Several years ago I served as pastor of a church in Alabama. I was energetic and frequently visited people door-to-door style like a candy bar salesman. During one such encounter a husband and wife (Let’s call them Bob and Susan.) invited me into their home. The couple’s house was adjacent to our church property, and from their living room window you could see right into my church office. I was exuberant as I presented my pitch to the party. After a few minutes of my exquisite presentation, I extended the invitation for the couple to join us for worship.
As I paused and pondered the precision of my performance, Bob quickly enlightened me concerning the dysfunctional nature of our church. Bob said that they no longer attended church (our church in particular) because people in the church are hypocrites. He cited numerous examples of hypocrisy including Sunday school teachers who frequented bars. He saw people from our church at these polluted places that he also patronized for…uhm… research purposes. Bob ended our encounter by exclaiming, “What right does the church (Scotty) have to tell me what I should do?”
He had played the hypocrisy card. I was baffled and befuddled. It was official. We were Pharisees – legalistic Pharisees.
Jesus reserved some of His harshest words for religious leaders. Matthew 23:27 says, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.”
It seems that many today feel that we (the church) don’t have the right to say anything regarding their lifestyles. We have no right to judge. I mean doesn’t the Bible say that somewhere (yeah, Matthew 7:1). Why are people so turned off by what churches have to say?
In their book, Why Churches Die, Brunson and Caner note that “legalists use a telling standard for holiness – themselves. Not Christ, but themselves. They will rebuke you immediately when you fall short of the standard they themselves have set for holiness. They feel superior to you because they stand closest to their own standard” (122).
Are we modern day Pharisees? Could it be that people reject our judgment of them because we use ourselves as the standard for holiness rather than Christ? Are we more interested in teaching people to become like us than we are helping them to be transformed into the likeness of Christ?
Does the Church have a right to tell people what to do?
Perhaps the answer lies in reading what follows the admonition not to judge people. Matthew 7:3-5 says the following: 3“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? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
The right to speak to people must be earned. People must know that we genuinely care about them. Too often we appoint ourselves as ambassadors to the world to tell people how they should live even though we haven’t earned the right to do so. We must be honest about our own shortcomings. Our goal isn’t to make people look like us. Our goal is to bring people into the presence of Christ. He does a pretty good job of cleaning us up.
As you may have noticed, I like to use a thesaurus. It makes me seem so much more intelligent than I am. But let’s be honest. You knew that I was putting on airs at the first occurrence of alliteration. Is their a sin of alliteration? Maybe I’ll save that for another blog – “Hypocritical Homiletics and Habitual Hang-ups.” In the meantime, I think I have some work to do on me.