We’re not surprised anymore when a famous preacher who blasts homosexuality gets caught in a homosexual affair doing meth. A governor who pursues ethics in Wall Street is busted for carousing with prostitutes. An actor turned governor turned actor hides a secret child outside his marriage for ten years, fully realizing his role as an actor. We’ve learned that Nazi doctors who ordered the deaths of countless people were also fathers and husbands, a phenomenon later coined “doubling.” At least a third of pastors are addicted to pornography. And half of Christian men are in the same boat.
Once you claim a standard, you’re claimed by that standard.
Even the reckless prodigal or the pseudo-reasonable atheist has claimed categories of superiority. They both sneer at the religious right. The only difference is a Christian works from a deficit: he is expected to be impeccably polite while an atheist lacks all accountability and likes it that way. The atheist has infinite loopholes when he falls — especially when he falls — while the Christian is ready to be hanged at any second for a single outburst.
It’s a sort of reverse bigotry. The non-religious gets in a scandal and it’s “business as usual.” The pastor destroys his marriage and he’s no longer qualified for ministry, or to be treated like a human being.
How far do we take this? If an atheist turned out to be an axe murderer, his atheism as a cover is as good as a cheap hooker’s dress. Try to call that the usual business and you’re likely to be called insane.
No matter who you are or claim to be, a standard has claimed you.
The late John Stott said, Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross … It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.
While no one has a valid excuse for hypocrisy, a follower of Christ has more reason to keep it real. He is held accountable even when others are not. And if we claim no superiority, then we have no right to judge outside the church. We have every right to confront each other in the church, to build and not to destroy.
But we cannot ask of others what we first are not doing ourselves.
Paul says, Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Of course we’re not asked to do this perfectly. But we are called to do it passionately.
We try to compare apples and oranges, like one sin is worse than the other.
A gossiper can so easily look down on a crackhead, as if gossip were a miniscule monster.
A porn addict takes comfort in not being a terrorist or murderer.
A lazy jobless middle-aged “man” claims he’s not cheating on his wife or beating his kids.
An upper-class businesswoman thinks the poor haven’t worked hard enough to get out of their misfortune.
A Reformed Calvinist blogger calls for doctrinal unity while he himself is a loveless, cold-hearted, doctrine-worshiping prig.
No one on earth anywhere can ever lift himself on a throne. That throne is taken. Our throne is dirt. Yet we must call out each others’ sins, even if we do it with our dirty sinful mouths. And if we’re to earn that right to rebuke, then we first begin knowing it’s a privilege, and not everyone is allowed such a sober, sacrificial duty.
No one should ever relish in the rebuke itself, but only rejoice in how it can restore.
We see in guilt-driven preachers how they use fear and shame to manipulate their listeners. Their God is a small god. They’re not so much yelling at the congregation as they are yelling at themselves. A preacher living a double-triple-multiple life will inevitably bleed into the pulpit. You can almost hear his desperate cry for help. I know this because I often hear it in myself.
I’d like to think a Christian publicly condemns the sin he loves because he so hates that sin in himself, and makes a sick, twisted, self-righteous effort to save others from it. As if saving were really his job. But mostly the hypocritical Christian does this out of a split-minded rationalization, to consume pleasure for himself in his “private life” while compensating to God in his public declarations. This sort of psychological contortion is unsustainable.
Can we all come clean here? May we know it’s better to be transparent and open and free to confess our filthy addictions? How much better it is to walk into church, into the presence of a holy gracious God, without having to hide a single thing. What a freedom. That even if we’re still stained, we have confidence God is working in us still, drawing us out of sin with His perfect love.
This can only happen in a church full of grace and honesty. The “perfect church” has none.
At the very least we must remember where we came from: complete darkness, a world of swirling pain, a cesspool of death and self-centered ego. When we know the depth of our sin, there’s no way we cannot be compassionate towards the lost. When we know the cost of our rescue, it’s impossible not to love with the same love.
Unity happens when we rejoice in humility: to say of ourselves that we were once dead in sin, still struggle on our way to the cross, and have no particular value that Jesus himself did not give us. Self-righteousness is a prisoner’s island. You don’t have to stay there. It’s messier out here, but better.