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.
God’s people have always been plagued by a relentless fascination with idolatry.
Oh, they use the name Yahweh, or Jehovah God, or maybe just God, or more recently the name Jesus, but the Bible makes it clear that they were idolaters in every sense of the word. From Genesis all the way to Revelation, the idea of idolatry, and of committing adultery against God is ever present.
Somehow, after the Reformation, modern people thought that they could not succumb to idolatry any more. We heard sermons, and perhaps we even preached sermons, that used the word “idolatry,” but we never really came close to naming those idols. We might wave a dollar bill around our head in some voyeuristic fashion, or point out somebody’s million dollar mansion. But we always steered conveniently clear of our summer cabins in Colorado and our 5th wheel trailers with their satellite dishes and multiple roll-outs so that we can stay comfortable when we have to be inconvenienced in being away from home.
Americans are not only idolaters, we are hypocrites too, but that is for another post.
Every since the massacre of the school children in Newtown, CT, I have been bombarded with evidence that America has fallen completely in love with another idol, and this one will destroy us just as surely as the golden calves caused the destruction of Northern Israel. The idol is the United States Constitution, and nowhere is it more directly visible than in our repulsive adoration of the second amendment.
The second amendment to the Constitution would not be so troublesome, if it were interpreted with any degree of sanity. It simply says that because of the need for state militias, the right of people to bear arms shall not be infringed. Now, notice – the clauses which precede the actual “right” that is enumerated specifically states the necessity of militias – armed military groups necessary for the defense of the people. There was no standing army as such. Men were called to duty, and organized by states, as is perfectly illustrated in the Civil War.
The insanity begins when people only look at the “right” and completely overlook the “reason.” Most people, accustomed to the 30 second sound bites on TV, think that modern efforts at gun control are somehow an infringement on the precious 2nd Amendment “right” to bear arms. I know the rhetoric well. I rehearsed it every chance I got. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” “Take away all the guns and only criminals will have guns.” All the slogans sound so right. Bumper sticker politics at its best. Throw a line like that into a sermon and you will get invitations to go out and eat at Furr’s cafeteria for the rest of the month.
Notice I spoke in the past tense. The murders in Newtown changed me forever. I will never use such insipid and ignorant language again. The cataracts over my eyes were ripped off in horrific fashion. I don’t know why they stayed on after Columbine, after Georgia Tech, after Aurora. But there they were, distorting my vision and making me think I was some kind of intellectual when all I was amounted to an ignorant buffoon.
That kind of does it for the politics – but what about the faith? What about the Christianity?
I’ll just be blunt and say it. I really do not think you can be a follower of Jesus the Christ and still support the 2nd Amendment as it is so devoutly defended by the NRA. And I truly do not think your Christianity amounts to a thimble of water if you are a member of the NRA – if you defend their most diabolical pronouncements. I am not condemning mere membership, although I feel that is a compromised position. What I am condemning is active defense of the most unchristian and indefensible statements made by NRA leaders and members. (Calling members of the FBI, DEA, and other Federal law enforcement agencies “jack booted thugs” or “Nazis” comes to mind).
First, the 2nd Amendment was written by a group of fallible humans who produced a fallible document that has worked (to some degree or another) for a mere 200 + years of history. To equate it to Scripture and say that we are to follow the 2nd Amendment because it is a part of the US Constitution is to declare that we are servants to Caesar and it is to him that we owe our loyalty. Jesus said we cannot serve two masters, and that our King is in heaven. We only get one choice – God or the Constitution. Choose wisely, your eternity depends upon it.
Second, Jesus came and died to destroy the power systems of this world – Satan being the chief power behind all worldly power systems. The US Constitution is just one of those worldly power systems. The 2nd Amendment grants power to those who own a tool designed, and purchased with one intent – to kill or maim another human being. Just think of how many guns there are that are designed for uses other than killing or causing great human bodily damage. Very, very few exist. Most of those are for hunting, although a few might be described as “sporting” firearms. Every handgun ever manufactured has one purpose, and well over 90 % of long guns (rifles and shotguns) are designed to kill or maim humans. That they are used for target practice does not minimize their ultimate purpose. Just to make my point even more clear, think of how many targets that are used at shooting ranges come in the outline of a human being.
Christians are commanded to think outside of this world – to have our minds transformed by the power of the One who came to save us from ourselves. Guns are designed to kill humans. Jesus died to save us from our sins and so that we could have life, and have it abundantly. The NRA, and those who steadfastly support the agenda of the NRA, exists so that others may die. It is that plain and simple. I have never heard any member of the NRA support or propose sensible restrictions to the power of human killing guns or the ammunition that destroys so much more than human flesh.
I am horrified and not just a little nauseated that so many of my “friends” within the Churches of Christ especially have devoted so much of their time in the days following this latest tragedy to support the uninhibited and unrestrained “right” to own guns. It is unchristian, it is completely opposite of the message of the crucified one, and it is a deeply ignorant position to hold. As I mentioned earlier, I was there until 12/14/12. I don’t know why it took me so long to see the sin of my position, or it’s unfathomable ignorance. But those 20 children who lost their lives in that massacre managed to do something that no other mass killing ever managed to do. They woke me up.
I won’t go back to sleep.
America’s obsession with guns will destroy it. It has already destroyed her soul. We count little first graders as “collateral damage” and we just shrug our shoulders and say, “evil happens” as if that solves any problem, or even identifies any problem. Well, people, it does neither. And as long as we have people who claim to be Christians who defend the use of assault rifles and the mass murderers who use them, America will never be free. Schools now will have to have even more security – more metal detectors, more limited methods of entry and exit, higher fences. I know some prisons that have fewer security systems. And this is freedom?
You can have it. I want the freedom that is in Christ – the freedom that comes from surrendering my rights – and that means my so called 2nd Amendment right to own a gun designed to kill another human being.