Hypocrites in the Church ~ Conversation Series (Updated)

“We are all fallen creatures and all very hard to live with.” — C.S. Lewis

I wanted to update my earlier post with this from Andy Bannister (great book BTW) and STAND TO REASON’S clear insight… BEFORE getting to my original post. Enjoy:

The problem is us. We poison everything. And, as it happens, that is precisely why we need Jesus. Far from contradicting Christianity, the existence of sin in the world (even in the church) confirms this central truth of Christianity. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “if we say that we have no sin, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).

At root, the objection that “Christians are hypocrites” comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of Christianity. It is widely believed (sadly, even by some who claim to be Christians) that Christianity is mainly about becoming a good person, and that being a good person is the way to heaven. This belief only glorifies the churchgoer, not God, for such a person is his only savior. It also inevitably leads to disillusionment and cynicism because it is false. No one is sinless, and anyone who expects otherwise of Christians will be let down sooner or later.

Christians, we openly recognize our sinfulness, so when someone accuses the church of housing sinners, that’s an opportunity to explain that our sin is the very reason why we go to church. We’re Christians because we know we sin. A Christian’s sin doesn’t contradict Christianity; it confirms it. It’s only more proof that we all need Jesus to take our sin and give us His righteousness….

(read it all)

(Originally posted September 6th, 2007)

This was a conversation with a very nice lady from work who wanted to discuss Christianity but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get pass this point of hypocrites in the church.  This wasn’t in conversation with me, but another Christian in my place of work and he asked me for a response and understanding on how to answer such a challenge. I mentioned that the best answer/response that was honest and forthright was one I read in a book by an ex-atheist, Reasons for Believing: A Seekers Guide to Christianity (emphasis added). At a later date the woman and I discussed the topic in the “Pit,” which is the specialty cubicle at Whole Foods:

GOD CONDEMNS HYPOCRISY

The word hypocrite comes from the Greek word hypocrites which means pretender or dissembler. It was originally used of Greek actors who uttered their lines behind masks. The word hypocrite was used to portray someone who was pretending to be someone else. A hypocrite is an actor, a person who pretends to be something he is not. Christ’s harshest words were reserved for hypocrites:

  • Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which appear beautifully outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and uncleanliness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27-28).

Jesus was abrupt with hypocrites because the evil of hypocrisy. The scriptures repeatedly warn against hypocrisy (1 Timothy 4:1-2). Warnings are issued for true Christians to avoid association with them (1 Corinthians 5:11). Jesus foretold the ultimate fate of hypocrites; they will be identified and separated from true Christians for judgment (Matthew 7:21-23).

THERE ARE SOME HYPOCRITES IN THE CHURCH

The charge that the church is full of hypocrites is certainly just not true. To even say that the majority of Christians are hypocrites is distantly removed from reality. The reality is that only a small minority of Christians in the Church are hypocrites. This is something that the Church has never denied. There have always been and will always be some hypocrites in the Church.

Throughout history the Church has worked hard to identify and remove hypocrites from its ranks. Such has been the case in recent days with some prominent Christian leaders [book was written in the 90s]. But rather than congratulating the Church for its integrity, critics have focused n the negative.

NOT ALL CHRISTIANS ARE HYPOCRITES

It is wrong to condemn all Christian as hypocrites. Christians do not claim to be perfect. If Christianity claimed to be an organization for perfect people, then all Christians would be hypocrites.

Though not all Christians are hypocrites, all Christians are sinners. In fact, admitting that one is a sinner is a prerequisite to belonging to the Church. Public acknowledgment of one’s sinful condition is a condition for membership. Though hypocrisy is a sin, being a sinner does not necessarily make someone guilty of hypocrisy. The terms sinner and hypocrite are not synonyms. 

  • Many skeptics are actually guilty of imposing a double standard on Christians. They expect Christians to hold to standards they themselves could never dream of attain. Moreover, when Christians do try and live up to these standards, they are often accused of false piety and pretense.

Christians are not perfect; they are forgiven. They are seeking to become more Christ-like and Godly in their conduct. The vast majority of Christians fall into this category. They are sincerely striving to live the Christian life.

