A hypocrite is someone who claims to have moral standards or beliefs to which his or her own behavior does not conform. Of course, hypocrites are everywhere, but their existence in churches does cause a definite problem. Isn’t the church a place where people go to have their hearts and lives changed?
We could give many examples of hypocrites. Let’s do a little brainstorming. Here’s are examples of hypocrites in church
- The Bible study leader who teaches moral purity but walks out on her husband and kids and into the arms of another man.
- A churchgoing, Bible-quoting boss who cheats on the sales figures “just a tad” to get a better market rating for his company.
- A respected minster or priest, trusted by their congregations, who preaches piety but covers up his sexual abuse of children.
- A charismatic youth minister who calls young people to sexual purity, but then is caught in a secret life—one checkered with illicit sex and illegal drugs.
- The perfect soccer dad who sits in the church pew every Sunday and never misses a service, but goes home to a hidden habit of alcohol abuse and violence toward his wife and children.
- The religious neighbor who pretends in front of others that “every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before,” but in reality is filled with fear, anger, resentment and jealousy.
These are just some of the common examples of hypocrisy. I think every one of us could try our own experiment. Ask some non-Christian friends, “Have you ever encountered a hypocritical Christian?” Most likely you will hear lots of stories such as, “My daughter’s playground friend keeps correcting her behavior saying ‘Jesus wouldn’t want you to do that,’ but her family is doing things I know Jesus wouldn’t want THEM to do either.” Or, “That politician claims to be a Christian, but look at how he treats his wife!” Or, “My coworker has a Bible on her desk and Christian bumper stickers all over her car, but she has never even once offered to help when someone is sick and out of the office.”
Unfortunately, statistics seem to bear out the perception that many Christians often fail to live out their stated spiritual ideals. David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, authors of the book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity, have done research showing that there isn’t much measurable difference between people who claim to be born-again Christians and the rest of the world. Here’s what they found: “Born-agains were distinct on some religious variables, most notably owning more Bibles, going to church more often, and donating money to religious non-profits. However, when it came to non-religious factors—the substance of people’s daily choices, actions, and attitudes—there were few meaningful differences between professing Christians and non-professing Christians.”
Isn’t the church supposed to be a hospital for sin sick people? No one would expect to go into a hospital and find that all of the patients occupying beds were in good health, would they? Churches have people who are struggling and far from perfect. And we can’t neglect the fact that there are some people in churches who are very committed. Most of the churches in America are really very small. Pastors sometimes work two or three jobs. Some farm, some drive school buses to supplement their income.
And I think some people come to church for the wrong reasons. Perhaps they come just for social reasons. People in some of the larger churches go to church because that’s where they can find business opportunities. Some bring their sons and daughters so that they will marry someone who is the son or daughter of a city official.
Lee Strobel, the atheist who turned Christian apologist, described the negative impact hypocrisy had on him before he was saved.
“Holier-than-thou Christians repelled me. Smug and self-righteous, they painted themselves as being much better than they really were, and tarred people like me as being much worse that we really were, as if every social problem in the country stemmed from the fact that everyone didn’t agree with them 100 percent. The other folks who chased me away from the faith were cosmetic Christians. They had a skin-deep spirituality that looked pretty good on the outside but didn’t penetrate deep enough to change their behaviors and attitudes. … Frankly, I don’t think anything repulses people like the hypocrisy of cosmetic Christians.”
I think when our friends condemn the hypocrisy in churches, we need to remind them that they are on Jesus’ side. Many people who use this issue to blame God or to resist Christianity need to be reminded that Jesus agrees with them. He is their ally. He condemned religious hypocrisy in no uncertain terms.
We also need to remind people that Jesus Christ is our only perfect example. He won’t disappoint us. Everyone else will.
And this is not to excuse hypocritical church members. The Bible claims moral perfection for only one person, and that was Jesus Christ. According to Hebrews 4:15, Jesus is our perfect example. He faced all the trials and problems that we face, yet He did so without ever sinning.
The late Ruth Bell Graham, Billy Graham’s wife, told a story about Pashi, a young college student from India. Pashi once told her, “We of India would like to believe in Christ. But we have never seen a Christian who was like Christ.” So, Ruth Graham said she spoke to a Christian doctor, a man from India, and asked what should her response be. He said, “I would tell Pashi, ‘I am not offering you Christians. I am offering you Christ.’” A wise statement. We preach Christ, not Christians.