"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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Monday, November 1, 2010

The Hypocrisy of the Sunday School Lesson

I've been thinking too much lately. Blame the medication. Blame my never ending search for a church to join. Or just blame the cynicism that is inherent within me.

I've been thinking about the faulty way we read Scripture. It's worse than I thought. I'm just as guilty as anyone. Maybe worse. Even worse than when I pastored. I think I've/we've been reading Scripture wrong our entire lives. We've missed the point.

Now, don't take me for one of those Jesus seminar people. Please.

But here's the deal. We read the stories of those hideous Pharisees and we condemn them. We tell them to the kids in Sunday School and we say, "You don't want to be like them, do you?" Of course they don't. Those guys were jerks, right?

None of us would ever identify ourselves with Pharisees, would we? Not for a second.

Think about some of the stories. Christ heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. The Pharisees get bent out of shape. We tell our Sunday School classes that those jerky Pharisees were out of line. We know the story, right? We know how it ends! Those guys should have known better. How dare they! They should have known that Christ was in their midst and shouldn't have been so darn picky. Sabbath made for man, etc.

What about the woman caught in adultery? Those guys set that woman up. We know how that story ends as well. We're supposed to forgive that woman and know that it was unfair for those Pharisees/Scribes/crowd to be so angry with her. Christ took her side and forgave her. How dare they! Listen, Sunday School class, we need to be like Christ. Be forgiving, be loving. Don't be like those Pharisees. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

In Sunday School, we do so well for an hour. We paint our picket signs that read, "Love Christ! Love the Sinner! Don't be self-righteous!" And we feel so good about our Christianity for two hours on Sunday.

Then we go out to lunch to Ryan's Steakhouse and we forget it all.

On Monday, someone commits adultery against us. Or one of our friends. Someone commits a great sin against us. Or, like the man with a withered hand, someone violates one of our "sacred rules." And we get bent out of shape.

We forget the Sunday School lesson. It was forgotten the second we walked out the doors of the church, wasn't it?

Know why? Because it was okay for Christ to forgive those people. We knew how those stories ended. We're supposed to love the man with a withered hand. We're supposed to forgive the adulterous woman in John 8. Know why? Because we'll never see those people. They're text. They're black and white. They're not real. We'll never see them.

But to heck with the sinners we meet Monday through Saturday. They're in big trouble. Especially when they cross our path or when they violate our rules.

But heck. We're not Pharisees. We're just practicing righteous anger - the sinner must be punished. I used to think that way. Christ used anger when he was in the temple, so why can't I?

And when I get to church Sunday, I'll tell my friends about what happened to me this week (it's not gossip, of course when I'm telling church people) and they'll tell me I did the right thing. Instead of forgiving the sin that was done to me, I got angry and reciprocated. I won't see the disconnect with what I heard in church last week or this week, but it won't matter.

Know why? Because church is just something I do. Those stories are just stories. It's all good and well for Jesus to do those things.

I'll sit in the pew and sing my songs about the love of Christ and maybe even listen to a sermon on loving my neighbor.

But don't cross me. And don't expect me to act any different than a Pharis... What I mean is, I'll act just like a disciple of Christ.


  1. Very hard to attend to the "beam in our own eye" when we can build ourselves up by pointing to the splinters of others. I told a friend once that if he ever found a church with no hypocrites, as soon as he walked thru the front door it would no longer be without them. Praying for you dude. Your family, perseverance. For your tenacity. Don't give up... the devil is a liar. And a jerk. Peace.

  2. Arthur,

    I am new to your blog, but I wanted to give you best wishes on your journey. Your story strikes a familiar chord with me, not as a pastor (which I am not) but as a human being struggling to make my way in the world. My experiences with fallen pastors are from the sheep's side, and I see myself in the mirror of your former congregants. What touches me is the reminder of my own judgment of broken men like yourself, and the realization of how wrong I am in it.

    Your mention of the agnostic [your counselor] who knows the gospel better than we do also strikes a chord. That seems to explain why I, since leaving the church, lean more agnostic now. Stories like yours just confirm that I never really believed it [church teachings] in the first place... so now I just admit it.

    You mentioned your search for a new church, and how difficult it is to find a group that is not Pharisaical; to find a group that will just love and be loved. You are not alone in that search and not alone in your observations. While I am skeptical, I still hold on to a faint belief in Jesus, and I am hoping that he is the one who will not snuff out my smoldering wick or break this bruised reed. I have caught glimpses of him in the strangest of places, places I never in a million years would have thought of. Whether you will or not, I don't know, but I wish you well in the search.

    Finally, you mentioned in one of your ealier posts that you thought that maybe you and your first wife had gotten married too young, too soon, or both... that maybe you weren't ready. I have to agree that the pressures the church puts on young kids (which is really what they are) to get married are almost unbearable. I see it in friends of mine, today, as young couples, not forced, but pressured to get married so as not to "sin sexually". Whether it's a good idea or not be damned. Then, when the do get divorced later (over a whole host of issues), it's still the couple's fault, and the sin now is worst than the first. It numbs my mind thinking about it. With that said, I wish you and your new wife well... as I do your previous wife.

    I enjoy your blog. I hope you can keep writing.

  3. ez,

    No kidding. Hypocrites, we all are. I just found out too late how much of a Pharisee I was. I had one of my deacons leave the church about a year before I got caught and he called me a Pharisee. I got kinda angry about it.

    Turned out he was right.

    Peace to you.


  4. Justin,

    Insights like yours are rare and wonderful.

    I don't doubt that I will find Christ in a church somewhere. I just struggle to wonder why it's so hard. Funny that when people outside the church complain to people within the church about the state of it, the people within the church get angry. However, when the doors are shut and the business meetings start, the church members are just as jaded (if not more) as the people on the outside.

    I'm a cynic about religion, but not about Christ. I'm cynical about Christians (especially myself), but not about the Savior.

    And you said it well when you said that you find glimpses of Christ in the strangest places. I find that He's easiest to find outside of church. That His love is easier to behold and discover outside the walls that we've constructed and built.

    And I wonder if that's the point.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.


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