hypocrisy

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Hypocrisy’s Usefulness in Testing Spirits

Monday, March 5th, 2007

The news has been featuring a number of intriguing stories about hypocrites.

At the forefront is Al Gore’s carbon footprint. The former vice president has been telling us the world is coming to an end because of our excessive energy-consumption, yet his electric bill is $1,200 a month.

Then there is Ted Haggard, the fallen leader of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. After a male prostitute accused him of homosexual activity and drug abuse, Haggard checked himself into rehab. Three weeks later he was pronounced “completely heterosexual.” The public is understandably having trouble believing him.

Another story that has somehow passed under the radar is the inconsistency of bioethicist Peter Singer. For years Singer has been redefining human life by coining the phrase “human non-person” to refer to fetuses, newborn babies, the disabled, and the terminally ill. The hope is that the phrase will prove a worthy salve for postmodern consciences desirous to justify abhorrent practices such as abortion and euthanasia. Hundreds have been influenced by Singer’s humanistic philosophies. But how well does he do when he is personally confronted with them? Not well, as a recent story reveals. When Singer’s own mother became a “human non-person,” he couldn’t bring himself to end her life. When “ethics” got personal, Singer chose to allow nature to take its course.

People of principle relish stories like these because they validate our suspicions. We can’t believe that people actually think their mothers and children are “human non-persons.” We know a lot of these televangelists are religious hucksters in disguise. We’ve always had a feeling that celebrities and politicians don’t practice what they preach. But is hypocrisy really evidence that we’re right?

John wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). What did he mean by “test the spirits?” The idea is borrowed from metallurgy, the ancient technique of separating metals from their ores using fire. Just as the metallurgist tests his metals by the standard of a fiery cauldron, Christians must examine and prove every teacher by the standard of truth.

But is practice that standard? That is what we are saying if we use hypocrisy as a guide. Hypocrisy may be ugly; the Lord hated it (Mt. 6:1-2, 5, 16; 7:5; 15:7-9; 22:18; 23:2-33; et al.). However, hypocrisy cannot be used as the standard for judging whether or not something is true. If that were the case, then Haggard’s example proves homosexual behavior is acceptable, and Al Gore’s example, on its own, proves that Global Warming is a farce.

Practice cannot serve as a standard because it’s far too subjective. Sure, Haggard fell, but Christ didn’t. He’s the one who originally established the sinfulness of homosexual behavior (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10). Thousands of other preachers have lived up to their teaching, enough to relegate Haggard to the category of “exception to the rule.”

Moreover, hypocrisy is often the result of a disconnect between what a person believes in his heart and what he actually does. True, some are liars and know what they’re saying is false. But I think most hypocrites are just believers floundering in their own weaknesses, whether they are church leaders, philosophers, or heads of state.

The standard for truth is God’s Word. Because it is inspired (God-breathed), it can claim objectivity (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). While many of its heralds failed to live up to its doctrine at times, including some of the apostles, it has never wavered.

Hypocrisy should be shunned; dishonesty should never be tolerated. But let God’s Word be the judge. If we’re not careful, we’ll arrive at the wrong conclusion because we tested our propositions in the wrong fire.