Anyone who’s read the Old Testament knows the stories of Israel rejecting God while putting on a show of godliness. God didn’t like it:
I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. (Amos 5:21-23.)
What gives? Why wouldn’t God go along with it?
It was all a sham.
They weren’t worshiping God with all their hearts, not even with a largish portion of their hearts. Here’s where their hearts were really focused:
There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth. (Amos 5:10)
There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. (Amos 5:12.)
Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel? You have lifted up Sakkuth your king and Kaiwan your idols, your star-gods. (Amos 5:25-26.)
God told his people to love him and love others. They weren’t doing either, but instead chased after other gods and oppressed the poor and defenseless.
Still a Problem
There are people in God’s New Covenant community who still oppress others in pursuit of something or someone other than God, and real people are getting hurt, as both Jonathan Merritt and Warren Throckmorton have reported.
It’s not restricted to one tragic instance, of course. As Aimee Byrd, Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt pointed out in their recent podcast:
Trueman – Money twists everything… The secret of great leadership is not to surround yourself with yes men. But when you’re bringing in the big bucks you will tend to find that you are surrounded by yes men because they are enjoying the money, the kudos, the credit that you bring to them or to their publishing company or whatever; and they will not hold you accountable in the way that you should be. …
Pruitt – Someone who is above accountability is very dangerous. …
Byrd – Does anyone care?
That’s the point: does anyone care? The knee-jerk reaction for humans is often to circle the wagons and shoot back at those who have noticed leadership failings. Put the focus on the accuser; don’t focus on the substance of the problems; and whatever you do, deflect the focus off the one who may really be in need of correction.
It’s not right, and it hurts the body of Christ. This post at Spiritual Sounding Board and its comments are filled with people recounting how they’ve been beaten and bullied by fellow Christians. These are not isolated instances, but systemic problems in the church.
Rules Are For Peasants
It’s not a matter of whether a leader sinned and needs to repent and seek forgiveness by those who are wronged. That part is true, of course. But the real problem is that Byrd, Trueman and Pruitt got it right: big time Christian celebrities are not held accountable because the system they operate in has grown to protect them from accountability for those sins.
The game is rigged in their favor.
This means that for some in Christian leadership, the rules they promote are only for the little people. These rules show up in the books they write with copyright claims on the front page, the sermons posted on their websites with strict limitations, and explicit judgments about the sin of plagiarism as a disqualification from the teaching ministry:
Do not speak anyone else’s messages. Doing so amounts to plagiarism, unless you get permission. Worse, it subverts God’s work in and through you. … If you use the work of others, you are not a teacher, and you should quit your job and go do anything but speak.
(Crossway Books 2008, p. 105)
Jesus had strong words for people who preached one thing but willfully did another:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:27-28.)
Those who oppose the modern Pharisee, on the other hand, have hope even though they may be small and insignificant in the eyes of their oppressors:
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4.)
For those who suffer at the hands of the Pharisees, I pray that these dear children of God are strengthened in the knowledge that their Savior has saved them even in the midst of this oppression.