One of the biggest charges brought against Christians and Christianity on a regular basis is the charge of hypocrisy. It is said that Mahatma Gandhi once said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” So what is the verdict? Is the Church plagued by hypocrisy? The verdict, from where I stand...Guilty!
Now there are probably a few people reading this who are thinking: “See I always knew that. Why would I want to waste my time with Christianity?” On the other spectrum there are probably fellow believers who want to call me and tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. Some of you may even be wondering if what I’m doing will only bring more division and attacks against the Church from unbelievers. I would encourage you all to finish reading this blog before you jump to any conclusion.
So why is this an issue for me? When the accusation of “hypocrite” is launched at professing believers of Christ generally the believer will shut down, and then the accusation is assumed to be true. We of course are not helped by the likes of Tim Haggard, Jim Baker, and Dr. Ergun Caner, just to name a few. Does this mean that we believers should just stick our heads in the sand because people have chosen their own behavior which has brought shame to the name of Christ? Absolutely and emphatically, not!
For the past year and a couple of months I have been doing some intense studying of the epistle (letter) of 1 John. Almost two years ago now I was exposed to some great training in what is called the Inductive Bible Study Method, which I have been using as I began this intense study. It is with this in mind that I found a few passages in 1 John and elsewhere that I think make what I want to discuss important. Now for my unbelieving friends, remember I asked you to read with an open mind. My believing friends the translation I’ll be using for the verses I add is the New American Standard or Holman Christian Standard (it depends on which Bible I’m using on the day I write).
At the beginning of this blog I accepted the fact that the charge of hypocrisy is a justified charge against Christians and the Christian Church. However, I do think that it is important to define our terms. Webster Dictionary defines hypocrisy in three parts. First, “a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.” Second, “a pretense of having some desirable or publicly approved attitude.” Finally, the last definition is “an act or instance of hypocrisy.” So what type of hypocrisy is most prevalent in the Church? Well, I’ll get to that in due time.
I’m going to share just a few incidents both in my life, and incidents that have been on the news as well to show how my verdict is accurate. The incidents from the news are all well known, and have been brought up in conversations I have had with people of different political or even a Biblical understanding.
A few semesters ago I got to know a fellow student in my Anatomy and Physiology 1 class. There were a few things I surmised about her before we became friends. For instance I knew that she was most likely of a lifestyle persuasion which I am Biblically opposed to, but a lifestyle I have had struggles with myself. This actually came up in a phone conversation we had about halfway into the semester. I had let her know that according to the Scriptures I know her lifestyle to be a sin. This led her to ask me about Pastor Fred Phelps and his protest at military funerals. As I responded to her, so I respond to anyone else who has this question. From a Biblical perspective I believe that what Pastor Fred Phelps is doing is contrary to the Word of God.
Now comes the part where fellow believers may think I’m wrong. So instead of me talking, let us go to the Word of God, and see what God says. 1 John 2:6: “the one who says he abides in Him (Christ) ought to walk in the same manner as He walked.” This is John’s letter to the Church, which Church specifically we are not sure. It is highly likely that John knew that this letter would go to several Churches. So what did he mean by this? The very title “Christian” applies to one who is Christ like. Those of us, who are believers in Jesus Christ, claim to be His followers.
The other question we need to answer is what it means to “abide in Him.” This is actually quite simple as well. The Greek word used for “abide” here is “meno” (Strong’s Reference Greek #3306) which means to be united in heart, mind, and will. This verse also tells us “we ought to walk in the same manner as He walked.” Again this word “walk” is a very important word in this passage. The Greek word for “walk” is “peripateo” (Strong’s Reference Greek #4043). This Greek word can also be translated “occupied with.”
So if the Scriptures clearly tell us that to be like Christ we need to act and respond like Christ, it leads us to another question. How did Christ respond to sinners while He was here on earth, and in fact even now? Again for this answer it is imperative that we go straight to the Word of God. Take a look at Mark 2:15-17.
While He was reclining at the table at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also guests with Jesus and His disciples, because they were many that were following Him. When the scribes and Pharisees saw that He was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, He told them, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick [do need one]. I don’t come to call the righteous, but sinners. (Holman Christian Standard Bible, HCSB)
What does that look like in the lives of Christians? Are we looking for the sick, or would we rather be around the well? This is part of the problem with Christianity today. Christians often times make one of two mistakes when they come to saving faith. They either choose to forsake all of their secular friends for the sake of their new friends in the Church. Or they chose to maintain the same relationship they have always had with their secular friends, and so they still go out partying, or drinking, chasing girls or guys, and such, thus never being renewed in their mind as we are told to be by the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:1.
Both of these decisions will lead to a form of disaster, and that is just a simple truth. If we choose to only be around people of a like mind, we often do get this “holier then Thou” attitude. It can be in simple things like should we listen to only hymns, or are worship songs okay? What is the right translation? (Forgetting that Bible is not Man’s interpretation of God’s word, but it is actually God’s Word.) We look at those who have the freedom that they can still go out and have the occasion drink, and judge them as less Christian than ourselves.
There is no doubt in my life that I have made several bad decisions. These decisions have allowed those who I chose as leaders over me to question my salvation, and even contact my father, while he was alive, about their concerns. These changes have hurt those closest to me, especially my wife. I have at face value portrayed a moral and religious belief, and then acted contrary to it, and I have behaved like a hypocrite. So since I am a hypocrite, do I have the right to talk about hypocrisy? From my perspective I think I should address this issue, because there is an important difference in acting as a hypocrite, and being a hypocrite, and that difference is what I want to bring up next.
