Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Many people believe Christianity is an unreasonable and irrelevant faith, even intolerant and hypocritical. In a 5-part series, Simon Manchester responds to these claims one by one.
Part 4: Is Christianity Full of Hypocrisy?
A few weeks ago I was in a cafeteria and I got talking with a quite well known politician, and we got onto the subject of families and I explained to her that I was privileged to have five or six clergy in my wider family.
She said that her family was made up of many journalists. I said, with my usual tact, yes but clergy are better than journalists! And she said, and I thought this was absolutely terrific reply to me, she said: “yes but that’s your problem – you really think so”, and then she walked away. Ouch, touché. Before I left the cafeteria I went over to her table and I said: “I’m sorry I said that about the clergy, what I should have said is that we have a much better leader” and she said “absolutely you do”.
What is the public perception of Christianity? That’s my question this morning. What are critics, enemies and supporters thinking of Christianity? Are the critics or the enemies right to be annoyed by Christianity? Or are they prejudiced and biased? Are Christians their own worst enemies? Are we our own worst enemies? Or are we people who just happen to know our short comings?
On Sunday mornings, we are facing up to unbelief. Partly as a way of facing the real world and partly as a way of hoping to equip ourselves to think freshly and keenly and even confidently about the Christian faith. And God-willing maybe these talks, these messages, these ideas, these discussions in our small groups will go further afield into really useful conversations. These are not our normal Bible expositions.
One man was quite disappointed last week that he had not come to a ‘normal, standard, please open your Bible, we’re going to spend all our time in this particular passage’. What we’ve done in the last few weeks is we’ve looked at the question of whether Christianity is irrelevant – that was our first. I suggested that it’s hard to believe Christianity is irrelevant if life and death issues are important. And they are. Then we asked the question of whether Christianity is intolerant? And we suggested together that Christianity is very tolerant of people but it is intolerant of dangerous ideas or false ideas as it ought to be. Last week we looked at the question of whether Christianity is a leap of faith and I suggested to you that it is a reasonable thing to become a Christian, it’s a rational thing based on good information and Jesus never asked people to leap into the dark.
Now today – Is Christianity Full of Hypocrisy? It’s a very hard question to answer with one word. If you say ‘yes’ it’s full of hypocrisy, then Christianity looks like something you ought to avoid. It’s full of hypocrisy – leave it, get away from it. If you answer ‘no’ then of course you’ll appear to be naïve and deluded. Is Christianity full of hypocrisy? No, it’s not. Come on, do you read your papers? Do you live in the real world? Have you ever been near a church? Do you know a Christian? There is hypocrisy.
So it’s an important question, a very important question. I want to suggest to you this morning that your answer to this question will tell you whether you understand Christianity at all. It will tell you whether you understand Jesus. It will tell you whether you understand yourself and it is extremely important to be clear what you mean by Christianity before you say that it’s full of hypocrisy or before you say it is not full of hypocrisy.
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John Chapman tells a story of having read a novel on the Russian Revolution and going to a party and standing there and lecturing everybody around him on the Russian Revolution, now that he’d become a world expert because of this novel that he had read! He paused for breath after about an hour and a half to ask the man next to him what his job was, only to discover that he was the Professor of Modern History at Sydney University! It’s a dreadful moment to be in, really, isn’t it?
So just before you say I know everything about Christianity and it’s dreadful or I know everything and it’s wonderful, let’s just remind ourselves what we are talking about.
1 – Why the Church Should be Helpful and Why it Often Isn’t
I have 3 points which will surprise you. The first of them is, why the church should be helpful and why it is often not helpful. I want to look with you in John 13 about the most famous job or role or task which Jesus gave to the church to His people to Christians. It’s recorded in John’s Gospel 13:34. It’s not the only thing Jesus asked us to do but it is probably the most famous thing He has asked us to do and you may not this morning really trust the Bible, that’s OK, but nearly everybody agrees that this is a good job for the church to be doing.
It goes like this: Chapter 13:34 “A new commandment I give you, love one another as I have loved you. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you love one another”.
I don’t have time this morning to pause on the astonishing thing that Jesus would add a commandment. I mean who gave the 10? God himself. Here Jesus calmly adds Number 11. Nobody questions or comments. It seems perfectly appropriate, astonishing. I don’t have time to dwell on the type of love that Jesus is asking them to show but it is love like His love. He says you must love one another as I have loved you – and we know that in about 24 hours He would go to the cross and therefore the love that He is asking them to exercise to one another is the love which steps into the firing line and loses so the other one benefits.
