Friday, February 18, 2011

The Solution for a Church Full of Hypocrites

This was actually one of a couple dozen theses that I penned while trying to list some points on another topic, but I have come to realize that it is significant enough to deserve its own blog post apart from the issue that brought it up so that I can expand the thought and broaden its scope.

The Solution for a Church Full of Hypocrites:

A "hypocrite" is someone who says one thing but does the opposite. He is an actor who portrays something that he is really not. The church is full of hypocrites. This is a very, very bad thing. Christ hates hypocrites and specifically warns against hypocrisy when dealing with the Pharisees. It is a charge that is levelled against the church quite often. This charge is unfortunately true and has an endless string of examples to prove its veracity. I have heard wrong-headed people suggest that the church is supposed to be full of hypocrites. They will even respond to the charge by saying something to the effect of, "certainly the church is full of hypocrites... and there is room for one more!" NO!!! That is wrong! The church is not supposed to be hypocritical at all. Thankfully, the people who actually think the church is okay being hypocritical is relatively small.

The problem comes when people aim to fix this issue of rampant hypocrisy among "Christians". Everyone knows that they way to do away with hypocrisy is to make some one's words and public face match who they are and what they do. So one must ask, "Why is the church full of hypocrites?"

Answer: The church is full of hypocrites because it is full of people who claim to be pulling holiness off when they are not. A "Christian" is a hypocrite when he claims to be righteous when he is in fact a wretched example of horrible thoughts, emotions, and behavior. He proclaims the changed life when he appears completely unchanged and lives as bad as the pagans.

The history of the church is filled with heretics, pietists, legalists, and plain ole erring leaders who have sought to rectify this problem... but went about it the wrong way. Without a proper understanding of man's sinful condition this side of Heavenly Glory, they seek to motivate, cajole, encourage, and threaten men into acting in accordance with the high principles of the Law. They wrongly believe that, if they can just reform people's behavior, the whole hypocrisy problem will be resolved. They foolishly think that, if they can just fix enough people, the church as a whole will improve itself and finally live up to expectations. They wrongly believe that the reason why this has not happened yet is because the right methodology has yet to be applied and set out to finally institute the purification of the church. This is not possible because the sinful flesh still clings to our mortal bodies. It will never work.

This will sound pessimistic, but the only feasible way to remove "Christian" hypocrisy is to lower the person's self-concept, words, and public face down to the level of his poor behavior and spiritual depravity. One must bring a person's words in compliance with his bad behavior through the power of the Holy Spirit by teaching him to always pray "God be merciful to me, the sinner!"

In light of God's Law, which demands perfect and sincere obedience in every way at all times, a hypocrite who tries harder is still a hypocrite no matter how successful he thinks that he has become. He will always fall short of the glory of God. There is none righteous. Not even one.

A sinner who claims the title of "sinner" is no longer being hypocritical. His self-perception and behavior finally agree. He finally sees himself for what he is: a fallen creature in desperate need of a savior because he cannot free himself from his sinful condition.

And here is where the Law has finally done it's great work by driving desperate men to the cross. Here is the place where the sinner encounters the God-Man Christ Jesus, the Great Physician, who declares, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Here is where the diagnosis finally fits the symptoms and the holy imputed righteousness of Christ is administered to him through the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments in accordance with Christ's institution. Here is where the sinner finds healing, wholeness, and unity in the Body of Christ as a fellow beggar among brothers rather than just a puffed-up, lying failure in the company of other puffed-up, lying failures.

Here is where the Law is completed in the death and resurrection of Christ and the freedom of the Gospel liberates the sinner from all of the Law's threats and demands. This is where the public perception no longer matters and the man abandons boasting in himself and begins to loudly boast in the only thing that he truly has to boast in: the Lord God Almighty. This is where the light yoke of Our Savior is found as He, the blameless and spotless sacrifice, assumes our burden of guilt before God the Father and becomes a perfect advocate on our behalf. This is where the Holy Spirit does a mighty and mysterious work within the regenerated soul of the Christian in accordance with His perfect will and bestows upon him diverse and new gifts filled with pious passions as a gracious free treasure of matchless worth. This is where the threatening veil of God's wrath is pulled away and, through the mediation of Christ Jesus, the true face of our merciful God of love is found.

In this freedom that only the Gospel can give, the Christian is finally free and empowered by God Himself to do truly good works which God had predestined before the foundation of the world for His purchased servant to walk in by faith. Free from the burden, despair, and compulsion of obligations, the sinner is supernaturally conformed to the image of Christ through sharing in His cross. He stops toiling in the vain hope of favor from God and the approval of men for all his hard efforts and finally begins to work for free in selfless holiness because God has shown him that Christ has already earned his heavenly wages on his account. It is then that the Christian is able to achieve by faith the truly God pleasing works which no external source on earth--not even the church herself--could compel him to do through human machinations and the exhortations of the Law.

In the gratitude of his salvation and with the secure knowledge that his eternal destiny has already been won completely by Jesus so that there is not even one single thing that could even be added, the Christian gladly and joyfully undertakes the work of a servant to his fellow man as a holy act of true, genuine worship. Freed from despair and guilt, the Christian recognizes that his imperfect obedience in this new life is covered and perfected by Christ's imputed righteousness just as his disobedience was when he was born again by water and the Spirit.

He is finally no longer loathed to contend with the imperative force of the Law's demands but finds himself living freely in the Spirit and walking in God's ways as a new creation in Christ. He can now see his lingering sinfulness for what it now is through Christ: the vestigial Old Adam which clings to him for a short time but will be done away with when this life of tears comes to an end and God rescues him from this body of death. He no longer resists sin because he fears as though he "has to or else" but rather he resists sin and wages war against it on all fronts because his regenerated spirit actually wants to walk in newness of life. He no longer simply fears his sinfulness as an eternal liability but comes to hate his sin as a contagion and detestable thing of which he desires no part according to his regenerated spirit.

The Christian no longer lives in a state of hypocrisy where his words and ideals do not conform to his heart and actions. Instead he lives honestly as a sinner redeemed by grace whose life is one of constant combat between the right spirit which was given to him by the Holy Spirit and the sinful flesh which still clings to him with all its temptations and faults. Rather than attempting to reform his sinfulness through legalistic new measures, he seeks to kill it daily through repentance and enjoys the gift of the forgiveness of sins given in holy absolution and the Lord's Supper with his church family.

In jubilant praise and compassionate concern for his fellow sinner, he finds that the Holy Spirit has given him a voice of expression which helps the church on earth proclaim the very saving message that had won him back from that liar the devil and the gaping jaws of hell itself. Rather than forcing himself to be the greatest among his peers and struggling to fit in, the Christian settles into community with his fellow sheep and peacefully lives out his life in the Body of Christ in accordance with his various callings, vocations, and stations in life.

This is how true disciples of Christ are made and this is how those disciples are kept steadfast in the faith. This is where the Kingdom of God is at hand and made manifest: in Christ Jesus Our Lord. This regenerative act of salvation is where Jesus Christ exercises His power of kingship and how the church of God is brought into being, preserved, sanctified, and eventually glorified on the Last Day.

And so the health of the church is never measured quantitatively or even qualitatively according to humanly conceived standards but is measured Christologically according to its faithfulness to her Savior through the clear preaching of the Divine Word and the proper administration of the sacraments in accordance with the Gospel of Christ.

Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

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