Friday, September 28, 2012

Agree to Disagree

To the secularist, Christians and hypocrisy go hand-in-hand. The easy dodge is to admit that “all have sinned,” so in God’s eyes we are no different other than the Christian being saved by grace through the blood of Jesus Christ. The risk then, is when Christians become sanctimonious and holier-than-thou on a particular moral issue. Ted Haggard wouldn’t have drawn nearly the media attention for his drug-fueled homosexual dalliance had he not been a conservative evangelical pastor who was outspoken against homosexuality. And it doesn’t even have to be apples-to-apples, is it fair for a minister to preach against homosexuality while having an affair on his wife (sadly so common it's become cliche)? Or let’s not even go fruit-to-fruit, is it right to pontificate against one particular sin while willfully ignoring another? Homosexuality, promiscuity and drug addiction are all well-recognized and easily condemned while gossip, laziness and gluttony are seldom addressed from the pulpit. So the issue isn’t so much hypocrisy as it is a double-standard.

Jesus spoke plainly when he said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3) If we all humble ourselves before the cross of Christ then we recognize others not by their unique personal sin, but by our collective sin and need of redemption. The stranger next to you on the train needs Jesus just as much as you do. And so we must extend mercy.

That’s looking down at sin. What about looking up at discipleship? Books such as Crazy Love, Radical, Not A Fan and others all hit the same note of calling the reader to a higher bar, a higher standard of Christianity. They are not the first to do so, nor will they be the last. One might argue for “totally committed” or “completely sold-out” or “on-fire with the Holy Spirit” but what do any of those things really mean in a practical relatable sense? Is it fair to expect a single mom scraping by just to feed her kids to go above and beyond in the name of “commitment” by giving more than she can afford to an annual missions contribution? Is it realistic to be “fired up for God” every day, even through all the ups and downs of life? Not to mention one person’s cause-of-the-moment may not be the same as another’s. So can we look down on someone who isn’t fighting to stop sex trafficking but is sacrificing their time to open their home to after-school care? Or what about the person who may not be able to make a church function because they have to work overtime in order to pay the bills, yet happily serves in children’s ministry every Sunday morning? Bottom line, what is important to me in defining my discipleship may not be what is most important to you. I need to beware my plank before I judge.

But what about those who are raising the bar through their books, their podcasts and their conference-headlining performances? Don't get me wrong, I don’t want to accuse them of looking down upon those who do not prescribe to their definition of discipleship. But are we guilty of holding them to a higher standard? After all, are they not also responsible to practice what they preach? Or are we to take their words with a grain of salt to do as they say, not as they do?

Recently someone commented on my blog about one such author who writes about making dramatic financial sacrifices in order to advance the Kingdom (one of many points he makes in his book- if it were the entire theme of the book I might feel differently). Meanwhile, he allegedly lives in a half-million dollar home. Is that fair to judge? How do you or I know how much he is personally sacrificing? And just because visibly it appears as if he could definitely sacrifice more, is it up to me to judge him by a standard that I make up on my own?

This is a difficult subject for me. It seems natural to expect the author, the preacher or the leader to exist on some special spiritual level higher than the average layperson. I’ve certainly been guilty of feeling that way. Several years ago I was part of a committee to reexamine ministry salaries. During one of several open forums where we met with ministry staff, the wife of one minister asked, “you can’t expect me to live on that side of town! I have to think about my family and schools and…” You get the picture. I was appalled. For the longest time I could not look at this person the same way. Another time I was in a meeting with a variety of ministry staff discussing how to address a specific issue and it became clear that no one else shared the same conviction I had. Yet at the same time, I realized that I wasn’t as zealous about the point they were trying to make. This experience forced me to step back and realize that it was not fair for me to expect others to think about things in the exact same way as me. I have since been able to avoid many arguments during our board meetings recognizing not everyone has the same convictions about money that I have.

We don’t all have the same convictions. I share mine here on this blog. You are free to disagree. So I appreciate the comment this person left on the subject, but as I think more about it, it is not my fight to fight. If someone preaches the Gospel in public but is enslaved to sin in private, that does not invalidate the Gospel. Paul didn’t say to follow him, but to follow his example as he followed the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1) In other words, even if Paul slipped up somewhere along the way it didn’t change who we are really called to follow. Elsewhere Paul went on to point out that many preach out of sinful motives (is wanting to make money by writing a Christian book selfish or worldly?) but it didn’t matter because the Gospel was still being preached.

I appreciate you stopping by this small corner of the Christian blogosphere. We're not likely to agree on everything. Chances are, I'll probably say something that is completely wrong. Feel free to call me out on it. I only ask that you recognize that our convictions may not be the same. And I'll recognize the same with you.


Anonymous said...

i think that's called "walking the plank."
sorry... bad joke.

i really like this part...

"Paul didn’t say to follow him, but to follow his example as he followed the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1) In other words, even if Paul slipped up somewhere along the way it didn’t change who we are really called to follow."

Anonymous said...
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