Are Christians hypocrites?


(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

Many of you have asked me to keep you posted about the Ask Your Question community I lead at my home church.

Our mission statement is this - “Ask Your Question is a community where skeptics, seekers, doubters, the hurting, the curious — and their friends — can build strong friendships as we respectfully explore important questions about Christianity.”

Each week there are nonbelievers in attendance as well as Christians who are learning how to share their faith with gentleness and respect, as well as with credibility and thoughtfulness. We place significant emphasis on our character formation and our conversational approach because without a loving approach, the right answer is of little value.

Here are the notes from my talk this Sunday on “Are Christians hypocrites?” I hope you find it useful in some way.


Today we’re addressing the question, “Are Christians hypocrites?”

To set expectations, I am not going to try and give a comprehensive answer to the ins-and-outs of this question. We are only trying to seek the truth together in a respectful way.

I mean, I can fairly answer this question by saying, “Yes, Christians are hypocrites” and we can call it a day, beat the traffic, and get to lunch early. In a book by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons they state, "Eighty-five percent of respondents between the ages of sixteen and twenty-nine” said Christians were hypocrites.

I mean, do we really need to discuss this for another hour?

So, question answered! But I think we’re all here because we think there’s more to say than, “Yea, Christians sure are hypocrites!” We think there’s more to it than that. So, let’s have a good conversation about it. Let’s seek the truth in a respectful way.

As one other prelude, I think it is fair to say: please don’t be a hypocrite in our discussion. Let’s be genuine and sincere with one another, showing respect and kindness, and giving one another the benefit of the doubt. I don’t want to hold you to a higher standard than I hold myself - once you get home with your family or friends, feel free to go back to being a hypocrite! You can talk to my wife and she can give you some examples of how I do this.

And that raises the question: what is hypocrisy? We need to define our terms.

Here’s how Merriam-Webster defines the word:

1: a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion

2: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings

Another definition I found - a person who does what he condemns others for doing.

OK….

So, this week I spent two days with my good friend Lisa Fields of The Jude 3 Project. I recommend you check out her podcast and website - amazing resources. If you’re taking notes, again, it is the Jude3 Project.

One of the things she is doing is tours of HBCUs - Historically Black Colleges & Universities. The way they start their events is with a “Talkback” session, where they turn the microphone over to the students, let them share their opinion first, and then they share a response to what the students have laid out. Then they end with Q&A.

I thought this was a really interesting idea and wanted to try it out today.

So talkback to me - are Christians hypocrites? And second - so what? If Christians are hypocrites, Why does it matter?

:::TALK BACK SESSION:::

(Possible lines of critique)

1 - Politics: President Clinton - immoral, impeach! President Trump - he’s like King David, nothing to see here.

2 - Sexuality: We should be sexually pure, LGBTQ activity is wrong. The church seems okay with promiscuity, porn, no-fault divorce, and other sexual sins.

3 - Consumerism: I’m a Christian insofar as it benefits me. Prosperity gospel, social mobility, networking, dating, etc. Doesn’t seem to reflect the idea of “love your neighbor as yourself” much less “love your enemy” that Jesus teaches. The contrast between the life of Jesus, the humble servant, and Christians - seeking power and popularity in a selfish way.

4 - Bad personal experiences: I did business with a Christian and he ripped me off, etc.

Wrap up: Ok, thanks everyone! Here’s what I heard from you…

FIRST POINT: Jesus agrees with you!

Let’s look at Matthew 23. Matthew was likely written by one of Jesus’ original disciples. It was probably written within 30-50 years of Jesus’ death. Here’s what we read in Matthew chapter 23:

Matt. 23:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Matt. 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

Matt. 23:16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

Matt. 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

Matt. 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

Matt. 23:27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Matt. 23:29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Matt. 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Whoa. Jesus is quite clear - religious hypocrisy is despicable to him. Why? Because it confuses people about who God is. The people who claim to represent God - when they fail to do so - are guilty of a great crime against God. In fact, when hypocrisy is unchecked, when it becomes a full-blown vice in a religious group, those so-called religious leaders will become violent and even be willing to murder people who DO faithfully represent God! And so, obviously, Jesus is steadfastly opposed to hypocrisy in all of its forms.

