Leonard: Answering the question about Christian hypocrites (column)
And so my monthly column continues with some answers to the most-asked questions I have gotten over my almost 20 years in some sort of pastoral role with churches and other Christian organizations. This one, unfortunately, comes up more than I’d like it to but it’s also pretty easy to answer.
The question goes like this: “I have a problem with all of the Christian hypocrites. My friend/neighbor/boss/uncle/cousin/roommate goes to church/is a Christian and one time … he’s so mean/hurtful/hateful.” Honestly, it’s a hard one to hear and I often wonder if someone is using my name in a conversation about a time when they saw me on a bad day when I said something I shouldn’t have, did something I’m not proud of or treated someone in a way that I shouldn’t have. The stuff everyone is guilty of. Even the nicest person you’ve ever met has, at times, had some moments that they’d take back if they could.
My first response to skeptics about “hypocritical Christians” is that you and Jesus agree on this matter. Time and time again in the Bible we read of Jesus confronting the religious elite of the time, the Jewish Pharisees (a very strict sect of Judaism) and calling them out on how they looked down on certain people for doing something wrong, even though they were guilty of similar or worse things. Jesus hated their hypocrisy and to their faces called them snakes while teaching publicly one time. I wouldn’t want something that a non-Christian and Jesus can agree on to keep them from taking a step closer to him.
The second response to the question has to do with a misunderstanding of what a Christian or follower of Jesus is. Billy Sunday, a Pastor in the early 1900s once said, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you an automobile.”
There are many people who claim “Christianity” as their religion but do not have a relationship with Jesus and are not truly trying to follow Jesus and the way he taught us how to live. It is recorded in Matthew 5:44 that Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Combine that with some of the heinous things done in the Crusades or the way you may have seen self-proclaimed “Christian” do their best to take down their enemies and you see the disconnect.
Doing something in the name of Jesus does not mean it was done with his approval. Jesus doesn’t like that disconnect one bit. It would be like someone going around town stealing from shops and leaving your business card. You’d get accused of something you didn’t do, which is unfair and unjust. Is it fair to blame Jesus for the acts of those who use his name but violate every principle that he stood for?
Lastly, no one ever said that Christians are perfect. We’re just forgiven. Though that may sound like a cop-out, it’s actually a true statement. We’re always striving to be better but often fall short. Regarding this topic, I recently heard a man say, “I’m not what I could be and I’m not what I should be, but thank God that I’m not what I used to be.” The theological term for this is sanctification. Day by day we are becoming more like Jesus (can I get an Amen?).
The word “hypocrite” was originally used as a term for an actor in a play. It was someone who pretended to be someone else. Christians don’t pretend to be perfect and we know all too well that we are not and won’t ever be. If you knew about me what I know about me, you probably wouldn’t be reading my column. But if I knew about you what you know about you, I probably wouldn’t let you read it. Christians are grateful, however, to know that when we do something that God is not proud of, he is quick to forgive when we recognize our failures. It’s called grace and it is amazing.
Easter is two months away so for my next two columns (March 24 and April 28) I’m going to tackle “Is the Bible reliable or just myths and fairy tales?” and “What is the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection from the dead?” They kind of play off of each other. If the Bible can be proven to be a trustworthy source, then we have to take its claim on the resurrection seriously. If there are any questions you’d like to ask about faith, I’d love to hear from you.
Scott Leonard is the area director for Search Vail Valley. You can reach him at email@example.com.