Hypocrisy in the Church
For some, the issue of Christian hypocrisy in its various forms is highly charged emotionally. We need to listen well to hear whether this question is being asked because of the negative cultural stereotypes and historical blunders of Christians, or because the person (or someone close to them) has been personally wronged by a supposed Christ-follower. To diffuse the anger that people feel about this issue, we must first empathize with them and admit that hypocrisy is an issue in the church.
The underlying issue in this question is the implication that since Christians fall short, the truth claims of Christianity must also fall short. The other possibility is that the truth of Christianity is not determined by the track record of adherents.
Does Hypocrisy Invalidate Christianity?
Many conclude from travesties perpetrated in the name of Christianity historically and more recent examples of financial exploitation, adultery, and other forms of unethical behavior among church leaders that the entire church is full of hypocrites. This leads many to determine that Christianity is not true because it does not work.
Though we cannot agree that the church is full of hypocrites, we must acknowledge that there are some. We can’t deny the abuses and inconsistencies mentioned above, and we should quickly admit that the church is not immune to this problem. Hypocrisy is a problem in the church—and everywhere else virtues are valued.
But none of this invalidates Christianity. The idea that it does is based on three false assumptions.
All sin or bad behavior is hypocrisy
While all hypocrisy is sin, not all sin is hypocrisy. Sin is a general term, and hypocrisy, like theft and slander, is a particular species of sin. The hypocrite makes a pretense of moral character that he does not possess. He carefully covers his faults so that others will have a higher opinion of him. But for a person to come to Christ, he must be the opposite of a hypocrite: He must acknowledge his own sin and accept the unmerited favor (grace) that God has provided in his gift of Christ’s righteousness to those who come to him. The true hypocrite is the man who thinks he is morally healthy before God apart from Christ, because he considers himself righteous when he is in fact a transgressor of God’s moral law. (1 John 1:8, 10). Thus, while all Christians sin (1 John 1:8, 10), not all Christians are hypocrites.
Profession means possession
Many people assume that whoever claims to be a Christian is a Christian. But there is a great deal of difference between Christianity and “churchianity”; many church members are not members of the body of Christ. Anything of genuine value like money, jewels, and art can and will be counterfeited. But the fact that counterfeit money exists does not mean we should stop using money. Similarly, reproductions or forgeries of great paintings do not lessen the value of the genuine paintings. Similarly, many of the misdeeds associated with Christianity are not done by genuine Christians but by people living contrary to its moral standards.
Christians claim to be perfect
Some non-Christians put Christians in a lose-lose situation. On the one hand, they impose a double standard, expecting Christians to behave on a level that they themselves never think of attaining while assuming godly behavior must be a show and equate piety with pretense. But ethical behavior does not have to mean self-righteousness; one can be moral without being moralistic. In fact, a true Christian should be the first to admit that he is not perfect in his practice. The real issue is not perfection but progression. The quality of a Christian’s life will fluctuate, but over time it should progress toward increasing Christ-likeness. Though some non-Christians are better adjusted than some Christians, this does not mean that Christianity is ineffective. Non-Christians may point to inconsistencies in the lives of Christians they know, especially new believers. But if they compare the believer’s present life with what it had been before he became a Christian, they will probably find that some real changes have taken place.
Jesus was the only one to use the word hypocrite in the New Testament, and he reserved his harshest words for those who fell into this category. Matthew 23 contains a frightening series of woes delivered by our Lord to the religious leaders of his day (the scribes and Pharisees) who made an outward display of godliness but inwardly did not know God. Today there are also religious pretenders in the church who are fooling others and, just as tragically, fooling themselves. But God, who searches men’s hearts, cannot be deceived and will one day tell these modern-day Pharisees the awful words, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).
Christ uttered these stern words not only because of the self-deceiving pride involved in such hypocrisy but also because of the great damage that hypocrisy causes. When religious fraud is exposed in the lives of ministers, many people become disillusioned and disappointed. Hypocrisy causes people to stumble, and the effects can be far-reaching.
Not only is Jesus adamantly opposed to hypocrisy in all its forms but so is the entire Bible. The prophets of the Old Testament continually denounced religious orthodoxy and formalism that lacked inner reality. For example, the Lord denounced Judah through the Prophet Isaiah saying, “This people draw near with their words and honor me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from me, and their reverence for me consists of tradition learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13). New Testament authors are also united in their opposition to religious hypocrisy and pretense. So the non-Christian who is opposed to religious hypocrisy actually agrees with Christ and the Bible on this point.
Hypocrisy Does Not Invalidate Christianity
Many things have been done in the name of Christ that directly contradict everything he stood for. Is it fair to condemn Christianity or Jesus Christ because of the things done in his name?
Christians do not claim to be perfect, but they do claim to be forgiven by the One who is perfect, Jesus Christ. Because of human frailty, inconsistency, and rebellion against God, the performance of the Christian church through the centuries has been far from ideal. But Christianity really stands or falls on the person of Christ, not the performance of Christians. If Christ was a hypocrite, the whole structure of Christianity crumbles into a heap.
Jesus spoke the noblest words ever spoken, and the standards he raised were so high that they were humanly unattainable. But in the life of Jesus, his words and works were a seamless piece; his precepts were perfectly matched by his practice. He spoke the truth and lived the truth, and when he publicly asked, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” no one was able to respond. His own disciples who lived with him day and night for more than three years declared him to be sinless (1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).
Jesus was against hypocrisy, and his life was the antithesis of hypocrisy. We must help those who raise the question of hypocrisy to see that they agree with us and with Jesus on this issue. No one ought to miss out on a relationship with Jesus because of someone else’s inconsistency and hypocrisy. He offers his perfect righteousness to imperfect people who repent and turn to him. It would be foolish to let resentment against hypocritical behavior prevent you from receiving this priceless gift.
This content on the reliability of the Bible was originally printed in Decision Magazine. False Impressions “I don’t want to take a bath—I’m clean enough!” My impassioned protests as a six-year-old at bedtime were quickly rebuffed by this powerful tool from my parents’ arsenal of guilt-inducing mottoes: “The Bible says that cleanliness is next to godliness!” […]
Material in this series is based significantly on content in the chapter “Why Believe in Miracles?” from I’m Glad You Asked (by Ken Boa and Larry Moody, published by Search Ministries). Get the book here. [vector_icon icon=”fas fa-arrow-alt-circle-right”] Paul told the Corinthians: If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your […]
In part 1, we explored eight facts surrounding the death of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Theologians and historians must confront these facts—and those who reject the Resurrection have sought alternative theories (summarized briefly in this part). Explaining the Tomb Here, we give an overview of four explanations offered by those who believe the tomb was […]