Yet… he was willing to suffer and die for the sake of religious hypocrites too. As he says, "How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Even as he speaks forcefully about how hypocrisy displeases him, he tenderly expresses his desire to love and transform the hypocrites themselves. Amazing.

SECOND POINT: The early church agrees with you!

Let’s look at Acts 5:1-10. Acts was likely written by Luke, who was a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul. Because of this, Luke had access to the original disciples, and the first disciples of the original disciples, and was able to compile significant eyewitness testimony about the life of Jesus and the start of the church. Here’s his record of a pivotal event at the start of the church. In Acts chapter 5 we read:

Acts 5:1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

Acts 5:7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

In this story, we see that both Ananias and Sapphira wanted to look generous and gain status in the church. But the truth is, they were being selfish. And in a stunning way, God reveals his opposition to using good deeds to gain status with a deceptive heart. At the start of the church, it is of the utmost importance that the followers of Jesus are genuine, sincere, and honest in their faithfulness to God. Otherwise, this kind of hypocrisy would undermine the legitimacy of the good news and the start of the church.

So let’s discuss.

What are the implications that we are in agreement - that religious people are often hypocrites and this is totally wrong - with Jesus and the first disciples?

Sum up the conversation, thank everyone for their contributions.

Here’s what we’ve discussed so far:

  1. Christians are hypocrites in many ways

  2. God is staunchly opposed to hypocrisy - yet is willing to love and transform hypocrites

So - what’s the alternative to hypocrisy?

What’s the alternative?

One option is: Lower your moral standards: I’m a bad person, don’t expect anything good out of me.

—> I doubt any of us would find this to be a good alternative.

But just in case… please raise your hand if you are committed to low moral standards.

No one? Ok… well then…

Here’s another option: Integrity.

That is, I am and I will be a good person - consistently - without deception or pretense - and without judging or looking down on others.

So let’s say that we are all committed to being people of integrity.

A significant question we face is this: How will we manage to have integrity without hypocrisy?

Here’s what C.S. Lewis, a famous Christian author, said about the pursuit of integrity:

No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.

Graham Marsh, a pastor in the UK, explains the challenge of integrity and hypocrisy this way, ‘Hypocrisy is not falling short of a standard. Hypocrisy is covering up that you say one thing and do another. The opposite of hypocrisy is not perfection, but authenticity. The authentic Christian is one who is open to God’s transformation. But all Christians are works in progress.’

This idea of being a work in progress, or being a complete realist about the challenge of avoiding temptation, seems to be at the heart of authenticity, at the heart of integrity.

In other words, if we say, “Hey, I’m a good person, consistently, and it isn’t that hard” - that seems, on the face of it, to be a hypocritical statement. It seems like a moral posturing that makes you look better than you really are. It is the kind of approach that most of us, if we’re skeptically-minded, would want to say: would your kids agree? Would your spouse agree? Would your best friend agree?

If we’re all committed to being people of integrity, then I would suggest that there are two basic approaches to this challenge:

The first is this: I am good enough and strong enough to be a person of integrity.

Most religions, and atheism, are about trying harder. All the burden of being a good person rests on your own shoulders. Let’s say you’re successful at this - quite an accomplishment! To be a uniquely virtuous person by your own hard work - I think that might lend itself to pride. You will be morally superior to others, and if you recognize that fact, then you may look down on others for not being as good as you. Sadly, this will lead to a judgmental attitude, which will undermine your efforts to be a good person.

Alternatively, if you are weak, poor, disabled, socially awkward, unattractive, addicted - the idea of pulling yourself up to a place of spotless moral virtue may not seem like such a good idea. You’re at a significant disadvantage in a competitive race to the top. You’ll lack the professional counselors, the life coaches, the successful peer group, the financial resources to ease your path to virtue.

The other problem is this - if we are all trying to be good on our own strength, aren’t we also trying to be good by our own definitions? On the one hand, that’s pretty convenient - I decide when the race starts, where it ends, and what a winning time looks like. No wonder I am doing so well. This makes morality convenient - rarely do you hear materialistic, greedy people talking about - and demonstrating - the virtues of radical generosity. People who regularly gossip about others will get quite defensive if you point this out. People with a short temper, who get angry quickly, don’t seem to think that gentleness and patience are that important - after all, people need to know when they’ve done wrong! And so on.

