A widely stated reason for rejecting Christianity is that many believe that ‘the church is full of hypocrites.’ (See 2008 U.S. Survery). My answer to this challenge has been, “Yes, you’re right, the church has many hypocrites.” (See: The Church is full of hypocrites). By design the church is a “mixed body” of both authentic and fake christians like lettuce and weeds growing in the same garden which will be sorted out in the end. The rest of my answer is, “No, you’re incorrect, the church isn’t really full of hypocrites.” (See: A “Hypocrite” or A “Work in Progress.”) While some in the church are pretending to be something they’re not, others are just a “work in progress” being slowly crafted into the people God wants them to be.
The Visible Church, the one we see with our eyes, is a mixed body of sinners gathered together while the ultimate responsibility for her judgment rests in a gracious, merciful and sovereign God. It is His exclusive right to decide who is real and who is not. Likely the best comparison for the church today is of a hospital where some await diagnosis of their condition, some hear yet don’t accept their diagnosis clinging only to illusions of health while others are diagnosed, treated and move toward health. The only people who reside in a hospital are those who are sick and those who are healing from sickness. Commonly, people go to the hospital when they cannot help themselves, desperate to have their condition diagnosed and to receive treatment and care that will nurse them to health. Ultimately when our time comes, all patients who have received and believed their correct diagnosis, have sought and received the only cure for their condition and continue to trust the Physician will be completely cured in their discharge.
A 2008 U.S. survey of unchurched adults found that 72% of them believed that the church ‘is full of hypocrites.’ I blogged yesterday, (see The Church is full of Hypocrites) that the design of the church is a “mixed body” consisting of both the righteous and the unrighteous like wheat and tares growing and coexisting side by side in the same field (the church) that will ultimately be separated from each other at the time of harvest (judgment). But the charge given by the 72% in the survey is still unfair for lots of reasons. Here’s one:
While some in the church are pretending to be something they’re not, others are just a “work in progress” like me and perhaps like you. I am under no illusion that I am perfect and am quite aware of my shortcomings and my need to grow into the image of Jesus Christ who saved me. While my goal is to be like Christ, He is engaged in this chiseling, refining work on me that takes a lifetime and is not completed until glory. I often tell friends that there should always be a circumference of orange cones and yellow warning tape surrounding me with a sign saying, “Pardon My Progress,” for the snapshot reality of my life is actually quite messy. I am a “work in progress” but not a hypocrite.
Charles Spurgeon commented,
The Church is faulty, but that is no excuse for your not joining it, if you are the Lord’s. Nor need your own faults keep you back, for the Church is not an institution for perfect people, but a sanctuary for sinners saved by Grace, who, though they are saved, are still sinners and need all the help they can derive from the sympathy and guidance of their fellow Believers… The Church is the nursery for God’s weak children where they are nourished and grow strong. It is the fold for Christ’s sheep—the home for Christ’s family.
He was a chameleon who lived under the pretense of virtue and faith. Publicly, he was one of the Twelve, faithful and devout following the King, but privately his only love was money. And nobody saw it coming, nobody except the One who sees everything. Jesus knew from the beginning that His betrayer would come from among His inner circle. Should we be surprised that one from among the inner circle was a hypocrite? This is likely the most popularly stated reason of unbelief given by those who reject the Christian faith, “The Church is full of Hypocrites!”
Augustine referred to the church as a “mixed body” consisting of both the righteous and the unrighteous. His interpretation of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30) saw the church like a field where good seeds of wheat along with the bad seeds of weeds are sown and grow side by side. They would ultimately be separated from each other at the time of harvest (judgment) but until then, the weeds and wheat would coexist together in the same field (the church).
There is no such thing as a perfect church, one only with righteous good seed. There will always be people in the church with bad motives, those associating for wrong reasons and those whose relationship with God is only outward. There will always be people who claim to love Christ but whose heart is far from Him. Some are in church for show, some to be seen by others as spiritual, others are there for a social outlet or a business network. Many, Jesus says, will say on that day, did we not do this or that in your name? Jesus will say, “I never knew you.” Those of whom Jesus speaks are people who sat in local churches, many of whom are baptized, have made professions of faith and have personal testimonies. But the mere existence of such hypocrites in the church is neither an excuse for disbelief in Christ nor rejecting His Church.
To those who like to base their claim of unbelief on the existence of hypocrites in the Church, I would say, “You wouldn’t deny the existence of lettuce just because there are weeds in the garden, would you?” Or perhaps I would ask a person with such reasons for unbelief, “Do you carry money in your wallet? Don’t you know that there are people who create counterfeit money yet you still accept that genuine dollars still exist? We need not deny the existence of the authentic based on the evidence of some counterfeits. In fact, the presence of a counterfeit is, in some ways, evidence of the existence of the genuine article because no one counterfeits the invaluable or inherently false. The entire concept of counterfeiting is based on the reproduction of a reasonable facsimile of something that is both genuine and valuable.