Why Go To Church With Hypocrites?
I am often confronted with this statement when visiting with unchurched people I know or meet. It is a statement infused with much sentiment and I’m certain it seems to make sense to those people who draw upon it. It normally goes something like this, “Why should I go to church when they are a bunch of hypocrites?” I usually catch my friends by surprise when I agree with them. My church is full of hypocrites and they are led by a hypocritical pastor! Please allow me to explain. My experience has proven to me that we are all hypocrites to some degree. I do not always do what I should nor have I always fulfilled everything I have said I would. It grieves me and I am terribly sorry for my lack of consistency. And to this condition I must agree, I am somewhat of a hypocrite. This is what I call honest hypocrisy. I have realized enough about myself to know that I do not always practice what I preach. I want to do so and I am striving to do so and by the help of God’s Spirit I do so much of the time, but sometimes I fail. I am sorry. But this is not the type of hypocrisy that most people object to, for every honest person will recognize their membership in this group.
It is outright and blatant hypocrisy to which people so stringently object. It is a dishonest hypocrisy that does things in the darkness and lies about them in the light. This is a problem that must be dealt with indeed. So my response to those who object to hypocrisy in the church is to ask who these people are that are sinning so badly so we may pray for them and go confront them in love. Surely we owe these people more than standing at a distance and throwing stones at them while their backs are turned. And if we are not willing to go and lovingly confront someone who calls himself a brother in Christ but lives in outright disdain for the truth than we are not any better than they. For Jesus says, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5) We are all hypocrites to some degree. The difference between the honest, God-loving, God-fearing people in our churches who struggle with their hypocrisy and those who avoid church because they are supposedly avoiding other people’s hypocrisy is this: honest struggle. There may be some bad people who attend churches but they are certainly a minute minority in the churches I have pastored. The vast majority of the people I know in the body of Christ are seeking to live their lives to honor Christ and help other people. They live sacrificially to give of their resources for the sake of others. They struggle and agonize over any sin in their lives and seek to be holy as God is holy. One mark of a true Christian is that he realizes his need of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in his struggle with hypocrisy. He knows that we need accountability and that comes through other brothers and sisters among the family of God. To separate from this family would be disastrous. We need each other.
We must also remember that although the church is plagued by many imperfections she is still the church Jesus loves. The Bible says in Ephesians 5:25 that “Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.” In spite of all our imperfections Jesus loved His church so much that He died for her. There is no greater love than this, that He would lay down His own life for a bunch of hypocrites. And it is not enough for us to simply admire the faithful love of Jesus in His ultimate sacrifice from a distance. Jesus calls us to follow Him. He says in Mark 8:34, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” If Jesus loved the church enough to die for her, and we are called to follow Him, then we must be willing to at least be a part of a church. Otherwise we are not following Him. Every church is imperfect because it is made up of imperfect people. I once thought I had found “the perfect church” and once I joined as a member I ruined it! Every true church is a group of imperfect people saved from their sin by the perfect Savior. The only perfection among us is that which has been delivered to us through the death of Christ.
There is always some dishonest hypocrisy among some members. We should love them, pray for them, and lovingly confront them with the truth of God’s Word. If they will not repent then we must deal with them appropriately according to Matthew 18:15-17. Jesus says that if your brother sins against you then you should lovingly go to him and discuss the issue individually. If he will not hear you then you must go to him with two or three witnesses and seek reconciliation. If he still will not hear (if he insists upon living in blatant hypocrisy) then you must take it before the church. The church must then act authoritatively and if he still refuses to hear even the church then there is only one last biblical option, to exclude him from the church. I know this seems harsh in our culture but we must remember the damage that non-repentant hypocrisy causes. Jesus says we must treat this non-repentant person like a heathen and a tax collector. We do not hate heathens and tax collectors. We love them and hope they will come to true repentance, but they are people who reject God and His grace. They refuse to turn away from their sin and if they are allowed to continue as “members” of the church they serve to ruin the testimony of the church in the world. These non-repentant, blatantly hypocritical and dishonest church members are exactly the type of people who cause legitimacy to the claim of some that the church is filled with hypocrites.
My advice is twofold. To the churches I must say, please deal with the sin among you. Your inconsistencies may just be the millstone around your neck. Be honest with God and one another and the world, it will point us all to our need for grace which is found only in Christ. To those outside of a church I must say, please do not allow the faults of others prevent you from knowing God’s grace. God does not have any orphans. The churches are the body of Christ made up of His children. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12) You cannot walk with God if you separate yourself from His family. Those who object to being a part of a church because of hypocrisy in others may see a real problem, or they may just be using this as an excuse. Either way let us deal with hypocrisy honestly and make sure that we ourselves do not allow our own hypocrisy to prevent us from being a part of the kingdom of God.