The Drunk and The Hypocrite
By Jon Foreman
February 1, 2011
I’ve played music in churches and bars all my life. In many ways, these two gatherings are very similar. Both sets of “regulars” are looking for meaning, carrying out a ritual of sorts—hoping to find purpose, something that makes sense of the pain.
At first glance, it might seem the Church is a better place to look for hope than the bottom of a bottle. Every day, alcoholism and drug abuse destroy families, ruin careers and wreck communities. On the other hand, theological beliefs and misunderstandings have been blamed for divisions, divorces and wars around the world. The trouble with each institution lies within us. True, alcohol feeds a different fire than pietism, but neither a drunk nor a hypocrite look very good in the daylight.
We carry our problems into the church the same way we carry them into a bar—they just react differently in each location. Unfortunately, the sins that exist within the walls of the Church are harder to spot.
Pride, for example, can hide incredibly well in the religious community. I rarely hear the words “I don’t know” uttered at church. And yet the triune Creator of time and space will always be wrapped in mystery and holiness. Why not start in the seat of humility? Surely all of us have gotten a few things wrong in our attempts at Christianity.Isn’t it pride that causes divisions among us? When we begin to slander other believers in the name of God, we know we’ve gotten off course. Did our Master’s words fall on deaf ears? “Love each other as I have loved you.” “Let them be one, Father, even as we are one.” These are not optional thoughts on how things could be done, but rather prerequisites for entrance into Kingdom of Heaven life. Unity is serious business. The Church is called to be one even as the triune God is one. The comprehensive salvation of our planet is built on the final unity of the Church and her God: the bride and her Savior.
Unfortunately, unity within the ecclesial community is the exception, not the rule. It’s to our shame many folks looking for hope find more grace at the local bar than the local church. When we speak with a fire and anger that burns differently than the fresh air of the cross, we do the Gospel a disservice. We know deep down something is wrong. So we revolt against those fiery speeches. We say the method needs to change. We call the old model irrelevant. And yes! The fresh winds of the Spirit are ready to blow upon us, let us pray for new tongues of the same eternal flame.
And yet if I speak with the tongues of angels and of men but have not love, it profits me nothing. If I rise up against the cheesy Christian T-shirts but have not love, it helps no one. If I hate the legalistic hatred but have not love, it builds nothing. Has the enemy tricked us into a new form of legalism? Is not our judgment committing the same offense? Ah, we may have found a way, but it is not love.
Walking the line between the clubs and the Church, I’ve been misunderstood by both sides. I’m sure you’ve felt the same thing: people throw rocks at the things they don’t understand. But it hurts worst when it comes from well-intending brothers and sisters, the folks who are purportedly filled with the love of Christ. Our knee-jerk response is to retaliate, to fight back. And the cycle begins again. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. God will take care of the speck in my neighbor’s eye. The more faith I have in Him and His strong voice, the less I have to yell. The more faith I have in Him, the freer my hands become to serve those around me.
Washing feet is not extra credit. We are called to bear each other’s burdens. Unity is a miraculous achievement, but it’s intended for this side of the grave. Unity is the transforming work of the power of the cross in our lives. In the dark, blood-stained shadow of the cross, our boasting is laughable. Our differences are minute. Take another look at the cross. Look at how much He loves you. Look at His surrender, His sacrifice. Unity comes into focus only when we realize the magnificent grace of the Savior.
Let us acknowledge our neediness, our beautiful desperation. Yes, our unanswerable, aching, longing poverty is a prerequisite for the balm of salvation. We, the people—the failures, the losers, the outsiders—we have found our King. Christ, the King of the fools; the Lord of the sick, broken souls like us. Let us remain in continual awe of the love we have been shown. And let us love! Let us celebrate the reckless love of the one who risked all that we might be loved. And let us follow in the path of a God who loves us. The tax collectors and the rabbis. The prostitutes and the Sadducees. In the bars and in the churches. Yes, God even loves Christians.