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10 Questions That Skeptics Ask

Part 8: Why are there so Many Hypocrites in the Church?

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

Part 7: Doesnít Science Prove Evolution, and Not Divine Creation?

(3/4)  Introduction Ė The Problem Ė There are Pretenders Among Us Ė

In the late 1990ís there was a TV show that was my favorite for the first 3 of its 4 years. It was called, The Pretender. It was about a genius named Jarod, played by Michael T. Weiss, who was able to assume any personality or occupation, while running from those who wanted to capture him. The opening scene each week had a lady in a hospital asking him, "Are you a Dr.?" His response was, "I am today." The opening bi-line by a narrator said, "There are pretenders among us." Do you remember that?

A couple of years later in 2002 Steven Spielberg put out a movie called, Catch Me If You Can. It was based on the life of Frank Abagnale Jr.,who, before his 19th birthday, successfully performed cons worth millions of dollars by posing as a Pan American airlines pilot, a Georgia doctor, and a Louisiana parish prosecutor. His primary crime was check fraud; he became so skillful that the FBI eventually turned to him for help in catching other check forgers. The movie starred Leonardo DiCapria and Tom Hanks. Frank Abagnale was a real life Pretender. There are Pretenders among us.

What does this have to do with questions that skeptics ask? It really has a lot to do with it. Church attendance is at a very low point, if not perhaps the lowest in our nationís history. Young people are dropping out and people are not visiting churches as they once did. When surveyed as to why they donít attend church or have dropped out of church many have replied that they donít see Christ in those who claim to follow Him. Responses often sound like this, "There are too many hypocrites in church." If Christianity is real, why doesnít the church look more like Jesus? Think about it for a moment. In light of political elections over the last 40 years, how are evangelical Christians portrayed? Do political analysts refer to us as those who are humble; who love people and want to show that by caring for the hurting and lonely and rescuing the lost? I think not. It is my opinion that we are portrayed as judgmental, political, unloving, legalistic, grace-less, and known more for what we are against than what we are for. Coupled with this are the scandals that have occurred in both the Catholic and Protestant Churches over the last 30 years of child sex abuse, adultery, money schemes and more and it is easy to see why many are skeptical of Christianity and the Church. While this image may have been portrayed by only a few, it is, none the less, a problem that we need to address. "If Christianity is Real, Why are there so Many Hypocrites in the Church?"

I. The Definition of a Hypocrite ĖOpen your Bibles to Matthew 6. In October 1991, Readers Digest posted this definition of a hypocrite. "A hypocrite is someone that complains that there is too much sex and violence on his VCR." Jesus had little patience for hypocrites and in the 23rd chapter of Matthewís Gospel, He unleashes His most harsh criticism on them, warning them of the hell that they were surely facing for their hypocrisy. Through out the four gospels He warns us to not be like the hypocrites, like this one in Matt. 6. Notice that three times He tells us here, "Donít be like the hypocrites when you: do Charitable deeds (1-4); Pray (5-14); or Fast (16-18).

A Hypocrite refers to someone who wears a mask. It was a word used to describe an actor. In the Greek Theater during Jesusí time, actors wore masks. Like those that you might see if you watch an old 3 stooges show. The masks would appear in the corner of the credits. A Hypocrite was an actor and thus a word used for Pretenders, (Reminds me of that song from the Platters in the late 1950ís, "O yes, Iím the Great PretenderÖ" but I digress). A hypocrite is a pretender and sadly, there are pretenders among us. The cartoon Pogo once said, "We have met the enemy and he is us!"

II. The Pretenders Among Us.

A. Professors pretending to be Possessors

These are people who are religious; who go to church; who may even teach, but they do not have a personal relationship with God. They have not been born again. They do not possess the Holy Spirit. These may have been baptized, christened, or confirmed, but they have never truly humbly repented of sin and submitted their lives to the Lordship of Jesus. I honestly believe that some enter the ministry as a profession, perhaps wanting to make a difference in the world but have never entrusted their lives to Jesus. Look at the guys in Matthew 7:21-23, where our Lord says to these who say they have done good stuff in their ministry, "Depart from me, I never knew you." Or, compare the Pharisee in Luke 18 who reminded God what a great guy he is. I can give you two more examples:

  • Martin Luther
  • John Wesley

Both became believers after they were in ministry for a while.

