Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
I have lost count of the number of times I’ve had someone say to me, I’d never go to church. There are too many hypocrites there. It leaves me wondering about this challenging topic of hypocrisy and the church.
Are there so many hypocrites? Mark Twain once listened to a selfish, dishonest businessman rave on about his big plan. He wanted to travel to the Middle East and read the Ten Commandments from the top of Mt Sinai. Mark Twain said, “I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you stay at home in Boston and keep them?” A brilliant answer.
The Bible teacher John Ortberg wrote in one of his books that, in one survey he heard about, 85% of unchurched young adults believe Christians to be hypocritical. Even 47% of young adults inside the church say the same thing. It is not a good state of affairs with so many feeling this way. What has happened? Where have we gone wrong?
The Original Meaning of Hypocrite
There is an interesting background on this word ‘hypocrite’. It comes from a Greek word associated with the theatre. Hypocrites were originally actors on the stage who wore a mask to show which character they were playing. The same actor could play several parts by changing his/her mask. A good actor can be so convincing that every member of the audience can completely forget that the actor is not the character he portrays. And so as the years went on the meaning changed to refer to people who play a role. It did not have the unfortunate connotation it has for us today.
Napoleon said, “I am surrounded by priests who repeat incessantly that their kingdom is not of this world, and yet they lay hands on everything they can get.”
To me, it seems unfair to say that the church is full of hypocrites, because I know a lot of people who have been faithful, genuine and authentic in their Christian lives, and they’re wonderful Christian people. There are many such individuals in all churches. But even those of us who have been Christians for many years have experienced times when our guard was down, and Satan shot his fiery darts, and sin was the result.
When a Christian Is Not a Hypocrite
So, I think there is a difference between a Christian struggling with sin and a hypocrite. A Christian struggling with a sin comes to God saying, God, this is a weakness in my life, and I need the help of the Holy Spirit to deal with it. God welcomes that prayer, and he promises to help. But the hypocrite doesn’t struggle to overcome his sin. He just tries to hide it from everyone and continues in life going to church, singing the hymns and saying the right words, but his heart is not in it. He says one thing and does another.
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A hypocrite is someone who not only does not practice what one preaches but a person who does the opposite of what one preaches. A parent holding a beer and smoking a cigarette who admonishes a child not to drink or smoke, for instance, may be viewed as being a hypocrite by the child. Fair enough!
(To be continued in Hypocrisy and the Church – Part 2)