Episode 98 - Is the Church Full of Hypocrites?

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One of the common objections and rejoinders to Christians is that they're hypocrites, and in fact, the church is full of hypocrites, people will say. This is in line with the general trajectory of our civil discourse and conversation today.

When someone doesn't like something, instead of addressing ideas and their merits, and the reasons people hold those ideas, all too often, people, including Christians, will resort to just labeling people so as to minimize their position or their legitimacy.

It's easier to say, "Oh, you're hateful," than to deal with what might be a principled position about who can use a certain restroom or another restroom. It's easier to say, "You're a bigot," than to deal with a principled reason for why marriage should be between one man and one woman for one lifetime. It's easier to apply a label than to deal with the issue.

It's the same way when it comes to this charge that the church is full of hypocrites. I want to give you four ways of addressing this, four different lines of response that you can tailor however you feel best in that circumstance and whatever fits your personality.

Response: “What do you mean by hypocrite?”

The first response is to use a question. You'll recall that I've talked about this before. That in Greg Koukl's book, Tactics, he recommends always asking with a "What do you mean by that?" type of question. We can do that here. If someone says the church is full of hypocrites, we can say, "Well what do you mean by hypocrite? What does that word mean to you?" You might get a variety of responses, but regardless of what the person says, you now know what definition they're using. You can work with that. You might have a different usage in mind, but we need to deal with the objection and the usage of the term as the person is using it.

They might say something like, "Well, Christians say that they're supposed to be good people but they do bad things." You might say, "Okay, well, what makes that hypocrisy? What is hypocrisy?" To be a hypocrite is to claim to do something you don't do. Or perhaps we could say that a different way: to claim to not do something that you actually do.

This gets to the heart of the issue, I think. Because, for many people who aren't Christians, they think to be a Christian is to be morally upright, and it should be. When they see people who are not morally upright, who sin, who do things that they think are wrong — they probably wouldn't use the word sin — they think that's hypocrisy.

But see, here's the difference, is if they understand Christianity, and if we as Christians understood it and talked about it correctly, we wouldn't be saying that we're perfect people. We would be saying that we are deeply flawed people who serve a perfect God. It's not that we're perfect. Thought that's our goal. We're working towards that. But all the while, we are admitting that we fall short. That's why we need Jesus.

We can explain that to the person, so at least they understand the type of position we have. We're not claiming to be perfect over here. We're far from it. We're trying to get there. We know we won't, but God is perfect. He's our standard, but we won't attain to that this side of heaven. It's totally fair to clarify that Christianity doesn't teach that Christians are going to be perfect this side of heaven.

It does teach that they should be people who are repentant about their sin and who are striving for holiness in their life. The church is, by definition, going to be full of broken people who are sinning, but who are constantly asking forgiveness. I think that's fair to clarify. That's the first way to deal with this. Ask, "What do you mean by hypocrite?" Get them to define their terms, and say, "You know, I don't claim that I don't sin. That's not it. I say I shouldn't sin, but I know that I do and I need God's forgiveness when I do." That's the first point.

Response: “We have room for one more!”

The second point, and some of you may be able to pull this off better than I can—it might fit your personality better—is to say, "Well, you think the church is full of hypocrites? We're not full. We have room for one more." There are some people I know who can say this in a charming enough way where it makes the point: we're all broken people. The person who's making this objection is a fallen, broken person.

If they're honest with themselves, they know they do things that they claim they don't do. You could even ask this person this. You could say, "Hey, do you think it's wrong to lie?" They'll hopefully say yes. You could say, "Well have you ever lied?" "Well yes." “Does that make you guilty of hypocrisy?" They might say, “No because I would say I shouldn't lie, but it's not that I don't lie." That's the very distinction we just made in the previous response.

What we can point out here is that everyone, including the person making the objection, is, by their definition of the word, a hypocrite too. We have room for those people in the church. In fact, there couldn't be a better place for them to be. In order to use this type of response, you have to accept the incorrect usage of the word hypocrite, were it just means doing something that you think is wrong.

That's not what it is. It's doing something you claim you don't do. Nonetheless, I think if that's the usage they're going with, run with it and make the point that, "Hey, you're a broken person. I'm a broken person. Let's go to church on Sunday," to say it kind of glibly. That's our second response. The first one was, "What do you mean by hypocrite? Let's tease that out." The second is to say, "You know, we have room for one more."

Response: “Why is it wrong to be a hypocrite?”

The third one is to ask another question. You could say, "Well why is it wrong to be a hypocrite?" This really gets to the heart of the divide between Christianity and most other worldviews, most worldviews that don't have a view of God, where God is the grounding for morality. They don't have a consistent reason to say something is wrong. We've talked about this before. Moral laws, which make things right or wrong, require a moral lawgiver. If there's no God, there's no moral lawgiver.

It's not enough to say, "I decide for myself”, because why should I be bound by another person's moral decisions? It's not enough to say that governments create morality by deciding what's right and wrong, because that's just a bigger version of us deciding for ourselves. If there's no transcendent standard, no standard outside of ourselves for what makes something right and wrong, then there's no such thing as morality, and ypocrisy is not wrong on that view.

We could ask them, "Why is it wrong?" Invite them to explain what makes something right and what makes something wrong. You'll have to probably deal with the same type of position I just described, where someone doesn't have a consistent or good grounding for morality, where it's just their decision.

You can actually turn that around to point to God to say, "You have this innate moral sense that things are right and wrong. Evolution can't explain that. Because evolution provides for the survival of the fittest. It's a me-first type of idea. Yet morality is a others-first type of idea. The fact that you have that deep intuition that you know, perhaps better than almost anything else, points to you having been created by God. The existence of objective morals—that things are right and wrong—points to there being a lawgiver like guide."

We can turn this objection around to argue for God. That's the third way. We ask the question, "Why is it wrong?" invite them to explain, and then turn that around to point to God's existence.

First, "What do you mean by hypocrite?" Second, "We have room for one more." Third, we can ask, "Why is that wrong?"

Response: “Jesus died for the sin of hypocrisy too.”

Fourth, we can just simply say, "You know what? The church does have hypocrites in it. I am sure personally I have said I don't do things I do. At the very least, I do things I know I shouldn't do. But you know what? Jesus died for the sin of hypocrisy too."

I think sometimes we can deal with the other objections. We can get there. Maybe we do them in a different order. But at the end of the day, I want to get to the idea that Jesus died for sin, for sinners, for hypocrites, and for the sin of hypocrisy. That's the most important thing this person needs to hear. You can say, "You know what? Maybe you don't struggle with hypocrisy. Some Christians do. They need God's forgiveness for that. The Bible says they should repent of that."

I have my sins. I'm sure you have your sins. Perhaps you could ask them about the lying example or the stealing example, or those types of things. We all have our sin. No one is perfect. No, not one. The Bible says that the payoff of the sin that we've done is death.

“God, that moral lawgiver, is going to hold us responsible for our sin because he is a just judge. We are accountable to him. The only way for hypocrisy or lying or stealing or whatever to not separate you from God, from eternity, is to place your trust for forgiveness of that sin in him. That's what I needed to do and that's what you need to do.”

“I invite you to come on Sunday and hear more about Jesus, who died for those people who are hypocrites, for those people who are liars, and for all the rest of us and our various sins too.”

You can turn this objection around in a variety of ways. But ultimately, in this conversation and in any other conversation like this, we want to get to be able to present the truth and hope of the Gospel as it’s found in Jesus.

To quickly recap, we could respond to the charge that the church is full of hypocrites by asking, "What do you mean by hypocrite?" We could say, "Well, we have room for one more." We could ask why that's wrong. We can, lastly, point out that Jesus died for the sin of hypocrisy too. Anyone who doesn't repent of that biblically is not where they need to be.

All of these things come together to be able to used in a conversation by you. All too often I think, we as Christians let ourselves be boxed out of conversations because we're called a name like hypocrite, bigot, unloving, hateful, etc.

We need to keep calm and simply respond, and ask the other person to make their case, to defend their point of view. We can often, if we're prepared, turn to that and point it to Jesus and the Gospel, and to the truth of Christianity. We just have to be prepared.

We have to do this with gentleness and respect. If someone says, "You know, you're a hypocrite," and you get all upset and angry about it, but you can defend the truth of that, you've just proved their point in a way. Because we need to do this, like 1 Peter 3:15 says, with gentleness and respect.

I hope this has been helpful, and I look forward to talking with you next week on Unapologetic.