From time to time I’m in a position where I’m asked to defend the church. Sometimes that means that I have to try to give an intellectual defence for the content of the Bible or my interpretation of the content. Depending on who is asking the question, it’s not always easy, but those kinds of questions are more or less in line with my education and training. Sometimes it means that I am asked to defend the validity of the church in society, and in the challenge it is directly or indirectly stated that I need to defend my position of leadership within the church and the salary that I collect as pastor. I might need to set my ego and emotions aside for that one, but that is also more or less within my professional capacity. It gets tricky when I am asked to defend the people of the church.
It likely doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that churches are often accused of housing hypocrites. Ie. that there are people in our churches who claim to live a life of piety and yet their words and actions tell a different story. Maybe it’s some people in the church that get that label, and maybe it’s everyone in the church. It’s most damning when that accusation comes from former members of the particular church, children of members of that church, or current attendees whose loyalty to the church and the faith is wavering. This sense is so strong that there are a large number of people who claim a Christian faith, who are happy with the contents of the Bible, and who strive to follow Jesus, and yet they refuse to congregate with other Christians because they don’t think they can find a group of other believers that isn’t full of hypocrites.
I hope they are right. I hope that every church they find, whether it meets in a sanctuary, in a home, or in a bar, whether it’s part of a denomination, entirely independent, or some officially interdenominational, whether it is led by a pastor, a team of volunteer, or a speaker who only ever connects through a video screen, is full of hypocrites. I hope they meet a group of Christians who set as their example and guide the most perfect human being that’s ever lived and then are honest about not being able to live up to their claim to follow that example.
Every church that I have ever attended or worked at has been full of hypocrites, full of people who seek to follow Jesus’ example and still allow hatred, discontent, strife, impatience, bitterness, animosity, harshness and sin rule their lives. Some of these people, by choice or circumstance, have their hypocrisy revealed to the rest of the church.
I know it sounds like I’m making light of this major problem and very legitimate complaint by disenchanted. The problem with hypocrisy in the church isn’t in the presence of sin, but in the claims of its absence. As long as there are fallible human beings in your group, there will be sin, and any church worth attending will have people striving to attain the ideal. So, yes, I hope your church is full of hypocrites. Not the kind that hide their sin and celebrate their own goodness, but those that strive for goodness and own up to their failings.