False Piety

In my last post, I wrote about what John Newton had to say about piety. I also mentioned that I’ve been working on a talk for an upcoming Via de Cristo retreat weekend. In that talk, forms of false and true piety are described, and I thought those ideas might be of interest to our readers. In this post, I’ll be writing about false piety and the forms it can take.

All Christians are sinners, and we sometimes engage in superficial or deceptive behaviors that masquerade as piety. Such false piety is destructive because it keeps people away from the church and from coming to a true understanding of God and His purpose for their lives. I’m going to list some of the forms false piety can take, and if you’re honest, you’ll see yourself in at least one of these four examples.

  1. One way we can be falsely pious is to wear our salvation as if it were a badge of honor. This can cause us to retreat from the world, becoming self-centered and self-righteous, more concerned with looking like a perfect Christian than the salvation of others. I saw a bit of this in myself when I recently had the opportunity to meet someone from a different culture and religious background. My first reaction was to stay away. Then I remembered that Jesus befriended all sorts of people. He didn’t see anyone as contamination to be avoided — He saw them as human beings who needed to hear the good news. If Christians like me avoid others, they may never hear about Jesus.
  2. Another form of false piety occurs when our faith life becomes mechanical. We go to church, pray before meals and participate in other Christian activities thoughtlessly. It’s just part of our routine. Do you ever find yourself rushing through the Lord’s Prayer without really contemplating the meaning? Have you forgotten the thrust of the sermon before leaving the church parking lot? Been more intent on getting to your after-church lunch date than worshipping God? There are times when I have. If you allow this to become your regular habit, your faith will be stagnant instead of growing — your piety will be based on what you do instead of who you are.
  3. We’re all familiar with the false piety known a hypocrisy. The hypocrite claims to be virtuous while behaving in a way that contradicts her expressed values. My tongue sometimes leads me into this kind of behavior. Before I retired, the employees in my small office would often eat lunch together. The talk would turn to complaints about the boss, other employees, or our spouses. It was so easy to join in, to criticize or share a bit of juicy gossip. But the Bible tells us that our speech should encourage and bless others. My co-workers knew me to be a Christian, and when my words didn’t match my beliefs, I wasn’t being a good ambassador for Christ.
  4. Finally, there is the social butterfly. This Christian goes to church in order to see her friends, or to enjoy church programs. I’ve always belonged to small churches, and part of the appeal is being needed, and being involved in many church activities. Sometimes during Sunday worship my thoughts were consumed with who I needed to see afterwards about an upcoming meeting or event. When this type of behavior begins to dominate our faith life, we are treating the church as our club instead of the body of Christ.

As you can see, false piety is self-centered while true piety is God-centered.

More about true piety tomorrow …..

For more about piety see:

Part 3–Our Piety

Piety Part 1- by Jim Edgel

What Does Piety Look Like #2

False Piety #2

“Two men went up into the temple to pray;  one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee standing by himself prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.”  Luke 18:10-14

The Pharisee is this parable is an example of what the Via de Cristo talk Piety talk calls “Mechanical Mike.”  He prayed, tithed and fasted because he was a Pharisee and that’s what Pharisees do.  It was part of his routine. Not only that, it made him feel superior to others, those who did not have the same training and habits.  Many “Christians” feel the same way.  They go to church every week because their parents did, their spouse wants them to, it’s good for the kids, it’s a way to make business contacts, they get to associate with nice people.  It’s just what they’ve always done. They think that being part of a Christian congregation and doing all the right “religious” things makes them an exemplary example, a pillar of the community.  In reality, they don’t have a real relationship with God and are without a clue about how to get one.

The tax collector wasn’t doing the right things, but he had the right attitude.  He recognized his sin and God’s gracious mercy. His focus was on God, not his own works.  This is a starting point for authentic piety.

It’s easy to fall into the “routine” if you’ve been a Christian for many years, we all do it.  We sing and recite the creeds, we say certain prayers by rote, we set aside our weekly offering — we may even feel pretty righteous about doing this.  The problem is, we’ve forgotten about the God we’re supposedly worshipping with our actions.

