A friend of mine recently confronted his boss over mistreatment of both him and his fellow-employees. The boss routinely placed staggering loads of work on their backs, not because it was unavoidable, but because it made more money for his company. It was an unreasonable amount of unnecessary stress. “Everyone in the yard wants to quit,” my friend told him. He’d might as well have been talking to the wall. The boss put on his “so what?” face. If they didn’t like it they could leave.
A lot of you know what I’m talking about. You’ve faced the “money matters more than people” dilemma yourself at work. Unfortunately, this boss was a fellow-believer, and had been chosen to be an elder in their church (a large, prestigious evangelical church, I might add). In the church, he was seen as spiritual, in the business world though, regarding this matter at least, he was hardened and selfish; little different than some of his unbelieving business associates. To his credit, once challenged, he seems to be trying to be more sensitive.
This is the reason some of you, either have rejected Christ, or, have accepted Him, but rejected the church. “There are too many hypocrites in the church,” you say
Is it true? Of course it’s true. Even one hypocrite in the church is too many. Can we all agree on that? No one likes fakes. No one wants to be associated with pretend Christianity; even hypocrites themselves.
So should we avoid Christianity or at least the church? Could this even be considered a higher standard – “I refuse to associate with fake Christians!” ? Those in the “I’m spiritual but not religious” group are sometimes driven by this apparently noble motivation.
The problem is that Jesus, Paul, Peter, and other New Testament leaders did not take this tack. They jumped right in among the hypocrites; in other words, they stayed connected with fellow-believers and with local churches. Read all their letters, they’re definitely written to imperfect Christians.
So how are we to respond to hypocrites in the church? Let’s begin by admitting what I’ve already at least implied, there are hypocrites in every church. If you require a hypocrite-free body of fellow-believers before you’ll attend a church, then resign yourself to staying home on Sunday. And don’t watch Christians TV or listen to Christian radio or read Christians books either. Hypocrites reside in all these places. Some of you have already made these pull-backs.
Let me say, in addition, before I go any further, that hypocrisy in the church is a problem. In fact, it’s more than just a problem; it’s also a sin. Hypocrisy in the home or anywhere else is also an equal sin. Jesus spoke harshly against hypocrites (Matt. 7:5), as did Paul (Gal. 2:13). This article is not an attempt to justify, or play down hypocrisy. The goal, of course, is to eliminate it; both in ourselves and in the church. This leads to our main question:
How am I to deal constructively with hypocrisy in the church?
1. I deal constructively with hypocrisy by not confusing it with sinful imperfection
If you define “hypocrisy” as sin of any sort, then you’ve set the bar too high. Every Christian is still sinful, but not every sin is an act of hypocrisy. Even the godliest believer still battles sin and sometimes loses. That’s not hypocrisy. That’s reality. If you’re looking for a church without sin, you’ll find none – even in the New Testament. What I’m calling “hypocrisy” here is not imperfection, but a deliberate attempt to pretend to be what we’re not without any serious intention of changing. I may not (and probably should not) hang out all my dirty laundry to everyone, but as long as I struggle against sin and am honest about that with God and with others, I’m not necessarily being hypocritical.
2. I deal constructively with hypocrisy by first dealing with it in myself
While all sin isn’t hypocritical, we all have pockets of hypocrisy; sins that we refuse to deal with while pretending to be better than we are. We may not even be aware of them. Dealing with our own hypocrisy is part of growing in Christ. In fact, if God showed us all our hypocrisies at once, we’d be overwhelmed. But facing our hypocrisies, as the Spirit reveals them, not only helps us to grow, it humbles us. We tend to be less harsh with others who have the same struggles. And we have more wisdom in how to help them become real. This leads to the next observation:
3. I deal constructively with hypocrisy by being more vulnerable and open myself about my own struggles and failures
One of elements which provides fertile soil for hypocrisy to flourish in a church, or anywhere, is a general lack of spiritual candidness. If the pastor, or the believers in the local church seldom reveal their own spiritual struggles and failures, then this encourages everyone to clam up and pretend to be fine, even when they’re not. A marriage may be falling apart, but the couple is all smiles on Sunday morning. A man who’s fading in his walk with God shouts the loudest “Amens!” Conversely, when we’re appropriately honest (the Christian life is tough) others feel more able to relax and be real.
4. I deal constructively with hypocrisy by deeply caring about the hypocrite
Jesus hates hypocrisy, but He loves hypocrites. He died for them. If we allow ourselves to merely reject and disdain hypocrites, we’re not following Him. He wants us to love everyone, even hypocrites, to weep over them, to pray for them and, if possible, to reach out to them and help free them. Which leads to the next point:
5. I deal constructively with hypocrisy when I stay connected with the church
Leaving a particular church because of deep-seated hypocrisy, may, at times be a necessary option. But leaving all churches, is a cop-out. In fact, it’s usually an excuse given by people who aren’t seriously following God anyway. Nowhere in Scripture are we given freedom to abandon Christ’s Body just because of its flaws. Paul, forceful as he could sometimes be, kept connected with the churches. So did Jesus (read the letters to the seven churches in Revelation).
6. I deal constructively with hypocrisy when I focus more on Jesus than on His followers
The church, even in its better moments, is not our ultimate hope. We are hampered by our human limitations and imperfect even when we are sincere. Be inspired by the godly, but don’t overdo it. Jesus is our hope. Jesus is the only perfect example. Spend most of your time focused on Him. He alone is worthy. The church, at its best, is still a messy place filled with people in process. God is doing His work in us, but it is a slow two steps forward and one step backward process.
Let me be blunt as I close. By all means, hate hypocrisy. Fight against it, especially in yourself. But if you let it separate you from serving God’s people in His Body, the church, you are making a tragic and sinful mistake. Jesus loves His church, hypocrites and all and so should we.