Then there are men and women that have pretended to be Christ-followers just to get that guy or girl to marry them. Some, maybe even some of you, come to church, sing the hymns, and say, "Amen," in order to make mom or dad, or your husband or wife happy. You are pretending to know and love Jesus but you donít really have a personal relationship with Him. You are a pretender. The evidence is that the fruit of a changed life is not evident in your life. You look, talk, act, and think like the rest of the world. This reminds me of the story of the Crow that wanted to be a Pigeon. He had seen how the farmerís wife would feed the pigeons bread crumbs each day and He envied them. So he tried to disguise himself by rolling in the farmers lime pile, but was detected by the farmerís wife when he hopped instead of wobbling and she shooed him away. So he practiced his wobbling but was again detected when he heard other crows cawing and he responded with a "Caw, Caw," and again he was shooed away. So, he practiced his talk and his walk but was detected again when he went for the dogís meat scraps instead of the bread crumbs and was shooed away by the farmerís wife. He pretended to be a pigeon but his walk, his talk, and his appetites revealed him for what he really was - a Pretender.

B. Religious pretending to be RighteousĖ These are people who may have honestly begun a relationship with Jesus having repented of sins and believed in the gospel of the cross and resurrection but over time have become self Ė righteous; that is, they rest their faith in what they do or donít do rather then in their relationship with Jesus. Characteristics of this kind of hypocrisy are:

  • Caring more about what people think then what God thinks. Notice that in both Matt. 6 and 23, these hypocrites do what they do to have the applause or approval of people. Their charity, their prayers, their spirituality is all for show. It happens and it can happen to any of us. We all want the approval of others so we may often do what we think will gain the approval of our family or peers. In church, we may only listen to the approved music, wear the approved clothing, read the approved Bible version, or minister to the approved people, because what will people think? It happened to Peter. Denying the Lord wasnít the only time Peter messed up. In an incident, I think he wished he could do over, Peter became a hypocrite. Paul tell us about it in Galatians 2:11, "Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?" Peter was the guy that broke tradition and went to a Gentileís home to share the gospel and started a new tract of ministry for the church (Acts 10). This was revolutionary and He was even called on the carpet for it (Acts 11). However, on this one occasion, having just eaten a ham with the Gentile Christians, he quickly withdrew himself from them, as did Barnabas and others as well, when Jewish leaders came to town, and then he would only eat Kosher because He cared more about what they thought then what God or these Gentile Brothers felt.
  • Substituting Tradition for Godís will (Matt. 15 cp. Isa. 29:13). That is we become pretenders when we carry on traditions that are not biblical as if they are sacred and Godís will. Consider that there are people who think that worship must be only with certain instruments, certain style of music, and at certain times. It must always be the way that we have always done it. Rabbiís must always wash their hands ceremoniously before they eat. Where did that come from? Possibly from the priests in Lev. 22:6-7 who were required to wash before eating certain things, but this is not something addressed in the Bible Saying the Apostleís Creed, the Lordís prayer, always following the prescribed order of service, from the preferred hymn book, with the preferred Bible, and the preferred lectionary, may make us feel religious and give us a sense of having done the right thing but it doesnít make us right. We are merely measuring ourselves by our own standards. Now, doing the things prescribed above does not make one a hypocrite and they are not wrong until they become just a religious substitute for worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth. Consider Isaiah 1 and Amos 5 and others where God says, "I am tired of your religious stuff, I want your worship," or Isaiah 29:13, where God says that, "their lips show much love but their hearts are for from me."
  • Hearing Godís Word but Not Doing It (Ezekiel 33:31; James 1:21-25) - It is possible to attend church every Sunday, praise your preacher and seldom or never do what the Bible teaches. Often, we feel as if we have done our religious duty for God by attending Church, yet we forget that Godís plan is not that we just go to church but that we be the church, that is, that we would be the continuance of the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus. However, if we are not serving one another, or ministering to the poor, or telling others about Jesus, then we are just pretending as followers of Jesus
  • We pretend when we live by Sight and not by Faith; That is, we trust God only for things we canít control. We are all going to die, so we will trust Him for our eternal future; but giving our resources in a radical manner, trusting Him to care for us as we do His business is not what we are comfortable with. So, we still plan our budgets and our ministry or lack of it by what seems to make sense or seems possible to us. But people of faith are supposed to be people who first seek Godís will and then trust Him to provide for that will as we trust and obey Him. Contrast Abraham with Zachariah. Abraham believed God for an impossible child, Zachariah did not. He didnít believe God would do what didnít seem possible. Do you?
  • We pretend when we live for the Present instead of the Future. That is when our primary concern is making money, retiring, having more and more stuff that we are just going to leave to our children and they will take it to the landfill or the thrift store, or sell for pennies at a yard sale. Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-34, that we canít serve two bosses and that we shouldnít store up treasure on earth, but store up your treasure in heaven and trust the God who loves you, to take care of you.
  • When we donít practice what we preach. When we intentionally commit known sin, whether it is sexual, intoxicating, lying, or whatever, and we try to hide it or deny it, that is hypocrisy. (Cp. Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5).
  • When we portray church as a country club for perfect people, instead of a hospital for hurting people. Sometimes we portray ourselves that way and we are inviting for "our kind," but those who are different, hurting, or even sinful, donít want to come to us for help because they donít see or feel the grace of God in us. Like Matthew 9, when Jesus was criticized for hanging out with sinners, and He reminded the religious elite, that it isnít the healthy that need a Dr., it is the sick. I have spoken to more than one person who because of a divorce, rebellious children, or a failure in life, etc., found the church to be judgmental rather than healing. We forget that we were all hurting people that found grace and hope, and acceptance with Jesus, instead we have grown to believe that church is where we dress okay, when asked how we are, we say, "Okay," when the truth is our lives hurt, and rather than find encouragement and strength from family we often feel like we must have something wrong with us.
  • Do you see yourself anywhere in here? I hope not. But the fact is, there are such pretenders among us. Many have simply forgotten that our Lord has a tremendous purpose for His church and as a result Christianity has become a religion instead of a vibrant relationship with the living God. We have forgotten that we are to be the body of Christ that carries on the life and ministry of Jesus in the world. He came to make the invisible God visible, to demonstrate Godís love and concern for people, and to seek and to save the lost with the good news of His salvation. That, my friends is what we are supposed to be and to be doing. Thatís why we believe that the purpose for the church can be reduced to 3 primary commands in the New Testament.
  • Love God with all you being (Matthew 22:37-38) The Greatest Commandment
  • Love People Like Jesus Loved us (Matthew 22:39-40; John 13:34-35) The New Commandment
  • Love the World that Jesus died to redeem (Matt. 28:18-20, Luke 24:46-48; Acts 1:8) The Great Commission

