Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Height of Hypocrisy in Legalism

Romans 10:15b As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!"

1 Corinthians 9:16b Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

The Reformation brought the light of the Gospel out of the dark shadows cast over it by the hypocritical liars & legalists of the church at Rome. These churchmen appeared pompous & aloof as they only preached doctrines invented by man instead preaching solely God’s Word. Praise God He raised up men like Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, & Zwingli to brightly illuminate His Gospel light once more.

But the battle to hold the Gospel at the center of all right preaching did not end there. It carries on, & the attackers to the Gospel’s integrity come from every direction; it is like doing battle with a thousand killer bees instead of the 800 pound gorilla of the 15th century Vatican church. Nevertheless, whether centered in one very powerful institution, or distributed helter skelter all over, the basic shadowy form of such attacks takes the same form in the world of dubious Christianity- hypocritical legalists preaching God’s Law (or even their own- Matt. 15:8-9) apart from God’s mercy & grace.

I present Fred Phelps front & center as “exhibit A”- the premier hypocritical lying legalist of our day. His little hive of beastly bees, better known as Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, is well known for their legalistic tirades primarily against homosexuals & anyone they can tie to homosexuality- which, of course is apparently every man, woman, & child on earth who does attend or embrace their fellowship. Every nation, every creed- Americans, Chinese, Swedes, Nazis, Muslims, Jews, & countless others have been inexorably linked to homosexuality & ostensibly have no alternative but the fires of Hell, if Westboro is to be believed. I find it particularly ironic that they love to proclaim “the Jews killed Jesus”; few instant litmus tests exist for a lying preacher, but know this is one. Scripture instead informs us Jesus died for the sins of His elect children; therefore every one of us who turn to Christ as Lord & Savior played a part in His death. Our bloody fingerprints are all over that hammer, those nails, that spear. By pointing the finger at others instead of themselves as the cause of His cross, they summarily prove that they themselves have no portion in Christ’s death, & therefore likewise have no portion in His life.

It would almost seem Mr. Phelps is setting us up with the perfect reductio ad absurdum argument against legalism in preaching, so lucid is his extreme hypocrisy & complete indifference to preaching the real Gospel- the “good news” that Jesus can, has, & will continue to save all manner of deviants- homosexuals, adulterers, fornicators, thieves, rapists, & murderers. By golly, I might be out on a limb here, but I would even say that He can reach out & save liars & hypocrites! Blimey! There is hope yet for the Phelps family!

Christ begins to close His Sermon on the Mount with the following:

Matthew 7:1-5 "Judge not, that you be not judged. (2) For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (3) Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (4) Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? (5) You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

The legalist indicter of other men’s sin, if they contained a shred of integrity or Godly humility, would consider what manner of sinner they themselves were before preaching to others. In such course, perchance there be no better place to begin this quest than the beginning of this very Sermon? In Matt. 5 Christ makes clear the standard for all goes far & above the metaphorical 30’ pole vault of the O.T. Law (when only one man in history has ever cleared 20’). But the human heart is nothing if not proud, & Jesus had to contend with the boastful assertions of many that claimed they had indeed kept the letter of the Law & deserved to be lauded for such piety. These were the foremost preachers of legalism in that day, the scribes & Pharisees:

Matthew 23:11-13 The greatest among you shall be your servant. (12) Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (13) But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

The legalist hypocrite of today is no different from that of yesteryear. They preach law without preaching grace, & in a manner whereas they set themselves on a pedestal. They preach a standard while insinuating they have reached that standard. They are “good”, while you, the hearer, are “bad”. They preach vertically down to their listeners, instead of horizontally across- as from one who falling short to another falling short, as from hopeless sinner to hopeless sinner, as from forlorn wretch to forlorn wretch. I believe in preaching from a pulpit to esteem God’s Word & His Gospel, but at the same, the preacher needs to also preach horizontally to demonstrate, in himself, the only Way out of our mountainous moral morass.

Isaiah begins a treatise against sin (Isa. 59) with phrases like “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God”- to bring personal conviction to his audience; but as presses on with his indictment, he clearly amends his language- “for our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us”- to make his indictment complete. Paul wrote of his own sinfulness (Romans 7) as he wrote against the sins of others, therein casting his lot with theirs- yet not for Christ & His cross. Augustine’s first large literary work was the autobiographical Confessions, wherein he laid himself bare, acknowledging to all his every sin.

