge between two isolated or separate things or people. In the Roman Catholic Church it is used to describe a bishop officiating at, particularly, mass and the bishops themselves are known as Pontiffs. Presumably, it was originally intended to describe those with the necessary knowledge explaining it to non-educated people.
The Cambridge English dictionary gives a better explanation: ‘To speak or write or give your opinion about something as if you knew everything about it and as if only your opinion was correct.’ It is interesting to see this word being used to describe bishops, isn’t it? I wonder if the word changed meaning after it was first used or if it was correctly assigned to bishops because of the way in which they were seen to behave.
I guess we’ve all come across those who ‘pontificate’ and who imagine we’re all in awe of their great knowledge and understanding. Such people are very unattractive and are in love with the sound of their own voice. This reminds me so much of the Biblical Pharisees, and Jesus reserved His fiercest criticism for them. They were well versed in scripture and the law and were very proud of themselves, pride being another sin which repulses God:
The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: they will not go unpunished! (Proverbs 16:5)
The Pharisees were an ancient Jewish sect and, unlike their counterparts, the Sadducees, they allowed some freedom of interpretation of the Mosaic law. This, of course, is always open to abuse and allows for personal interpretations to overrule scripture. We see much of this in our churches today, where many have abandoned traditional Biblical truths to permit modern practices and preferences so that the church continues to have a position in society. In order to be acceptable to modern society, these churches have become God’s enemy and seem to be totally unaware of it, just like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.
Why do people do this? Trying to sound authoritative and taking the moral high ground to justify their position. Isn’t their duty purely to glorify and obey God? What purpose do they have if they are denying God’s Word? I see comparisons between the Pharisees and many of today’s churches, especially those with a hierarchy. If the roots of a plant are diseased, then what hope is there for the branches? Those Pharisees and Sadducees thought themselves as superior yet Jesus had this to say of them:
Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)
What a damning indictment of these people – who claimed to be morally superior – that Jesus could say we had to be more righteous than them or we would certainly not enter heaven! No wonder they hated Him! Jesus was so disgusted with these self-righteous religious zealots that he kept His most scathing criticism for them:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to…
You travel over land and sea to win a single convert and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are…
You give a tenth of your spices… but you have rejected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former…
You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean…
You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean…
You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. (Matthew 23:13-29)
The very people who should have been setting the best example were the ones leading the people further from God. Those who take up the position of being Biblical leaders are warned that if they abuse that position they are like shepherds who have no love for the sheep under their care and lead them astray. What punishment awaits those people!
When we all stand before God, as we must, there will be no hierarchy, no important people, no ‘pontificating’ and no excuses. Everyone will be judged according to their deeds. God will not ask us if we held an important position in our church because that’s not what matters. All that matters is that we know God in our hearts and God already knows everyone who is His.
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me. (John 10:14)