CHRIST IS NOT A HYPOCRITE

  • When someone charges that the Church is full of hypocrites, they are really implying that because Christians fall short, Christianity also falls short. The central truth of Christianity does not rest in the performance of its followers but in the merit of its founder. Christianity stands or falls with the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, the real question is not are there hypocrites in the church, but rather, was Christ a hypocrite? (See Below)

This last point is an important one. Many point fingers to the followers, when, the character of the founder of the religion in question is what we are after — ultimately.



For Christ claimed something that no other founder of a world religion has. That is: to be Creator of the space/time continuum who loves us soo much that He willingly was led to the cross. This is a love story that is missing from all other religious narratives.

The nine founders among the eleven living religions in the world had characters which attracted many devoted followers during their own lifetime, and still larger numbers during the centuries of subsequent history. They were humble in certain respects, yet they were also confident of a great religious mission. Two of the nine, Mahavira and Buddha, were men so strong-minded and self-reliant that, according to the records, they displayed no need of any divine help, though they both taught the inexorable cosmic law of Karma. They are not reported as having possessed any consciousness of a supreme personal deity. Yet they have been strangely deified by their followers. Indeed, they themselves have been worshipped, even with multitudinous idols.

All of the nine founders of religion, with the exception of Jesus Christ, are reported in their respective sacred scriptures as having passed through a preliminary period of uncertainty, or of searching for religious light. Confucius, late in life, confessed his own sense of shortcomings and his desire for further improvement in knowledge and character. All the founders of the non-Christian religions evinced inconsistencies in their personal character; some of them altered their practical policies under change of circumstances.

Jesus Christ alone is reported as having had a consistent God consciousness, a consistent character himself, and a consistent program for his religion. The most remarkable and valuable aspect of the personality of Jesus Christ is the comprehensiveness and universal availability of his character, as well as its own loftiness, consistency, and sinlessness.

Robert Hume, The World’s Living Religions [New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1959], 285-286.

Josh McDowell put it best on why there has to be judgment for our sins, let me paraphrase him with this story of a judge and his daughter.

There was a district court judge who had been on the bench for thirty years, he was a just judge. He has never taken a bribe, always handed out judgment and leniency in a fair and balanced way, only within the parameters of what the law allowed. In other words, a just, righteous member of the legal system as well as the community. One day while in session, his only child, a daughter, was brought before him with a traffic violation. She had broke the law and was arrested for her excessive speeding. What was he to do? He loved his daughter immensely, so he could fine her only one dollar and no jail time. But this would mean he would be an unjust judge, not worthy of the position he holds.

So instead, he fines her 500 hundred dollars and three days in jail. He is heart broken, but that is what the law requires. Just as soon as his gavel hits the bench, he rises from his chair, removes his robe of authority, steps down from the raised platform to come around to the front of the bench. He, with a tear in his eye, throws an arm around his daughter, whom he loves dearly, and with the other hand pays the fine and puts himself in her place in the three day sentence. This is TRUE love, and TRUE justice.

In the same way, the just God of the Bible is our judge. He would be un-worthy of our worship and honor if he acted any other way. He has pronounced death as the judgment of our rebellion and sin [Death and hell are merely eternal separation from him, and because of that, there will be gnashing of teeth]. As our heavenly Father, who knew us before we were in the womb, he loved us so much (His creation) that he stepped down from his heavenly throne to the earth and paid the price for our infractions against the “court.” No other god in history in any other religious belief cared so much as to offer the only acceptable (free of sin) gift, Himself. This is the beauty of the Christian faith.

God doesn’t put people he loves in “hell”, those people choose that place as a replacement for God’s already done work on the cross.

Read more: Good News Means There is Bad News (the choice in this cosmic drama is yours)

There is another aspect to this idea of hypocrisy. Often times the charge of hypocrisy is merely a psychological crutch to find people we deem worse than us in order to build up ourselves in a moral way. Or, it is done in order to not face our own failures and deeds in order to obfuscate what God wants to do in our own lives.

