Anne Rice and hypocrisy in the Church

The media has been all aflutter over the past weeks about the announcement by novelist Anne Rice that she’s “quitting Christianity, but not Christ”. As Rice posted on her blog:

“My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than … [C]hristianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”

In short, it seems that Rice is frustrated to breaking point with hypocrisy in the Church.

Here’s the thing, though:

Jesus also hates the hypocrisy of Christians.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry he had a great deal to say to the scribes and the Pharisees, the “church leaders” of the day. Here’s Jesus as reported in the Gospel of Matthew:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. (Mt 23:1-3, NIV)

Jesus’ strongest condemnation was reserved for those who teach the truth but fail to live it out.

“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 dead men’s bones 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.” (Mt 23:27-28, NIV)

Let there be no mistake: Jesus has no time for hypocrisy within the Church.

At the same time, Jesus instructs us to live a life delineated by firm principles. There are concrete instructions about correct behaviour as well as about correct motives and attitudes. And yet, the Bible teaches us that we are all flawed and will fail to meet theses standards. Jesus is compassionate towards those who struggle to live according to God’s will for their lives. But the vital step is accepting that we ourselves are flawed.

I suspect that anyone who has been involved with Christianity has had experience of hypocrisy. But I suspect that anyone who has been involved in any human affairs has had experience of hypocrisy. If we set ourselves any sort of moral standards at all, we will fail to meet them. Perhaps George Thorogood had the answer to hypocrisy: start off by claiming to be “Bad to the Bone”, and you’ll never fall short of your standards.

But these are not the standards that Jesus asks us to aim for.

I’ve been involved in the Church for a couple of decades, including several denominations and several countries. I’ve seen people failing to live up to their own teaching. More to the point, I’ve seen people failing to live up to Jesus’ teaching. (Shocking revelation: I am one of those people!)

But I’ve also seen a great number of people trying to live up to Jesus teaching. Sometimes they do a pretty good job, sometimes they do a terrible job. They’re never perfect, but they keep trying. They also keep admitting that they have failed and ask God’s help to keep trying.

This attitude of humility is perhaps the key to avoiding hypocrisy. Jesus didn’t rebuke the scribes and the Pharisees for failing to live up to God’s law: he rebuked them for pretending to do so.

Perhaps the most succinct expression of humility and acknowledgment of our own fallen nature came from the inimitable G. K. Chesterton. When invited by The Times newspaper, along with several other prominent authors, to write an essay on the topic “What’s Wrong with the World?”, Chesterton replied with a letter:

Dear Sirs,

I am.

Sincerely yours,
G. K. Chesterton

This is the essence of humility. It is an open admission of our failings, with no excuses or self-justifications. (Incidentally, Chesterton did later write a full-length essay on the subject, which I highly recommend).

As the apostle John writes:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:8-10, NIV)

I understand Anne Rice’s frustration with hypocrisy in the Church, but I choose to respond differently. I remain within the Church, and if I feel that it has strayed, I will attempt to correct and support it from within.

More importantly, I recognise that I can also be hypocritical and corrupt, and I rely on my brothers and sisters in Christ to correct and support me in my walk.

.

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Related posts:

Serious, not fanatical

Living a good and/or Christian life

Modelled behaviour

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15 thoughts on “Anne Rice and hypocrisy in the Church

  1. Good insights here. It’s no revelation that hypocrisy is embedded in the human race. That it is pronounced in the Church (on occasion) is a travesty, but again, it’s no surprise that Satan’s role is to discredit God’s work here on earth. I pray for Anne to find authentic Christian community who will encourage her toward Christ and His Body.

  2. There was a pastor who knocked at the door of a stranger with the purpose of inviting him to church. When he did so the man said he would not come to church because the church was full of hypocrites. The pastor responded, “Sir, you are correct. However, since the church is already full of hypocrites, one more won’t hurt.”

  3. Hi Anne, Every Blessing to you in your personal search to live in the Spirit and be filled with the love of God in Christ Jesus. I have a few words to add to this post;

    Jacques Ellul, in his publication, The Subversion of Christianity; uses an X to identify what he means when he uses the word Christianity.

    He writes; “if we tried to abolish the word Christianity, what would we have to say? First, the revelation and work of God accomplished in Jesus Christ, second, the being of the church as the body of Christ, and third, the faith and life of Christians in truth and love. Since we cannot keep repeating this long triple formula, we shall now use X to denote these three aspects”.

    The practice of Authentic Christianity has become so weak and corrupt that writers have to choose between the term Christianity and Followers of Jesus Christ to identify themselves with authentic Christianity.

    Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, W.E.B. DuBois, Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Malcolm X all made the vital distinction between what Christianity is in its racist expression and what Christianity objectively is and ought to be to all who claim to be Followers of Christ.

    Even Malcolm X in his Autobiography shows his awareness of the independent reality of true Christianity. ‘I would explain that it was our [the Muslim’s] belief that Christianity did not perform what Christ taught. I never failed to cite that even Billy Graham, challenged in Africa, had himself made the distinction, “I believe in Christ not Christianity”.

    In The Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave; he concluded that his attack against Christianity, was a charge against the slave-holding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, “between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference – so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked”.

