"What can a ruined soul, like mine, effect towards the redemption of other souls?—or a polluted soul, towards their purification?"

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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Seminary, Being Judgmental, Self-Righteousness, and Other Thoughts, Part 2

Long before seminary, the seeds of self-righteousness had been sown.

Now, I have really got to be careful with this next part of my story because it will definitely offend some people. I don't mean for it to. Just make sure you read it through before you react, please.

When I was about 13, I ran across a stash of cassette tapes my parents had. They listened to a lot of sermons. Charles Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, and our own pastor at the time. But the pastor who caught my attention at the time was John MacArthur.

I had never heard anything like his preaching in my entire life. I had never experienced expository preaching. I fell in love with it. The Bible came alive for me and I soaked it all in.

I don't know how familiar you are with MacArthur's preaching. It's very good. At the same time, you have to know that it's also very black and white. All the answers for all of life are to be found in the Word of God. Don't hear me saying I disagree, but I went to an extreme.

I took MacArthur's style, black and white belief system, and tough stance on sin and made it my own. I went even further with it as seminary came along. When I got past seminary and got my own church, the hard-line black and white view of life came to bear. And it infiltrated the way I did everything - especially the way I viewed sin in the congregation.

After a seminary education where church discipline was king, I was ready to wipe out sin in the church. I think my heart was in the right place, but my practice and attitude was not.

I remember the first couple of times I found out church members were sinning. Publicly. I didn't handle it well. Or with compassion. I came down hard and quickly on them. Were they sinning? Yes. Was it wrong in accordance to the black and white of Scripture? Yes.

But I was wrong. I lacked compassion, love and understanding. I approached them with the attitude of, "You need to stop now or we're bringing this in front of the church in [X] amount of days."

I gave no time for God to do His work in their hearts. I gave no compassion to their circumstance. I didn't care about their situation. None. No Christlikeness at all.

All I knew is that I saw sin. And I was the heat-seeking missile that wanted it out of the church.

What I never considered was that I was dealing with people. I knew the old saying, "Hate the sin, love the sinner." But I had trouble separating the two. In my eyes, if the sinner couldn't separate from the sin, they needed to get serious help or be asked to leave until they could.

Of course, I was an idiot. That's not how discipline works. That's not how the church works. That's not how forgiveness works. That's not how we're supposed to act at all. And I learned the hard way.

How could I sit through church as a youth, seminary as an adult, and pastor for almost ten years and miss it?

Worse, I taught the people at Angel Falls Baptist to judge harshly and without love or compassion. And they did that very thing to me when I fell.

Well, I did. Is it possible thousands of Christians are missing the same thing now? That they're learning that sin is a horrible thing (which is true) but at the same time they're missing out on how to show compassion?

I forgot that I was a sinner like those in the church were. I forgot that I had been saved by grace and that I wasn't any better than anyone else. That is the heart of self-righteousness. I thought my education, my position, and my ability to judge made me better.

Didn't. It just made me more smug. And I paid for it all.


  1. JMac does come across very black and white. That quality has helped me sort through some things that I have been confused about, but at the same time, he's not an apostle and I (as well as other young preachers who admire him) must remember that. Paul was an apostle, and he handled the gray areas pretty well in scripture.

  2. Will,

    Absolutely. I still admire the man. I love his preaching. I learned more from listening to him than I ever did in a homiletics class in seminary.

    He's done so much for the faith through his exposition and I appreciate him greatly. I still have my framed photo with him. My mom even had him send me a letter when I got ordained which is very precious to me.

    My favorite book of his is "Ashamed of the Gospel." I've read that one four or five times.


  3. I just found a great comment by John Piper and higher education, specifically PhD studies. It's worth reading: