The Problem of Hypocrisy

A BOUNS message in our series The Problem of God. We are preaching on Faith to build your hope. Find all the Problem of God messages here and build your faith, so you can be filled with hope!

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I fancy myself a little bit of a hypocrisy expert. You see, I went to Christian School and Bible College. I attended institutions that did their best to create an environment of faith and learning. There were Christian practices that were required and if they weren’t adhered to, you got into trouble. When I was in Bible College I had to file a weekly Christian service report. If I didn’t attend worship, serve in some capacity AND go on visitation I would be called into the dean’s office. I once was called in, not because I failed go to church but because I failed to fill out the form that said I had gone to church.

This doesn’t even get me to the rules about dating. Don’t tell anyone but I kissed Nicole in the hallway of our Bible College. I was kind of a rebel, you know kissing my fiancé. I was nearly expelled from Christian Academy and I was expelled from Bible College (I later returned to Bible College and finished my degree), so while I knew how the rules require you to act, I didn’t do so well following them. What burned me up when I got into trouble was that people who were breaking commandments were staying out of the trouble because they knew how to obey the rules that were on teacher’s and dean’s radar.

I saw hypocrisy, I saw people who were really good at pretending they were serious Christians and would win the “Christian Testimony Award” (yes that’s a real thing in Christian Schools and Bible Colleges) while they were anything from a testimony for the message of Christ.

Now, I’ve been pretty rough on Christian schools and Bible College, but my kids attend Christian School and I do hope that they attend Bible College. You might be thinking, “Wait, but you said they are full of hypocrites!?”

Christian institutions are filled with imperfect people, but the institution can be filled with messed up people without reflecting on the mission and motivation of the institution. It would be unfair for me to paint all Christian institutions based upon my experience with some of the people at the institution and not on the merits of the mission and quality of the institution.

Now, there are some Christian Schools that I would not send my kids too, but that decision would be based upon the philosophy of the institution. There are some churches that you should not be a part of- the philosophy or doctrine of the church in not just wrong, but it’s toxic.

The church should be based upon the merits of it’s message and mission, not it’s congregants.

Let me give you an example.

At our Break the Chains event in January our former sheriff was in attendance. He said to me afterward that he recognized some of our people and not from seeing them in church he said. He then was very complimentary of our church. He didn’t judge our congregation based upon the people we were ministering to, but upon the ministry we were attempting to bring about in their lives. Just this past week I ran into a police officer who I had to deal with on a couple of occasions because people who we were ministering to were on the wrong side of the law.

He and I respect one another- he doesn’t judge me based upon the actions of people we were trying to help. He judges me based upon the way I handle a couple of complicated situations and always remained committed to do the right thing as best I knew it.

In Jesus’ scathing message to hypocrites, Jesus does not tell people to reject the message of the hypocrites, rather he says do not follow their example.

Look at Matthew 23:3
3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

Just this week a Christian leader I have listened to and learned from had new allegations come out of sexually misconduct. That’s not a reflection on the message he preaches, but rather it’s a reflection upon him. I will continue to obey the truth he preached, but I will not observe and follow his example.

Jesus tells us to reject the example of the hypocrites, but Jesus did not reject the truth because it had been used by the hypocrites.

You see, Jesus came not only admitting that there are hypocrites, Jesus came calling them out. From the very beginning Jesus was preaching to religious people telling them to repent.

Jesus’ message gained more traction amongst the sinner, the harlots and the thieves because the religious people didn’t like how Jesus was calling them out.

They couldn’t come to the place to admit their sin. The sinners were ready admit their sin, the religious people were not.

We need to start where Jesus started.

We need to admit hypocrisy in the church.

We need to confess our sin as individuals and as the church.

In the book Blue Like Jazz which like many books I have started and slowly worked my way through a nibble at a time for quite some time, Donal Miller tells the story of constructing a giant confession booth on the lawn of his college in pacific northwest during a college festival. People would enter drunk and laughing and looking to make a mockery of the whole thing and then Donald Miller or one of his Christian friends would start confessing the hypocrisy of the church, the greed that has consumed TV preachers, the evil done in the name of Christianity etc.

The reverse confessional booth started an open and honest conversation with people on the campus who weren’t believers.

Like I said a couple of weeks ago, I have a hard time not justifying my actions when I’m wrong, much less when I can deflect the blame to other people.

Christianity is to be a message of confession, so let’s start there.

There are hypocrites in the church.

Much evil has been done in the name of Christianity.

There’s not justifying that, but let me give a little bit of explanation.

  1. There are false teachers who claim to be the church.

From the very beginning there have been people who want to take the words of Christ and twist them to their own agenda.

Because the words are powerful and bring people to listen and follow, there have been and are many people who have used the power of those words to fill their own bellies and pockets.

Paul was writing to churches within a generation of a Christ to deal with false teachers who have a desire to have the preeminence.

Jesus Himself would call out religious leaders who

6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,

7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.

14 for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

There are hypocrites who are hypocrites for a profit. They are playing the part to get something that they want, and it’s not only monetary, it may just be for praise or to be noticed or to get up in front of people.

1.There are false teachers who claim to be the church.
2.There are false believers who claim to be in the church.

Jesus said in Matthew 7 that there are people who will be quite surprised when they are not admitted to heaven. They will say, but we did this and that in your name! We served you!

