How to answer people who say Christians are all hypocrites – Apolgetics 101 – No.16

This weeks apologetic article on Christian Today

While the Church is one of the greatest ‘apologias’ for the gospel, it is also often the weakest link. How many people say they cannot believe the gospel because they see those who say they believe acting in a way that is contrary to their profession of faith?

In other words they are hypocrites. And nobody likes hypocrites.

Just think of the politician who campaigns on ‘family values’ while conducting numerous affairs, or the businessman who supports a charity arguing for economic justice while paying a pittance to his underage workers, or the sportsman who wins a sporting award while taking drugs.

Then there are the hypocritical statements of those in public life, who attack someone while they are alive and laud them when they are dead. Or the national hypocrisies – this April more than 400 African refugees died in attempting to cross the Mediterranean. The story appeared in a few newspapers but was quickly overtaken by the death of the pop star Prince. Granted he was a celebrity and in our celebrity culture his death is more newsworthy, but why were buildings not lit and numerous column inches devoted to the 400 rather than to the one?

As a society we talk about equality, but ironically it appears that in our media world, death is not the great equaliser – it is the ultimate way of showing who really matters.

All you have to do is pick up today’s newspaper to see numerous examples of hypocrisy. So why is it considered such a big deal when it occurs within the Church? Why is it such a ‘defeater’ belief?

It’s because we are held to a higher standard.

This is not a new problem. Augustine warned in his City of God: “The heretics themselves also, since they are thought to have the Christian name and sacraments, Scriptures, and profession, cause great grief in the hearts of the pious, both because many who wish to be Christians are compelled by their dissensions to hesitate, and many evil-speakers also find in them matter for blaspheming the Christian name, because they too are at any rate called Christians.”

Hilary Mantel in Wolf Hall has her main character telling the King: “May I suggest to Your Majesty that, if you wish to see a parade of the seven deadly sins, you do not organise a masque at court but call without notice at a monastery?…What I cannot stomach is hypocrisy, fraud, idleness – their worn-out relics, their threadbare worship, and their lack of invention. When did anything good last come from a monastery?”

Anyone with access to the internet will soon come up with enough stories of hypocrisy within the Church to turn anyone off Christianity. Whether it’s church child abuse being covered up, financial fraud or sexual scandals, there is more than enough to justify the charge.

When U2 sang ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’ during the Joshua Tree album tour in the late 1980’s, one line in that song stood out – [TV evangelists] “stealing money from the old, the sick and the poor…well the God I believe in isn’t short of cash, mister”.

The fact that people use religion to exploit other people is clear. The sadness for me is that the beautiful Good News of Jesus is distorted and perverted in this way. Bono explained his revulsion as a believer to this kind of behaviour: “I go to America and I turn on my television set, and I start sweating profusely because these guys have turned faith into an industry. It’s appalling. It’s ugly – the guy’s hand is virtually coming out of the television set.”

It’s not only religious people who use religion to make money. A church in London asked me to debate Christopher Hitchens, something I would have been delighted to do. He agreed and it looked as though we would be able to go ahead with it, until we received the demands from his agent: two first-class return tickets from New York to London and $50,000. When the church said that that was still way beyond their means the agent said that churches in the US were prepared to pay that kind of money. More fool them. (It is beyond ironic that Richard Dawkins and his supporters are happy to accuse those who dare to write challenging his words of being “fleas seeking to make a living off a dogs back” while he himself has made millions rehashing old, tired arguments about the non-existence of God, and how those who say they believe in God are either ignorant or just out to make money.)

So what is our answer?

1. Recognise that we are all guilty of hypocrisy. When someone tells me that the church is full of hypocrites I agree with them and then invite them to church, pointing out that they would fit in very well! The existence of hypocrisy in the church is just further evidence of the Bible’s teaching that we are all hypocritical sinners.

2. Understand what Jesus thinks about hypocrisy.  “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men'” (Matthew 15: 7-9).

3. Be thankful that Jesus died for hypocrites. It is while we were still his enemies, while we were still faking it, while we were ‘inauthentic’, that Christ died for us. His blood cleanses from all sins – including hypocrisy. The trouble with hypocrisy is that once you have started you can’t stop. One lie leads to another until your whole life gets built on a lie. You can’t destroy it all and begin again. But Christ can. Those who trust in him are forgiven, reborn and set free to serve.

4. Get real with Christ. When asked about hypocrisy in the church I always ask the questioner: “But do you know any real Christians?” In my former church in the village of Brora, in the Scottish Highlands, I was astounded at how it was always the same people who were mentioned. Wee Margaret, Big Margaret, Ross the lorry driver, Angus the carpet fitter, Big Donald the Mill worker…people who lived unpretentious, unglamorous lives for the Lord. In some people’s eyes they would not be regarded as special. In the Lord’s eyes they were his saints – his precious jewels. And in the eyes of many in the world they were recognised as such. Men saw their good deeds and glorified their Father in heaven.

Christ gives us the freedom to be real. We don’t need to pretend to be better than we are. We know what the Bible says about our sin. We don’t need to crave acceptance and plaudits from the world, because we have been accepted by God. We know that it is pointless putting on the hypocrite’s mask because our all-seeing God knows us better than we know ourselves. At last we are free to be real – in all our beautified ugliness.