III. The Positive Side of the Problem

A. For every pretender there are as many or more genuine followers of Jesus who are doing their best to grow to be like Jesus and who want to love others as Jesus.

B. For those who ask and for those who have may have fallen, remember, Christians arenít perfect- Just forgiven. As long as we are in these bodies and on this side of heaven we are going to wrestle with our own desires and temptations and we are going to mess up occasionally. A friend of mine used to say, "Christians are not sinless, but they should sin less." Jesus was the only perfect person. The rest of us are flawed. I like the Gaither song that says, "Heís still working on me, to make me what I ought to be. It took Him just a week to make the moon and the stars, the sun and the Earth and Jupiter and Mars. How loving and patient he must be, cause Heís still working on me." Paul said, I havenít reached perfection yet, but Iím working on it (a paraphrase Philippians 3:13-14). Not all sin makes us a hypocrite.

C. Christianity is based on the person and work of Jesus Christ, not the performance of Christians. We are accepted by God by trusting in whom Jesus is and what He did on the cross and His resurrection, not because of who we are or what we have done. Praise God. Amen?

IV. Practicing Genuine Christianity Ė What can we do so that we donít portray the image of a pretender? What can we do so the community will look at us as a church and say, "They are the real deal?" It requires some honest introspection as Psalm 139:23-24

A. Am I genuinely born again (John 3:3-7)? Do I have a personal relationship with the Living God or do I trust in some religious activity or some past event.

B. Do I seek to honor and love God with all my being or am I just trying to impress people? Do I have Godís honor in mind whenever I do anything (1 Cor. 10:31)? Do I seek to follow God and obey His word no matter what? Do I walk by sight, or by faith? Do I just listen to the Word or do I obey it? Do I base my faith on some tradition or on His Word and the example of Jesus?

C. Do I love people like Jesus loved me? Do I seek to serve others or do I want people to serve me (Matt. 23:11)? Do I love those who arenít really loveable or just my own kind (Luke 6:32)? John said, "The one who says He knows Jesus should live like Jesus" (1 John 2:6) and how can you love a God that you canít see if you canít love your brothers that you can see (1 John 4:20-21). Do I forgive those who have hurt me or am I bitter?

D. Do I care for the poor and hurting even if their condition is their own fault; or, am I doing something to relieve their pain?

E. Do I keep short accounts with God and with Man (Acts 24:16). That is; when you mess up, are you quick to clean up without rationalizing or trying to justify your actions? Do you confess and seek forgiveness when you are wrong, without making excuses? This goes along way in showing people the difference that Jesus makes.

F. Do I show Grace to those who have fallen or who are going through tough times, even if its of their own doing? Knowing that apart from the Grace of God none of us would have any hope.

G. Do I see others as more important than myself or do I need the preeminence (Matt. 23:1-12)? Letís close by looking at Matthew 23:12. "And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Maybe today would be a good day to rededicate yourself to the one who loved you and gave himself so you might have His life. Letís pray, for Salvation, and for Renewal.

Part 9: What About Good Works, Donít People Have to be Good to Go to Heaven?

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman

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