“I would never be a Christian; they’re a bunch of hypocrites.” “I am not going to have anything to do with church because it is full of hypocrites.” These statements are typically made by people as an excuse when declining an invite to church or as a reason to leave the church. The unspoken assumption here is that sin is ok; it is only wrong when you try to cover it up – “I like to get drunk, but at least I admit it.” People can make the argument, “the church is full of hypocrisy”, perhaps to make themselves feel better, but it will not absolve them from moral responsibility.
What Is Hypocrisy?
The word hypocrisy originated in the Greek language as a theatrical term. One actor often played multiple rolls in the same play by disguising himself with a series of masks. The actor was called a “hypocrite” because he had two or more faces. The idea of a person being “two-faced” evolved, describing someone who said one thing and did another.
Hypocrisy is a front – it is a person who pretends to be more righteous than he is. A hypocrite lives a lie; he tries to make the outside appear better than the inside. It involves deception, dishonesty, and trickery by a person that is a fraud or a con. Why does the hypocrite live his life as a charade? He seeks praise and approval from others or has a desire to be well-liked.
Is Hypocrisy Serious?
Yes! When the deception of a hypocrite is exposed, many people are hurt, disappointed, and disheartened. There are a large number of people in the world who want nothing to do with God, Jesus, or the church because they have been deceived or misled by Christians. A hypocrite not only can cause the loss of his own trustworthiness but the integrity of others he associates himself with is at stake (i.e. church).
Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) that religion would not get a person into the kingdom of heaven, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) Jesus commands us not to be hypocritical in our giving (Matthew 6:1-4), our prayers (Matthew 6:5-15), and in our fasting (Matthew 6:16-18).
On almost every occasion where Jesus is found rebuking hypocrisy, His words are directed at the Pharisees and Scribes (the teachers of the law). In Matthew 23, Jesus had some very strong words of condemnation for the Pharisees and the teachers of the law:
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3 So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.
15 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
27 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Jesus took a stern position with regards to the sin of hypocrisy. The teachers of the law and Pharisees appeared holy, religious, devout, and beautiful on the outside, but inside there was the greatest measure of corruption. Those who would have others believe that they are passionate for the commands of God are those whom Jesus refers to as being full of hypocrisy.
Are All Preachers Hypocrites?
Regarding the religious leaders of the day, Jesus told the crowds and his disciples in Matthew 23:3, “But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” Do all pastors practice what they preach? Pastors are often singled out as being the most hypocritical of all people. They must live with high expectations from their church and the Bible warns that they “will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1).
Undoubtedly there is no preacher who practices perfectly what he preaches. A pastor has been called by God to preach the truth from the Word of God. If he could only preach on the subjects he has mastered, he would have very little to preach about. When a pastor is delivering a sermon, he is proclaiming the Word of God, and it is directed to not only the congregation, but to himself as well.
Are all preachers hypocrites? Like any other sin, there are preachers who fall into the sin of hypocrisy. We must keep in mind that he is required to preach the entire truth of the Bible and this responsibility does not make him a hypocrite. If he claims to perfectly practice all that he preaches or portrays a Pharisee-like self-righteousness, we can call him a hypocrite. Like the Pharisees, God will judge ungodly leaders, who not only reject Him, but who lead others to their eternal destruction.
Is The Church Full of Hypocrites?
“It's nice to know that God has rounded up all the hypocrites and put them in church buildings — at least on Sunday mornings — so that all the people in the world who have pristine motives and clear consciences don't have to put up with them.” (John Roberts)
What are the reasons behind the accusation?
The words "sinner" and "hypocrite" are frequently confused. A person will observe a Christian sinning, and then label him a hypocrite. The assumption is that a person who claims to be a Christian never sins, “Christians aren’t supposed to sin; don’t they claim to be perfect?” In reality, the church is full of sinners. In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16)
In order to become a Christian, a person must recognize they have sinned against God (Romans 3:23; Proverbs 20:9), understand the consequence of sin (Romans 6:23), ask forgiveness for sin (Acts 20:21; Acts 3:19), believe that Jesus Christ died for all man’s sin (Romans 5:8), and trust in Christ alone for the redemption of sin (John 3:16; John 14:6).
