I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hypocrisy: a great reason to be a Christian

While at work this afternoon, I was able to catch bits and pieces of an interview with Carrie Prejean, former Miss USA, on a conservative talk radio program. (I’ll take for granted that you’re aware of the firestorm of controversy surrounding this young lady.) In part, the program seemed to be a plug for her new book, Still Standing. According to what Miss Prejean said, the book is an exposé of sorts, explaining how she has bravely weathered the persecution from the Leftists, due solely to her stand for traditional marriage, which is the only reason in her mind.

The whole issue of Prejean’s new role as the Right’s poster child for political persecution notwithstanding, the interview evoked some thoughts of on the topic of hypocrisy, particularly of those times when the unbeliever raises the classic “so many hypocrites in the Church” as an objection to coming to believing obedience in Christ.

Douglas Wilson, in one chapter of his artful book, Persuasions, faces the problem of hypocrisy in the Church with an interlocutor named Dorothy. Dorothy feels that she could not lower herself to be on the same team with so many losers, so many hypocrites, and thus join herself to the Church. Wilson makes two salient counterpoints.

First, Wilson affirms that hypocrisy in completely inconsistent with Christian ethics. He subsequently demonstrates that between God and man the relationship is either for or against, reconciliation or enmity. After a question or two, Wilson leads Dorothy to the concession that God is against hypocrites. In Wilson’s insightful style, he explains to Dorothy that she’s actually on the hypocrites’ team already, as God is against unrepentant sinners, those who rebel against his Lordship and scorn his offer of grace and mercy in Christ Jesus. Wilson drives the point home by ironically concluding that hypocrisy in the Church is precisely why he could never be an unbeliever; unbelievers share the roster with hypocrites—God is against both.

In a slightly more indirect manner, he reveals the irresolvable paradox Christians face under the merciless scrutiny of the unbelieving world. One the one hand, if a believer is in wonton sin or scandal, and his/her church exercises ecclesiastical discipline in order to restore the believer to the high moral standard of the kingdom of Christ, then Christians are immediately labeled by unbelievers as being self-righteous and bigoted, lacking feeling and empathy.

On the other hand, if the Church fails to address open sin among its people, then the charge is always, “What a bunch of hypocrites!” The point here being, whether the Church takes action or passively tolerates sin in her ranks through inaction or indifference, the unbeliever’s sword of criticism always cuts both ways.

The other day Steve (see Steve at stevegalt.blogspot.com) and I were discussing this very topic. He recalled a response he once used in a dialogue. Essentially, he began by admitting that all believers are hypocrites at one point or another in their pilgrimage, this much is as undeniable as it is inexcusable. However, he invited his friend to examine the high moral calling of the Gospel; pointing out that because of the holiness of the One setting the standard, Christ simply cannot say, “Oh, sin just a little and you’ll be fine.” No, rather, the standard for the Christian is no less than Perfection—Jesus himself.

Steve then asked his friend to examine the demands of the ethical options open to the unbeliever. Because the rejection of biblical law leads directly to moral relativism, the only moral standard available to the unbeliever is the one self-imposed. That is, they simply get to set their own standard. Apart from the absolute morality of God’s Word, all value judgments are reducible to emotive expressions: “That is evil!” becomes “Yuck! I don’t like that!”

Now, Steve’s point was that even people who arbitrarily set a moral standard for themselves still live lives that are very often inconsistent with that low standard they’ve set. They too are hypocritical.

At the end of the day, the objection from hypocrisy is an ad hominem attack; it has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of the claims of Christ speaking in the Scriptures.

We must also ask, What right does an unbeliever have to make value judgments, particularly against the Faith? When they make the judgment that it’s wrong to live without integrity, what standard are they assuming in their valuation? Without assuming that law of Christ, they’re simply imposing their self-made standard on others...something else they complain we Christians do. We’re too intolerant of the perspectives of others, they say. Just ask Perez Hilton, he’s so tolerant. Ah, more hypocrisy!

Therefore, hypocrisy is everyone’s problem. As Wilson put it, it’s another great reason to never become an unbeliever.

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