If you’ve done any evangelism at all, if you’ve shared you faith with a living human being, you’ve probably been confronted with what must be the most common evangelistic dodge known to man: the Hypocrisy Gambit.
We’ve all heard the excuse. “Why should I go to church? It’s full of hypocrites.” It’s used so often that one can’t help but conclude that it must be included in The Unbeliever’s Guide to the Universe. How else can you explain its universal popularity? … unless it’s true.
The problem is, the charge of hypocrisy in the church is true all too often. Many of us are in fact hypocrites. We say one thing while we do another. We’ve taken “do as I say not as I do” to new heights. Our children and our neighbors have seen through the smoke and mirrors of our shallow faith and many are looking for answers elsewhere, answers that actually make a difference in the lives of those who believe them.
Hypocrisy shows its ugly head in many ways. Sometimes it appears in the form of our dress. “Christians dress this way,” we say while sporting our three piece suits (anyone remember those?) and quaffing another strong beverage to take the edge off our nerves. Hypocrisy voices its opinion in our cars as we tell the kids to obey our rules or else while we disregard the speed limit, red lights, and common sense. Hypocrisy goes to work with us where we talk about how great church was yesterday as we spend countless ours surfing the Internet avoiding the work for which we’re paid, making copies of our daughter’s homework for which we don’t pay, and loading up our briefcases with office supplies that will be used anywhere but in the office for which we could never repay. “Here, use this cool pen with my company logo to write your tithe check.”
That’s why the Hypocrisy Gambit hurts so much. We know it’s true. The good news for the lost is, however, that they should fit right in. Many of those who fire the hypocrisy shot across our bow are all too familiar with hypocrisy. They’re hypocrites, too.
While unbelievers complain of Christian hypocrisy, they not only recognize it, they demand it. In fact, they want it because our hypocrisy allows them to live in theirs.
Consider for a moment the experience of a group of American Christians. Several years ago one of
When they did, many of our neighbors, and most of the media, cried “foul!” “How could you?” they asked. “How narrow-minded,” they complained. You see, lost people don’t want Christians to be consistent because, in the end, it will force the lost to deal with their own sins on a new level. So, they badgered, “Go back to your hypocrisy so we can live in ours.”
Or, consider the case of President Bush. Set aside his politics and your approval or disapproval of his administration for a moment and consider his stated desires to be a consistent Christian. He was public about his faith. He was honest about the role of God in his personal life and his intention to allow his beliefs to impact his actions. He didn’t want to be a hypocrite.
For his desired consistency, the media lambasted him. “Keep your faith out of your politics,” they cried. “There’s no place for religion in the White House.” “Separate your church from our state.” “Keep your religion private,” they counseled. When he didn’t, they attacked. It’s not that they couldn’t deal with a Christian president. What they couldn’t tolerate was one who might be consistent in his faith and action. Instead, they wanted a hypocrite because then he could more faithfully represent them as well.
The sin of hypocrisy is not limited to the church. Hypocrisy is a common fault. It began with Adam when he claimed innocence in the Garden and continues to this day. Are there hypocrites in the church? Unfortunately, the answer is “yes.” The good news is, however, there’s room for plenty more. The best news is that God changes hypocrites, if and when the lost quit being hypocrites long enough to admit they aren’t what they claim to be: innocent of hypocrisy.
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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