Four weeks ago I finished a series of sermons called Planks & Specks: the Bible on Judging Others. Of course I’d be honored if you would listen to the sermons, but here I want to provide a once sentence synopsis of each sermon:
1. Do Not Judge – While Christians must have standards and make judgment calls, it is not their job to punish, but rather lovingly help others remove sin while remembering they themselves have been saved from sin by the grace of God.
2. Christians should faithfully hold others in their church accountable to the moral standards of the New Testament, but should not hold non-Christians to those same standards.
3. On disputable matters Christians shouldn’t judge others, but instead judge their own motivations and the results of their behaviors (Results being the affect the actions have on the others in the Christian community).
4. Christians ought not point out sins in others, but must also gently, and lovingly, help others remove them – even if it means extra work.
As I reflect on these themes, I can’t help but see how important they are for the church on a corporate level.
One of the reasons that the American Church is in such steep decline is because we have not lived out these biblical imperatives. Perhaps this seems to bold, but I believe statistical and empirical evidence proves this true. Thus, I want to take a couple of posts to discus the different ways that disobedience to God’s word on these issues is hurting the church in America.
In a New York Times article titled, “Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved,” Ross Douthat said of church in the post-modern era, “But if conservative Christianity has often been compromised, liberal Christianity has simply collapsed. Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance.”[bra_blockquote align=”]If ever there was a time for the church to be clear, hopeful, and to offer a moral compass to the struggling, and grace, and forgiveness, and healing to the broken, it’s now.[/bra_blockquote]The NBC News article titled “Is Liberal Christianity Signing Its Own Death Warrant?” ends with a quote from an Episcopal Bishop in South Carolina. Rev. Mark Joseph Lawrence said, “If ever there was a time for the church to be clear, hopeful, and to offer a moral compass to the struggling, and grace, and forgiveness, and healing to the broken, it’s now.”
This website with this article contained a poll asking people, “Do you think mainline Christian churches are in decline because they are too liberal?” The following is the graph I was presented after voting (In hopes of not tainting the results, I voted “I’m not sure.”):
The majority of people confronted with the knowledge that liberal churches are declining believe it is because they are too liberal. It is not my aim here to start a debate over the merits of liberal theology/Christian-practice or even to define it. It is my aim to point out that the statistics show that those outside the church find little merit in churches that hold to or lie out a similar morality as that of the rest of society.
While statistics can be good indicators of how people think, oftentimes more powerful evidence to support a point is found empirically. Throughout my life I have heard expressed in various forms the same truth that the above data demonstrates. People often say things like, “I’ve known a lot of Christians that don’t live anything like the Bible tells them to, why would I become a Christian or go to church if it isn’t going to make a difference?” Someone very close to me once said in a discussion about Christianity, “All Christians are hypocrites.” While I don’t agree with this sentiment, I do think it illustrates a profound truth – those that aren’t Christians are often deterred from becoming Christians because of the immorality of those who are Christians.[bra_blockquote align=’right’]those that aren’t Christians are often deterred from becoming Christians because of the immorality of those who are Christians.[/bra_blockquote]
At this point many Christians would point out that they never claim to be perfect. They would gladly point out that they admittedly are failed and frail beings that are saved by the grace of God. The Apostle Paul himself, declared, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” Obviously, I agree with these sentiments. I too am a sinner who is saved by grace. However, I think this sometimes becomes an excuse for us to sin. I don’t think that those who point out the hypocrisy of Christians are responding to mere imperfection. Rather, I think they are responding to the lack of effort made by Christians to live out the morality of Scripture. Not many of even the harshest critics of Christians would say, “Christians are so hypocritical. I heard one of them accidentally swear.” The indictment by Christians from those in opposition sounds more like, “Christians are so hypocritical. I know a guy who talks about loving Jesus, but he is down at the bar every Friday getting wasted.” Non-Christians don’t fault the imperfection of Christians, but rather the blatant disregard many Christians have for biblical morality.[bra_blockquote align=”]Non-Christians don’t fault the imperfection of Christians, but rather the blatant disregard many Christians have for biblical morality.[/bra_blockquote]
It is no wonder that Jesus, in his only teaching on church practice, declares, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” Throughout the New Testament the responsibility of helping Christians live out the morality of the Bible falls in large part to the Christian community. This type of accountability has been all but erased from the church in America and it is not surprise that the church in America is in steady numerical decline. People will never be drawn to a group of people who declare one thing with their mouths and live another way with their lives.
If the American church wants revival, it must hold itself to the moral standards to which it ascribes.
In a future post I will write about the danger and affects of Christian judgmentalism.
For now, I wonder if you agree or disagree that hypocrisy is apart of the numerical decline of the church in America? Have you been affected by hypocrisy in the church? What do you think Christians need to do differently to stop being seen as hypocrites?