Joe and Brandon were good friends who had worked together for over a year. They had gotten to know one another while sharing lunch in the office break room. Even though they discussed personal issues like relationships, family, and politics, the subject of religion had never come up. So, during one of their usual lunch breaks, Joe thought he would get his friend’s thoughts on God.
“Do you believe in God?” he asked.
Brandon gave a casual reply as he chewed his food. “Yeah, I guess. I mean, I believe something created the universe. I don’t know. Good question.”
“Do you ever go to church?”
Brandon took a break from eating his sandwich to answer. “I went with my parents when I was a kid, but I quit going after I got out of high school. I haven’t been back.”
Joe pressed. “Do you ever think about giving it another shot?”
“Nope,” Brandon said, “Churches are full of hypocrites. I remember the time when one of the deacons in our church was messing around on his wife. And most people in church think they’re better than everybody else. I don’t want to be around people like that.”
Joe paused for a moment to think about what Brandon had said. Yeah, he’s got a point. I don’t want to get involved with people like that, either.
I have often heard people say that church is full of hypocrites and is why they choose not to attend. Some feel so strongly about this that they won’t have anything to do with church, or Jesus Christ.
But is this true? Is the church plagued by hypocrisy?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. The church is full of hypocrites. I should know because I have been one too.
How did Jesus feel about hypocrites?
This problem is as old as the church itself. Even before the Bible as we know it existed, God’s people suffered from the epidemic of self-righteousness. This was a point of contention for Jesus as He evangelized throughout Israel. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught people about the dangers of hypocrisy.
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5, emphasis added)
Even after Jesus’s death, the apostle Paul was forced to address hypocrisy in the early church. Jews of that time believed they were God’s chosen people, which - in their eyes - made them more holy than non-Jews. Paul tackled the problem in his letter to the church in Rome.
“You may think you can condemn such people (non-Jews), but you (Jews) are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.” (Romans 2:1, my words in parentheses)
Some Christians today are much like the Jews in the first-century church. Finger-pointing and accusations run rampant. Extra-marital affairs, lawsuits, and heated rivalries are common. Unwillingness to agree on certain theology has even caused churches to split.
To make matters worse, some Christians (even those who have been believers for a long time) criticize others in the church. They gossip and give people the cold shoulder on Sunday mornings. Churches are often guilty of perpetuating social cliques and alienating new-comers.
Sadly, innocent people get caught in the crossfire. While these situations can be difficult for mature believers, it mortally wounds people who are trying to connect to Christ. Many people who are still learning what it means to be a Christian aren’t always led by example.
Should hypocrites keep us out of church?
Jesus isn’t the problem, nor is the church itself. As with so many other issues in our world, the problem lies within the hearts of human beings.
Human beings are flawed. They have insecurities and imperfections. They say and do things they shouldn’t and have personal agendas. This is true in the business world, in social settings, and even in the home. Hypocrisy affects all of us, and the church is not immune.
Ideally, the church should be a place for people to learn more about God and what Jesus did for humanity. It should be a place to grow spiritually, and to learn how to survive in a fallen world. It should also be a place to feel safe and encouraged, and to get support when tough times arise. Above all, it should help prepare us to share the love of Christ with others.
Remember that Jesus reprimanded the hypocrites. But also remember that He came to save sinners. All human beings are sinners and, no matter how hard we try, we will never be righteous or holy enough to please God. That’s why Jesus died on the cross - to do that which we cannot do ourselves.
“For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Jesus Christ lived and died for ALL sinners - that includes you, me, and everyone sitting in church on Sundays. Because of His sacrifice, we have all been made perfect in the eyes of God. From God’s perspective, no human being is better than another. No one in church - not even the pastor - is holier or more righteous than you and me.
That also means that we are truly no better than the hypocrites.
It’s likely that most churches you attend will have their share of judgmental and self-righteous people. But those same churches will also have people who will love you, encourage you, teach you, and be there for you when you need them. Likewise, you will have the opportunity to do the same for them. If you attend a church and have problems connecting with the people there, pray and ask God to lead you to a church where you feel at ease. He will hear and answer your prayers.
Don’t let the fear of being judged rob you of the joy that comes in experiencing the love of Christ with other people. Don’t let hypocrites keep you from celebrating and serving the One - Jesus Christ - who came to live and die for you.
Jesus Offers Escape from Hypocrisy
What About Hypocrites in the Church?