How can we avoid this sort of false piety?  One way is to periodically do an examination of conscience.  This can serve to remind us of how sinful we really are. Realizing how much we need Christ will quickly direct our attention to Him (there’s nothing like desperation to focus us).  Christian friends can help, too.  How are others praying?  Studying?  Serving?  Maybe we need to break our routine and try something new.  Christian friends inspire and admonish us.

Don’t get stuck in a rut.  Stay alert.  Pay attention.  Be truly pious.


False Piety

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you outwardly appear righteous to all, but within you are full of lawlessness.”  Matthew 23:27-28

In these verses Jesus is talking about the worst kind of false piety:  those who know they are unrighteous, and simply want to present a false impression of godliness.  They don’t really care about God’s law or God’s people.  They look for loopholes and ways to justify themselves.  They behave one way at church, and another way in their private personal or business dealings.  These are people who attend church and are known as “pillars of the community” yet may beat their children, cheat their employees, and quarrel with their neighbors.  Why do they do these things?  Simply because they can.  To them Christianity is only a label used to make them look good or worse yet, give them power over others.

Do you know the worst consequence of this kind of piety?  It turns others away from the faith.  How many people have you met who refuse to hear the gospel message because, “I’ve known some of those folks and they are just hypocrites.  They say all the right things, but they sure don’t act that way!”

The sad thing is, we’re all capable of falling into this kind of false piety, at least at times.  It’s easy to compartmentalize our Christianity and keep it locked up to be brought out only on Sunday;  it’s harder to walk the walk every day in every situation. Most of us aren’t intentional phonies.  We just get angry, or frustrated, or we have certain bad habits we can’t (or don’t want ) to break. However, faith isn’t meant to be a part of life, it’s meant to be our way of life.

The best remedy to this kind of “phony” piety?  Recognize it, confess it and work to correct it.  Be beautiful inside and out.  That’s true piety.

What is Piety?

What is piety, really?  One dictionary defines it as the quality of being religious or reverent.  My Bible dictionary calls it “holy living.”  Various Bible translations identify it with “the fear of the Lord” or “righteousness.”  It’s not a word we use much anymore.  In fact, it’s gotten a rather bad name because it’s so much easier to recognize false piety (in other words, hypocrisy) than true piety.  Often we think of  truly pious people as “goody-goodies,” prudes, or those who are “so heavenly minded, they’re of no earthly use.”  Or maybe we regard piety as an unrealistic goal for most of us — something a few great saints might possess, but not attainable for most of us.  Maybe we don’t even want to try to be pious because in our culture, it would set us apart as strange or different.

Here’s what Philip Spener, a German Lutheran theologian who has been dubbed ‘the Father of Pietism’ has to say:

“Students should unceasingly have it impressed upon them that holy life is not of less consequence than diligence and study, indeed that study without piety is worthless….whoever grows in learning and declines in morals is on the decrease rather than the increase … everything must be directed to the practice of faith and life.”

or as James, the brother of Christ puts it:

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” James 2:26

Christian study, worship and fellowship should lead to a life that is increasingly pious, or holy.  Lutherans (and I’m sure lots of others) call this process sanctification, and although we’re never finished,  it’s not a pie-in-the-sky goal either.  Piety is what the Christian life is all about.  I look forward to exploring it further with our authors and readers this month.




New Month/New Theme

Our theme for this month is piety– not a word we use much these days, is it?  So for the next thirty days we’ll be discussing questions like these:

  1. What exactly is piety?
  2. How can I recognize authentic piety?
  3. What makes piety false?
  4. Do I want to become a pious person?
  5. What are some of the ways to practice piety?

I’m sure I’ll learn a lot during this journey into living a holy life.  As always, our Lutheran ladies may also be blogging on other topics that are on their hearts.  Readers, we look forward to your comments, suggestions and insights.  Let us know what you really think!