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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Church is Full of Hypocrites...Or So They Say

One of the common reasons cited by people who don’t attend church as to why they don’t is, “the church is full of hypocrites”. It’s amazing how sayings like this get started and spread, just like urban legends do. I can’t help but wonder who the first person was to make this statement. And you can tell in each case that this wasn’t an original thought the person had, because it is always phrased in exactly the same way – “the church is full of hypocrites”. And to think Christians are the ones accused of being thoughtless in their adherence to certain beliefs.

There are a couple of responses I’ve found to this statement. The first is, “what better place is there for hypocrites to be?” This one might not fly with the average unbeliever, because they don’t really think the church is a good place to be, or else they’d be there themselves. Nonetheless, it’s a point well considered. If the church is the place to go if one wants to be cured of their sin, and hypocrisy really is a sin (as all sides seem to agree on), then hypocrites need to be in the church. One just can’t expect them to be cured of their hypocrisy overnight, however. Christians spend their whole lives being straightened out by God, and the thing isn’t completed until we die.

But there’s another response, and it gets more to the heart of what the person is implying when they make this statement. And that is to say, “There are hypocrites outside of the church, too.” What I find implied by the statement, “the church is full of hypocrites”, is two things. One is simply the idea that if Christians really believe what they say they believe, then they should live more in accordance with their beliefs than they do. This is a fair assessment. We North American Christians are doing a horrible job in the area of holiness, and the average unbeliever knows it, and has probably experienced it first hand on numerous occasions. Sometimes, this is simply that unbelievers think they know what holiness looks like, and when they see us failing to live up to what they believe our standards are, they think we are living hypocritically. This is true when it comes to things such as drinking alcohol, which, though certain Christian groups believe is sinful, actually is not. But these non-issues to the side, there are many areas in which we simply are failing to obey God, and we are failing miserably. This, despite their thoughts to the contrary, excuses no unbeliever for their failure to repent. When we all stand before God one day to give an account, all finger pointing will be dismissed outright as inadmissible. When God addresses me, he will hold me accountable for failing to demonstrate Christ to others. But He won’t dismiss anyone on that basis. All this considered, as John Calvin said, “We are all partly unbelievers until we die.” And since all sin exists because we fail to believe God, sin is inevitable. I believe God; therefore I seek to obey Him. But I struggle with unbelief, and therefore sometimes I sin.

But the other implication is that people outside of the church aren’t hypocrites. Just as everyone, both inside and outside the church, is at least partly an unbeliever, so everyone, both inside and outside of the church, is partly a hypocrite. Nobody ever lives 100% consistently with what they say they believe, and those who say they do are either self-deceived or outright liars. Inasmuch as we never know ourselves as well as we think we do, the former is probably the far more frequent occurrence. But hypocrisy is common in all people. Christian pastors preaching against adultery sometimes make the big mistake of sleeping with their secretaries (and hopefully are removed from office for it), and pagan relativists actually stop at red lights. Believers sometimes surf the web on company time when they know better, and non-Christians who believe it’s wrong to take illegal drugs sometimes give in to peer-pressure and find themselves at a party with a joint between their fingers. Hypocrisy is a common, everyday occurrence.

In conjunction to this, one gets the impression from unbelievers that those who don’t attend church are easier to get along with. I personally have found this, quite frankly, to be a load of, well, you-know-what (if you will pardon my brief departure from detached, scholarly discourse). Those who don’t attend church lie and steal. They cheat on their boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses. They are greedy, they abuse others, and they murder. In fact, they do every sin you can think of, and, from my experience, sin much more actively and freely than most every Christian I’ve known. To top it off, all these things create disharmony in their families and communities. Thus, to pretend that there is a world of non-believers out there just doing their own thing and not hurting anybody else is dishonest.

But back to the question of hypocrisy, why is it always applied to Christians, and rarely to non-Christians? Part of the reason is that Christians are so vocal in the so-called culture wars. And the liberal media has also done such good job demonizing Evangelicals that non-Christians act like we’re armed to the teeth and ready to start raiding houses at any moment. (In case you’re wondering, we aren’t.) Non-Christians are afraid that Christians are trying to take over society and enforce their moral standards on them. This is partly true, depending on which Christian group you’re talking about (some are trying to force morality, whereas some could care less what you do) and which moral standard you’re talking about. But those interested in enforcing Christian morality, so far as I know, are interested in doing so through legal methods. The point being that in such an atmosphere as this, where the church is pointing fingers at the unbelievers in the culture and trying to get them to “shape up”, the tendency by other believers is going to be to want to fire back with accusations. I, for one, would rather bring others to our side through persuasion than through hostile engagement.

Sometimes the person has had a bad church experience, as the increasing number of child abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church has shown us in recent years. To say this is understandable is an understatement. But I think if we were to ask around, we would find most everybody has had some sort of bad experience in the church, though some are much worse than others. The solution to this isn’t to escape the church for good, but rather to embrace it and seek to change it for the better. Once again, the world outside the church is full of hypocrites and wicked people, too.

But another reason why unbelievers respond this way is simply guilt. As Paul tells us in Romans 1, God has revealed Himself to all mankind and they have refused to serve Him. They see God in creation, refuse Him, and God gives them over to their sin. And so when unbelievers say things like this, it’s a smokescreen. It’s simply a way of masking their guilt. They know God calls them to obey Him, and by bringing up the church, we are simply putting before them the thing they’ve been running desperately from, and that’s God.

So, to you believers, don’t be afraid to engage a person when you meet a response like this. If you do, you’ll do the person a disservice by allowing their resistance to Christ to continue. Sure, there are plenty of hypocrites in the church. But, as true as this is, it excuses no one from repenting and trusting in Christ.

To those of you who would offer this as an excuse, you might put off the person who would share the gospel with you. But you aren’t fooling God. He calls you to repentance, and that for your own good. You can find salvation in Him – don’t resist Him.

2 Comments:

Blogger t jacobb smith said...

the quote from Calvin about being "partly unbelievers", do you remember where that came from? thanks for your time.

Jacobb

8:22 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

I don't know. I think I got it off of an old episode of the White Horse Inn. If they said where it was from, I don't remember.

8:41 PM  

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