How many times have we heard people say something like, “I don’t go to church because everyone that goes are nothing more than a bunch of hypocrites.” This is one that is used quite frequently by those that have no use for organized religion. Another one that you will hear is, “I’m spiritual but not religious,” but that’s a whole different blog. Lets stick to the argument that everyone who attends church is a hypocrite. First it would be helpful to define exactly the meaning of the word hypocrite. My trusty new Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary tells us that our word hypocrite comes from the Greek word hypokrites, which means, “actor”. The official definition that Webster gives is,“A person who puts on a false appearance or virtue of religion. “ We have all seen this at one time or another.
N.T. Wright the former Bishop of Durham states quite emphatically, “hypocrisy has had a bad press.” This bad press according to Wright makes it difficult to approach the issue of hypocrisy with a level head. He goes on to say that some hypocrisy is impossible to escape, necessary for any Christian and should be welcomed and even embraced. So, this means that when we hear this argument that all Christian folk are hypocrites we according to Bishop Wright should answer yes, probably most of them are.
When people make the comment, “I don’t go to church because everyone that goes is nothing but a hypocrite” what they are really saying is that we Christians profess something on Sunday, but do much differently on Monday thru Saturday, and so in fact are no better off than those who don’t go to church. The impression that is given here is that it is much better not to go to church than to go and profess one thing and do something entirely different. This is a belief that it is better to have a lower standard and not go to church than to have a higher standard and profess one thing and then just do the exact opposite. There are a myriad of reasons as to why people don’t attend church, and no doubt hypocrisy is one of the top reasons as to why people don’t go.
As a minister in the United Methodist Church and a pastor of a local congregation I have a vested interest in people coming to church. I stand up week after week and proclaim God’s word and lead the people before God and seek to be true to my calling and responsibility as a United Methodist Minister. I take serious this calling and responsibility. I on a daily basis have to keep in check that spirit of hypocrisy that we read about in the Gospels that the Pharisees had. This spirit of Pharisaism is an easy trap for those of us who attend church, and especially those of us whose vocation is the ministry.
Remember, from the New Testament the Pharisees were the group of religious leaders who liked to go around saying fancy prayers for everyone to here, they liked people to know how dismal they felt when they fasted, and how much money they were giving to the poor. As Christians, we are commanded to give, pray, and fast. These are healthy spiritual practices that all Christians should engage. The problem is when pride enters in the equation. It wasn’t what the Pharisees were doing that was the problem, but it was the spirit in which they did them. If we are constantly having to be thanked, recognized or told what a great job that we’re doing then we might have a little problem with hypocrisy. You see, we are more comfortable equating hypocrisy in the church with issues of whether or not we should have a glass of Champaign at the wedding that we just officiated, or drink a cold one with our evening meal. This is not what Jesus was talking about when he talked of hypocrisy. As Bishop Wright says, “This is the anatomy of hypocrisy, the hypocrisy Jesus is attacking. It’s motive is pride; it’s motive is outward show; it’s message is self – righteousness. It’s results are the hollow praise of others; the overturning of God’s true standards of righteousness; the deceit of those who look on, and the judgement of God.” Let us do all things in the spirit of love…