On the other hand, it dissolves the problem of hypocrisy. By whose standards am I a hypocrite? Your standards? Why do your standards apply to me? Maybe it is my standards that should apply to you!

So if we say, "I will be a person of integrity on my own strength” I would suggest that we face at least four major problems:

  1. If we succeed, this can lead to pride

  2. It is a privileged attitude that isn’t fair to those who start the competition in worse circumstances

  3. It is hopelessly relativistic. This makes morality a matter of convenience.

  4. And because it is relativistic, it also ruins the challenge of hypocrisy - by whose standards am I saying that you fail to be a good person?

But let’s discuss -

Do you think there is a possible path to integrity on your own strength?

:::DISCUSSION:::

Summarize the points.

Ok, good points all around. We may find ourselves agreeing to disagree. And that’s okay too. As we started, we aren’t giving a comprehensive answer, but seeking the truth together in a respectful way.

So we want to be people of integrity? What’s the other option?

I think it sounds like this, “With God’s help, and the help of other Christians, I will intentionally develop a life of integrity"

Here’s how the Apostle Paul explains the path to integrity. Paul wrote most of the New Testament letters. Before he became a Christian, his name was Saul, and he persecuted the church as a passionate, nationalistic Jewish leader. He was so opposed to the Christians that he participated in murdering them. Then he had a dramatic conversion on his way to Damascus - a personal encounter with Jesus - and he gave the rest of his life to starting and building churches. As part of that ministry, he wrote letters to the churches he founded. One of those churches was in Galatia.

We should listen to him on this question because Paul personally knew the difference between a bad life and a good life! He went from being a murderer to sacrificing his life to serve others. He went from giving beatings to receiving beatings. He went from high social status to low social status. He went from pride and violence to humility and love for his enemies. He went from being a hypocrite to becoming a person of integrity.

In Galatians chapter 5, and into chapter 6, here’s what Paul writes:

Gal. 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Gal. 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Gal. 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Gal. 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

There’s a simple but profound clarity to Paul’s message. If you do what is evil - you are opposed to the Spirit of God. You are living by your own strength. But if you wish to do what is good, this is the natural result of living by God’s power. The only way to do what is good is to be dependent on and surrendered to God’s strength.

This advice may not be true. I’m not arguing that that Bible is true today. But I will argue this: Paul’s advice is the enemy of hypocrisy.

We are confessing: in my own strength, I am not a good person. To be good, I need God’s help. To continue in goodness, I need God’s help. Apart from God helping me, I will fall back into bad habits.

And not only do I need God’s help, but I need the help of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I need them to point out where I am caught in transgressions and to help me to follow Christ’s commandments.

I would suggest to you that this is what authentic Christian discipleship is meant to look like.

Let’s discuss - at least two questions -

1 - Do you think Paul’s advice, if followed, would successfully address the problem of hypocrisy?

2 - If Christianity were true - and I’m not saying right now that it is true - would you be interested in living like this? Would you be willing to have God help you be a good person? Would you be willing to open up your life to examination from others, so they could help you be a good person? If not, why not?

::DISCUSS::

Summarize the discussion, thank everyone for their contributions.

So far, here’s what we’ve discussed:

1 - A hypocrite is:

1: a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion

2: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings

2 - Christians are often hypocrites and this is very unappealing

3 - Jesus and the early church were opposed to hypocrisy - yet loved hypocrites and yearned for them to be transformed into genuine lovers of God and others

4 - If we say, "I will be a person of integrity on my own strength” we discussed four major problems:

  1. If we succeed, this can lead to pride

  2. It is a privileged attitude that isn’t fair to those who start the competition in worse circumstances

  3. It is hopelessly relativistic. This makes morality a matter of convenience.

  4. And because it is relativistic, it also ruins the challenge of hypocrisy - by whose standards am I saying that you fail to be a good person?

