“I don’t go to church because the people there are just a bunch of hypocrites!” Undoubtedly you have heard some variation of this common complaint leveled against Christians.
Is it true? Are “Christian” and “hypocrite” synonymous terms? Many in the culture might be tempted to answer yes and today I want us to explore why that is.
Now if you came here expecting another apology from a “real” Christian in behalf of all those “fake” Christians, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I happen to find it extremely arrogant and condescending for someone to apologize in behalf of someone else, without the latter’s permission or approval.
Instead, I want to offer one reason why Christians are susceptible to the charge of hypocrisy (and I will be the first to admit that sometimes, probably many times, this charge is justified). This reason came from an unexpected source. This year I have been slowly reading through Everett Ferguson’s book Backgrounds of Early Christianity. Toward the end he begins to discuss Judaism in its first century context and includes a very helpful section on the different sects, such as the Pharisees and Sadducees. When dealing with the Pharisees, he warns the reader not to place an over-emphasis on the tension between this group and Jesus. Passages such as Luke 7:36, 11:37, 13:31-33, 14:1, Mark 12:28-34, and Matthew 23:1-2 actually show that Jesus had many contacts with them which were friendly in tone (He and the Pharisees were also on the same page in regard to their view of the importance of Scripture). I’ll now turn it over to Everett and let him tell you the rest in regard to how these verses I cited should be read.
These verses, if nothing else, should have made unnecessary the lesson so many Christians have had to learn from Jewish scholars that “Pharisee” was not synonymous with “hypocrite”. Any way of life based on authoritative teaching or law has a tendency to hypocrisy, and no doubt there were hypocrites among the Pharisees. -p. 517
Notice the line I have emboldened. The reason why so many Christians may appear as hypocrites is because we have an authoritative standard by which we can be measured. The Bible contains very clear ethical teachings on what a believer is to do and not do, and, as any Christian will tell you, we’re not exactly batting .1000 in keeping our lives aligned with those teachings. Actually, that’s why there’s this thing called the gospel. In the gospel we are told clearly that our hearts are naturally bent to not obey God, which is why Jesus died in our place (to absorb the wrath due our sin). For more information on this, click “What Is The Gospel?” on the tab above.
But here’s the thing, when you don’t have any kind of authoritative standard, then there’s nothing by which you can be measured. And thus, you escape the possibility of being labeled a hypocrite. Only those whose lives are free from any kind of moral restraint are the ones who will never have to worry about a tendency toward hypocrisy.
To put it another way, only if you firmly believe that you and everyone else should be free to pursue any and every activity under the sun, no questions asked, will you be released from the potential charge of hypocrisy.