Have you ever heard of Godwin’s Law? It’s essentially a saying that claims that the longer an online discussion takes place, the more likely it is that the discussion will eventually end in some reference to Hitler and/or the Nazis. My friends and I talk about it up in everyday life, too. If enough discussion passes, eventually someone brings one or the other up.
In Seventh-day Adventism (and Christianity in general), I sometimes feel like we have our own version of Godwin’s Law. Only for us, it has nothing to do with World War II and everything to do with hypocrisy. I’ve spoken to so many people about why they are leaving the church. Everyone has a different story. But, one key element is constant. I can almost count the moments until someone bring up hypocrisy as a predominating reason why the church doesn’t work. Often, they’ll tell me about a time when they saw a trusted church member acting in a way that they perceived as hypocritical (most of us have stories). And, no one wants to be a hypocrite, much less surrounded them.
And, you see, it’s not just something you hear when you talk to people. It’s something you hear pretty much everywhere. Just this week, I was watching a show, and the main character’s daughter decided that she just couldn’t take church anymore, all because the people there are too hypocritical. It’s like we’re conditioned to think of Christians as hypocritical. And, there are times when I think that’s a ridiculous reason to bring up. Of course, Christians are hypocritical. They’re human. We’re all hypocritical in some way at some time. Let’s get over it. Then, there are times when I get it. When I see that hypocrisy hurt people, and everything just feels so futile.
But until recently, I’ve never thought of myself as hypocritical. We don’t typically, do we? We pride ourselves in how real we are with people. Sure, there are hypocritical people in the church, but it’s not in us. It’s in the pew next to us, but we have mighty powers to keep it at bay. We’re straightforward. We’re honest. We love. We don’t judge. We walk the very same walk that we talk.
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But I’ve come to the realization that maybe we call hypocrisy by the wrong name. Or rather, we should be more specific. Maybe, when we say hypocrisy, we’re really speaking of a type of spiritual elitism. And, perhaps, if we said spiritual elitism, it would hit a little closer to home. We’re talking about a group of people that we expect more out of because of their beliefs. They’re supposed to be good. And, I would say largely, that’s one of the biggest problems that society has with us. They expect more from us. We tell them to expect more. Yet, we don’t always behave in ways that correlate with that.
Lately, I’ve noticed that not only do I expect more out of myself because of my beliefs, but I also expect more out of God. I expect more results because of what I believe and how I live my life. Because even when my beliefs tell me that actions and results do not correlate on this earth, I just can’t help but expect them to. I can’t help but expect that if I do good, good will correlate with my life. If I’m working for God, He will bless me.
There’s a part of faith we don’t talk about. We’re told to believe Jesus is Lord, that He died on the cross to atone for our sins and that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). We ask Him to forgive us. We trust that He’s done just that. We get baptized, and we’re told to live as good a life for Christ as we can, although He stands in for our mistakes. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. But, here’s what we’re not told. We’re not told how to handle life once we’ve done all that. We’re not told how to keep spiritual elitism at bay. We’re not told how to keep ourselves grounded enough to avoid feelings of betterment.
Yes, we know that we aren’t saved by works. But without speaking it aloud, I think we often believe that if we do the right things, good things will happen to us, at least in the world of our church. But the problem is that no matter how much good we think we do, we are never good. The good in us is from Jesus. He changes us, but even our best actions on this earth are terrifically tainted with sin. Paul states it in Galatians in his typically bold, no nonsense way. He says, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Galatians 6:3).
Our entire faith is wrapped up in this idea that bad choices and broken nature do not end in bad consequences when we chose Jesus.
And, here’s the tricky part. If you let this idea that “you are good and should expect good” fester, you can easily reach the point where the belief that good should correlate with good leads to the understanding that bad should expect bad. You see, it’s easier than you think to lose sight of the entire gospel message. It’s easier than you think to forget the fact that our entire faith is wrapped up in this idea that bad choices and broken nature do not end in bad consequences when we chose Jesus.
And where does this lead? Not only does it hurt your relationship with pretty much everyone, it eventually destroys your relationship with God. If you expect Him to bring good into your life for your good actions, then you’re going to look to Him with mistrust when that good never comes. You’re going to blame Him when you yourself experience bad. And when you see “bad people” experience good events or even spiritual blessings, you’re going to see Him as unfeeling towards those trying to keep His laws. Even when intellectually you know He’s not. Because, our intellectual relationship with God is only part of the battle. Your emotional feelings towards Him always come to play.
It’s complicated. It’s always complicated, isn’t it? Spiritual elitism seems in some ways to be grossly natural. As the remnant, we believe we have God’s final message. There’s an element then that means we believe other churches with counter beliefs do not have the same message. However, it doesn’t mean we are better! It means we are called to serve. More responsibility (be it pastor, church leader, parent, teacher, or anything) does not equate to being better, and we have to stop mixing the two up. I think the trouble comes when we lose sight of the fact that we’re supposed to bring that message to the whole world. The trouble comes more when we focus more on the fact that we are the keepers of this last day truth and less on the delivery of that truth. And, it can happen in an instant. It can happen when you least expect it.
I’m tired of hypocrisy being the Godwin’s Law of Seventh-day Adventism. I want to stop giving people reasons to feel like Christians are hypocritical or that we see ourselves as better. Our mantra has to be that of Paul’s. I like how The Message paraphrases it: “Here’s a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I’m proof- Public Sinner Number One – of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy. And now he shows me off – evidence of his endless patience – to those who are right on the edge of trusting him forever” (I Timothy 1:15-16).
There’s no way to pull down the fences between us and other people without recognizing them. To recognize them, you have to be brave enough to name them, even if those feelings don’t make a whole lot of “theological sense.” Triage is painful, but it works to start a route towards healing. The church and its mission are being crushed on so many fronts right now under the weight of its own brand of spiritual elitism, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Let’s do something about it.[/box_holder]