Now I want to take just a quick moment and address you who charge the church with hypocrisy. First I want to ask? Are you really trying to see the whole picture, or are you rather trying to justify your own decisions, and sin? If you are just trying to justify your own actions as right, since Christians do them as well, you may. However, it is vital that when judgment day comes, and it will come, that you realize that line will not work with the perfect judge, Jesus Christ.
Do you really want to know why the Church is full of hypocrites, and hypocrisy? It is simply because we are all still sinners, who still wrestle and struggle with the curse of sin. Those of us who call the name of Christ do just as many stupid things as those who don’t call on the name of Christ. Pastor Phelps is doing what he truly believes to be right, but he has forgotten that it is the sick whom Jesus was seeking to save.
I still struggle with immoral thoughts, adultery, small white lies, pride, arrogance, and that is just the short list. The question is though am I comfortable living in those sins, or am I daily calling on the LORD Jesus Christ to work in my heart, and my mind.
I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not conformed to the world, but transformed by the renewing of your minds, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 New American Standard Bible, ©1977 The Lockman Foundation)
There are some key words that I want to point out here real quick. Those words are “transformed” and “renewing”. Both of these words are in the present imperative tense of Greek. The present imperative is a command to do something in the future, continuously, or repeated. Christians are in a daily struggle against our sin nature, and so we do fall at times, but what is important is God gives up the ability to get back up and try again.
The Apostle John tells us in 1 John 2:1: “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; (N.A.S.B, © 1977, The Lockman Foundation”) The Apostle John knew we were going to sin, but what mattered is; if we acknowledge our sin, then we can acknowledge that Christ paid the penalty for our sin. Not only that, but in 1 John 1:9 John writes, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (N.A.S.B, © 1977, Lockman Foundation).” I am convinced believers still fall into sin, but what matters is what has always mattered to Christ, the heart, and not the actions. A believer has the advantage in the fact that we have already been given forgiveness, and we have the Holy Spirit guiding our hearts leading us to true repentance, which is a 180 degree turn in our actions.
So I agree that there are Christians who are hypocrites. Now, I’m sure some of you might stop right here feel like you have your justification for hating Christians, but I did ask you to read with an open mind. Can only Christians be hypocrites? The answer is a resounding, NO!
There are many people who do not profess faith in Christ, who act as if their cares are for others. They are some wealthy people and organizations that start these great foundations, but what is their motive? I have no doubt that they genuinely want to do good, but notice how most of them keep their names on their foundations? Why is that? The truth is these multi-millionaires might be motivated by wanting the world to see how great of a humanitarian they are. I’m not necessarily saying this is the case, but it is worth looking at objectively.
Many of these people then claim that they take care of the poor, the downtrodden, the orphan, mother-earth, etc, etc, and they do to a point. These people ignore the fact that many Churches still have other ministries they support, food pantries, crisis pregnancy centers, and even missionary organizations that reach throughout the world. Churches, alongside Red Cross will send people, tools, money, and supplies to places hit by major natural disasters or war zones. So are they the only ones who then truly care for others?
I’m not trying to diminish the claim that these groups are doing the good work of the world, but again what is their motivation? In Isaiah 64 we see the prophet calling out for mercy before a holy, just, and righteous God, and in verse 6 he says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
Isaiah had a knack for understanding some basic truths. There is no doubt that all of us sin from time to time, we tell a lie, we steal a cookie from the cookie jar, we engage in immoral acts before marriage, or outside of marriage, we get mad, and say something hateful or mean to those whom we should love the dearest. Again God does not just look at our actions, but at our heart. So where is my heart today, where is your heart today?
When one acts and behaves as a good person for the sake of being a good person, they are already displaying hypocrisy. The issue isn’t about what they are doing, but how they see themselves, or how others see them. This is where believers in Christ are different. Ephesians 2:8-9 are some of the most important scriptures to believers, yet verse 10 is of equal importance.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (N.A.S.B ©1977, The Lockman Foundation)”
People are not saved because they are good people, or they have done good things. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” Ephesians makes it clear that we are saved by the Grace of God, and why are we saved? Believers do not do good works because they are good people, but we do good works because Christ has prepared these works for us to bring glory to His name, and not to our own. What is supposed to motivate people is not what people think about us, but what we are doing to bring honor to the name of Jesus Christ.
One of the big cries today is that we need to be tolerant of people with different lifestyle, political, or moral traditions and beliefs. What is interesting, however, is these people who cry tolerance will target Christians who promote a Biblical worldview. They say that Christianity tramples over the rights of individuals, and therefore is an unworthy position to come from. My only question is how does that show tolerance? The truth of the matter is it does not.
These people tell us that we cannot assert our viewpoints on the viewpoints of others, and yet these people will constantly display hypocrisy to those who claim the name of Christ as conservative Evangelical Christians. These people who claim that Christianity tramples on the rights of individuals are themselves trampling on the rights of those who hold to a worldview based off of the Scriptures. If there is no absolute or moral right, and if the rights of an individual are supreme; then what makes their rights more important or valuable than my own? Are their rights of more value or importance than any person who professes Jesus Christ as LORD and Savior, and who live their lives in the doctrines and teaching of a Holy God?
In conclusion I will agree that there are times when there are hypocrites inside the Church. We do not all behave as we encourage others to behave, but when those who claim Christ fall into the act of hypocrisy what one needs to consider is if there is genuine repentance, and a request for forgiveness for us giving into our sin. Secondly, and this is important, it is not only Christians who are hypocrites. There are many people who are outside of the Church who also live in hypocrisy, or will act in hypocrisy. The people who charge others with hypocrisy for justification are often themselves in hypocrisy.