A 10,000 seat church in America was filled to overflowing one Sunday morning. As the preacher rose to preach two men dressed in long black coats entered the rear of the church. One walked to the middle of the church – the other stayed at the back. On cue they reached under their coats and withdrew automatic weapons. “Everyone willing to take a bullet for Jesus stay in your seats!”
The church emptied – the choir ran for the exits, there were people scrambling over one another – it was bedlam – the junior staff, the assistant ministers – all ran. It wasn’t long before there were just twenty people left sitting. The preacher stood alone at the pulpit.
The two men put their weapons away, sat down and said, gently, to the preacher, “It’s OK boss – the hypocrites are gone now. You may begin.”
What do you reckon? Is that a harsh call? What would you do? As much as the joke above is an attempt at humour, there have been attacks on churches.
“The Saint James Church massacre was a massacre perpetrated on St James Church in Kenilworth, Cape Town on 25 July 1993 by four cadres of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA). 11 members of the congregation were killed and 58 wounded. In 1998 the attackers were granted amnesty for their participation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
“The attack occurred during the Sunday evening service. The attackers approached the church in a vehicle stolen beforehand. They entered the church armed with M26 hand grenades and R4 assault rifles. They threw the grenades and then opened fire on the congregation, killing 11 and wounding 58. One member of the congregation returned fire with a .38 special revolver, wounding one of the attackers. At this point they fled the church. The attackers had also been ordered to throw four petrol bombs into the church following the shooting, but abandoned this intention as all four fled in the vehicle.” (See http://frankretief.wordpress.com/about/the-st-james-church-massacre/ for further details.)
Frank Retief’s church was bombed by terrorists. Search on the internet and it won’t take you long to come up with a list of news stories of churches in Indonesia and other Islamic countries being threatened and bombed, of churches and Christians facing far more than the mere threat of death and destruction.
Isaiah 7:9 “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”
There are plenty of people who think – and claim – that the church is simply a haven for hypocrites – that there is no way they’d join a church or enslave themselves to Jesus because of the hypocrites.
- Preacher: “How come I never see you in church anymore, John?”
- John: “There are too many hypocrites there, Reverend.”
- Preacher: “Don’t worry, John; there’s always room for one more.”
Here’s an excerpt from a letter a friend of mine in England received.
“I choose not to believe in the incredible hotchpotch of superstition which is Christianity… which is all the more understandable if you come from Northern Ireland, a place where religion has been the excuse for appalling barbarity.”
He’s not alone – and I guess if we take a moment we can understand, especially coming out of one of the countries in the world that has been torn apart by religious factionalism, as has Ireland. He’s not alone… every time there is a terrorist act the fundamentalist Islamic movements get the blame (automatically) and then the bleeding hearts run around in the media claiming that its religious fundamentalism of any creed or colour that is the problem and that Christians are just as much a problem. The church is full of hypocrites – we condemn Islam for its fundamentalism and violence yet we Christians have been guilty of the same thing in wars and empire building. America – a “Christian” country promotes violence to deal with violence. The British Empire was built on the back of the slave trade as white “Christians” claimed the blacks were sub-human. We should be honest about our history. The crusades were fought against the Moors – the Muslims – and great atrocities were committed by both sides – including the “Christian” knights and soldiers. We preach one thing and do another.
Though let me also say this is not about what Christians do in wartime. It must be monumentally hard to not be drawn into the brutality of war. It is a fearful thing to go to war, to be face to face with enemies whose greatest desire is your death. There is no way we can imagine the horrors of what men (and women) went through in both World Wars, in the Vietnam war, in Cambodia, Laos and Afghanistan – to name just a few of the many conflicts. If you are ever in doubt the watch ‘Band of Brothers’ or ‘The Pacific’. I’m with Spielberg and Hanks who want us not to forget the true horror of war and what it does to families and individuals.
