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Volume 7, Issue 1: Presbyterion

All the Hypocrites in the Church

Douglas Wilson

othing worse than a bad time at church. And from the reports, it appears that many non-Christians have had some really bad experiences with the church. As a result, when many nonbelievers glance in the direction of Christ, there are many occasions when the view is obstructed by the "problem of the hypocrite."

For such nonbelievers, the problem of hypocrisy in the church appears to be an insurmountable one. Plainly, it seems, hypocrisy reveals Christianity for what it really isa broad collection of sanctimonious liars tied together in fellowship with a common set of superficial platitudeswhich platitudes are promptly forgotten when the car door slams shut in the church parking lot.
The objection requires an answer, and so the following is addressed to such a questioning nonbeliever, who believes that his objection to Christianity, on the basis of hypocrisy among professing Christians, is well-grounded and defensible. But, as will be suggested below, the real thing that commends it is a surface plausibility that keeps many from investigating the objection any further.
Here is the problem. We have all seen instances of true hypocrisy. What are we to make of it when pastors run off with other people's wives, when scandal surrounds the handling of finances by various ministries, or even when someone with a "Jesus is Lord" bumpersticker gives another motorist the finger? All these people call themselves Christians, and why should any self-respecting non-Christian want to be like them?
The short answer is that he shouldn't want to be like them. When we turn to the Bible, we find a great deal of teaching on the subject of hypocrisy. One such passage is found in Matthew 23. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites ! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matt. 23:27-28). If we examine this passage (and every other passage on hypo-crisy in the Bible), we find that hypocrisy is universally condemned. In no place does God praise the hypocrite. Nowhere does God encourage the fakes to keep it up through promises of great reward at the day of judgment. When Christ said His followers were the light of the world, this did not mean that they were to shine the world on.
Bluntly stated, this means that God and the hypocrite are on "opposite sides." God is opposed to the hypocrite, and the hypocrite is opposed to God. Now what does this mean? What is any nonbeliever who wields the "problem of hypocrisy" actually doing? He is refusing to serve God, continuing to oppose God, because the hypocrite also is opposing God. He continues to stay away from God because he dislikes how the hypocrites stay away from God. I hope it will not be thought uncharitable if I say that this makes no sense at all . This is like a citizen of the Soviet Union in the Cold War refusing to become an American citizen because of all the Soviet spies over here. Should we really applaud when someone refuses to join the other side because of obnoxious things people on his own side are doing? If there is a hypocrite between an individual and God, then obviously that individual is too far away from God.
The Bible goes on to teach that the hypocrite and the outside objector play off each other. Like two drowning swimmers clutching at each other, they both sink under the judgment of God. In the book of Romans, Paul first addresses, and condemns, the hypocrite. "You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? (Rom. 2:21-23). He then refers to those outside this arena of hypocrisy, those mocking the name of God because of real hypocrisy. "For 'the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,' as it is written" (Rom. 2:24). Obviously, it is a sin to blaspheme the name of God for any reason. But it is understood in Scripture that sinful men will seize upon the excuse of hypocrisy in others in order to continue their own rebellion against God. This blasphemy will be judged right alongside the hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy presents a pastoral problem for the church, but it is the same kind of problem as that which results from any other sin among the members of the church. It is a pastoral disciplinary problem, and not a problem for Christian apologetics at all.
What must be done with real hypocrites? We must at once limit our answer to real hypocrites who have been exposed in that hypocrisy. The Lord Jesus has given His church no warrant to attempt to peer into the hearts of others. The pretence of being able to do so is itself a species of hypocrisy. So then, what is to be done with someone who has made an open profession of faith in Jesus Christ, and has an equally open problem with sin? The biblical answer to this is formal church discipline. Such a person must be put outside of the church where he belongs.
Under church discipline, he must be sent to join his brothers in rebellion. Those who refuse to come to Christ because of "all the hypocrites in church."

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