The scandal of pride

Today’s Pulse includes a section from a recent blog post by Pastor John Ortberg on the website. The post was a response to the recent resignation of Mark Driscoll, pastor of the megachurch Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and the summary given by the Mars Hill Board of Overseers. I found Pastor Ortberg’s insights, as well as the C.S. Lewis quote, to be very insightful and worthy of reflection. Here are Pastor Ortberg’s words:

I was struck by the language quoted in news reports yesterday to describe this situation. The pastor, the board said, had been guilty of arrogance—along with other attitudes and behaviors associated with arrogance. But had not been charged with “immorality.”
When did arrogance cease to be immoral?

I suspect that most folks in our evangelical subculture will understand that “immorality” is really being used as a substitute term for sexual misbehavior. But why would we reduce such an important word to code language for one area of misconduct?

C.S. Lewis wrote: “If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins…. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

I suppose one reason we miss this is that pride attacks us on a sliding scale. An act of promiscuity is not abstract; pride is always a  matter of degree and open to subjective interpretation and harder to diagnose.

But the word “immoral” needs not to be collapsed into one category. Of course, there are important reasons why sexual violations may play a unique role in a pastor’s needing to leave church work… When we use the word “immorality” as a synonym for sexual misconduct, we communicate to the broader world that we are obsessed with sexuality, and that we do not regard other areas (humility, integrity, concern for the poor) as carrying the same moral weight.

My words now: I remember having a similar epiphany a year ago. I mentioned to someone how historically at NewLife, we have had our share of issues with communication and conflict, but that thankfully we have never had any scandals or gross sin. In my mind, I was thinking of sexual misconduct or financial misdeeds. But the person to whom I was speaking pointed out that the conflicts we have been through as a church have indeed been full of gross sin. Just because those sins were not sexual or financial in nature does not make them any less heinous.

I appreciated the perspective that the C.S. Lewis quote sheds on our sin. Yes, the scandalous sins may be the ones that make the headlines, but the greatest sin is indeed pride. It is pride that causes us to believe that the good that we have experienced is due to our own efforts and talents and not to God’s undeserved grace. It is pride that causes us to rely on ourselves and not to depend upon the Lord in prayer. It is pride that causes us to mistreat our brothers and sisters and sit in judgment upon them, because we are so sure that we have the proper perspective on everything. It is pride that leads to a lack of honesty, a lack of repentance, and ultimately to a lack of reconciliation and peace in our relationships as well as a lack of true community in our church. And yes, it is often pride that ultimately leads to sexual immorality and financial misdeeds, among many, many other sins.

So, as we consider the words of Pastor Ortberg and C.S. Lewis, let us confess our pride before God and treat it as the scandal it really is.
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