21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

When we look at history, we see that there were people who did awful things in the name of Christianity. They committed crimes, they waged wars, and they did these things in the name of Christ when what they are involved in does not jive with the message of Jesus.

These were people who did not know the message of Christ.

These were people who had false leaders and teachers who had something to profit to by convincing that these things were in the name of Jesus and these people went along with the acts because they had been given false teaching.

15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

This is where I would categorize the crusades and the Salem witch trials. These people did not understand the message of Jesus, they were acting upon false teaching or propagating false teaching for their own benefit.

For example, the crusades were battles over the nature of Jesus’ death burial and resurrection. They were geopolitical wars.

People were fighting for land. In some instances for land that had been taken from them by muslims, in other cases for land that they wanted to conquer.

Rome had been conquering the world for generations before it became officially Christian or catholic, and the leaders framed their world conquest in the language of Christianity to garner support and money for their war efforts.

The same thing is done today. Watch a politician posture themselves to be seen as the common man.
I remember being a kid and a TN politician ran for his party’s nomination. As a kid I remembered seeing this guy on the news often and he was always in a suit and tie. When he ran for president he was always wearing a flannel shirt…

Tim Keller has well pointed out that the same could be said about the war in Northern Ireland between the Catholics and Protestants. The Catholics and Protestants would shoot on another and then go drink themselves drunk.

They weren’t fighting over the appropriate mode of baptism or the priesthood of the believer or for the right of clergy to be married.

They were fighting over geography and political power.

They wanted to be in control.

BTW, just as much of this wrapped up in misconception.

Dan Brown’s book Da Vinci Code carelessly claims that 5 million women were killed in the witch trials.

Carl Sagan said no one knows how many people were killed in the witch trials, maybe thousands, maybe millions.

That’s an awfully big maybe…

The truth is that about 40K (too many!) and that the Salem witch trials here in the US killed about 25 people.

Religion does not have a monopoly on extremist acts.

The greatest atrocities in the past 100 years have been carried out by dogmatically atheist regimes that rejected religion.

In addition to the people who have been led astray by false teachers, there are millions of people who have been told that if they whisper a prayer and go to church on Easter that they are a Christian, and it’s no wonder that these people don’t live lives that are consistent with the teaching of Jesus.

There are those that are deceiving others, these are those have been deceived or have deceived themselves.

Cheap easy beliefism and Nominal Christianity have led us to a place where many people who call themselves Christians have no idea what that word even means.

Several years ago a poll showed that there was no statistical difference between Christians and non-christians when it came to the following list:

Visiting Porn Sites
Theft and Pilfering
Consulting a Medium or a Psychic
Getting Drunk.

The only area where there was a enough of a difference to notice statistically was that self labeled Christians were 5% less likely to recycle….

1.There are false teachers who claim to be the church.
2.There are false believers who claim to be in the church.
3.There are sanctified sinners in the church.

In his book Mark Clark tells the story of when they started their church they were meeting in a school and they were outgrowing it and the parking lot. He got a call one Monday from a neighbor of the school who came out to find a guy parking in his yard. He told the guys he needed to move and the guy flicked him the bird and said, “F you, I’m late for church.”

Mark Clark says, that’s not how we teach our people to act, but when they first come to Christ that’s where they are at.

I tried to explain that many people come to our church who are far from God. That was all that man needed to decide what kind of church they must be.

Let me challenge you, don’t judge the merits of Christianity on the life of a Christian you know…

2 reasons.

  1. Their lack of holiness does not change the truth.

Leo Tolstoy pointed out well that if a man stumbles home drunk, his stumbling and his confusion does not change whether or not the way home is the way home.

He said, “If I know the way home and am walking along it drunkenly, is it any less the right way because I am staggering side to side?”

My stumbling doesn’t make the pathway any less true.

If we found out tomorrow that your high school physics teacher was a pedophile, gravity would still exist.

If we learned that your math teacher was a thief, calculus would still be calculus.

When my Pastor and the man who taught me how to prepare a sermon admitted to financial impropriety and sexual immorality, it cut me to the core, but it did not change the truth.

2.Their lack of holiness will not be on trial in the judgement. 

The problem of hypocrisy is a powerful one because we feel it so deeply, however it falls under the categorization that scholars refer to as a trivial objection –

“Focusing critical attention on a point less significant than the main point or basic thrust of an argument.”

Let me give you a real world example of trivial objection.

“Did you hit your sister?” “She was looking at me!”

In the end, when you stand before God, you will be on trial.

Your hypocrite neighbor will stand in his own trial.

The greedy TV preacher will stand in his own judgment (and Jesus says woe to you on that day)

You will stand trial.

On that day, you won’t be able to point out the flaw of another.

BUT you will have opportunity to point to the holiness of another.

If you trust in Jesus, he will stand trial for you.

Judge Christianity based upon it’s own merits. Search out Jesus.

Examine his life and his teaching.

“True Christianity doesn’t burn people at the stake or drown witches. It does not tear down or destroy enemies; 

it gives them a glass of water and washer their feet. 

True Christianity, rather than being the enemy of humanity is its only hope. 

The Bible calls us to judge the truth of Christianity by the life of its found, Jesus Christ Himself, not those attempting to follow Him, because in Him and Him alone will you find someone worthy or trust and imitation.”