It takes great humility to preach in this manner, for you preach against yourself every bit as much as others. Might this be the very reason Christ began His Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes, summarized best in the statements “Blessed are the meek” & “Blessed are the poor in spirit”? Yes, for humility & the Gospel are the two prescriptions needed to heal the disease of hypocrisy in the preaching against sin. Ironically, legalistic preachers build no case stronger in favor of God’s judgment than the case against themselves. It seems quite clear from Matt. 7:5, as well as from the fact that Christ reserved His most acerbic tone for such preachers, that the hypocritical legalist preacher will be put at the front of the line on the day of judgment. Think about that fact- the same level of degeneracy was taking place in the world in that day as is today; yet Christ spoke harshest to unrepentant sinner in the church instead of to the unrepentant sinner of the world- despite the fact that the later likely had a greater measure of actual trespass against’ God’s Law.

Indeed we are all commanded to preach- of both sin & its requisite judgment. All the disciples followed Christ in this way; but they likewise & concordantly preached that such judgment has already been borne by our Lord for those who turn & believe on Him- His holiness, His righteousness, & His unique ability to forgive sin. They did preach “turn or burn” (to use a modern colloquialism), but the focus was always more on the turning towards Christ, than the turning from sin. It is not so much that we are called to sin less, but more so that we are called to adore & serve our Savior more. It is only therein that we can truly sin less anyway. All other effort is fruitless & justifiably so, for the main point of the Gospel is not as legalism proposes- the raising up of a people that simply sin less often or in less outwardly abominable fashion; instead the Gospel’s point is that a people be raised up for God. The eye that is on the prize, the eye that firstly examines the log of sin in itself will always likewise be the beacon of light in a dark & dreary land.

Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (2) looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Luke 9:62b "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

We are called to simply “lay aside” sin as it is shown to be excess baggage which weighs us down, keeping us from the joy that has been set before us- Christ Jesus. The elimination of sin is not the goal, but it does remove an impediment to the goal. Olympic runners never look back, only forward, at their goal- the object of their highest desire; for the Christian, this purely & simply Christ, for He alone is worthy of such desire & affection. Hebrews 12:2 sets up Christ Himself as our example in this, as it details how Christ did not concern Himself with encumbrances like the injustice of the sinless suffering for the sinful; no, Christ’s focus was forward, on “the joy that was set before Him”, the joy of being freely & fully able to save all those who would set their eyes on Him as their prize.

Matthew 23:23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

It is in this chapter that Jesus makes clear that hypocrisy in preaching is inexorably linked to legalism. Seven times He makes use of the word “hypocrite” & all seven times it is directly tied to the foremost legalistic preachers of 1st century Palestine- the scribes & Pharisees.

Understand, the scribes & Pharisees were hypocrites for the cause of stridently preaching towards the guilt of sin while denying their own concomitant culpability. They refused to even acquiesce (publicly, at least) the measure of their own sinfulness in the course of browbeating others for some degenerating onus.

But know as well that to simply liken your measure of guilt to that of your audience only pictures both speaker & hearer in a pit that they cannot escape without outside help. While true that you are no longer hypocritical as you preach the core Biblical narrative of universal (total) depravity, you still need to speak of the one “Way” you have found to escape the snare of sin, to give any real depth to your message & to finally move away from legalism. Priscilla, Aquila, & Paul discovered some Ephesians who were likewise only preaching sin & repentance; they found such admonition lacking & taught them to preach of Christ’s ministry of reconciliation as well (Acts 18:24-19:7).

Therefore, never let someone try to tell you that you have to become sinless before you can preach to them as sinful. You are not a hypocrite for preaching against sin- if you have rightly allowed the indicting pendulum of guilt to swing back & touch you as well, & have kept the Gospel, the “Good News” as your main overall focal point. Indeed, in preaching this way, you walk in the very shoes of all the disciples & apostles of Scripture as they likewise preached with an eye towards the Way- our Lord, God, Master, Judge, & Savior, Jesus Christ.


Zoarean said...

Hey, Westboro's coming to town. Who's got that can of Raid?

Anonymous said...

Dude, they ain't worth even that...but Jesus still loves 'em anyways, just hope they actually repewent and trust the REAL gospel...!