What could be the basis of making fun of other people’s liturgical or ritual religious practices? Isn’t the Lord’s vineyard a big place, and so where do we get off making fun of the color of the bag that some other laborers are using to put the grapes in? Isn’t that a bit churlish?
Well, no, depending on what you mean. The thing that immunizes different customs from ridicule is holiness and integrity. The thing that opens you up to pungent observations on how wide your phylactery is is hypocrisy and iniquity. Devour a widow’s house, and the nearest prophet worth his salt will pull your chasuble over your head and roll down your socks.
Why? Because the Lord cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly linked together — as we are taught in numerous places. Here’s just one.
“Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting” (Is. 1:13).
God detests this kind of thing, and we are required to do the same. If we don’t detest it, we have no business being anywhere near it — it would not be safe.
Suppose I encounter a preacher who pastors a church with a more baroque liturgy that we are accustomed to at Christ Church (just as our liturgy has more of a structured exo-skeleton than that of other churches). Suppose further that I met him while we were sharing duties while open-air preaching, or working on a crisis pregnancy center, or something like that. Is it likely that I would start our relationship by making fun of when they stand for the Scripture reading, instead of standing when you are supposed to, i.e. when we do? Not likely, as the fellow said. If I am dealing with a fellow Christian minister who hates iniquity (and therefore clearly fears the Lord), then at best what we have is a difference in customs, and at worst we have a theological disagreement. And it might be a very important disagreement — but I know where I am, which is in the presence of a conscientious brother.
But if the blood of innocents doesn’t bother him, if he wants to make the church a more welcoming place for practitioners of anal intercourse, and if he says we have a Christian duty to be generous with other people’s money, then one of the basic lessons that Scripture gives us is that it is long past time to make fun of his haircut. It is time to draw attention to all the ecclesiastical bling. In the immortal words of Wodehouse, we are to remark on the bishop as the fellow who uses bootlaces in his hat.
The reason this comes up in the Bible so often is that there is a type of person, present in every generation, who wants to hide sin, not with the robe of imputed righteousness, but with some fancy-nancy robe made out of cloth. There is a kind of person who gravitates to this kind of display, and often makes it even more fabulous than it was before — queer eye for the pigsty.
Some evangelicals who are in situations where this kind of thing is going on all around them think that they can keep their purity by “disagreeing” with, let us say, the ordination of druid lesbian softball coaches. But it is not enough to keep the fingers crossed in the heart. The point of being positioned there at all is to attack sin. Now he can have a strategic head on his shoulders, meaning that he can wait till he sees the whites of their eyes, to quote Col. Jackson. But the point is always to attack sin, not to make peace treaties with it.
And if others are attacking the sin of combining inquity and solemn assembly, he should rejoice, even if he is in a position where he has to keep his powder dry for the moment. He has a duty to give wholehearted thanks to God for the faithful testimony that others are in a position to give. If you are pinned down by enemy fire, you shouldn’t get irritated when some of your guys over on the right flank, not being pinned down, open up.
But if such a person gets defensive himself, then that means the rot has already begun to settle in. And if he is not defensive, but doesn’t really see the need for this kind of polemic yet, then he is a nice guy but naive. But don’t spend a lot of time arguing because he probably won’t see the need for it until they start ordaining inflatable dolls.