Back in early September 2010, the US media took a small story and blew it up into an international crisis: Florida preacher Terry Jones’ planned for his church to publicly burn copies of the Koran on Saturday, September 11. Jones’ planned event drew international attention, mostly condemnation. President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and General Patraeus all warned that Jones’ event would put our military personnel in the Middle East in harm’s way. Caving under all the pressure, Jones canceled his bonfire.
In late September, Atlanta-based megachurch leader Eddie Long was sued by four men, each alleging that he used his position of authority to coerce them into sexual favors. Long denied the allegations from his pulpit. As this post is being written, there has been no news of court proceedings or further legal action.
The list of religious fanatics and hypocrites stretches for miles. Fanatics such as Jim Jones and David Koresh are forever burned into our religious history. Spiritual hypocrites who are exposed for their greed or indulgences they’ve preached against are just as notorious (anyone remember Jimmy Swaggart or Robert Tilton, both of whom are still at it?).
Many have rejected the legitimacy of Christianity due to such fanaticism and hypocrisy. The question is, do such “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and snake oil salesman invalidate the claims of Christianity?
In fact, the Bible tells Christians to expect such swindlers to have their fifteen minutes of fame, and even to expect some believers to fall for it. Here are just two examples:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. ~ 1 Timothy 4:1-3
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. ~ 1 Timothy 6:3-5
The ravings of a maniac or the sins of a hypocrite do not invalidate the teachings of Scripture any more than the scandals of certain politicians invalidate the platforms of their respective parties. In fact, they serve as a reminder to take a look at ourselves. In my case, the exposure of financial fraud by several well-known TV preachers reminds me to look at how I view money and finances. When I hear of a preacher (famous or not) whose downfall comes as the result of sexual sin, I’m reminded to make sure I’m protecting my marriage. And when a cult leader’s lunacy makes headlines, I’m reminded to (as Scripture says) watch both what I believe and my life closely.
Because at times, I am hypocritical. At times, I am fanatical. We all are.
The comments have been turned off for this post. Don’t worry, you’ll have your chance to join the conversation on Wednesday.