I was telling some people yesterday that the photo of the Victorian Bushfires that made the biggest impact on me was a photograph, a large photograph in the Daily Telegraph which was of a house, a beautiful house, utterly spared by the flames. Around it for a long distance the place was totally burnt. Nobody had stayed, nobody had protected it, nobody had defended it. The fire had freakishly, miraculously just gone around it and left it alone and as I saw it, I instantly said to myself ‘that’s me on the day when the judgment comes – I will stand and the judgment will come and it will be harmless to me because it fell on Jesus when He died’. When He went to the cross He took on His back the judgment for sin that we deserve and when you call to Him and ask Him “be my Saviour, be my Lord”, the judgment day which is for most people up ahead suddenly moves behind you. What is judgment day for most people coming is now Good Friday behind you and you are able to walk through this world with no credit to yourself but knowing that what Jesus has done on the cross has lifted the judgment over and away, so that you can stand safe and secure and unharmed on that day.
That’s what Jesus is asking His disciples – I want you to love sacrificially, not of course that you’ll be able to save people but at least you’ll be able to serve people and the effect said Jesus is that the watching world will say – ‘you see those people, they must belong to Jesus, they’re disciples of Christ’.
So this is the job that Jesus gives His followers. He says ‘I’m leaving the world, I’m not going to be around anymore, nobody is going to see Me – who is the world going to be looking at?’ Answer: You believers. What is the world to make of you believers when the world looks at you believers? Answer: Let them see loving believers. Then they will say, “well they must be disciples of Christ”.
We Are Known By Our Love
Now believe it or not this plan of Jesus to be a loving church, to love one another has been very effective. You may have seen the documentary on Billy Graham last weekend. It has been 50 years since he came to Sydney and there was a massive crusade and tens and tens of thousands of people in most cities went to hear him. They were the largest crowd ever at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the largest crowd, I think, at the Sydney Cricket Ground, gathered to hear him.
Statistically about 1 percent of people in churches have come to church through crusades or special events like that; about 10 percent have come because they have done their own reading – books, Bible; 10% are in church because of crises where their world has come undone and they’ve suddenly realised that they are not as strong and secure as they thought they were; 4% are other various spectrum of possibilities why people become Christians; and about 75% of people in church have come because of other friends or relationships. It is the love – poor, weak, struggling, reasonably effective love, which brings most people to Christ. We still have to face the fact, however, the church has also been very ineffective and for some it has been a reason or even the reason for unbelief.
Before we think of the reasons for this, I want you to notice one more thing in John 13:34 (after verse 34). It’s another famous event which takes place immediately after Jesus has said “this is your job description to love one another”. Peter, virtually the number one disciple, you know what he does, he dismisses the idea that Jesus should even leave them and go to the cross and he says “Lord,” (verse 37) “why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you”.
Jesus answers (and this is what is literally said in the original language) “No rooster will crow till you have denied me three times”. Isn’t that an extraordinary thing to say! He’s not talking about one rooster around the corner. He says, no rooster will crow globally till you have denied me three times. And we know Peter failed miserably. The reason I’m putting this out to you is because Jesus launches his project which is that the church is to be loving, and to help people believe, using people like Peter – and he is not naïve about the people he has in his church. How can somebody look down the road with this fantastic plan to impact the world and plan that the church would be a world changing business and use people who are fundamentally hopeless and weak. How can you do that?
But Jesus does that and every Christian here this morning understands why these two can come together. A massively significant job which is to love one another and weak, frail people, every Christian understands this. And the explanation is that it is the greatness of Christianity that Jesus chooses the weak and the ungodly and the unlovely. The church is not a collection of successful people. The church is a collection of grateful people, grateful for Jesus. who have found in Jesus someone who welcomes them even as they are, accepts them, forgives them, adopts them. And when Jesus is faced with somebody who knows their need and says they are lost, welcome arms go out. When Jesus is faced with somebody who is proud and is “perfectly fine the way I am”, well what’s there to do? “Go your way”.
So if you look at Christianity and you say it’s weak and it is, well you might as well look at a hospital and say it’s full of sick people. But I just want you to keep this balance in mind as we consider some of the serious aspects of Christian hypocrisy that Jesus enlists people like you and me for a role and He knows exactly what we’re like. That’s one of the things that keep staggering me. The longer I go on as a Christian, the more I appreciate Him, the more I am discouraged by myself and I think that’s meant to be. I think that hand in hand I am meant to go on being very appreciative of Him and more and more aware how does He put up with me? There’s the first.
2 – Why Criticism of Christianity is Sometimes Right, Sometimes Wrong
The second thing this morning: Why criticism of Christianity can be right sometimes and wrong sometimes. This morning we must face up to the real hypocrisy which is in Christianity. It’s not enough for us to say – ‘OK, I’m pretty hopeless but Jesus loves me’, or the car sticker – ‘Christians aren’t perfect just forgiven’. There’s a licence to be an abusive driver if ever I’ve seen one! When it comes to the question of criticism aimed at Christianity, there are levels of emotion, aren’t there?
