Hypocrites in the Church
“There are too many hypocrites for me to ever be a Christian”. This is probably one of the most frequently quoted rebuttals against the Christian faith. And usually, the examples lying therein are absolutely on point. The daily news cycle is replete with accounts of professing Christians soiling their reputations after being exposed for sexual immorality, financial impropriety, racial insensitivity, and/or worse. I’ve had friends that couldn’t seem to wait to bring up a case like one of these and ask a question such as, “That guy was supposed to be a Christian, huh?” or sarcastically saying, “Wow. Sign me up for THAT religion!”
These statements are often tied to more personal situations. There are many who unfortunately have been wronged, hurt, abused, and let down by people who claimed to be a follower of Christ. The logic underlying these responses typically goes like this:
- Person A professes to believe the claims and teachings of Christ
- Person A just violated said claims/teachings.
- Person A’s actions proves that said claims/teachings are insufficient and therefore easily dismissed.
I think the logical flaw here can best be encapsulated in this illustration:
Let’s say that I have possession of a tool that I claim to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. It can hammer nails, paint your house, rotor-till your lawn, eliminate termites, alleviate gangrene, and decrease the national debt. I’ve been singing this “All World Tool’s” (AWT) praises including all the amazing things it’s done for me.
Now, let’s also say that in your driveway sits your dream vehicle. It’s loaded with all the audio and visual aesthetic pleasantries your heart desires. You’ve invited me over to your home and I show up with, of course, my AWT (as I and it have been inseparable). I walk over to the automobile and begin shattering the windows, ripping out electrical wiring, slicing the tires and setting it on fire. There is no shortage of emotions likely going through your mind as you watch this transpire, but ultimately you resolve to never have anything to do with that tool again. “That was supposed to be a tool that repaired things, not destroy them! You claimed it was supposed to make things better, not make it worse! I will never trust that thing again!!”
Dismissing Christianity because of failing examples is analogous to dismissing a tool because of its misuse or abuse. This doesn’t minimize or trivialize the heinous offenses of some professing Christians. In the above example, I should absolutely be held accountable for my offenses, but for the skeptic, or unbeliever – this serves as no excuse for skepticism or unbelief. It simply serves as an object lesson that sometimes, the problem is the fool wielding the tool, and not the tool itself.
As a teenager, I began to seriously doubt Christianity. I had been in “church” all my life with several close relatives and family friends in ministry. The more I watched their lives, the more convinced I became that Christianity was merely a cultural convention. Having experienced heartache, physical pain and abuse, I wanted any reason to be an atheist. I thought, “If there is a God, why would he let me, an ‘innocent’ child, suffer through such reprehensible circumstances against my will?” I began making the same logical mistake as the above example. I judged Christianity by its adherents as opposed to the veracity of its truth claims.
There appears to be only two possible answers when asking why these horrible things happen at the hands of professing Christians. First, the professing Christians may not be truly converted believers and are merely “Christianized”. They know what to say in like-minded circles, can quote scripture (even in context in some cases!), listen to the “right” music, etc. They externally reflect the cultural expectations of “Christianity” but remain in need of a spiritual heart transplant. God promised this in his words to Ezekiel, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ez 36:26)
If not truly converted, it’s possible that they (or we) could be the people Paul warned Timothy about, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2 Tim 3:1-5)
This is every human being apart from Christ’s work. Sin nature reigns in the heart. Consider the words of the most wise man to ever live, King Solomon, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” (Ecc 7:20) Also, Paul reminds us that, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom 3:10-11) By nature, our greatest desire is never God. That’s why we need a new heart.
Post-conversion, sin merely survives in the heart and is progressively being crucified. In Christ’s death and resurrection, he made it possible for sin to no longer reign. While the disease of our sin nature doesn’t completely go away, we are equipped to fight and be victorious over it. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”(1 Pet 2:24) This process will ultimately culminate when Christ returns and eradicates sin nature completely for eternity.
The second possibility is that the truly converted believer is succumbing to their surviving sin nature. If you are around professing Christians for any amount of time, you will get hurt, because you’re still around sinful people. The difference should be whether or not they come to repentance. Paul said, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” (2 Cor 7:10-11)
The mark of a true believer isn’t whether or not they sin, it’s whether they have a heart that is genuinely grieved over their sin to the point that they repent. This isn’t the person that only feels sorry over the consequences of their sin (sorry for being caught). David Fairchild puts it this way, “Repentance, at its heart, is not about feeling bad for your action. It’s the heart breaking awareness of whom you’ve acted against.” If the professing believer does not repent, it’s highly probably that they still maintain a dead heart with holy “window dressing”.
If you are one who believes that Christianity is full of hypocrites, my point isn’t to dissuade you. In fact, I couldn’t agree more! If by hypocrite you mean people who claim to believe one thing yet do another, then I am among the guilty. The message of Christianity isn’t that people are transformed by the good character of other Christians. The message of Christianity is that we are changed by our belief in the character, life, death and resurrection of Christ himself.
This is the approach I take toward Christians who have contributed greatly to the cause of Christ, while at the same time profaned Him with their actions. I don’t think we ought to look to people as heroes, because they are sinners guaranteed to disappoint us. This doesn’t mean that we can’t be inspired, motivated, challenged, and convicted by people. The problem arises when they become “idols” to us. Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 1:11). How do we know if they are idols? If you find yourself wanting to defend someone whose sin is exposed, just because you know them, love them, or blindly follow them, you’re likely idolizing and possibly worshiping them.
There are people throughout history that have been instrumental in my spiritual growth as a Christian. These range from living friends/mentors to dead theologians. Several of these have also done things that I disagree with, and have actually brought shame to Christianity in either their public or personal lives (John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King are a few examples). The shortcomings of these people in no way nullify the Christ-exalting work they did. Nor do they invalidate the legitimacy of their belief. I, prayerfully, will imitate their actions and thoughts everywhere that that imitate Christ’s. I will, prayerfully, denounce all those that don’t.
For the skeptic/unbeliever – Back to my earlier example; If you were to take a look at the manual for the All World Tool, you would learn the actual reason for which it exists. You then can look at my misuse of the tool and determine that I am the one in error, not the tool. To dismiss the tool without investigating its documented purpose and function, isn’t intellectually honest. This isn’t to say that there aren’t other rebuttals against Christianity to be discussed. But this particular one is a bit on the lazy side.
To professing believers – let’s examine ourselves. Do we have a changed heart? Are we genuinely mourning over our sin and repenting? Or are we cultural Christianized fools wielding a tool with which we are entirely unacquainted? Let’s echo David’s prayer in Psalm 139:23,
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!”