After talking with a couple of people (my “little” from Big Brothers Big Sisters being one of them) about what they think about the church and why they don’t go I keep getting hit with the saying, “The church is full of hypocrites.”
Here is a perfect example of what hypocrisy is and isn’t as written on Wikipedia’s website (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypocrite)
“For example, a doctor who smokes yet advises a patient that smoking is dangerous to one’s health is not incorrect in this advice merely because the doctor also smokes. Also, a doctor who truly believes smoking is dangerous yet smokes is not a hypocrite simply because he/she practices dangerous behavior. Instead, to accurately label as hypocrite a doctor who advises patients that smoking is dangerous, the doctor would have to actually believe smoking is not dangerous yet in front of others pretend to believe the opposite, regardless of whether the doctor also smokes.”
Using this understanding of hypocrisy I do not see this happening in abundance in local churches. The preacher would have to be telling people that homosexuality is wrong yet in his own heart and mind be convinced that it is not. Whether he is engaged in homosexual behavior is secondary to what he thinks verses what he says. Hypocrisy is not the right word to use in describing how people view those who make up the body of believers in a church who are not living by the standards that are preached or taught. Instead, it needs to be shown in a different light what is happening, and I will try to do that here.
Since I have NOT read a lot of writings on this I am going to go with the one that I am familiar with, C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. Within the hypocrite argument is the presupposition that everyone should be “neatly divided into two camps-Christian and non-Christian- and that all the people in the first camp at any given moment should be obviously nicer than all the people in the second”, according to Lewis.
He argues that this is invalid on several accounts:
1. The world is more complicated than that. There is no 100 percent to any person. He writes, “When we are comparing Christians in general with non-Christians in general, we are usually not thinking about real people whom we know at all, but only about two vague ideas…If you want to compare the bad Christian and the good Atheist, you must think about two real specimens whom you have actually met.”
2. Lets say you have come up with two different people, then you now have to ask the right question. You cannot say, “Joe Blow, the atheist, is a nicer person than Jim Rich, the Christian, so Christianity is false.” You have to ask yourself, “If Jim Rich were not a Christian then would he be worse off than he is now?” Lewis argues that if Christianity is true then two things should show, “(a) That any Christian will be nicer than the same person would be if he were not a Christian, (b) That any man who becomes a Christian will be nicer than he was before.”
3. Going further, if we stay with this line of reasoning then we think of Christianity as something that nasty people need and nice people can do without. Lewis states, “The truth is that in God’s eyes Dick Firkin needs ‘saving’ every bit as much as Miss Bates.” God is at work in both of their lives waiting for one critical thing to happen. Regardless of how nice a person is in their own eyes or the eyes of others, God wants their free will. God doesn’t care about whether they are nasty or nice because He can work that out, but only if they surrender.
Ephesians 2:10 reads, “For we are His creation-created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” James 1:17 says, “Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning.” (HCSB) For the Christian we believe that even the “niceness” of the unbeliever is from God, the same as our faith is solely from God.
Finally, Lewis notes: “We must, therefore, not be surprised if we find among the Christians some people who are still nasty.” The reasoning for this is almost easy to understand. Jesus reached out to the “nasty” people of His day and this continues to be the case to this day. The gospel message is easier to receive when you can see your “nastiness” clearly. The “nice” people seemingly have no need of a Messiah to save them from anything. So the answer to the main rebuttal against going to church is that the people are not hypocrites. They are nasty people who are learning how to be better. It is not hypocrisy, it is hope. If they can go and God will have them then I know I can be accepted as I am too.
These last two quotes come at the end of the chapter that I got most of this material for. Lewis writes, “There is either a warning or an encouragement here for every one of us. If you are a nice person-if virtue comes easily to you-beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given.”
“One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him. You cannot put Him off with speculations about your next door neighbours or memories of what you have read in books. What will all that chatter and hearsay count (will you even be able to remember it?) when the anaesthetic fog which we call ‘nature’ or ‘the real world’ fades away and the Presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate, and unavoidable?”
Thanks for reading,
Keith, Daddy Moose
Mere Christianity. 1952. HarperCollins Publisher (New York). The quotations and ideas mainly came from Book 4, Chapter 10 “Nice People or New Men”, pages 207-217