Archive for October 10, 2011
“Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in
flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the
marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the
head table at banquets. Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property
and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this,
they will be severely punished.”
I can still remember the first time I sat at the head table of a banquet. I
was speaking for a men’s group in Southern California. When I arrived at the
banquet hall, I was ceremoniously ushered forward to a long table that faced the
audience. My host showed me to my seat, which was just to the right of the
podium from which I would give my address. Next to me was the president of the
At first, I felt a bit awkward to be in such a prominent position, especially
when I was about to eat. What if I spilled all over myself? I confess to having
felt rather on the spot. To make matters worse, the president, who was sitting
to my right, was not very good at conversation. So, while others in the room
were enjoying a lively chat around their table, I was stuck between a podium and
a guy who seemed more interested in his food than in me. I wished I could have
been just an ordinary fellow at this meeting, sitting at a table full of men
talking about football.
Thus, when I read Jesus’ critique of the religious leaders who love the honor
of sitting at “the head table at banquets,” I feel safe. At least Jesus isn’t
describing me! But as I reflect upon this passage, I realize that I do enjoy the
perks that come with being a person of some prominence. When I was a parish
pastor, I liked being greeted as “Pastor Mark” when I ran into church members
“in the marketplaces.” Is Jesus saying this was
Not exactly. It all depends on two things: my intentions and my integrity.
Jesus criticized the religious leaders who acted in order to earn people’s
honor. They were not seeking to please God, but people, and ultimately their own
egos. Moreover, while pretending to be pious, these leaders were acting unjustly
in their financial dealings, even cheating widows out of their property. Thus,
they were simply putting on a show of religiosity in order to gain human
approval. Their hearts and their lives were corrupt.
This passage serves as a warning to any of us who are leaders among God’s
people today. It speaks to pastors, elders, deacons, Sunday School teachers,
small group leaders, youth leaders, etc. It speaks to parents, grandparents, and
others who express their Christian leadership in the family. It even speaks to
those who lead outside of Christian institutions, such as business or education.
Through this text, Jesus challenges us to consider our intentions and our
integrity. Are we leading to serve God and others, or to serve ourselves? Are we
living in a way that honors God in every word, every deed?
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: If you are a leader in
some context, why are you leading? What are your deep motivations? If those you
lead were to see your whole life on reality TV, what would they
PRAYER: Dear Lord, though I don’t especially like sitting at
the head table of a banquet, I cannot escape the implications of this passage
for my life. I confess to you that sometimes my motivations as a leader are
selfish. I can seek my own good over your good. I find it especially hard to be
faithful if this means people will disapprove of me.
I also confess the ways my life “in secret” does not match my life “in public.”
As far as I know, I’m not cheating anyone out of their property, including
widows. But I know there are times I fail to do what’s right when I think nobody
Forgive me, Lord, for my shortcomings as a leader of your people. Help me, by
your Spirit, to delight in you, to honor you, to love you with all my heart,
soul, mind, and strength. When I receive good things because I’m a leader, may I
receive them with humility and gratitude as gifts from your hand. May all that I
do, even when nobody’s watching, glorify you and reflect your righteousness.
The Falling of Life-Leaves
People who are in the rut, the circular grave, find that it is getting harder for them to change. They used to have spells when they were emotionally moved. Their wills got over on the side of God, and they really meant to make themselves into good Christians by the grace of God. But those times are getting fewer. They cannot afford to wait and say, “Oh, well, I will do it next Thanksgiving. I’ll do it when I come home from vacation.” No, they will either do it now or they will not do it at all. There comes a time when they must make a change. If they do not make it, they never will. Time is stealing away their days of opportunity to make it. They began with a given number of days, and they have already used up so many days. But the tragedy is that they do not know how many remain. They do not know how many they have left because they do not know how many they had to start with. While they could count the number of days they have been on the earth, they do not know how that stacks up to the number accorded them, so they do not know where they are. They only know that the days are doing what the poet said about the leaves. “The leaves of life keep falling one by one.”
Son, you sure ask tough questions, but I’ll try my best to answer. Having lived a long life (and seen America at both its highest and lowest points) I think I have some insights. Many of those insights came from my parents, rather than mere experience. My mother was the first one to tell me that America would fall from the inside as a result of moral decline – not from some outside threat. She first told me that during the Cold War. I didn’t believe her then, but time has shown just how prescient she was.
