“Hypocrites! They’re all just a bunch of hypocrites”. This is half of the sentiment that is often expressed when people are asked why they don’t attend church. The other half of the sentiment is that all the church wants is my money. Last week we looked at the money issues associated with religion. This week let’s take a closer look at all those hypocrites that attend church.
Morals and appearances
First of all, let’s make sure we know what we are talking about. What specifically is a hypocrite anyway? Generally speaking I think most people regard a hypocrite as someone who doesn’t do what he or she says they’re going to do, especially as it pertains to moral and ethical considerations.
Merriam-Webster dictionary lists two definitions:
1. a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion, and
2. a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.
So should Merriam-Webster add a definition:
3. one who attends church?
When people say that the church is just full of hypocrites I wonder what they are really trying to say. Do they mean they think that most people who are in church are putting on false appearances of virtue, or do they believe that people are living in contradiction to their stated beliefs?
Let’s consider definition one.
Granted, it is certainly possible that there are those who attend church who put on airs about their good virtue and piety. Quite frankly, I would suggest that everyone in the world puts on a front to cover the guilt and shame of who they really are. Even a thief wants you to think the best of him.
So in that sense everyone who attends the church is a hypocrite. But so is everyone who goes to the cinema or the grocery store too. I’m not sure a person is saying anything very meaningful if they are employing definition one as an excuse for not attending church because by that definition they are a hypocrite too.
With respect to definition two it also seems possible that everyone in the world has acted in a way that is contrary to his or her stated beliefs. So, according to this, everyone in the church is a hypocrite including the pastor. But so is everyone else in the world.
So what distinction are people trying to make by saying that the church is full of hypocrites? Isn’t this kind of labelling a form of begging the question? It’s kind of like asking, “The sun sure is a big bright ball of hot gas, isn’t it?”, or stating, “That dog sure barks like a dog and has fur too”.
It’s not even oxymoronic to say “church hypocrite”. An oxymoron is a statement that puts contradictory ideas together, like Microsoft Works, government organisation or jumbo shrimp. But “church hypocrite” seems to be describing reality in a very accurate way.
Even the Bible confirms this reality about the hypocrisy of all churchgoers and really all people everywhere. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “There is none righteous, not even one.”
All in the same boat
Perhaps the problem is that people have been attending churches where it is proclaimed that people are generally good and righteous. If this is the case, then maybe the hypocritical sentiment is justified, but according to sound biblical teaching all of us are in the same boat as sinners. All of us need a redeemer, including the pastor. All of us need someone to pay for all of our sin and rebellion against a holy, righteous and eternal God. All of us need Jesus.
So no one can say that the church is full of hypocrites with any real meaning because everyone on the planet is hypocritical from time to time. Perhaps what people mean to say is that they don’t feel comfortable hanging out with a bunch of people who are trying to live rightly before God because they would prefer not to.
Or maybe they would prefer not to hang out with a bunch of people who are critical and judgmental of others who have failed morally. You know, that can be annoying. Even Jesus had trouble with some people like that who didn’t quite understand the meaning of grace and mercy.
One day, in the middle of Jesus’ early ministry, a group of men brought a woman to Him who had been caught in the very act of adultery. The men tried to trap Jesus with the moral dilemma of apply-ing Moses’ law that called for her to be put to death or neglecting Moses’ law by letting her go.
Jesus brilliantly side-stepped the moral dilemma by drawing on the ground for a few minutes and then he stood and said these now famous words: “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” With this the crowd dispersed, and Jesus asked the woman what had become of her accusers. He asked: “Did no one condemn you? Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
With this we see the restorative power of Christ as He removes our condemnation from us and offers us a new life of righteousness under His mercy and forgiveness. Where do I sign up for this?
This is what the church is supposed to look like. If a church you attended in the past just gave you one giant guilt trip then it seems to me that you attended the wrong church. Find one that is really preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christ came to demonstrate His outrageous love for us through conquering sin and death once and for all. He did this through living a life of moral perfection for you, through dying a sacrificial death for you and through being raised from the dead for you on the third day.
The truth is I know I am a hypocrite. And I desperately need someone who wasn’t a hypocrite to forgive me, save me and restore me. The only one who was never hypocritical is Jesus. I need Jesus.
What about you? You too can find grace and mercy through faith in Him. Hopefully you can find a church that proclaims this glorious truth unhypocritically every Sunday. May you have a blessed Easter in Christ.
– Reverend Bradley S. Belcher is the senior pastor with the International Baptist Church of Budapest, www.ibcbudapest.org. Should you have a question or comment regarding this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.