We preach one thing and do another – from my point of view there is certainly a picture, even today of the church spouting old fashion morals and pious rubbish. No matter the changes to the church people’s view is an old view.
What do you think?
Is the church full of hypocrites?
What is a Hypocrite?
A hypocrite says he’s one thing but is in fact another – an actor playing a role (not having a go at actual actors!). The hypocrite claims to believe (in the context of church) but their beliefs are not borne out in their day to day existence.
If that is the church… then we’re in trouble! Even if we just take Jesus’ words and no one else’s – he responded scathingly to the hypocrites of his day.
Matthew 23:23-28 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. “…You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. “…You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Are We Hypocrites
A hypocrite is someone who intentionally lives one way whilst claiming to live another. So we would have to say yes – in some ways we are hypocrites. Though no more so than any other person – the environmentalist who drives a car or worse flies all over the world promoting carbon taxes? The vegetarian who drinks milk and eats fish? The peace activist that beats his wife? The bank manager who steals his client’s money. The politician who demands austerity from the nation and then doubles her own salary? The list could go on.
Think about the Simpsons – Ned Flanders and the Simpson family – every church member in the Simpsons is a hypocrite – not one of them lives by what they say or what they hear – they’re in church because they are American. Except Ned – he’s twisted by his desire to what God says – he’s so fundamentalist that he’s almost a pretzel, turning in on himself. He’s a nerd – he’s a geek – but he is trying to live God’s way. I know it’s only a tv show, a cartoon at that – but it is also a fascinating snapshot of church life – and you can bet that lots of people in our world have their views shaped by what they see in the Simpsons and elsewhere.
There surely are hypocrites in the church – in my opinion less so than 50 years ago when going to church helped your career and social standing – but for most people in the church today they are aiming to serve Christ faithfully – we’re just not very good at it.
Which is the point – we will never be good at it – that’s why Jesus had to die for our sins.
Luke 5:31-32 “Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
To come to Christ at all we have to acknowledge that we will never on our own be good enough – we will always have the appearance of being hypocrites in some ways. Unless we are perfect we will always look hypocritical – but if we are perfect we don’t need Jesus at all.
Answering the question
How do we answer the question? How do we defend the accusation?
Let me say when people ask this sort of question don’t back down – this is a great opportunity because often they think they have been really clever and that there is no way we can answer the question/defend the accusation. But we can – and in doing so we can show them the truth.
Let’s say you’re in a conversation with an old friend – school, work, wherever.
- “Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites!” It’s worth thinking about whether it’s just a throw-away comment, like a get-out-of-jail-free card, or if there is some serious intent to attack.
- We could ask… “Me too? What do I do that makes me a hypocrite?” or “Have you seen something in me that makes you think that?”
- Be interesting to know what their answer is – or how good a friend they are. They might back down “Oh no – I was only joking” – or they might be serious and have a dig (gentle or not so) – “Well, you were speeding the other night on the way to tennis?” or “Christians shouldn’t drink/swear/smoke?” Or maybe “You know, you say you’re a Christian, but here at work you’re just as driven to make money and you don’t really care who you step on to get to the top?”
- Each of those has a different intent and a different background.
- Speeding is maybe fairly innocuous – they are probably having a gentle dig unless they are president of the pedestrian council.
- The second might be that they have a very old/strict view of what a Christian is – fundamentalist maybe, or they have some old Methodist or similar influence, or maybe from a moralist background. Maybe they have a Roman Catholic upbringing where they were under the very strict and harsh guidance of a church school. Maybe their background is Mormon or JW’s – so that odd vaguely Christian moral lifestyle. Maybe it’s an SDA background or Brethren. Each will have a different input into how they are perceiving our lifestyle. So that might be an opportunity to explore what a Christian really is and where their understanding comes from. Do you know how to defend your faith, what a Christian is, what the gospel is in a nutshell and at length – we need to be prepared to defend the faith!
- The third is more of a direct attack though it may also be simply confusion – or it may be that you’ve been living a hypocritical life and you’ve been caught!
