by Danny Bell
By Danny Bell, March 4, 2014
I first met Eddy (name changed) when we arrived at a new church after I left ministry. He was friendly and well-dressed, with a decent hand shake, which always tells me a lot about the man. Ed was a great preacher—a change from the boring send-me-to-sleep sermons I was used to enduring. He was passionate and spoke with urgency and pathos. I stayed awake till the end. Amazing!
One day, however, I heard that Ed had come to an "arrangement" with the church that he would not preach any more. Confused, I asked why and soon learned that Ed struggled with cigarettes on and off in his walk with God. It was one of those "nobody is supposed to know" things but everyone did. Unfortunately, the church could not have him preaching any more, and Eddy was pressured into ceasing.
I had struck up a friendship with Ed and remember feeling sad about it. He assured me it was okay and that it was something he needed to fix himself. He genuinely wanted to kick his habit once and for all. My Quit Seminar training came back to me in a flash, and Ed agreed that in weekly private sessions with another friend, we would support him through a process of quitting.
While Ed was making progress, something inside me burned. I saw the lifestyle of those in leadership and those who took the place of Ed in the pulpit. A shocking reality began to emerge in my mind when I realised an indisputable fact—they were drug takers too! They weren't nicotine addicts with stained fingers, but they were fully blown addicts nonetheless.
What am I referring to? CAFFEINE!
Now I would be the first one to admit I am not perfect and do things that occasionally make people wonder if I have a brain, but there's a sinister side to us church-goers when we single out a man and punish him for doing something that we do ourselves. I don't care when I hear members drop an f-bomb or say something inappropriate, get found out to be doing alcohol or cigarettes, wearing shabby clothes to church or listening to heavy metal—that stuff really doesn't bother me. What bothers me is when self-righteous ones begin to point it out in others to discredit them, while doing similar or worse. I find this disgustingly hypocritical.
When I took my baptismal vows, I remember acknowledging very clearly before God and church that I would not "partake in the consumption of or trafficking in narcotics and other drugs." I was very serious and dedicated to sticking to this principle. I used to take all kinds of narcotics before my conversion, and so they hold a very distinct negative value for me. When trying to explain how I see coffee and smoking as the same thing, a church coffee-drinker remonstrated with me, "But you can’t compare smoking with drinking tea or coffee, Danny". Well, that's exactly what I am doing!
I don't care if it’s inhaled, injected, snorted, sipped, percolated or inserted—it's all a drug of choice. And what I find hypocritical is how we demonise some and not others. It’s easy to condemn smoking because of its association with the street, promiscuity, worldliness, and cancer, etc. It’s a safe horse to back because it won’t cause us much heat if we self-righteously proclaim its evil. But coffee drinking has so permeated (dare I say percolated?) the church, it has become acceptable. I mean lets be real here; if smoking were as rife among Adventists as coffee drinking at the moment, the church would resemble a late night seedy brothel!
And don't get me wrong, I could not care if you drink coffee, tea or smoked; it really isn't the big issue right now. What is a big issue is when a good preacher is taken away from the pulpit for struggling with an addiction while those who replace him are openly injecting themselves orally with the same harmful substances—hypocrisy in all its glory!
In one sense, Ed was probably more righteous than those who dethroned and replaced him. He recognised he had a problem and saw the need to change; not so with the coffee club. I think it would be okay if Ed were removed from the pulpit for his habit, as long as that rule was applied across the board to tea, coffee and any other crutch we use for "medicinal purposes". Would there be any preachers left?
Hypocrisy comes in many forms, some subtle, some not so subtle. Jesus was a master at seeing hidden agendas and double standards. That's why he had so much trouble with the church bourgeois. He spoke out against systems, traditions, customs and mindsets that isolated certain classes and yet allowed others to go untouched. One of the great sins of the church before Jesus comes will be hypocrisy. If the life of Jesus is to be a microcosm of what his followers will experience, and if they hated him for exposing their self-righteousness, then they will hate those who God has given this thankless task to do also (Matt 10:22).
This is one of the things that motivates me to write as I do. Hypocrisy is an insidious disease that can infect all of us, but denying its presence only prolongs the danger and damage that inconsistency brings. Are we straining at gnats and swallowing Camels? Or are we denying someone a position in the church because they don't take their poison like we do?
Yours in the War,