Just a quick follow-up to my post of yesterday. I have noticed that when any preacher delivers a spellbinding sermon condemning any kind of sin, everyone seems to think he was preaching right at them. It’s kind of like the theory that pharmaceutical companies use to hawk their latest and greatest pill – make a slick advertisement telling people that they MIGHT have this disease or another, and that their pill MIGHT be a solution, but be sure to go talk to your doctor right away just to be sure.
I do not want anyone to think that because hypocrisy is deadly (it clearly is) that I am suggesting that everyone in the church is a hypocrite. I do not even wish to suggest that everyone who owns a gun is a hypocrite. I happen to own guns. Misguided and ignorant? Well if the shoe fits then wear it – but that does not necessarily make a person a hypocrite.
You are not a hypocrite if you condemn a certain behavior, and yet occasionally find yourself caught in that exact behavior – as long as you recognize your failing and work to overcome it. For example – a recovering alcoholic is not a hypocrite if he or she temporarily “falls off of the wagon” and relapses. That is being human and being weak, but it is not necessarily an act of hypocrisy. Likewise, a person may be a real stickler for personal honesty and integrity, and yet find himself or herself in a situation where bankruptcy is quite literally the only option. That person is not being a hypocrite – as long as they recognize their failing and work to make sure it does not recur, and as long as they are not advertising themselves as some kind of paragon of virtue that has never failed any measure of honesty or integrity.
Many people live lives absolutely terrified that they are being hypocrites for being regular church members and yet finding that they “fall short of the glory of God” and occasionally sin (Rom. 3:23). That is not hypocrisy, and it is most certainly not what Jesus soundly and repeatedly condemned (see Matthew 23 for the best known example).
Hypocrisy is knowingly and willfully leading a double life. Hypocrisy is saying you believe one thing or are committed to a certain ideal and yet living a life that is directly opposite of that stated ideal or commitment. Hypocrisy is preaching against any use of “demon rum” while you have a well stocked wet bar in your house. Hypocrisy is condemning pornography while you maintain your XXX rated subscription on your Dish network. Hypocrisy is condemning drunkenness because it is condemned in the Bible all the while you are eating yourself into an early grave through gluttony.
And, as I suggested earlier, hypocrisy is quoting book, chapter and verse to proclaim your steadfast devotion to protecting life and the process of justice while applauding our current President’s immoral and unjustifiable use of secret weapons and tactics to “remove” suspected terrorists. And, I added that hypocrisy is proclaiming out of one side of your mouth that the only thing that matters to you is the inspired word of God while simultaneously singing the praises of the 2nd Amendment, as if it were equal to Scripture, out of the other side of your mouth.
There are sane, justifiable reasons for owning a gun. Not nearly as many as some people think, but there are a few. I can think of hunting, owning an “heirloom piece” (emotional attachment) and, to a limited extent, recreation. Personally, I even call into question the idea of “self defense” as a legitimate use of a gun. For a weapon to be used as a form of self-defense it must be (1) loaded , (2) readily available, and (3) you have to have the mindset that causing death to another individual is something you are perfectly willing to perpetrate. To that scenario I simply would ask – how many children have been killed by guns that they found loaded and readily available? How many domestic violence situations have resulted in single or multiple deaths (often murder/suicide) because a gun was loaded and immediately available? [Every layer of safety that you add to protecting against accidents such as trigger locks, gun safes and keeping the weapon unloaded, etc., lengthens the time that it can be adequately used in self-defense, and thereby lessens its effectiveness, and thereby weakens the argument for using a gun as self-defense]. And, perhaps most disturbingly, how can a disciple of Christ decide that they are not only capable of killing another person, but are actually willing to do so before a crisis arises? We are not talking about military service here (that is another can of worms entirely). We are talking about loading a gun, putting it where we can reach it quickly and perhaps even coming out of the fog of a deep sleep, and telling ourselves, “Yes, I will shoot with the intent to kill perhaps without knowing who it is I am shooting or what their intent or frame of mind is.” And just to be honest here – many homeowners have killed “deadly intruders” who turned out to be nothing worse that a truant teenager returning from an illicit romp through the countryside.
As I said in my previous article, the more emotional investment we have in a particular issue, the harder it is to recognize our own duplicity. I know this from personal experience! I am not claiming perfection here. Maybe it is because I see my own duplicity here that this issue is so troubling to me. But I have lost a lot of respect for certain individuals because their willingness to defend and even perpetrate violence is absolutely opposite to the message of the one they call their Lord and Messiah. It runs counter to their stated commitment to Scripture and their reliance upon the evidence of history in regard to the way the early church responded to violence.
I’m just asking for a little self-examination here, using the Word of God as the scale. Let us each and all pray we will not be found lacking.
Two men are having a conversation. One, a devout Christian, asks the other, an avowed atheist, to come to church with him. The atheist inquires as to the location of the church. Upon finding out where the church is, he responds: “I would never attend there. That church is full of hypocrites.” “Well,” responds the Christian, “There is always room for one more.”
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard that joke. I have probably told it almost as many times. Looking at the situation rationally, apparently what the joke teller is saying is that clearly the unbeliever is a hypocrite, and so therefore joining a much larger group of hypocrites would be in this person’s long term best interest.
Somehow the joke is just not funny anymore. I wonder why I ever did think it was funny.
