Hypocrisy is a real charge leveled against Christians. We must take it seriously since Jesus himself made the charge against the religious leaders of his day as we see in places like Matthew 23:13-31.
So let’s face the charge head-on. What if it is true? Can it be shown that the church or Christians have been guilty of error, evil, oppression, and more? What if the church really is full of hypocrites? Does this disprove Christianity? UMMMM NO! In logic, we use the phrase “abusus not tollit usum” or abuse does not rule out proper use. Christianity stands or falls not on the ability of Christians (or people who call themselves Christians) to live up to some standard. It rests on who Jesus is.
There are students all over the world today making a real mess of mathematics. There are criminals using mathematics to trick people and con them out of their money, and people using statistics in a false way to support whatever cause they want to push. Does all of this mean that mathematics is not true? Of course not. There is no logical connection between the misuse or misunderstanding of an idea and the truthfulness of the idea itself. The hypocrisy of the Pharisees did not disprove Judaism. The real question is, “Was Jesus a hypocrite?” The answer to that question is obviously “no.” We do not deny that there has been hypocrisy, sin, wrong motives in the church and by those claiming to be part of the church. But the failure of people to live up to a standard does not negate the standard.
One of the problems with this criticism is that people do not understand what hypocrisy is. Some think that Christians claim that they do not sin. If that were the case then to sin would be hypocrisy. But what is the one thing a person has to admit to be a Christian? That they are a sinner in need of a savior. So the admission of sin is foundational. A hypocrite is someone who claims to be what they are not: someone who deceives you on purpose, who wears a mask and pretends to be more than they are. So, if you admit that you are a sinner, then to sin is not hypocrisy. It is still a sin and still an affront to God but it is not hypocrisy. Therefore all
Christians are sinners but not all Christians are hypocrites. You are not a hypocrite for failing to reach a standard you believe to be the true standard. A baseball player may set the goal of batting 300 but he is not a hypocrite if he fails to reach it.
We must realize that hypocrisy is a human problem, not just a Christian problem. In fact, most everyone is guilty of hypocrisy to some degree about something. We all have some areas where our imaginations run a little ahead of our ability to live up to it and we claim to be more than we are. We all play the role sometimes: we all wear the mask. So when someone says the church is full of hypocrites we ought to make it very clear that we are not full and there is always room for one more. Often this charge is stated as “Practice what you preach.”
People think we should not speak of the sin of others until we get our own house in order. But we must make it clear that, as Christians, we do not speak from the position of authority but as ones under authority. We are sinners helping sinners under the authority of God’s Word. Hypocrisy is to claim to be something you are not. It is not claiming that God has set a standard we should all, by his grace, strive to reach.