    Anne, the movement of “American Civil Religion” has all but replaced Authentic Christianity and the evangelical global movement is the ACR’s greatest promoter. So, you are among many that has taken steps to reclaim our God given right to call the new yet very old Christianity a falsehood. Keep in touch, if you care to.

    • Lawrence D. (Larry) Hartley :

      He writes; “if we tried to abolish the word Christianity, what would we have to say? First, the revelation and work of God accomplished in Jesus Christ, second, the being of the church as the body of Christ, and third, the faith and life of Christians in truth and love. Since we cannot keep repeating this long triple formula, we shall now use X to denote these three aspects”.

      Of course, then we’d have to adopt a new letter every generation after the followers of “X” had strayed from the life we are called to live in Christ.

      I take your point, but I think that perhaps it is worth considering that the problems and challenges of Christianity come from the involvement of flawed humans. I am not convinced that a name change is a better solution than reform and correction from within.

      Perhaps it is also worth pointing out that the “American Civil Religion” of which you speak is not what most of the world experiences as Christianity. The “centre of gravity” of the Christian church has shifted East of the Atlantic Ocean, with the tremendous growth of Christianity in Africa and Asia over the past 50 years. This is not an imported religion: this is a Christianity that expresses and identifies with the cultures of each land.

      American civil society has shaped the particular expression of Christianity that predominates in the USA (both for good and for ill), but Christianity is not American.

      • It is obvious to me that Sentinel does not understand the Global Evangelical movement operating [for many years] through the American government promoting the American Civil Religion. Because of ACR, the Global community has become a victim of ACR false gospel disguised as Christianity or should I say American democracy.

        As I suggested earlier, your organization should make a study of the ACR. America wants the world to believe that they are so godly and politically correct, they are willing to sacrifice Authentic Christianity to support their American Civil Religion propaganda.

        Searching Together Magazine reports; “When one listens to the many voices advancing the American Civil Religion, it is often difficult to tell whether the point of view is from the interests of society and culture, or the state, or the Christian Gospel. As Stanley Hauerwas has observed, one often wonders whether he is seeing a Southern Baptist pastor talking like a Texas politician or a Texas politician looking like a Southern Baptist pastor”.

        Searching Together Magazine has a great article written by Virginia Yip on “The American Civil Religion; a foe, not a friend of Christianity. Here is a link, get some study copies….www.searchingtogether.org.

      • Lawrence D. (Larry) Hartley :
        Because of ACR, the Global community has become a victim of ACR false gospel disguised as Christianity or should I say American democracy.

        Again, I think you over-estimate the relevance of ACR to the global community. Having spent the majority of my life in Africa, as well as several years in Asia, I am very much immersed in the global (non-American) community, and I don’t spend much time listening to either Southern Baptists or Texas politicians.

  4. President Obama added his voice to other officials including Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan; Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, all of whom have derided the proposed burning of the Koran.

    When the President of the United States takes the time to weigh in on the intent of a peripheral and relatively unknown religious figure, which is quite unusual. It’s not easy to get this kind of national attention; obviously, Terry Jones, has struck the nerve of the American Government officials that embrace The American Civil Religion.

    Terry Jones; disguised as an angel of light seems to be speaking to some very uncomfortable part of the American religio-political psyche. Could it be that he speaks to the American Civil Religion leaders that sit much closer to the surface of Authentic Christianity than we might want to admit?

    While Authentic Christians are being blamed for the actions of Terry Jones, Global Faith Communities; (Muslims and others) are unwittingly helping The American Civil Religion leaders create the deception needed to deceive Authentic Christians of the world into believing that “together” they have our best interests at heart.

    In a sense it is amazing to witness a delusional false Christian, like Terry Jones bring together the Global Faith Communities; (Muslims and others) and give them a reason to unite with the need to protest themselves from the evil behaviour of “False Christianity”.

    This temporary unity certainly helps establish the world religions agenda in building up the American Civil Religion for the Global development of the One World Order and its church.

    I am attempting to help you all connect the dots…American Civil Religion… False Christianity …One World Church…False Religions…Authentic Christian Church.

    Thanks to “The Lamb That Was Slain” things is moving right along.

  5. Hi, Sentinel. I’m always a little wary of folks who use the “I ain’t hangin’ out with all these hypocrites” excuse for leaving the church. Seems to me the one making such a claim needs to look real close in the mirror, know what I mean? I know for a fact that I fall flat on my face all the time in my so-called Christian life. But I know that other people all around me are struggling just like me. Who am I to judge them? I’ve got my hands full trying to carry this here cross, it’s a full time job and then some.

    You might be interested in this article written by a friend of hers: Anne Rice, loving apostate. Seems that Ms. Rice just isn’t ready to say “Thy Will be done”. She wants things her way and with that attitude I have full sympathy. That’s a hard thing to do, to surrender to Divine Providence. The church will never be perfect this side of heaven. If the church were perfect, they wouldn’t let me in! I’d be without hope!

    Peace be with you, Sentinel. You’ve got a great site here! 🙂

  6. Pingback: Strength in diversity « Spiritual Meanderings

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