Some Food For Thought–Sour Godliness???–The Devil’s Religion!

Screwtape encountering his "righteous" victim

Have you been the unwitting accomplice of any demons lately?

Hmmm…church ladies…could it be Satan?

The capability of church people to spew forth guile and judgment never ceases to amaze me.

I hate the contemporary versions of the “religion of the pharisees” that I see run rampant in the Church of Jesus Christ.

John Wesley, seeking to put a name to the critical judgmental attitude he experienced among the Christians of his era wrote,

“Sour godliness is the devil’s religion. It does not owe its inception to truly spiritual people.  I suspect that sour godliness originated among unhappy, semi-religious people who had just enough religion to make them miserable, but not enough to do them any good.”

Sour godliness, (i.e. bitter piety) could it be described any better and it is as prevalent today as it was over two hundred years ago…or for that matter over two thousand years ago.

What is so ironic is…

Jesus fought against “false perceptions of godliness” judgmentally perpetuated by those who viewed themselves as “the righteous” of His day.

Jesus battled “the Pharisees” those He called “the sons of devils” and had no qualms about declaring them in league with Satan himself.

Jesus was not at war with the sinner, he was at war with the self-righteous.

And alas, in the end, they won…it was their same false judgments– kindled to a bonfire and ignited by the devil–that were used to murder Him.

And…What is so scary to me is…

The same demons that were alive back then are still around today.  Those same evil entities that whispered in the ears of the Pharisees are still deluding, deceiving and encouraging those puffed up with their own “errant pious” inclinations to do their dirty work.

C.S. Lewis, in his classic, “The Screwtape Letters” aptly pictured these demons schooling one another in the talent to tempt vulnerable Christians into “religious unholiness.”  Lewis with his words paints a picture of the Senior devil Screwtape in a Speech before the “Annual Dinner of the Tempters’ Training College for Young Devils.”

Screwtape slithers to the stage and exhorts his underlings of the underworld…

“It will be an ill day for us if what most humans mean by “religion” ever vanishes from the Earth. It can still send us the truly delicious sins.  The fine flower of unholiness can grow only in the close neighborhood of the Holy.  Nowhere do we tempt so successfully as on the very steps of the altar.” — quoted from C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters”

Fellow Christians, let’s be wary of falling into Screwtape’s trap–let us beware of enlisting ourselves in the pursuit of “unholy religion” practiced at the very foot of the altar.

This week in my home church we are studying, Luke 23, the trial of Jesus before Pilate.  In this passage, Pilate–the secular ruler of the time–would have let Jesus go free finding no fault in Him, but in the end the cries of “the unholy religious” of His time dictated Jesus’ death instead.

Could you be allowing “sour godliness” to rule your soul?  Evaluate yourselves and hear Jesus’ counsel, “beware the leaven of the Pharisees!”


Filed under Church Life and Growth, Uncategorized

6 responses to “Some Food For Thought–Sour Godliness???–The Devil’s Religion!

  1. EmilyM

    I love the descriptor of “sour godliness.” I usually think of the actions and attitude you describe as “judgementalism,” but I think I made that word up and it doesn’t leave a sting in my heart the way “sour godliness” does.

    So when we see it in our own lives, then it would seem that prayer, journaling, and accountability would help straighten our thinking and our heart. What do you recommend when you see it in others (in the form of “fake godly” gossip or what really amount to “fake” prayer requests)? As Christians, we’re called to let God judge non-believers, but we do need to help correct fellow believers.

  2. Maryellen Stipe

    The Bible leaves plenty of room for rebuke and reproof of believers who display “sour godliness.” The behaviors that accompany “unholy religion” cause dissent in the Body of Christ defiling the Church. People practicing such behaviors should be confronted and restored in a private setting as the Bible calls for in Matt. 18 and if they don’t cease and desist then public rebuke is warrented!

  3. EmilyM

    Thanks- I recognize the call to correct a fellow believer who is acting inappropriately (first privately, then if necessary, publicly), but I just never know how or when to do it. Most of the time, my strategy has been to just remain silent and not participate in “holier-than-thou” conversations.

    For example, I often see what I believe to be “sour godliness” in my peer group (of young stay-at-home mothers.) One mother will make a critical comment about another (not present) mother’s parenting philosophy/style and others will nod in agreement. The women aren’t trying to attack anyone’s character and aren’t exactly gossiping about the mother, but they are sharing their opinion on an aspect of parenting which isn’t explicitly discussed in scripture and deeming “their” opinion as the only biblical viewpoint. This usually isn’t about an issue of godliness in parenting, but simply a matter of preference. But, as a young mother, I don’t have the wisdom or confidence to challenge what others believe or say about parenting beliefs.

    Similarly, I was one of the younger women in Bible study that I used to attend. The prayer request time sometimes devolved into “sharing” more information than was really necessary about other people’s difficult situations than was really necesssary. Often the “prayer request sharer” would have an air of superiority as they shared(almost as if to say “I would never let myself get into that situation” “Obviously this person needs to visit a counselor” “This person made some foolish choices and it’s up to us to pray to get them out of their mistake.”) It was very subtle, and I usually only recognized this “sour godliness” after the sharing. I considered talking with the Bible study leader about my observations, but I was half her age and didn’t feel very comfortable in bringing it up as it was such a small part of the time the group spent together. After that book study ended, I just quietly chose to not participate in the next book study.

    If a close friend was acting in a very obvious “Pharisee” manner, I would be comfortable in calling them out on their behavior/speech. More often than not, I notice “sour godliness” in others that I am not particularly close to and really can’t identify my role in confronting them. I’m afraid that I’m just like so many other people- afraid of conflict and therefore silent.

    On a related note, I found “The Pursuit of Holiness” by Jerry Bridges to be very convicting on this issue. This book really challenged me to identify the difference between personal godliness versus just simply living up to the behavior we see in those around us.

  4. cassie

    @EmilyM, i admire your heart re: this issue. i think it’s just one of those areas of life where you have to just do the best you can and obey god when you think he’s calling you to act. for sure though, we need to keep on the look out for sour godliness in our own lives and purge it as soon as we notice it.

  5. Pam Nelson

    One of my pet peeves may fit here. I can’t stand the phrase “that sucks.” It just seems so whiny and lacking in trust in God. Could there not be a less “sour” way of agreeing with someone that what they are experiencing is hard? We don’t have to spiritualize things but we don’t have to spit in the face of God either. The root of all that befalls us is God’s will. After all we won’t even see tomorrow if God doesn’t will it.

  6. True words, some truthful words man. Totally made my day!!

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