There are few things that I can think of that are worse than having had a bad time at church (root canals, urinary tract infections and bad meals are right at the top though). Unfortunately though, it seems as though most non-Christians have had some pretty awful experiences with the church. This has led to what is, perhaps, the greatest obstacle for the modern evangelist. To be clear, when I use the term “evangelist” I do not have in mind the high-powered, hot-gospeler, gypsy type with laminate business cards and a briefcase filled with all five of his best sermons. I mean the kind of evangelist that the Bible is acquainted with. The sincere disciple of Jesus who is doing his best to increase his tribe (other sincere disciples of Jesus). Whenever this earnest lady or gent tries to urge some wayward soul to look away from themselves and look to Christ for life they find that the unbelievers have someone that always seem to be obstructing their view from the loveliness of Jesus…the hypocrite.
For many such unbelievers, the persistent problem of the perpetual phony in the church seems to be an insurmountable one. To their minds, hypocrisy reveals Christianity for what it really is—a total sham. Christianity seems to them to be a broad collection of sanctimonious liars tied together in fellowship with a common set of bogus beliefs and superficial (if not self-righteous) platitudes, which are promptly forgotten as soon as the car door slams shut in the church parking lot.
Herein lies the problem. There are hypocrites in the church. We have all seen instances of real hypocrisy. What are we to make of it when pastors run off with other men’s wives, when scandal surrounds the mishandling of church finances by certain members, or even when someone with a “Jesus is Lord” bumpersticker gives another driver twenty-percent of a wave? All of these people identify themselves as Christians. Why should any self-respecting non-Christian want to be like them?
The short answer is that the non-believer should continue is his desire to not be like them. The Bible speaks with an imperfect tenderness when it comes to the hypocrite.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but within are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity (Matthew 23:27-28).
If one examines this passage, as well as all of the other passages dealing with hypocrisy, one finds that hypocrisy is universally and roundly condemned. No where does God praise the hypocrite. No where does God encourage the fakes to keep it up. When Christ said that his followers were the light of the world, this did not mean that they were to shine the world on.
God and the hypocrite are on opposite sides. God is utterly and totally opposed to the hypocrite and hypocrisy is opposed to God. So, what does this mean for the unbeliever who has the hypocrite as his greatest excuse to not serve Christ and submit to the rule of his kingdom? What is the unbeliever actually doing when he wields the “problem of the hypocrite (sometimes even a phantom menace)?” 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 hypocrite stays away from God. He hates the hypocrite so he stand shoulder to shoulder with him. Facepalm…
This is like a citizen of one country refusing to become a citizen of another country because it is infested with spies from his homeland. Should we really applaud when someone refuses to join the other side because of obnoxious things people on his own side are doing? Of course not. If there is a hypocrite between an individual and God, then obviously that individual is too far away from God. Like two drowning swimmers clutching at each other, both will sink under the judgment and wrath of God.
Hypocrisy does present a problem for the church, but it is the same kind of pastoral problem as those which result from other sins among the members of the church. It is a disciplinary problem. It is not a problem for Christian apologetics at all.
What do we do with these brigands? Well, we have to limit our answer to real hypocrites who have manifested their wickedness and have been exposed in their hypocrisy. We do not have any “cardio analytic” abilities. It is not our job to divine the spiritual experiences of others by reading the tea leaves of their hearts. The Lord Jesus has given his people no warrant to attempt to peer into the depths of the soul. The pretense 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 question is formal church discipline. Such a person must be put outside of the church where he belongs. Under such discipline, he must be sent out to join his brothers in rebellion—those who refuse to come to Christ because of “all the hypocrites in the church.”
The non-believer who is considering Christianity must avoid taking his view from charlatans and scoundrels. He must be urged to consider the Christian gospel only when it is presented in a way faithful to the teaching of the Scriptures. He must be presented with a gospel that saves completely from everything false. Whether the falsehood be false thinking or false living. This is what the gospel of Jesus Christ can and will do.