In a world that hypocritically condemns hypocrisy in the Church, the only answer to that charge is for real Christians to live out real lives serving our real Lord. Before I became a Christian I had lots of mocking questions, answers and accusations for Christians. The answer that blew me away was seeing and experiencing real Christianity among real Christians. Their lives asked me questions that I could not answer and ultimately led to their source – Jesus Christ. Some Christians ask for power to perform great miracles, or give great talks, or donate great sums of money. I just ask for power to live a real Christian life. Lord, grant holiness, not hypocrisy.

This weeks recommended books: Real Christianity, William Wilberforce (Baker Publishing Group); Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith, Todd Wilson (Zondervan).

David Robertson is the moderator of the Free Church of Scotland and director of Solas CPC, Dundee. Follow him on Twitter @theweeflea.

 

For others in this series go to

Apologetics 101

 

 


11 thoughts on “How to answer people who say Christians are all hypocrites – Apolgetics 101 – No.16

  1. David,
    Just two points …
    The old established churches in Scotland and around the world have lost their way and for the most part no longer are the church, which, as you likely know, is first born (or re-born) in and through the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men and women. Should we therefore be overly concerned about hypocrisy in ‘The Church?’ Hardly, for it’s always been that way.
    Second, you would likely know Sinclair Ferguson, likely very well, If so, then he’s an example of the greatest Scottish treasure, Christ living in the heart of His true saints and messengers. From John Owen and John Knox to this present day of true preachers as exemplified in Robert Murray M’Cheyne, William Still, Sinclair, Eric Alexander, Derek Thomas, Ian Hamilton, Alistair Begg, Steve Lawson (with roots from Knox’s day) and others in the UK, USA and abroad, how can anyone who is sought of God and raised up in the new birth to go wrong?
    Who can disbelieve their word, for on their knees before the living God and amid fears and doubts in their own ministry, they can look out over the world and know with certain confidence that the Spirit will hold sway not only in their own lives, but in those who God will separate out for the enactment of His will in their hearts.
    Hence that we need not be concerned about hypocrisy in the world of what remains of Christendom. For the enemy has been slowly unleashed and for sure would entice us all with such controversies that in effect have about as much power as a powder puff when the Lord Himself is dwelling in our hearts and directing every step in our lives.
    What think?

      1. Then you are a privileged man indeed. For Sinclair remains faithful to His calling in Christ, and will speak of things righteous ’til the end. Might we all be guided by the Holy Spirit … so much so that the machinations of all established denominations are wrought nought in favor of the living Word wherever the Lord guides it. After all, the church is found in the hearts of men and women, and not, as we know, in any system or building.

  2. Check out Real Christianity Sean Kehoe, he was a lawyer, sold his business and has written books you can download free from his website. Audrey Ewing

    Sent from my Sony Xperia™ smartphone

  3. I sometimes think hypocrisy gets a worse press than it deserves.
    It is one of the very, very few sins our society recognises, but to be free of it is not necessarily as wonderful as it sounds. As Dr Johnson said, hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. A man, or a society that has none may only have ceased to believe in vice, or to think it worthwhile to hide it. Hypocrisy is the product of shame, and as the same gentleman also said, “where there is yet shame, there may in time be virtue”.

  4. It’s the tu quoque fallacy in action. I recently heard an atheist state tha religion caused a lot of deaths in wars and a Christian tried to rebut with examples of Stalin and Pol Pot, falling head first into the fallacy. Making the charge of hypocrisy is valid, but it does not rebut the logic of the original criticism.

    Some Christians are not very nice, some dreadful things have been done in the name of Jesus. Pointing out that others have done the same or worse doesn’t rebut that criticism.

    Your general point that there is a positive Christian message – that should be your focus.

  5. Hypocrisy is a real problem but quoting Hilary Mantel is not a very useful way of illustrating it. Serious historians regard Ms Mantel’s ‘history’ as little better than fiction. Putting the words quoted in Cromwell’s mouth is an example. Cromwell was hardly an unbiased source of information about the state of the monasteries. Modern historians recognise that the blackening of the reputation of the monasteries was done for largely political or religious motives. Many of the ‘black’ stories about the monasteries were just made up. People were prepared to make up anything to get at the wealth of the monasteries. Certainly, religious life in many monasteries was probably less devotional than it should have been but there were many monasteries where the religious life was still strong. Witness the cruel and barbaric executions suffered by the monks of Charterhouse because they would not accept that the King could over-rule the Bible on the issue of marriage nor make himself head of the Church. On second thoughts, only those with a very strong stomach should read what was done to these devoted monks.

    1. Err, Hilary Mantel is a novelist, Mike,
      so it’s hardly surprising that historians would treat her fiction as, well, fiction. So should we all and so has David done here. We read, ‘Hilary Mantel in Wolf Hall has her main character …’ and we know that we are not to think that we are dealing with an historical record.
      I think what you are referring to is the perception of an anti-Catholic bias in
      Wolf Hall but David has used the quote as a good example of anti-Christian invective. If you want a sort of literary antidote to Hilary Mantel, I suggest you read The Man on the the Donkey by H. F. M. Prescott, but we surely all have a more pressing need to find an antidote to hypocrisy in our own hearts.
      Perhaps it was to stop us from pointing the finger at one another that David quoted a fictionalised account of an historical character who was in time hoist by his own petard.
      Yours,
      John/..

  6. Affiliation and regeneration are not one in the same. Neither is a church building in secular definition, contrasted to the body of Christ according to biblical definition. Therefore one who claims the faith, without the fruit of repentance has never taken root in “The Way.”

    Jesus said, “you know a tree by is fruit”

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