Hypocrisy in the Church is one of the things I have conversations about pretty regularly, particularly with people who are frustrated with their congregations or with Christians in general. It’s a topic that comes up a lot with non-believers, too. It’s an important topic and is probably one of the most important discipleship issues with which I deal.
What Is Hypocrisy?
Hypocrisy is when a person claims to have a moral or ethical standard, but their life doesn’t seem to line up with that standard.
I think most people understand that hypocrisy isn’t a good thing. It’s often at the heart of our frustrations with politics and religion, but we also experience it in less obvious ways, such as when we have hypocritical bosses with double standards or deal with entitled people. Entitlement can be a form of hypocrisy, because people who feel entitled often espouse certain expectations for others which they don’t have for themselves.
Many of Jesus’s teachings deal with hypocrisy in some way. The most popular is probably his warning to us about removing the planks from our own eyes before addressing the specks in others’ eyes. Jesus removes our authority to look at hypocrites with condemnation, because according to him, we have much bigger things to worry about in our own behavior.
Hypocrisy and Discipleship
The question of hypocrisy is one of discipleship because it should be more self-evaluating than judgemental. We like to question the hypocrisy of others, but Jesus challenges us to question our own hypocrisy.
I think it’s important to understand that when we judge the hypocrisy of others, we condemn ourselves, also. The question of hypocrisy is often asked from a place of bitterness or malcontent where a person is expressing frustration or anger about how other people are conducting themselves as disciples of Jesus, but that very attitude often comes with a blindness to our own shortcomings as disciples. When we look in judgment and disappointment at brothers and sisters we are condemning ourselves for our own hypocrisy as disciples of Christ. I think this is why Jesus was instructing people to remove the planks from their own eyes first.
Hypocrites In the Church
It is absolutely true that there are many hypocrites in the Church. I would actually go a step further and say that there is no one in the Church (or anywhere, for that matter) who is not a hypocrite. I believe that everyone is hypocritical about something, and most of the time, those planks in our eyes obscure our vision too much for us to see it. This is because we’re humans and we have an imperfect love and imperfect understanding.
I think we get caught up in the instruction that Jesus gives to go and sin no more. Paul and John try to set us straight by indicating that this isn’t possible. It’s the ideal for which we strive, and it’s actually the reason why we lean into the power of the Holy Spirit. Without the power of the Spirit we can’t even hope to do what Christ is asking us to do, and even with the power of the Holy Spirit, we often resist the transformation because, again, we’re only human. This is why the gospel is a gospel of grace, and salvation is through the grace of God. Even the very ministries we have are by the grace of God.
In other words, not even those who are ministers called by the Holy Spirit to lives of ministry can ever claim to be without sin. Scripture makes that argument, as well, that a person who says they’re without sin is a liar. So, the question “why are there so many hypocrites in the Church” is really kind of a silly question. Why would we ever expect that there would be any other kind of people in the Church? Our goal should always be to move as far away from hypocrisy as we can, to embrace as consistent a theology as we can, in order to be as much like Jesus Christ as we can, but we should always have the humility to say we need the Spirit for this. It’s not something we can actually do on our own. We should always have the grace to allow people to be broken, flawed human beings journeying with us toward Christlikeness. Everyone in the Church is a hypocrite because all human beings are hypocrites, and the Church is filled with human beings. This is why we preach Christ as our Lord and Savior and not our own strength and abilities.
Does that mean we just ignore hypocrisy?
No, it doesn’t mean that we just ignore hypocrisy, but it means we should accept its inevitability. Until we do, we’ll continue to be blind to the plank in our own eyes. Once we accept that hypocrisy is a reality, we open ourselves to discovering our own hypocrisy. Only then can we find a balance between helping each other move toward more consistent theology and having grace, compassion, and patience for people who are just people.
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