As is often the case, I’m a little behind on “what’s happening” in “Christian” news, so I didn’t hear until yesterday of Ergun Caner’s dismissed lawsuit against a blogger who posted links to videos that revealed some of his lies that he has told about himself and his past in the aftermath of 9/11. And it’s just as well. Caner has been discredited time and time again before the eyes of the Church and the world, and he now only manages to dupe a small group at some Baptist college in Georgia where he somehow now resides as president.
As despicable as the whole Caner debacle is, it is (I think) just an extreme symptom of the hypocrisy that plagues the American church. And if we rightly define hypocrisy, I think you’ll see what I mean. Hypocrisy at its root is not what most people define it to be, namely “not practicing what one preaches.” If that definition’s true, then every person in the Church (and outside of the Church for that matter) is a hypocrite. For who doesn’t have something that they esteem to be moral that they have transgressed? Who teaches their children not to lie and yet has never lied? Who has ever balked at someone excessively speeding down the road and yet has not, under “special” circumstances, sped themselves? The fact is by this popular definition of hypocrisy all are hypocrites, whether one is a Christian or not.
Hypocrisy proper is rather the putting up of a front to appear to be something that someone is not with the goal of looking good before others. Hypocrisy is therefore the opposite of genuineness. In the case of Ergun Caner, his whole life since 9/11 has been an elaborate ruse to propel himself into the Christian limelight. For he determined that in the aftermath of 9/11 that “Ergun Michael (aka Butch) Caner” was far less interesting than “Ergun Mehmet Caner,” therefore he developed (poorly, might I add) an enormous web of lies to appear to be someone that he’s not with the end of making a name for himself. And it worked, at least for awhile.
Though Caner is an extreme example, this type of hypocrisy has run rampant in the American church. Just think for a moment about the expression that is so prevalent in so many churches, namely “preserving one’s witness,” and what people mean when that say it. They’re not saying by it, “Preach Christ crucified,” or “Let your light so shine before men,” or “Be real before others,” but rather they are saying, “Make sure that you don’t do anything sinful in front of others or else your witness about Christ will be ruined.” In other words, Christians are exhorted to always put their best foot forward so that the outside world will think that they are something that they’re not. This type of witness is called “hypocrisy.” Christians are by this “witness” called to be self-righteous, fake, insincere, and to appear to have it all together. And despite the efforts of this “witness” by many, the world just isn’t buying it. And they shouldn’t. And it’s good that they aren’t buying it, because that “witness” has nothing to do with the Gospel. The Gospel is that God himself came into the world to save dirtbags, and the dirtbags that he saves will be dirtbags until he returns, even if they are a little less dirt-filled than they were in the past. Our witness is not, “Hey, look at me and how much less dirty I am than you!” but it is that Jesus came to save us even while we were dirtbags, and even while some of us were the biggest dirtbags on the planet (cf. Rom. 5:8). Our witness is never about us and our righteousness (or rather, our righteous façade), but it’s about God and his Righteousness and his great love in giving us his Righteousness.
Our witness is never about us and our righteousness, but it’s about God and his Righteousness and his great love in giving us his Righteousness.
And to be completely honest, I have heard about “preserving my witness” so much in my life that it is still hard for me to grasp that my witness is not about the front that I put up at work or my ability to not be seen buying beer at the grocery store. I still think of times in my past where I was such a screw-up at work that I desired to have another job just so that I could get a fresh start on my “witness.” How biblically-retarded is that? If that’s what preserving our witness is really about, why would the Bible be filled with so many screw-ups? Why would Paul write in a public letter about the church member who was sleeping with his father’s wife? (cf. 1Cor. 5:1). Why would Peter’s denial of Christ be written about multiple times? Or Peter’s hypocrisy fueled by the Judaizers long after Pentecost happened? (cf. Gal. 2:11-14). Or David’s murder and adultery on the account of Bathsheba? (cf. 2Sam. 12). The list goes on and on about the failures of even the greatest men of the faith, and yet we still believe that our witness is putting up a good front? No, that was the Pharisees’ witness. Our witness is not about ourselves, but it is about Christ and his mercy. The greatest witness that a Christian can have at work and in life is not about not doing anything wrong, but it is about doing something wrong and repenting of it. It’s not about putting up a façade to fool those around us, but it’s letting those around us see who we really are and showing that Christ saved us and loves us anyway!
This is great news for screw-ups, even screw-ups to Ergun Canerth degree. In the Church, even Ergun Caner can have a witness, that is if he repents of his lies, his deceit, and his horrible theology and turns to Christ. He can then say, “I may be the chief of liars and have led people astray in my past, but, because of Jesus Christ and his work, I have turned away from that and am forgiven. And even though I will continue to fail, I rest on Christ’s merit alone and seek forgiveness for when I fail and submit to the Church’s discipline when I do.” That, brethren, would be a witness to Christ, not some hodgepodge of fabrications and denials that aim to whitewash a tomb.
Questions for Application
- How do you view your witness? It is about preserving a façade of self-righteousness or is it about showing yourself to be a saved sinner by the work of Jesus Christ?
- How do you demonstrate your witness about Christ to the world? Are you quick to admit your faults and ask forgiveness when you wrong others?