- What can you say? You might start with a variation on “Christianity’s not about being perfect – in fact Christianity is specifically saying that we can’t deal with sin and death and that we need Jesus to do that.”
- If you’ve been caught living the hypocritical lie then guess what – time to fess up and repent and be honest with your friend – tell them they’re right. But at the same time the truth remains that Christians are not required to be perfect and becoming like Christ is a long process that will only ever find it’s fulfillment in heaven. In one sense you can say that church is a place for hypocrites – though it’s not about encouraging people to intentionally live a hypocritical lifestyle. But that conversation has all sorts of possibilities for talking about Jesus, faith, sin and its consequences, salvation and grace.
- You might say something like (without the pious undertone)… “I won’t be going to heaven because I’m perfect but because Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose again from the dead to offer me life.” We want them to understand that it’s not about whether we can summon up the ability to live a perfect life, but that Jesus who lived a perfect non-hypocritical life, died for them. We always want to get the conversation back to Jesus and his death and resurrection – not to shortchange them on questions that are important to them, but because the answer doesn’t lie with whether I’m perfect, it lies with Jesus and his death and resurrection.
- At some point we want to ask the hard questions and we need to think about how we can turn the conversation to get us to the right point. “Did you know Jesus claims your life too – what have you done about Jesus?” That’s where our conversations need to get to – asking the question, letting the gospel get on and confront people where they are at. Their decision is their decision and we can’t change it – we have no control – but we can ask – and so often that’s where we fail in evangelism – we never ask them to make a commitment.
- I was thinking too – it would be interesting to ask if they were a member of a church how they would stop from being a hypocrite? What sort of things would show that they weren’t living a hypocritical lifestyle?
In every conversation where someone has a go at us for Christianity we want to get to the point we can ask them the hard questions – the salvation questions. It’s the example Jesus gave us – he always came back at his questioners and accusers. Never think they have the upper hand! Never let them go without a hard question. Put the onus back on them to defend their position. Because fact is – if either of you are a hypocrite – it’s not going to be the Christian who is striving to live faithfully (and fails regularly). Rather it’s the non-Christian who says that they can deal with sin and death themselves – that they’ll be ok – that’s where the issue lies.
Making Sense of Failure
Apparently this is the alcoholic’s prayer – it’s a little bit ’12-step’ and it comes across as pious (like the pharisee and the tax-collector in the temple) – but maybe there is some truth in it for Christians too.
- Father – I’m not the man I should be, I’m not the man I want to be, I’m not the man I’m going to be – but I thank you that I’m not the man I used to be.
We need, as Christians, to take the accusation seriously – that the church is made up of hypocrites. We need to deal with it individually and corporately – all too often the church has been seen to allow sin to flourish rather than to stand against sin – and yes I mean inside the church.
But we also want to take to heart what God says about us.
- We are called to perfection.
Matthew 5:48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
But that perfection only comes by Christ’s sacrifice – not by our efforts.
Hebrews 10:14 “…because by one sacrifice he [Jesus] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
We need to be aware as Christians who are fighting the fight and learning to live like Christ that even as we fail and get back on the horse and seek to serve again, that we are being made into the likeness of Christ. We are both sanctified once for all by Christ’s death – and we are being sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit. Or to put it another way – we are being made, by the work of the Spirit, into the people that God sees us as right now. We are becoming in reality – what we are now.
Hebrews 12:10 “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”
As we grow and mature we take on Christ-likeness – just as God promises – and we will become more aware of our failure to be like Christ. But there is truth in that prayer – if we belong to Christ then God IS sanctifying us – making us like Jesus. We are no longer the person we once were – and despite the attacks of the world it’s worth remembering that in God’s eyes when we belong to Christ, he sees us as perfect. We should take to heart the words of John – even as we seek and strive each day to live without hypocrisy.
1 John 2:1-2 “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”