Category Archives: self-righteousness

Gay Marriage, the Church, and the Jesus Response

I was so thankful yesterday to get a Facebook inbox message from a friend who was concerned about the current argument in America over gay marriage. Like many Christians, she was concerned about the moral failure of the country. She had been watching Facebook and so have I. I too, have seen many comments like, “Why don’t people see what Scripture says?”

I’ll be honest. I don’t watch television news. For a good reason. It’s only purpose seems to be to rile people up over things that are insignificant. You get stressed out. I mentioned in an online magazine recently how watching TV news in a constant flow caused my mother anxiety.

She said she read my blog occasionally and never saw me write anything about the issue. I don’t. My blog is about fallen

Pic courtesy of PBS
Pic courtesy of PBS

pastors, mostly. Then, I write about issues secondary to that. Then, after that, I write about what tickles my fancy. I don’t avoid the big issues. I’ve written about big issues before, but they’re just not on the radar of what I do.

My response to her was probably not what she expected, but I hope it was biblical. (She did thank me for the sermon :)) I want to post it here then add some comments after. Here it is, verbatim:

Here is what I would say. And I pray it’s the biblical thing, because any response of my own would be wrong.

I’d take it back to the apostle Paul who wrote to a church that was probably going through more moral decay than we are, if you can imagine. In his time, it wasn’t just the culture, it was members of the church who were declining in morality. Members of the church were going up to the pagan temple and sleeping with temple prostitutes.

Paul was surrounded by a pagan Roman culture that was filled with violence, sex, child molestation, and hedonism – and all of it was legal. But Paul didn’t write against the evil around him in the world. He wrote about the sin within the church. He says something interesting in 1 Corinthians 5:

Please take time to read more important stuff after the jump:

Continue reading Gay Marriage, the Church, and the Jesus Response

Adultery: Why Do People Hate It So Much?

There are few sins in American culture that people despise as much as adultery. I was reading an interesting article on “Blame Affairs on Evolution of Sex Roles,” by Stephanie Coontz.

In it, she addresses American’s view of adultery over the years and how strict it has become. She references two different surveys that I wish I had known about for my book. The first was a 2006 Pew Research poll where Americans were asked about behaviors that were morally wrong. Adultery was the worst as 88% said it was morally wrong. In comparison, abortion was at 52%, lying at 43% and gambling at 35%.

The other survey was a 2009 Gallup Poll which asked about morally acceptable and morally wrong behaviors. 62% of those polled said divorce was morally acceptable, 57% said medical testing on animals was, abortion was 36% morally acceptable, suicide came in at 15% and cloning humans was at 9%. At the bottom? 7% of those polled said polygamy was morally acceptable. There was only one behavior less acceptable than having more than one wife. You guessed it. Adultery – 6%.

Now don’t get me wrong. If I had been polled, I would definitely say that adultery is morally wrong. It violates God’s plan. It’s a sin.

But what do these polls tell us about ourselves and our moral outcry? Why is adultery hated so much? Why is there so much moral outrage? We see it most in media when someone falls. There is more public outcry when adultery is committed than when another sin is committed, say, theft. Murder and child abuse are probably the only exceptions.

Why is the moral outrage so high toward adultery for most people? I think I might have some insight.

Read more after the jump…

Continue reading Adultery: Why Do People Hate It So Much?

Seminary, Being Judgmental, Self-Righteousness, and Other Thoughts, Part 2

Long before seminary, the seeds of self-righteousness had been sown.

Now, I have really got to be careful with this next part of my story because it will definitely offend some people. I don’t mean for it to. Just make sure you read it through before you react, please.

When I was about 13, I ran across a stash of cassette tapes my parents had. They listened to a lot of sermons. Charles Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, and our own pastor at the time. But the pastor who caught my attention at the time was John MacArthur.

I had never heard anything like his preaching in my entire life. I had never experienced expository preaching. I fell in love with it. The Bible came alive for me and I soaked it all in.

I don’t know how familiar you are with MacArthur’s preaching. It’s very good. At the same time, you have to know that it’s also very black and white. All the answers for all of life are to be found in the Word of God. Don’t hear me saying I disagree, but I went to an extreme.

I took MacArthur’s style, black and white belief system, and tough stance on sin and made it my own. I went even further with it as seminary came along. When I got past seminary and got my own church, the hard-line black and white view of life came to bear. And it infiltrated the way I did everything – especially the way I viewed sin in the congregation.

After a seminary education where church discipline was king, I was ready to wipe out sin in the church. I think my heart was in the right place, but my practice and attitude was not.

I remember the first couple of times I found out church members were sinning. Publicly. I didn’t handle it well. Or with compassion. I came down hard and quickly on them. Were they sinning? Yes. Was it wrong in accordance to the black and white of Scripture? Yes.

But I was wrong. I lacked compassion, love and understanding. I approached them with the attitude of, “You need to stop now or we’re bringing this in front of the church in [X] amount of days.”

I gave no time for God to do His work in their hearts. I gave no compassion to their circumstance. I didn’t care about their situation. None. No Christlikeness at all.

All I knew is that I saw sin. And I was the heat-seeking missile that wanted it out of the church.

What I never considered was that I was dealing with people. I knew the old saying, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” But I had trouble separating the two. In my eyes, if the sinner couldn’t separate from the sin, they needed to get serious help or be asked to leave until they could.

Of course, I was an idiot. That’s not how discipline works. That’s not how the church works. That’s not how forgiveness works. That’s not how we’re supposed to act at all. And I learned the hard way.

How could I sit through church as a youth, seminary as an adult, and pastor for almost ten years and miss it?

Worse, I taught the people at Angel Falls Baptist to judge harshly and without love or compassion. And they did that very thing to me when I fell.