A Christian has been called by God to live differently than the world around them (1 Peter 1:15-16; 1 John 2:15-17), but He has not called us to be perfect. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-9)
"The Christian church is one of the few organizations in the world that requires a public acknowledgment of sin as a condition for membership. In one sense the church has fewer hypocrites than any institution because by definition the church is a haven for sinners. If the church claimed to be an organization of perfect people then her claim would be hypocritical. But no such claim is made by the church. There is no slander in the charge that the church is full of sinners. Such a statement would only compliment the church for fulfilling her divinely appointed task." (R.C. Sproul, Reason to Believe, p. 78-79)
Most Bible believing Christians who truly understand the Gospel will say with the apostle Paul, “I am the worst of sinners.” They are sinful; they recognize their sin, confess their sin to God and actively seek to become more Christ-like. One reason we go to church is to receive spiritual nourishment through prayer, worship, fellowship, and the study of God’s Word.
If you meet a Christian who claims to be perfect and you want to call him a hypocrite, go ahead, I have no problem with that. To call a Christian who is struggling with sin a hypocrite is unfair and a wrong assumption.
Is The Church Empty of Hypocrites?
The second reason the church is accused of being full of hypocrites is because there are, indeed, hypocrites in the church. The church may not be full of hypocrites, but there are some Christians who are guilty of the sin of hypocrisy. Christians are guilty of all kinds of sin and are not above pretending to be more righteous than they are.
However, not everyone who attends church is a Christian. In the same way, not everyone who professes to be a Christian is a true believer. In Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus predicted that the church will always have a mixture of true believers and false. Hypocrisy of faith in the church happens when a person makes an insincere profession of faith and joins the church under false pretensions. They may go to church to maintain a certain social status or because their family and friends attend. Word of mouth is a great marketing tool and some people may attend church to build customer contacts with the goal of increasing sales or promoting their business.
I recently read the testimony of an ex-Christian (professing atheist) who explained that although he stopped believing in God a long time ago, he continues to attend church with his family because he “likes playing in the church band.” He also added that Christian people were nice and good people to hang around.
"Some “unbelievers” are church members not because they willfully and deceitfully give a pretense of faith but because the church neither requires nor makes clear a decisive confession of faith. In their zeal to gain membership or be all-inclusive in spirit, some churches ignore their own standards for membership. In this case it is not the individual “unbeliever” who is being hypocritical but the church itself who misleads or misinforms the applicant for membership." (R.C. Sproul, Reason to Believe, p. 79-80)
Jesus Christ Was Not a Hypocrite
Sadly, people have been burned by the church and/or religion. They have been hurt or disappointed and it has left a bad taste in their mouth. A Christian or a pastor has let them down and they “will not ever set foot in a church again.”
Figuratively, the church is the actual body of believers ("body of Christ" - Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:12) and the brick and mortar building we call “church” is where they gather to worship. There are countless different churches and denominations led by pastors who are sinners and attended by people who are sinners. “As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10)
If we are honest with ourselves, we are all hypocrites to some degree – any time we present ourselves as better than we are, it is a form of hypocrisy. We must remember that the purpose of the church is not to bring praise or glory to its members; the church exists to praise, honor, worship, and obey Jesus Christ.
Therefore, the ultimate question of hypocrisy must be focused on Christ. Don’t judge Christianity or the church by what Christians do, but by what Christ did. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth as a man (living without sin) to secure the salvation of mankind.
If you have been let down by a Christian, pastor or church member, perhaps it is time to find another church, but your faith should not rest in man. When considering the eternal destination of your soul, don’t let the actions of sinful man determine your commitment or distract you from the Gospel message. Jesus Christ was not a hypocrite, in Him there is no deception, no dishonesty; in Him there is only truth.
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24)
In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3)