have you ever been discouraged because people you know – professing christians – don’t live consistantly with scripture? i don’t know, maybe i act like that sometimes.
[side note] if i ever do, and you notice it – please let me know. (privately if possible) see, i encourage you all to critique my christian life, as long as it’s in a positive way, seeking to edify me and, therefore, the body of christ.[/side note]
but these people just sort of make you feel like it’s pointless to really act like the bible tells us to, because it doesn’t seem to work. and then we just get down in a rut because of that. so if you’ve ever known anyone like that, and been discouraged by it, here’s a little excerpt from a book (Persuasions, by Douglas Wilson – available from Canon Press) that you may find comforting. it comforted me. it isn’t expressly for this purpose, but if you read it, i think you’ll understand why it’s comforting.
Evangelist seemed a little tired, and he sat down for a few moments by the side of the road. But he had not been there long when another figure appeared in the distance. As s he got closer, Evangelist rose to greet her. She was a middle aged woman, fairly stouts, but with a look for a ready and quick intelligence about her face.
She stopped and took a brief look at the paper which Evangelist had handed her, laughed, and returned it. “I know some other people who could use this more than I!”
Evangelist looked at her questioningly.
“Why don’t you hand these things out at churches? There is not shortage of sinners there!’ At this, the woman, whose name was Dorothy, turned to go.
Evangelist stopped her with a question. “What kind of sinners are you talking about?”
Dorothy smiled. “Doesn’t matter. Any sin will do when you are making a hypocrite. Why should I want to become a Christian? Look at all the hypocrites!”
Evangelist nodded soberly. “You are quite right. There are many. But your argument is lost on me. What do hypocrites have to do with it?
Dorothy was clearly interested in his question. She stopped, and folder her arms. “Hypocrites have everything to do with it. They proclaim themselves to be good Christians, and then live like the devil. Why should I want to join them?”
“Well, you shouldn’t, but then again, no one is asking you to.”
She shook her head.
Evangelist went on. “Do you have any money on you?”
“Why do you do that? You are apparently arguing, with regard to Christianity, that the mere existence of a counterfeit is grounds for rejecting the genuine. Surely you are aware that many counterfeit dollar bills exist. So why do you still seek to retain the genuine dollar bills?”
“I can’t help that. Everyone needs money.”
“True enough. And everyone needs God.”
“But you are assuming that He exists. I know that genuine money exists, and I need it. I don’t know that there are any genuine Christians.”
“You are quite right when you say that I assume that He exists. Everyone does that, even those who deny Him. But have you ever that that the mere existence of hypocrites is an evidence that there are genuine Christians?”
“Well, counterfeiters don’t spend their time forging brown shopping bags. They are not valuable enough. But they do spend their time on paper currency. Why? Because there is a real currency valuable enough to counterfeit. In the same way, hypocrites testify that genuine Christianity exists, and that it is a valuable thing. This is no proof, but it is evidence. If you want to base your actions on the behavior of hypocrites, it is at least worth considering.”
Dorothy shook her head again. “I don’t know. I don’t think I could take being on the same team with all those fakers.”
“Well, that’s another thing. Whose team are you on now?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, suppose for a moment that God is there, and that he did reveal his word to us in the Bible.”
“That’s a big suppose, but okay.”
“That means there are two ways of living. We can either live the way God says to, or we can refuse. There are two teams — one in submission to God and the other not.”
“Now, what does God think of hypocrisy? Is He for it, or against it?”
“Well, against it, I suppose.”
“Correct. So hypocrites are on the other team?”
“So what team are those on who reject God because of all the hypocrites? Whose team have they refused to join?”
“Now, because there are only two teams, this means that the hypocrites are on the same team with those who have refused to have anything to do with God because of the hypocrites. Is that fair?”
“I guess so.” Dorothy was looking uncomfortable.
“Now you said earlier that you couldn’t handle being on the same team with all those fakers. But it looks now as though you already are.”
Dorothy didn’t say anything.
Evangelist pressed the point home. “That’s one of the reasons why I couldn’t handle becoming a non-Christian — all the hypocrites in the church.” He grinned.
Dorothy smiled back, a little grimly. “You sound like you believe that hypocrisy is no problem at all for the Christian church.”
“Not at all. It is a major problem. But it is a practical problem not a theological one. If there are weeds in my garden, I have a problem. But it does not lead me to question the existence of lettuce.” Dorothy laughed, and Evangelist went on “there is another point worth considering. Have you ever noticed that Christians are in a no-win situation here, at least in the minds of those non-Christians observing?”
“What do you mean?”
“What would happen if a pastor of some Christian church started living with the church organist, and nothing really was done about it? What would the non-Christian say about it?”
“I suppose he would accuse them all of hypocrisy.”
“That is quite right, and he would be correct in the accusation. But what would happen if the church disciplined them — defrocking the minister, and excommunicating them both? What would be said now?”
Dorothy shook her head. “I am not sure what you’re getting at.”
“Why, the church would be accused of being a bunch of self-righteous fundamentalists. Who do they think they are? Is such an accusation possible?”
Dorothy nodded. “Yes, that could happen.”
“In other words, if Christians take action against some rank hypocrisy they run the risk of being labelled judgmental. If they do not, then they join the ranks of the hypocrites themselves. It is a good thing that Christians are to follow the teaching of Scripture. If we were required to obey the world in this matter, it would be hard to know what to do.” Evangelist continued. “There is also one other difficulty. Sharp discipline is required by the Bible for cases of moral rebellion. But there are many people within the church with many problems which are less overt. Such people must be helped, but the help must come through other means — encouragement, admonishment, and so forth. In the meantime, such struggling individuals can be uncharitably labelled by outsiders as hypocrites. It has been well said that the church is a hospital for sinners, not a rest home for saints. To reject Christ because the church has sin of this sort in it is like rejecting hospitals because they are full of sick people.”
At this Dorothy smiled and turned away. “You have given me much to think about on the road. Thank you for your time.”
Once again, Evangelist offered her the paper he had given her at first. This time she took it.
February 18, 2001 No Comments