What I mean to think about today is an increasingly common response to the accusation that the church is full of hypocrites. I have heard this many times before, and I’m sure I am not alone. The thinking goes something like this: Person A is resistant to Christianity because it is “full of hypocrites.” Person A may even give an example of some recent failing in some Christian he knows personally. Person B thinks, “Well, I’m certainly not perfect.” So Person B tells Person A that the church is a place for imperfect people. God saved us while we were yet sinners, right? The sometimes unspoken message is a type of agreement with the assertion that the church is full of hypocrites.
Sometimes, pastors will address a few points of resistance to the Gospel in their sermons. The “church full of hypocrites” assertion is often one of them. The goal is to try to clear out these objections. So they say something along the lines of, “So you say you don’t want to go to church because it’s full of hypocrites. Okay. So now you’re here alone…”
And we all laugh.
I was thinking about this assent to the idea of a church full of hypocrites, an idea that I have encountered many times before in many different church services and chapels, and I decided that it is absolutely not true.
Allow me to explain by starting with the definition of a hypocrite.
My trusty Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines hypocrite as:
One who feigns to be what he is not; one who has the form of godliness without the power, or who assumes an appearance of piety and virtue, when he is destitute of true religion.
I think this assent to the idea that the church is full of hypocrites stems from the fact that this culture has become very imprecise in the use of language. And so hypocrite has become interchangeable with the idea of being imperfect.
Before I go on, let me state, clearly and plainly, that I am not saying that the opposite is true, that the church is full of perfect people. My church, as well as my own home, is full of people who are not perfect.
But I don’t think my church is full of pretenders, either.
When we assent to the idea of a church full of hypocrites, we are assenting to the idea that it’s all a fraud, that everyone in the church, ourselves included, is pretending that it is true when it isn’t. Or at the very least, it is saying that we are pretending to be Christians when we really aren’t.
This is a big problem, primarily due to our own text. Because of the way English translations of Scripture use the word hypocrite, we end up sending a very strange message about the Church. Here is a sampling:
- Psalm 26:4 equates hypocrites with men of falsehood.
- Matthew 6:5 and 6:16 both explain that a hypocrite has no hope in the sense that they have already received their reward.
- Matthew 23:13 is one of the many times that Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites. He says that they neither enter the kingdom of heaven, nor do they allow others to enter.
- Matthew 23:27 says that hypocrites are beautiful on the outside but full of dead men’s bones.
This is so opposite of who Christians are in Christ that I hardly know where to begin! We are not people of falsehood, but those entrusted with Truth. Our reward is not on earth, but in heaven. We enter the kingdom of heaven because of Christ’s death and resurrection, and we are given not only the ability, but the charge to tell others of this Good News. And we are sometimes not very beautiful at all on the outside, but we are full of the Spirit of the Living God.
To call a true Christian a hypocrite is to speak the worst of lies about who Christ’s people are.
Now, are there hypocrites within the church? Absolutely. Jesus explained this in the parable of the wheat and the tares, where the enemy sowed tare seeds into the field of wheat, and the farmer could not tell the difference between the wheat and the tares. At the end of the parable, we learn that the tares become evident in time because they do not bring forth grain like wheat does. However, the field is full of wheat. The tares are in a wheat field. This is not a tare field.
Calling someone, anyone, a hypocrite without proper grounds is a grave misdeed. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and I am sure He is very defensive of His Bride, much the way my husband would defend me. If unfaithful, lustful women were rampant in our society, and someone walked up to my husband and said that I was a faithless wife because all women were this way, he would not assent to this! Rather, he would say, in no uncertain terms, that my accuser was wrong, and though there may be many faithless women, I was not one of them, and though I was not perfect, he was sure that my love was genuine.
The Church may be full of imperfect people. But these people love God. They are seeking Him. And as they grow in their faith, they are being made perfect, they are realizing their faith’s power, so to speak, to change their lives.
So the next time you hear someone assert that the Church is full of hypocrites, let me implore you to stand for Truth. Tell them not to talk about the Bride that way. And then love them in such a way that they know that it is all True.
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