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….
(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 (Matt 23:27-28).
Jesus was abrupt with hypocrites because the evil of hypocrisy. The scriptures repeatedly warn against hypocrisy (1 Tim 4:1-2). Warnings are issued for true Christians to avoid association with them (1 Cor 5:11). Jesus foretold the ultimate fate of hypocrites; they will be identified and separated from true Christians for judgment (Matt 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.