Well, I did. Is it possible thousands of Christians are missing the same thing now? That they’re learning that sin is a horrible thing (which is true) but at the same time they’re missing out on how to show compassion?

I forgot that I was a sinner like those in the church were. I forgot that I had been saved by grace and that I wasn’t any better than anyone else. That is the heart of self-righteousness. I thought my education, my position, and my ability to judge made me better.

Didn’t. It just made me more smug. And I paid for it all.

Seminary, Being Judgmental, Self-Righteousness, and Other Thoughts, Part I

My new friend from the Work In Progress blog who comments here frequently asked me an honest question recently, which reminded me of something I’ve been wanting to blog about for a while.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I was somewhat judgmental as a pastor before my fall. I also discovered that I was self-righteous. I think those two things go hand in hand. After talking to several other fallen pastors from across the country, I’ve discovered that these qualities are very common. Let me give you some back story before I explain that.

When I got the call to ministry, the logical step for me was to attend seminary. I attended a very conservative Southern Baptist seminary. I didn’t have a strong religious educational background except for what I had learned in Sunday School and a few undergraduate religious classes.

I went to seminary with the expectation it would prepare me for a pastoral career. I hoped it would get me ready to minister as I learned practically how to care for people. That a Master of Divinity would transform me into the man of God who magically knew how to pastor a congregation.

Uh huh.

Let me give you a quick disclaimer. I don’t have a problem with seminary. I loved my seminary and I’d do it all over again. I’ll get to what went wrong in a minute.

I got a seminary education bereft of spiritual formation. Now, listen to what I’m saying first. It was ultimately my fault that I didn’t get the spiritual benefit. There were about four to six practical classes in the whole mix. They urged us on several occasions to make sure we were part of a good church where we were getting fed. They told us that seminary education was no replacement for spiritual growth. They told us that sermon preparation was not the same as edification for our soul.

Got that part.

But during an 18 hour class schedule, most students don’t take the time to do the spiritual work.

There were professors who made you do the spiritual work. I had several professors who forced us to do written quiet times and reflect on certain passages and hand them in on a daily basis. I’m still not sure what to think of that, but their hearts were in the right place.

Here was where I failed. And this is tough for me to write, but I write it hoping it will help someone else out there, because I know there are some out there who will benefit from it. So here goes.

The first day of seminary, they herded us into a room to do some preliminary testing to see if we needed some extra classes. One of the PhD students addressed all of us newbies: “50% of you will not graduate. Of those of you who do, 50% of you will not make it past the first two years of ministry.”


I pondered why 50% of seminary students didn’t make it through. I found out in a hurry. Most of them said they couldn’t afford it anymore. That wasn’t the truth, though. I found out for myself.

Seminary is made up of a lot of factual information. Theology. History. Ecclesiology. Hermeneutics. So forth. A lot of stuff that I had never heard. It was stuff that challenged my own beliefs. My own system of thought. It challenged my faith.

Can you believe that? That in seminary they would challenge your beliefs? (That was sarcasm.)

In my early second year, it got so bad for me that I was questioning the existence of God. Honestly. We were learning so much, so fast that our heads were swimming. It was more than a lot of people could take. More than I could almost take.

When I talked to students who were leaving, I’d ask them, “Why are you really leaving?” When I got past the first five minutes of, “I can’t afford this anymore,” they’d finally say, “I just miss the old time religion. When things were simple.”

Their faith had been challenged too severely.

I’d encourage them to stay and work it out. But they’d leave. It was tough. It was tough for me.

Obviously, I finally worked it out. But my faith had been shaken to the core. But I probably didn’t work it out the way I should have. From the moment I “worked it out,” I began to “study” God. No longer did I have the same reverence for God, but I looked at God like a thing to be studied and not a God to be worshipped.

It was an easy thing to do, too. Especially in an environment when all you do is study. When all you do is break down the atonement, theories of the fall, whether you’re a trichotomist or dichotomist, argue over open membership vs. closed membership, study the history of church thought, examine document sources, read the Puritans, study and debate ethics, and fade away to sleep every night with a 20 pound book on your chest due for discussion the next day.

What’s even worse is that hardly anyone at seminary is immune from “studying” God. There were super seminary students who kept it all together. They did. They kept their spiritual level high while grinding out the papers. I don’t know how.

You know what happens when you study God like that? Even if you don’t mean to? A horrible thing begins to happen to your soul. You begin to think you’re a little better than people who aren’t seminary trained. That’s called self-righteousness.

Some of you who read this who went to seminary may disagree. That’s fine. You may not have had the same experience. God love you. I’m glad you didn’t. Seminary doesn’t have the same effect on everyone. But it has this effect on a lot of people. And again, seminary doesn’t necessarily do this to people. But if self-discipline isn’t enacted, it’ll happen.

Case in point, seminary students had a reputation at local churches. Especially in Sunday School classes. People from the town had the feeling and generalization that seminary students were arrogant know-it-alls. Now where would they get that idea?

From the handful of students who felt that a seminary education made them better than the general public. They showed up at these churches, sat in their Sunday School classes, told the layman teacher why they were wrong every Sunday and got cocky about it. A rotten apple spoils the whole bunch. That’s why a lot of the churches had “Seminary Classes.” Not to cater to the seminary students, but to get them out of general population.

Heck, I was the same way. I had a first-class Southern Baptist education and I let it be known. I wasn’t flaunting it, but sometimes, I had the need to be arrogant about it.

But I should have exercised humility. Especially in public. Especially in my ministry later. Especially in life.

Next time I’ll talk about the long-term effects of the self-righteous behavior I learned and really where it all started for me.