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Engaging Christian Spirituality - Isn’t The Church Full of Hypocrites?

Thanks for all of your emails after our introductory article last issue. After reading some of your responses, it is clear that this is going to be a fun ride! Keep ‘em coming.

Many of your emails somehow revolved around the perception that the church is full of hypocrites. Lots of people say that this is the number one reason why they are not a part of church at all. Many people see the whole idea of church as a farce, just a bunch of folks with holier-than-thou attitudes who say one thing but do another, who are quick to point out the faults and sins of others and slow to see that their mess is just as messy and just as obvious. So, how do I respond? Do I think the church is full of hypocrites? Without sounding hypocritical, my answer is yes and no.

On one hand, yes, the church is full of hypocrites. When Christians turn a faith of healing and forgiveness into an excuse to hate others, they are hypocrites. When a church leader tells you to give money to help the work of God and puts it in his own pocket, he is a hypocrite. When Christians see the sins of others as worse than their own, they are hypocrites. I could go on.

Yes, there are hypocrites in church, there have always been hypocrites in church. Jesus ran into a bunch of them when he was in this world too. He called the religious leaders of the day things like “white washed tombs.” You get the imagery? They are clean and white and sparkly on the outside and dead and rotten on the inside. He shined a bright light on the stuff they wanted to keep hidden. His words were so challenging to them that they had him murdered. So, the fight against hypocrisy in the church is not a new one and not one that is going away any time soon.

Before you get a smug smile on your face and think that I am vindicating your reason for not being a part of church, let me say this: Yes, the church is full of hypocrites, so come on out, you’ll fit right in. You do not walk everything you talk either. You are not perfect either. You say that you believe in honesty and download illegal music or cheat on your taxes. You say you hate people who judge others and in doing so you judge them. You say you don’t know why people care so much about Paris Hilton, but you have enough info in your head to have an hour long conversation about her because you read the tabloids in the checkout line when no one is looking (you know you do). You say you are a good person, but…well, you fill in the blank. Hypocrites are alive and well inside and outside of the church, we are all hypocrites because none of us is perfect.

“But Dan,” you say, “there is a difference; I don’t claim to be perfect, I don’t claim to have all the answers. I am fully aware that I am screwed up, but at least I am honest about it. At least I am not pretending to be something I am not.” Now you are onto something. Now you are getting at the heart of what the Christian faith should be. The Bible teaches us that we are all screwed up, every last one of us, and that we need someone who is not screwed up to fix us. Who better to fix us than the one who created us. Jesus Christ came offering forgiveness for our imperfections and calls us to engage in the process (with his help) of becoming the good people we were created to be before we got all messed up. The churchy theological words for this are justification (forgiveness) and sanctification (the process of being made holy). The key here is that this is a process.

This is where the “no” part of my answer comes in. Hypocrites, by their definition, claim to be something they are not. So, if a Christian is a hypocrite or not is up to who they claim to be. I am a Christian and I freely admit that I am a bona fide screw up. If we get to know each other you will see that I say things I shouldn’t, I get angry when I drive, I cuss too much sometimes, I can be bullheaded, hardhearted, and lacking in compassion, I do not do enough to help the poor, I get impatient with ignorant people, I can be judgmental, rude, unforgiving, and sarcastic, and at any moment I have the potential to be an all out rotten individual. And these are the tame ones; we don’t know each other well enough for me to share the real dirt. I’m messed up and I am the pastor of a church; does that make me a hypocrite? No, because I don’t claim to have it all together, I claim to need someone to heal me. I need a Savior.

If you happen to cut me off when I am driving and in a moment of weakness I direct your gaze towards heaven with a certain finger, I’m sorry, please forgive me, I am trying to get better and I am completely different than I used to be, but don’t call me a hypocrite. I don’t claim to be perfect, I need a Savior, I need grace, I need to be forgiven, I’m sick and I need help to get better. I don’t always walk what I talk and I need God to fix me and a community of people to come alongside of me in the process.

This is what the church is supposed to be: a community of people who recognize their need for forgiveness and who are helping each other learn to live a new life. A community that is authentic and real; real in the good stuff and real in the dirty stuff. Jesus was real and he does not call us to be perfect, he calls us to understand that we are not and we need him. The claim of the Christian is not perfection, but rather brokenness over the truth of who we are and joy that Christ loves us and has forgiven us despite of ourselves.

So, for those of you who think that the church is full of hypocrites, you are sort of right and sort of wrong. Maybe you can look again with a new perspective now- we are not all hypocrites, we are just in process. Maybe you can feel more comfortable knowing that you are one too. Go find a church that is authentic and real. Let them introduce you to the God that forgives them and is working in them to make them new. You might find they are more like you than you think.

The Rev. Dan Alger is the Pastor of The Church of the Apostle in Hope Mills and can be reached at ecs@tcota.org