I remember that when I was growing up I would see numerous commercials on TV warning about this or that disease being a hideous “silent killer.” The warnings were supposed to be more dire because being killed by something you could not see was supposedly more frightening that being killed by something you could see. Frankly, I can’t think of anything more frightening that being killed by an enraged bull or some such event. However, you should be able to see the bull coming and therefore get out of the way, and if you are aware of certain “silent” diseases you can take steps to overcome them, so therefore you do not have to suffer death.
I have been thinking over the past few weeks that one of the great silent killers of faith in today’s church is the sin of hypocrisy. I know there are others, and that hypocrisy may not be the biggest of the faith killers, but it is a brutally efficient killer none the less. Notice that in the New Testament, Jesus addresses the sin of hypocrisy perhaps most frequently and most directly. That should cause us to at least ponder the seriousness of the sin.
To make a long post much shorter, let me summarize the gist of my thinking:
- Hypocrisy and hypocritical thinking is a long process made up of many small steps. We do not wake up one morning and make a promise to become a full-fledged hypocrite by the end of the day. In reality, hypocrites die a death of a thousand little cuts.
- Hypocrisy is not based in or on logic, but on feelings and intuition. If we are cured of a hypocritical stance it is usually after someone has pointed out the illogical position we are holding. The less emotion we have riding on the hypocritical stance, the easier it is to let go. Conversely, the more emotion we have riding on the contradictory positions, the harder it is to let go of one of them.
- Hypocrisy is therefore doubly painful to confess and repent of, because (1) we were wrong on the issue at hand and (2) we have invested considerable emotional capital in the error.
I have a couple of examples that (for me, at least) illustrate my points with crystal clarity. I hope I do not get too many people’s blood pressure up, because high blood pressure can be a silent killer.
The first example involves President Obama and his use of CIA drones and super-secret covert operations to kill suspected terrorists in Afghanistan and other countries. On the one hand, if a Republican president had ordered such strikes the “Doves” in the Democratic party would be positively apoplectic in their denunciations of the “illegal” and “immoral” actions of the president. Congressional hearings would be convened, the Sunday talk shows would be ablaze with their heated rhetoric. Strange, but I just do not see or hear any of those “Doves” commenting on their Commander in Chief’s actions. Hypocritical, you say? I would have to agree. But what of the Republican silence? These are the passionate, conservative, “we are a nation of laws” crowd that loves to quote the Bible and that simply cannot have enough bashing of President Obama when it comes to abortion or homosexual rights or same-sex marriage. Where is their complaint against a President who is absolutely flouting the law and biblical morality when it comes to “targeted eliminations” of “suspected combatants” that also end up killing scores of innocent bystanders. You see, when the “pot starts calling the kettle black,” there is not much left in the kitchen that escapes observation. Hypocrisy cuts deeply in both political parties.
Or, as a second example that is perhaps closer to home and one that disturbs me just as much, consider the recent (and on-going) debate concerning gun control. Consider that everything in the life of Jesus, his words and his actions, points to the disciple’s non-violent response to violence. Consider that every event recorded in the book of Acts reveals or demonstrates the fact that the early disciples understood and lived out that non-violent response to violence. Consider that for the first three centuries, our recorded history of the church convincingly supports the New Testament teaching concerning a non-violent response to violence. And then stop and consider who it is that is doing the loudest and the longest defense of owning and using a gun as a weapon of self-defense against an act of violence and you will see a long list of very conservative, very Bible believing, very Christ-confessing “disciples.”
In my own heritage, if a certain practice of worship is questioned you will find an adherent quote the gospels, quote the book of Acts, quote the letters of the early apostles, and possibly even quote an early church historian as to either why that practice should or should not be continued in today’s church.
In that same heritage, if a certain doctrine is questioned you will find an adherent quote “book, chapter and verse” to defend the doctrine (if he or she believes it to be true) or to condemn the practice (if he or she disagrees with the doctrine). That same adherent will also find evidence from writers within the first two or three centuries to defend their position.
In that same heritage if the question of gun ownership and use comes up, there is an increasingly shrill and pointed reference to…..the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Reference to the gospels is non-existant. Reference to the book of Acts is strangely missing. Voices that make reference to the rest of the New Testament or to the early church are deafeningly silent.
Honestly, the best I have heard anyone come up with is a misapplication of Luke 22:38 and some vague and as yet unsubstantiated command that we are to defend our families with the biggest, baddest gun we can own because we are to love and cherish our wives and children. Hmmm. Can’t find that exact reference in my concordance.
Returning to my oft-quoted but no longer funny joke about the level of hypocrisy in the church. That is just not funny anymore. The next time someone tells me that joke, I am going to ask them what is so funny about the church being full of hypocrites, when hypocrisy was so soundly condemned by our Lord. Instead, when the atheist or agnostic comments on the level of hypocrisy in the church, our response should be – “God forbid that is true. If it is, God will deal with the hypocrites as only he can deal with them. But I am called to a higher standard, and because you can see that higher standard as well, it is obvious that Jesus is working on your heart. Would you like to join me in working toward a hypocrite-free church?”
To be honest, I share the emotion expressed by our imaginary atheistic joke dweller. The church should be the LAST place hypocrisy is found. But that means that we as disciples must evaluate not only our actions, but our hearts and our emotional attachments as well.
Hypocrisy is a silent killer of faith. That does not make it more scary – but it should make us more diligent about dealing with it before it kills us.