Church Life and the Harper Valley PTA

There is a difference between admonishment and condemnation.

We Americans have a lot of trouble distinguishing between the two, but there is one.

Church Life and the Harper Valley PTA

If you don’t know what the Harper Valley PTA is, go here. The lyrics are here.

A lot of Christians are confused about secret and public sin. I know I was. Before I was in the church, back when all I did was attend meetings at Christian clubs and academies, I thought God forgave secret sins more than he forgave public sins. If I could just keep my sin quiet, so no one knew, and repent privately—almost every day—then I would remain righteous.

But if I sinned publicly? WHOA! Game over! Righteousness gone!

Now obviously, that was not my actual expressed theology. I had no idea I held to such terrible doctrine.

But in action, I was proving every day that I did.


Let me make it clear, for your sake, that I was not a hypocrite. Hypocrite comes from the Greek hypokritos, which means actor, not hypocrite. When Jesus accuses the Pharisees of being hypocrites, it is because they are pretending. They are acting out a role they have no intention of actually fulfilling.

The Harper Valley PTA

I was not a hypocrite. I was a frightened sinner. I wanted and longed to be free of my secret sins. I mourned my immorality, I mourned my anger, and I mourned my lack of consideration of others. As much of my sin as possible I exposed because God tells us to confess our faults to one another so that we can be healed.

Because I was a people pleaser, however, I just could not expose the condemning sins. Everyone was okay with my anger problem. I wasn’t violent, and anger is a difficult problem to hide. Lots of Christians expose their anger. You can confess your anger problem, and you won’t be shunned.

But tell them I was looking at pornography? I couldn’t do that. I’d never be able to teach again. No one would listen to me at a Bible study. What if I said something convicting? The answer would be, who are you to suggest holiness to us?

I was afraid of the Harper Valley PTA.

I was serving the Harper Valley PTA and not God.

The Church

It was church life that saved me. We knew that Jesus had called us to be one, to be pure, to love one another, and to pray for one another. I knew that if I was going to be one with my fellow saints (saints like me), I was going to have to come clean and get help.

Even in the church, it’s pretty terrifying to tell 30 men that I’d been looking at pornography and needed help.

But I wasn’t standing before the Harper Valley PTA. I was standing before the council of God.

The thing that gave me the confidence to stand in front of them is that I learned quickly that in the church, God makes his feelings known. What God feels strongly, the church feels. It’s not something the church has to pursue. It is something God pursues.

I stood before those men knowing that God would ensure that they were as gracious with me as he had always been. Jesus is not paralyzed, nor does he have epilepsy. His body is spiritual, and he can actually take control of it when his people yield themselves to him.

I say that from experience.

Admonishment and Condemnation

The church does not compromise on the holiness of God, but a rebuke is not the same as condemnation. Jesus held the highest standard of any preacher in history, but sinners welcomed him to their homes, their meals, and even their parties.

Jesus said that what comes out of a heart defiles it. One of the things that comes out of the heart and defiles a person is sexual immorality. Yet Jesus let a prostitute wash his feet … with tears of belief and relief.

The defiled were not “icky” to Jesus any more than lepers were icky to Mother Teresa. She tried to take care of them. Jesus, Mighty God in human form, takes care of spiritual lepers, and they do not die under his care. They are healed, and they live.

Hospitals and Havens

The Church is a hospital for sinners, not a haven for the unrighteous.

The church is compassionate and merciful, willing to rescue from the depths of degradation and despair with nothing but love in her eye.

She is not, however, tolerant. She detests the vile (Ps. 15:4).

Obviously, though, the vile are not the prostitutes and tax collectors. Jesus certainly did not detest them, and the church, his body, cannot either.

I’ll let you work on whom Jesus did find vile.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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2 Responses to Church Life and the Harper Valley PTA

  1. Jim Riege says:

    I remember the song…1968. It reminds me of the story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus wrote the sins of her accusers on the ground, and said “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Of course, no one was then able to throw a stone.

    • paulfpavao says:

      Thank you. I was hoping someone was going to point that out. I didn’t want to as it would have made the blog too long. For the record John doesn’t say what Jesus was writing, but I agree with what you think he was writing. I think so, too.

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