Average neighbour in our street, general community perception of Christianity, well what’s their thought? They will of course have read some stories of sexual abuse in the church, they may suspect a priest or a minister or moral failure or personal hypocrisy. They may discover that a well-known Christian or even a personal Christian friend has been involved in theft or dishonesty or has hurt them very badly, or they’ve met Christians or they’ve seen Christians on television and they conclude they are arrogant and they are bigoted and they are no better than anyone else because the fact of the matter is they are no better than anyone else.
And then of course there is more infamous historical material for the church to be ashamed of. Some people of course may think of the crusades from 1100-1300 AD with Christians fighting Muslims in the Holy Land, physically, militarily fighting Muslims. Or there are the witch hunts, the famous witch hunts of the 16th and 17th Centuries where the church hunted down mostly women for their wild behaviour, which could be anything from burning the dinner to being mentally deranged, and often had them tortured or burnt. Or think of slavery, which many Christians tolerated and encouraged and had to have their thinking completely changed and transformed. Or an easy target, the missionaries who go into various countries apparently to ‘Christianise’ but very often to ‘Westernise’.
Some unbelievers have these issues in their minds. And it isn’t just a smokescreen for them. They honestly say ‘I can’t understand how the church could possibly have done that’. And for many Christians, these issues are also inexplicable and we can’t understand, although we know that we ourselves are capable of almost anything, we can’t understand how the church could possibly march out in order to kill and harm people. We just don’t understand that ourselves.
One more type of person seriously damaged by Christian hypocrisy is the person who may have been traumatised or violated by someone or something within the church and it would be impossible for us this morning to list or to measure what this means for some people. It’s almost impossible for any apology or any compensation to heal what they have been through. In fact I think it is virtually beyond human help to deal with what some people have been through and only a great, gracious work of God will do this. I did happen to get a letter this week from someone abused as a child by four people who having become a Christian said that they now thanked God for healing, for restoration, for forgiveness, no bitterness and great joy. God can do that.
But to help us face the accusations and the genuine criticisms which are either general or academic against Christianity, we need to know some basic principles if you are going to be able to stand up and say something helpful and not just bow your head and walk away and say ‘yes, it’s a disgrace – it’s all finished’. Jesus certainly did not think so.
Four quick principles for you.
A Lot of Hypocrisy is Not of Jesus at All
First, a lot of stuff done under the Christian flag had absolutely no connection with Jesus’ instruction. In fact it’s the very opposite. And a lot of it is more institutional than real Christianity. The Crusades are an excellent or perfect example of this. One of the Popes actually enlisted people with a promise of salvation if they signed up. Nothing could be further from the gospel which teaches that a person needs to know that they are incapable and always will be and must receive salvation as a gift. To say nothing of the fact that Jesus said that those who take the sword and fight by the sword will die by the sword. They actually contradicted the very words of Jesus, institutionally.
Second, a lot of things which are done on a small scale, like a choir master running off with a choir member or church people mishandling funds or fighting or that sort of thing, often, often, not always but often it’s cultural or nominal Christians who don’t really know Jesus at all. They have a seat in the church and they’ve got their name on the roll but they don’t have the name in God’s Book. They do not have yet a personal relationship with Jesus, they’ve never been changed. Now it’s perfectly possible for a Christian to do anything, that’s the sad thing. We shouldn’t believe that all that is published and presented as being done by so-called Christians is done necessary by the person who is authentic and has a personal relationship with Jesus. There is a lot of nominal stuff going on and Jesus himself said in Matthew 7 “there’ll come a day when a lot of people will come up to me and say – ‘Lord, Lord, we did this and we did this’ and He will say – ‘I don’t know you. We don’t have any relationship. It doesn’t matter where you went and what you did – I don’t know you.’ Nominalism.
A third principle is: to check the facts in case there is prejudice. The witch hunts are a good example of this. I’ve done a little reading this week on the witch hunts. I normally wouldn’t read on this subject but first of all I’ve discovered numbers were hugely exaggerated. People would talk about ‘millions being burnt’. Sometimes it would end up being 100 over many, many years. In Essex, for example, we have some lovely Essex people here this morning, there were 80 apparently who were killed over a span of 100 years.
Now we wouldn’t want to applaud anybody being unjustly tortured or killed but I just want to point out to you that sometimes the numbers, the statistics can be totally exaggerated in the interest of the point being made and compared with some of the extermination camps that took place in the 20th Century. That’s positively tiny.
The second thing to remember with the witch hunts is that often it was the social courts, not the ecclesiastical courts which were ordering these executions. One writer called Hugh Trevor Roper, who is not a Christian, has said in general the established church was opposed to the persecution of witches. And one great leader who you won’t be at all surprised to hear was often criticised for his attitude to the witches and encouraged their torture and burning, was Calvin, who took the complete opposite view – had tremendous compassion on the people of his area and wanted the women to hear the gospel so that they might be wonderfully saved and delivered from a great deal of their trouble.