Jesus actually expands the definition a bit when He described the symptoms of hypocrisy specifically:

  • hypocrites “love to be seen by others” (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18);
  • they invent weaselly excuses to disobey God while looking spiritual (Matthew 15:3-9);
  • they manipulate spiritual language to disguise their actual agenda (Matthew 22:15-21);
  • they might actually be preaching the truth, but they don’t follow it themselves (Matthew 23:1-12);
  • and they major on nit-picky rules (even legitimate ones) and miss the heartbeat of God behind them (Matthew 23:13-36).

Often times the use of “hypocrisy” is a means of justifying spiritual compromise and departure from the inspired Word is something that the postmodern world has accelerated, not abated. People use hypocrisy as a way to abandoned Bible truths, or, to not fellowship with the body of Christ and thus be challenged to live a holy life (i.e., the church), often unleashing a myriad of wrongs committed by others! These same persons will joke about being headed to hell in a hand-basket — determined to share a place in hell with these hypocrites rather than spend time with them in church… there fellow hypocrites.

But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely on the Law [for your salvation] and boast in [your special relationship to] God, and [if you claim to] know His will and approve the things that are essential or have a sense of what is excellent, based on your instruction from the Law, and [if you] are confident that you are a [qualified] guide to the blind [those untaught in theology], a light to those who are in darkness, and [that you are] a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the [spiritually] childish, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth— well then, you who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal [in ways that are discrete, but just as sinful]? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who detest idols, do you rob [pagan] temples [of valuable idols and offerings]? YOU WHO BOAST IN THE LAW, DO YOU [REPEATEDLY] DISHONOR GOD BY BREAKING THE LAW? For, “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written [in Scripture].  (Romans 2:17-24, Amplified Bible).

One commentarry gets to the heart of the issue:

But now Paul turns the tables on them. They do not live up to their knowledge (cf. 13). They do not practise what they preach. Following his eight verbs which portray their identity, he asks five rhetorical questions, which draw attention to their inconsistency. The first is general: You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? (21a). It is followed by three questions about particular sins: You who preach against stealing, do you steal? (21b). You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? (22). The last-named might refer to the misappropriation of funds intended for the temple, since Josephus tells the story of just such a scandal, but Paul is more likely to have pagan temples in mind. You who abhor idols is an accurate portrayal of Jews. They recoiled from idolatry in horror. They would not dream of going anywhere near an idol temple, therefore—except for the purpose of robbery. In such cases ‘scruple broke down before thievish avarice’. Some commentators think all three sins so unlikely in Jewish leaders that they suggest a non-literal interpretation. ‘When theft, adultery and sacrilege are strictly and radically understood, there is no man who is not guilty of all three,’ writes C. K. Barrett, and reminds us of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount about the thoughts of our hearts.6 But Paul seems to have actions rather than thoughts in mind, and Dodd quotes Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai, a contemporary of Paul’s, who bewailed in his day ‘the increase of murder, adultery, sexual vice, commercial and judicial corruption, bitter sectarian strife, and other evils’.

Paul’s fifth rhetorical question is again more general: You who brag about the law (which the Jews did, see verse 17), do you dishonour God by breaking the law? (23). As it is written, ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’ (24). This quotation seems to combine Isaiah 52:5 and Ezekiel 36:22. In both texts God’s name had been mocked because his people had been defeated and enslaved. Could Yahweh not protect his own people? Just so, moral defeat, like military defeat, brings discredit on the name of God.

The argument of verses 17–24 is the same in principle as that of verses 1–3, and is just as applicable to us as to first-century critical moralizers and self-confident Jews. If we judge others, we should be able to judge ourselves (1–3). If we teach others, we should be able to teach ourselves (21–24). If we set ourselves up as either teachers or judges of others, we can have no excuse if we do not teach or judge ourselves. We cannot possibly plead ignorance of moral rectitude. On the contrary, we invite God’s condemnation of our hypocrisy.

John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 91–92.

CARM wisely adds to the discussion the following:

  • It has been said that you must be smaller than the thing you hide behind. Are you hiding behind the hypocrisy of others to keep yourself out of church? You must realize that you are responsible for yourself and God won’t ask others about you on judgment day. He will come to you and ask you to give an account for your life. The hypocrites in the church will also stand before God, with or without you there.

The issue is, what does the person saying there are hypocrites in the church going to do on judgement day? Hopefully none of the following:

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