Hypocrites in the Church
by Sebastian R Fama
As a child I looked for any excuse I could find to get out of doing some of the things that were expected of me. Almost any excuse would be acceptable. “Other kids don’t have to do it” was one of my favorites. And I am pretty sure that if I sat down and thought about it I could come up with a list of other famous excuses.
As I got older my human nature didn’t change. However, my excuses got more sophisticated. And then I had an encounter with Jesus. My life would never be the same. Having a personal relationship with Jesus changes your priorities. You become acutely aware of what it means to be a Christian. The old excuses just won’t work anymore.
One of the excuses adults use for rejecting Christianity is that there are hypocrites in the Church. Their reasoning goes something like this; if people who go to Church aren’t acting as they should it obviously isn’t doing them any good so why should I go? And by derivation; why should I follow the teachings of Jesus Christ?
This argument is based on a serious misunderstanding of Christianity. The simple Gospel message is that we are all sinners in need of a savior. And Jesus is that Savior. Some people accept Him and some do not. Unfortunately, there are some who say they accept Him but in fact they do not. For anyone familiar with human beings this is no surprise. But some will use this third group, the hypocrites, as an excuse to not take Christianity seriously.
Let me illustrate my point. Suppose you lived in a town where everyone is a bit out of shape. To be more specific everyone could stand to lose a little weight. The town’s leaders decide to research the problem. What they find is that if you cut back on your fat and sugar intake you can lose weight. This of course leads to a healthier and happier life. They present their findings to the townspeople. Some want no part of it because they don’t want anyone interfering in their lives. And of course, that is their right. But others are enthusiastic about adopting the plan.
Those who were in favor of the plan form a little club. They even opened up a store, a store that only sold the healthier foods. The citizen who was most knowledgeable about the diet was charged with running the store. Guest speakers would occasionally be brought in to further the people’s education on proper nutrition. Everyone was happy and the thinking was that their problems had been solved. This new system, as simple as it was to understand, was not without its challenges. And that is because eating the unhealthy foods was enjoyable. No one forgot what strawberry ice cream covered with hot fudge tasted like. But everyone in the group seemed positive and the new enterprise got off to a good start.
It was soon discovered that some of the people in the club had been cheating. One lady was caught raiding a secret stash of chocolate. A man was found gorging himself on cheesecake. The most disturbing violation was the discovery that the man who ran the club’s store was secretly eating a pound of bacon and a dozen jelly donuts for breakfast every morning. The diet hypocrites began to put on weight. When the non-club members saw this some of them assumed the new diet was a waste of time. Others who had been struggling with the diet used this as an excuse to cheat or in some cases to quit the club altogether.
Would it make any sense for people to claim that the new diet had been discredited? Of course not. Those who gained weight weren’t on the new diet and thus by abandoning it they only discredited themselves. It is the same with Christianity. Those who say they practice it but don’t only discredit themselves. What speaks to the credibility of the diet is the results of those who are actually on it. Likewise, what speaks to the credibility of Christianity is the results of those who practice it.
Sin, just like the forbidden food, is enjoyable. And so we struggle. Some just give up and embrace sin while pretending to be believers. These are the hypocrites. Others seek God for help. Consequently, their struggle is easier and they produce much good fruit. To the honest seeker this constitutes a compelling reason to embrace the faith. To the person looking for an excuse it hardly deserves any notice.
But why would anyone even want to be a hypocrite? Why not just leave the Church and embrace some other life style? Because I think people know right from wrong. And they know that the Church does good work. However, because of our fallen nature we have a tendency to go down a different path. People prefer to do things their own way. When I was a child I loved my family and I wanted to remain a part of it. But I didn’t always behave in the way that I should have. I think for some people that is pretty much all it is. But there is another type of hypocrite. I am talking about the person who wants to appear to be Christian but has absolutely no desire to be one. The Bible refers to such a person as: “A wolf in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15).
In saying this I don’t mean to belittle the experience of those who may have abandoned the faith due to the hypocrisy of others. I realize that many of these people are not looking for excuses. They are merely responding to betrayal. A betrayal, perhaps, perpetrated by those who were called to bring them the message of salvation. Jesus had much to say about this type of hypocrite. One of His better known comments appears in the Gospel of Luke: “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (17:2).
Because we are all fallen creatures we all sin to some degree. As the saying goes, nobody is perfect. Some will object to being classified as fallen creatures. But if you’re not perfect it means there is something wrong with you. A true follower of Christ admits that he is a sinner and seeks the help of his God in putting to death the sin that is in him. He may struggle and fall but He always gets up and reaches for the hand of God. These are not hypocrites. A hypocrite is one who embraces his sin privately but portrays himself publicly as a faithful Christian.
The Church is not a society of perfect people. It never has been, and it never will be. The Church is a spiritual hospital for sinners. And like any hospital you have minor cases and major cases. You also have some patients who accept and some who refuse treatment. But the bottom line is that we all need the treatment. Is your church full of hypocrites? Find another church if you must. But don’t leave Jesus because of Judas.
While our little story concerning the diet is useful in illustrating the situation in the Church, we have to admit that it is not a perfect analogy. With the diet, avoiding the unhealthy foods was a matter of one’s own will power. In Christianity, avoiding sin is accomplished through the power of God’s grace. He does it all. We just open our hearts to Him. In Hebrews 12:15 we read: “See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God.”
Those who isolate themselves from the Church have a much harder time getting to heaven. It is not that it’s impossible, it’s just harder. A wise priest once told me that “all human relationships are about one thing; getting each other to heaven.” And despite the hypocrites, the Church does the best job of that.
It is one thing if someone has a misunderstanding of Christianity and rejects the Gospel because of it. That person may not be culpable. What I worry about is the person who is looking for an excuse to do his own thing and just uses the bad actions of others to justify it. Paul says that at the judgment Jesus will disclose the purposes of the heart. That simply means that He knows what you are up to. And being dishonest with God is tantamount to rejecting Him. And as the Bible says: “For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26-27).
Being honest with ourselves and God is always the best policy. Reality will always be reality even if we deny it. Remember that the Church was established to continue Jesus’ mission to bring sinners to conversion. Despite any problems she may have she continues in her mission. To quote St. Thomas Becket: “Remember then how our fathers worked out their salvation; remember the sufferings through which the Church has grown, and the storms the ship of Peter has weathered because it has Christ on board.”
So, despite the presence of hypocrites the Church still has Christ as its head. And as such she remains a sure guide.
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