I suppose the fall of America could best be traced to a failure to grasp one simple idea; namely, that ideas have consequences. Of course, that also means that bad ideas have very bad consequences.
Most of America’s very bad ideas were born on our college campuses. In fact, they were nurtured during the time that America was strongest. That was some time after the fall of the Soviet Union when we were the world’s lone superpower. The ideas took a while to sink into the larger society. Few people realized what Lincoln knew in the mid-nineteenth century; namely, that one could look at our campuses at any time and see what the culture would look like in twenty years. The larger social consequences of ideas are often delayed by many years.
The first dangerous idea embraced by postmodern America was the idea that one has the right to negate other ideas simply because they cause discomfort. This idea gained acceptance on our college campuses right after the fall of the Soviet Union. It resulted in a weakening of the character of the average college student. In fact, it served a counter-evolutionary function in the sense that it guaranteed that the ideas of the weakest students would be the ones to survive in the intellectual marketplace. It also did much to extinguish humility as a character trait among educated people.
The idea that one has a right to negate ideas simply because one is uncomfortable is narcissistic. Our speech codes reinforced that bad trait while simultaneously reinforcing the bad ideas that accompany it. Unsurprisingly, civility in discourse began to decline in the age of speech codes. It was an Orwellian development. The Ministers of Peace were becoming the Ministers of the Cultural Wars.
It was not long before these students began to assert their “right to be unoffended” in a proactive way. Instead of waiting for speech that might offend them, they actively sought it out. They joined groups that held ideas contrary to their own – and did so knowingly. After joining these groups they asserted a right to lead the groups that were advancing the ideas they found to be objectionable. When the groups predictably sought to exclude them, they claimed to be victims of discrimination. The universities supported them in their efforts to ban belief requirements in all organizations, particularly religious organizations. Oddly, in the age of diversity, all the groups began to look the same. They believed in nothing. Their leaders believed in nothing. They had no common cause that required strength in numbers. There was no more need to associate.
Eventually, the students had to leave campus and fend for themselves in the real world. When they did so, they realized churches and other organizations operated by principles foreign to them. They relied on antiquated ideas that had not been taught on the campuses in years. The churches required adherence to core beliefs for membership. The requirements were even more restrictive for deacons, elders, and other positions of leadership. Many were excluded. Many were determined to bridge the gap between the academy and the society-at-large.
So they proceed on a theory they learned at the university. Whenever Christian organizations sought to receive student funding, the university would tell them to set aside the “discriminatory” practice of demanding that all members, or just officers, believe in something. This demand was made despite the fact that the university funding came in the form of the fees students had paid only because the administration made them. The process involved three steps:
1. Administration charges fees.
2. Religious groups ask for their money back.
3. Administration forces group to abandon beliefs in order to get back fees they were forced to pay.
If students refused to renounce their religious beliefs, the university kept the money. In other words, the “mandatory student fee” was a misnomer. It was actually a “tax on orthodox beliefs.”
This method was later modified in order to deal with churches that required belief statements for membership, or for church leadership positions. Since they were paying no taxes, they were seen as being “given something” by the government. So the government decided that tax breaks for churches must be contingent. If the church “discriminated” on the basis of belief, they would no longer be given a tax exemption. In other words, they would be taxed only if they believed in something.
Liberal churches, on the other hand, continued to get tax breaks because they believed in nothing. So they survived. This was also counter-evolutionary in the sense that they were doing poorly before the government interfered with the religious marketplace. They were also the churches populated by the easily offended. In this way, churches preaching Mere Christianity lost their ability to survive and to influence the culture.
After that, the notion of truth still survived. But it lacked an objective basis. It was seen as a mere struggle for power among warring factions. They learned their tactics in the Ivory Tower. Truth is not transcendent. It must be won at the edge of the sword or the point of a gun. And so they took to the streets.
The groups had but one thing in common: They knew the old ideas had to go. But they were not sure what would replace them. They had no exit strategy. And so they eventually consumed themselves.
Mike Adams is a criminology professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and author of Feminists Say the Darndest Things: A Politically Incorrect Professor Confronts “Womyn” On Campus.