There are some scriptures that, when read aloud in corporate gatherings, make me chuckle. My chuckle, however, does not emanate from a wellspring of gladness or joy. Instead, these particular chuckles serve to quietly accent the hypocrisy that is defiantly being propagated from the pulpit to the pew, and noxiously proliferating the atmosphere. We are all uncomfortably familiar with verses such as,
“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:39)
“But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:14)
How about when American congregations read James 2 during the responsive reading portions of their services?
“My brothers,[a] show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?”
The tragic truth is that many of us read verses such as these every week in our services with absolutely no intention of ever having to act upon them in society! In fact, we’ll spend $50 dollars on commentaries written by scholars who will inflame our indifference by telling us that Jesus and the apostles never meant for you to actually do what they wrote (the fact that Jesus, Himself, and his disciples, indeed, followed these edicts and gave their lives in witness to its potent, pan-temporal truth is only a minor discrepancy in their eyes)! With that being said, there has been one verse that has especially proved to be a burdensome conundrum as of late for me.
Written to Jewish Christians scattered throughout the region after the Roman conquest, James, the brother of our Lord, exhorted his parishioners to, ” Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” James 5:16A
Though I have heard this verse, in one context or another, my entire life, it has only been recently that is has caused a conundrum of conscience for me.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
Do you truly confess your sins one to another?
Have I, historically, sought healing from the assembly of the redeemed by placing my private iniquity before them?
I am not speaking of these pedicured sins, cloaked in ambiguity, that we don’t mind owning up to. I am not referring to confessing that you sometimes deal with anger or that you have had a hard time forgiving a friend who spoke an ill word of you that hurt your feelings. Though I, by no means, nullify the severity of these issues, I, at the same time, am sickened by the ambiguity that enshrouds them.
How many young pastors-in-training- truly confess before their comrades that they can’t stop watching pornography, though they desperately desire to do so?
How many seminarians will openly confess that they are imperviously envious of the success of their classmates and covet their positions and consider their own callings to be refuse?
What about the young accounting major, who was saved 16 months ago in a Sunday morning service? Though he has been feverishly and fervently following the Lord since the moment of salvation, can he really come and tell his young adults group that he and his girlfriend had sex recently and its eating him up inside?
He, like us, tragically cannot and will not, because he feels that it is better to allow the tumor of his transgression to grow within than to allow the faithful to inflame it all the more with the miserly instruments of disdain and unmerciful condemnation. We allow the cancer to grow all because we are afraid to let them know.
But how can this be?
How can the same faith that afforded hero status to Noah, despite his naked drunkenness, refuse to receive the confession of a brother who admits to succumbing under the yoke of peer pressure, going to a bar, and getting a little “lifted”? Ho can the same faith that afforded hero status to Moses, despite his own admission of murdering and burying a man in the sand, refuse to receive the confession of a sister who confesses to getting into a fist fight because she has yet to fully resolve her long standing anger issues? How can the same faith that afforded hero status to King David, despite his own admission of sleeping with a married woman and having her husband killed to hide his deed, brandish the scarlet letter of condemnation and rejection to the college accountant who confesses to sleeping with his girlfriend?
The list could go on and on! We could discuss Peter rejecting the Christ and forsaking his calling. We could discuss Saul dragging Christian women by their hair and smiling as their blood baptized Palestinian streets. We could discuss Elijah’s depression due to Jezebel, John the Baptists doubts during his imprisonment, and Solomon’s whoredom, idolatry, and tyrannical, oppressive leadership! But we don’t.
The tragedy is, we don’t!
We don’t go to Mardel’s looking for the painting of Moses murdering a man and burying him in the sand! We want to see him parting the Red Sea! We don’t want to buy the painting of a naked Noah cussing and yelling in the vineyard! We want to see the prophet navigating the ark! We don’t want to buy a painting depicting David’s fornication and murderous inclinations! We want the painting that quotes Psalm 23 so we can hang it in our foyer! When it comes to the Biblical heroes of our faith, we choose to frame their best and ignore their worst. Oh how I wish that could be the same with the church in America today! Tragically, however, we choose to do the opposite; we frame the worse in a brother and choose to ignore his best. God help us all.
Ask yourself this question; would Noah be allowed to serve in your church if rumors of his drunken nakedness reached your Pastor’s ears? Would Moses be allowed to lead the Men’s Ministry if you found out that, in his younger years, he served time for killing a man in a fit of rage? Would David be allowed to lead worship if you knew about Uriah the Hittite and Bathsheba? Face the sobering fact that the same men whose paintings and images hang in your church offices and foyers, had they been alive in your day, would not be allowed to sit in your pews and pray to their God.
Hello, my name is James Howard Hill, Jr., and I have sinned.
Don’t worry, I won’t send you my resume. I know the church is not looking for help.