A four-year-old boy sits down to dinner with his parents and a visitor. During the meal, the child interrupts conversations numerous times, talks with his mouth full, and refuses to eat his vegetables.
The visitor knows the parents are training their boy in the art of being gracious, but mostly what she notices are his flaws. If that’s what adulthood is all about, she concludes, I don’t want any part of it.
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? We know that a child is in process. He’s not a finished product. He’s growing toward adulthood, but he’s not there yet.
We don’t expect a child to provide us with a perfect example of adulthood. So why do we expect Christians to provide a perfect example of Christ?
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard people say, “If that’s what Christianity is, I don’t want any part of it” or complain about “all the hypocrites in the church,” I’d be on my way to a pretty good retirement package.
Let’s take a closer look at the flawed logic here.
- First off, not everyone who claims to be a Christian is necessarily the real deal. If a person has not been genuinely born again, they may do a great deal of harm in Jesus’ name.
The Crusades would be one often-used illustration of this fact from history. But many individual examples of injustice or racism or the like serve to demonstrate this as well.
Just because someone thinks of themselves as a Christian, or attends church regularly, does not mean they have experienced salvation by faith in Christ alone.
2. Second, even if someone has experienced salvation, that’s not the same as claiming perfection! As Christians, we do not have our act together. We are sinners saved by God’s grace, in a process of sanctification.
As Tim Keller has mentioned, the church is “full of hypocrites” in the same sense that a hospital is “full of sick people.”
(Well, duh. That’s where they belong. The idea is for them to get better there.)
3. Third, the church is not the only place where we find hypocrites. If being a hypocrite means saying one thing yet doing another, we’ve all been there, haven’t we?
So how do we respond when others point fingers at Christians?
I’m grateful to Randy Newman for his insights in Questioning Evangelism. Randy offers some good suggestions on addressing the “Christians are hypocrites” charge. I’ve condensed a few here:
We might respond with: “You don’t think ALL Christians are hypocrites, do you?”
If the complaint comes from someone who has been truly hurt by the actions or words of a Christian, we can say, “I don’t blame you for being upset.”
Or we can use a surprising admission: “Well, you know, I’m a hypocrite, too.”
We can turn the tables by saying: “Don’t you fail to live up to your own standards?”
Finally, we can use the inclusive term “us” and say, “Why do you suppose this hypocrisy bothers us so much? It points us to some sense of right and wrong, doesn’t it?”
From there, we can use the problem of our own hypocrisy as the basis for our need for the cross of Christ. We can talk about sin and righteousness and the human dilemma of not being able to measure up to God’s standards.
We can talk about the only remedy, which is Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf.
It’s not fun to hear accusations about hypocrisy, but if you listen, you may just find the perfect opportunity to offer someone the hope and grace only the gospel provides.
You may just be able to help another hypocrite toward recovery.