5 - The Christian way is to say, “With God’s help, and the help of other Christians, I will intentionally develop a life of integrity"

When it comes to the topic of hypocrisy, I think there’s one final point we need to discuss:

Don’t get distracted.

We live in a culture where “What I feel is real”

Os Guinness, a Christian “public intellectual” who is pretty well known among many Christians, explains it this way:

There is an important difference between the source of a truth claim and the standard by which it should be assessed. It is therefore wrong to reject a claim just because of the character and condition of its source. . . . The issue is always truth, and truth is not a matter of where someone is “coming from” or how oddly or shabbily they have behaved in the past before making the claim. . . . If the Christian faith is true, it would still be true even if no one believed it, or if all who did were hypocrites; and if it is false, would still be false even if everyone believed it and there was no apparent hypocrisy in their behavior (196).

When we encounter hypocrites, what we feel is: what they say is a lie. They don’t really mean it: just look at their lives. They say Jesus is Lord, but they live as if they are in charge. I don’t see any evidence of a transformed, attractive, loving, humble lifestyle.

That feels real. And it is a powerful, though emotional, objection to Christianity!

But, we are seeking truth together in a respectful way. And Os Guinness has a legitimate point, “If the Christian faith is true, it would still be true even if no one believed it, or if all who did were hypocrites; and if it is false, would still be false even if everyone believed it and there was no apparent hypocrisy in their behavior.”

So I encourage you to come back next week! We have more objections to consider and more facts and reasons to investigate. Plus, we’re having fun…

Since we have some time left, let’s discuss:

What other thoughts do you have about hypocrisy - and finding out what is true about the purpose of our lives?


(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #2

I appreciate this post, @CarsonWeitnauer. I am edified. I love the distinction made between hypocrisy and authenticity. There’s a tendency for people to say that someone is a hypocrite by mere virtue of falling short of a standard. If people don’t want to follow hypocrites, then everyone is a hypocrite, then there’s no point in following anyone. Another thought that is coming out of my mind is that this distinction will help or foster authenticity to those who had learned it, since they will see the importance of integrity. They will affirm what the Bible says that we all had fallen short, and there are things that we do not want to do that we do, and things we ought to do that we don’t do, and yet we do our best to fight our corruptions in God’s power. We are a work in progress and long for the day of glorification where we will no longer experience the struggle of sin inside of us.


(Melvin Greene) #3

Sorry for coming in late on this discussion, @CarsonWeitnauer. I’m still trying to play “catch-up”.
This is a great topic and I really appreciate your post, Carson. The subject of hypocrisy in the Church is, of course, a real problem. I’ve talked to many atheists who claim that is one reason they don’t believe in God.
@omnarchy, I like what you said: _Another thought that is coming out of my mind is that this distinction will help or foster authenticity to those who had learned it, since they will see the importance of integrity. They will affirm what the Bible says that we all had fallen short, and there are things that we do not want to do that we do, and things we ought to do that we don’t do, and yet we do our best to fight our corruptions in God’s power. We are a work in progress and long for the day of glorification where we will no longer experience the struggle of sin inside of us. That is one part of my answer to people who raise the hypocrisy issue.
Another angle that I come at this is that the word “hypocrite” is derived from the Greek word “hypokrites” which is the term they used for stage actors, or one who pretends to be what he is not. The Bible tells us that we are to be like Christ. We are to imitate Jesus. This idea was coined in the catch phrase, “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD) The Bible also tells us that we need to “put on Christ”, or to put on the appearance of Christ; much like an actor dressing the part of the character he or she is pretending to be. We as Christians are to be “hypokrites” of Christ. We know, and should readily admit, we can never be exactly like Christ. Just like actors who practice so they can portray the character as realistic and believable as they possibly can, we as Christians are to continually practice being like Christ so we can be as realistic and believable as we can. Another idea that would fit here is that in counseling, counselors will tell clients that emotions don’t always reflect reality. There are times when they need to “act” contrary to what they are feeling. If they continue to act contrary to their feeling, eventually their feelings will fall in line with their actions. So, using that idea, the more we act like Christ the more our feelings will become like Christ. To put it a bit differently, the more we behave like Jesus, the more we will think like, and love like Jesus.