Dianne Perkis is a feminist, expert in the subject of witches (there’s a thesis; there’s a life for you!). She is the scholar, feminist, witchcraft scholar, Dianne Perkis, and she says this: “Once upon a time there was a woman who posed a threat to the fearful. Her medical knowledge threatened the male doctor, her simple true spiritual values threatened the superstitious nonsense of the Catholic church and so the inquisition descended on her and cruelly tortured her into confessing to lies. She was burned alive by men who hated women along with millions of others just like her.” This is what Dianne Perkis goes on to say: “Do you believe this story? Thousands do, it is still being re-told, it is compelling, it is horrifying. However in all the essentials, it is just not true.”
The church Faces Real Opposition
We need to be very careful therefore and my fourth point is this: You must grasp that although the church does fail to live up to its instruction from Jesus, it is also very much in the firing line from some perverse opposition. We know that Jesus, who is perfect, received the most atrocious treatment. If the church, even at its best, rises to some kind of usefulness, it’s going to be persecuted.
I think I have told you but I remember asking our Archbishop Peter Jensen, when he was getting some dreadful articles, and any of you who have ever met Peter or Phillip Jensen will know that they are absolutely lovely people. Sit on a train with Peter or Phillip and you will find yourself with a warm friend, a godly and consistent couple of men. But they are effective, they are useful, they cut ice, they actually make things happen and it’s no wonder therefore they get a lot more abuse than most people. They are up on a pedestal. They are basically going to have stuff thrown at them.
I remember saying to Peter Jensen on one occasion “what do you do with the abuse that comes in the paper? It’s impossible for you to answer it”. He said “they just don’t understand”. I thought it was a fair and compassionate answer. We need to remember that a lot of stuff that will come to the church and the Christians and especially those who are godly in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, is going to be fairly perverse, in some cases evil. Jesus said ‘the light has come into the world, people prefer darkness’. No wonder they will attack the light.
Room For Followers and Room for Critics
This brings me to my last thing this morning: Why Christianity has room for followers and room for critics. I want you to look back in John 13 – what does Jesus say before the new commandment and before Peter’s boast? Jesus said something very remarkable. He says (verse 31) – remember He’s leaving the Supper and He’s about to go out and be arrested and crucified – “Now is the Son of Man, the Messiah, to be glorified”. He could have said “I’m about to be crucified” but He says “I’m about to be glorified”. Why does He say “I’m about to be glorified”? Because when Jesus was hammered up on the cross, He called out to the entire world “there’s someone who loves the sinner, there’s someone who loves the person who knows there’s a gap between what they know and what they do”. There is a solution for the person who’ll wake up and say there is a chasm between what I know and what I do. There’s nothing much for the person who is deluded and naïve and self-righteous and says there’s no gap between what I know and what I do. That person doesn’t need anybody apparently, but for the person who says there is a gap between what I know and what I do, there is one called Jesus who on the cross was glorified.
It’s very hard to know what to do with a person who says “I’m fine, I don’t need Jesus”. What can you say to them? You’re just travelling to God, you’ve got a million sins on your back that you don’t even know about. You’re going to suddenly find yourself in front of Jesus. You’re going to have no forgiveness. You’re going to have no future, no hope whatsoever. It’s very like the man in the story that Jesus told who was always finding someone else to criticise, never seeing their own desperate need and never seeing Jesus’ remarkable gift: forgiveness, adoption and a future for which He paid.
Now the person who sees their own hypocrisy, and that’s most of the people who come into churches, and who stops seeing everybody else’s hypocrisy, the person who turns to Christ, the person who welcomes the gift of Christ and who is adopted by God, that person in the end is going to be filled with great joy for having recognised hypocrisy in me.
There’s Room for More Hypocrites
Is the church full of hypocrisy? Not quite. We have a few seats down on this side, we have a few seats down on this side, and we can take a few more hypocrites! We can take you, we’ve got some seats for you and when you take the seat, you’ll be helped to hear of Jesus, the saviour of sinners, and when you take hold of Him, you will really be full of joy.
Let’s bow our heads and pray.
Our Heavenly Father we want to ask again this morning that you would forgive us for the gulf between what we know and what we do – for the inconsistency. We ask you would forgive us for the hardening of our heart, the carelessness, the damage – please forgive us.
We also want to thank you this morning for the Lord Jesus, perfect, faithful, consistent who died in our place and rose again and gives to us that wonderful gift of forgiveness, adoption and a future.
We thank you for Him, our hope, solution, our security and we ask our Heavenly Father that you would help us to better represent Him as we live for Him. We pray that you would cause many to be drawn to Him. We ask it in His Name – Amen.
- For more in this series, head to ‘Facing Up to Disbelief – A 5-Part Christian Growth Series’.