by David Sisler
You may never have heard of an organization called "SARCASM." In truth, only its creator and the six members of the group know of its existence and they wore the official T-shirt to only one gathering.
Several years ago, the church where I was then a member enjoined all of its clergy persons to wear clerical collars. This curious garment came from the standard style of a gentleman's dress in Europe in the Middle Ages. As styles changed, clergymen were slow to follow, and eventually the style became identified with formal clergy attire. As one of the volunteer, non-professional clergy, I chafed under the collar, and not because the garment was ill-fitting. The whole idea of doing something to make me stand out from my fellow believers in the congregation just rubbed me the wrong way. I enthusiastically enjoy and appreciate the garments worn by God's priests as they lead His people in worship, but just don't insist that I don said garment. Knowing how I felt, a friend penned the witty acronym, "Sislers Against Religious Collars And Stuffy Ministers."
Shortly after "SARCASM" was contrived, I was greeted at Bush Field on one of my return trips from Samara, Russia by my family wearing white T-shirts, emblazoned with the universal symbol for "No" drawn over the modern liturgical scapular.
With appropriate apologies, therefore, I would like to redefine SARCASM: Sisler's Against Religious Contemptuousness And Sanctimonious Members.
Note: The original wording was "Sislers Against," etc., meaning all the Sislers, the way they do it in MADD — Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. I changed it to "apostrophe s" not to make it possessive, but to form a contraction of "Sisler is" (that way the rest of the family cannot be held responsible for what follows).
The key words here are "Religious Contemptuousness" and "Sanctimonious Members."
Religious Contemptuousness declares that my brand of Christianity is better than yours, or in its ultimate form, we are the only ones going to heaven. When the Bible says Jesus died for all, it really means, he died for all who believe like me. A more subtle form of the infection says, "We were doing it first, so we should be the ones getting the recognition, not all of the Johnnys-Come- Lately."
"Sanctimonious Members" are the RC practitioners.
Let me stop here for one very needed disclaimer — if this were e-mail, I would type it in all caps, indicating shouting or strong emotion — it is rare for an entire denomination to be infected by SARCASM, although there are two of which I have personal knowledge. SARCASM infects one believer here, another there, and like a garbage dump, gives off a bad odor for miles around.
In Pentecostal circles — where I shared ministry between 1968 and 1992 — our SARCASM showed itself when we referred to non-Pentecostals as "nominal Christians." Now, I was not born into a family which adhered to the Pentecostal faith, so I had to look that one up. Because it does not appear in any denominational handbook, I had to check the dictionary. Nominal means, "in name only; so-called; named as a mere matter of form, being trifling in comparison with the actual value." Because we had received the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues, we were the real thing; they were "nominal." When that SARCASM ceased, it was because we had learned that a gift is something you received which you did not earn or for which you did not pay. Therefore if you were gifted, it was by grace (like salvation), and not a cause for "Religious Contemptuousness."
Evidence of SARCASM can be seen in religious circles which sing only worship choruses, not the old songs from the hymnal, because, they say, the oldies lack anointing. Granted, it is hard to clap when you are holding a book — and clapping is a Biblical way of expressing worship — but I thought worship emanated from the heart, not the hands.
SARCASM rears its ugly head when some say, "We don't follow a printed order of service, because that ties God down and does not give Him freedom to move." If God knows the end from the beginning — and Isaiah says He does — is He not able to orchestrate worship to Himself well in advance of the actual event, and use black words on a white page to teach us how to give Him glory?
Another symptom of SARCASM is "The Elder Brother Syndrome." You remember that when the Prodigal Son returned home, his father threw a welcome home celebration. The Elder Brother, pouting, would not come to the party, because his brother was getting all of the attention. Old EB had been there first, had always been faithful, and a party had never been held for him. Translated for 1997, that means, you or your church did something for the Lord a long time ago and no one noticed. Then someone else gets a picture or an article in the paper, or a notice on TV, and with a wounded spirit, you say, "Hey, what about me? What about us? We were there first!"
The trouble is, the Elder Brother was right, up to a point. The tragedy is, his sanctimonious attitude caused him to miss the best party his father had ever hosted. And we may miss our Father's celebration if we persist with our sharp, bitter derision of our fellow believers, insisting with sneering, cutting remarks that we are the only ones of our heavenly Father's children whose Christianity is correct.
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 4/26/97
Copyright 1997 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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