What if My Church Is Full of Hypocrites?
By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
I’m really struggling with my church. So many people seem to be hypocritical—they just don’t live out what they say on Sunday during the rest of the week. What should I do?
First, we must clearly define hypocrisy. The word “hypocrisy” comes from the Greek masks of comedy and tragedy. The actor reads the comedy lines and then changes to a mask of tragedy and reads those lines. He was not called an actor. He was called a “Hypocritos,” which means “One who hides behind a mask.”
Everyone wears masks. One mask Julie and I sometimes put on is the one we call “Church Face.” We were in San Diego on a family vacation with our children and Julie’s mom and dad. Grandparents and grandchildren don’t mix well at Sea World. We stepped behind the bushes to have a rather heated discussion as to what to do next. Suddenly, a couple from our church walked up. Instantly, the fighting stopped, and we all put on “Church Face!” After they left, we all marveled at how quickly we transitioned from fighting family to loving Christians. We were well practiced at using the “Church Face” mask. Fortunately, as we have matured in Christ, that mask is lost somewhere in the back of the closet. We seldom feel the need to utilize it.
We all want to put our best foot forward. No one wants to display character traits that are not the best! The problem occurs when we are attempting to lead double lives! There is a difference between hypocrisy and occasionally putting on the proper masks in social settings. Hypocrisy occurs when we claim to be someone we are not, and we wear a fake mask most all of the time. Hypocritical living promotes all sorts of dysfunctional behavior—and can lead to dysfunctional behavior in our spiritual lives as well.
As teenagers, we wear four or five masks depending on the social group we’re associating with at any moment. We have different masks for peers, parents, teachers, acquaintances, and close friends. How we represent ourselves to one group will be different than how we represent ourselves to another. We are subconsciously in the process of deciding who we will be as we transition into adulthood. Eventually, we decide and then discard all the other masks. Unfortunately, many people keep several masks and never figure out who they really are.
Hopefully, early on in our Christian faith, we decide that we will live what we believe. In other words, “I am a Christian, and who you see is who I really am.” But few of us throw away the other masks all at once. As we grow to spiritual maturity, more and more masks are discarded until only one is left. When people think of us, we remind them of the Lord Jesus. Paul revealed that as we mature, we even throw away the last mask: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
People are watching, especially non-Christians. Don’t let them down.
Hypocrisy Is the First Recorded Sin in the Christian Church
The church of Jesus Christ began so beautifully. The Acts 4:32-37 church was filled with generosity, unselfishness, and love. The early first-century Christians were known as the people who loved God and loved each other.
Unfortunately, we don’t get past Acts chapter 5 before we see that the church is ripped apart by Satan’s schemes. Acts 5 is the first description of sin in the New Testament church.
The devastation began when Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property for $2000 and kept back $500 for themselves. There was nothing wrong with their gift, but they lied to Peter and told him they were giving the full amount to the church. They had no intention of doing so. God put both husband and wife to death instantaneously.
Today, God still takes hypocrisy very seriously, especially in the shepherds who lead and teach his flock!
When I was in seminary, I worked for a highly successful pastor who was caught in bed with another man’s wife. Her husband had suspicions, so one day, he came home early from work. There they were. The pastor’s car was hidden in the garage.
We all were shocked when his sin was exposed. His duplicity spilled over into shock, anger, shame, embarrassment, and rejection to all who knew him. The church family was decimated, especially when it came out that he’d been involved in sexual promiscuity since his days in college. He loved beautiful blonde women. Such a tragedy! His own wife was stunning and loved him with all her heart.
Several months later, he was walking in downtown Dallas when he had a brain aneurysm. This popular pastor died in the hospital several hours later.
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No Church Is Perfect!
The church is a hospital for sin-sick souls. We are all fallen, sinful creatures. Only God can unmask us.
People often say, “Well, I want to go back to the First Century Church. That was the true church.
I say, “Which first-century church do you want to attend?”
The Roman church? Paul wrote about them in Romans 16:17: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who are causing church division among you” (NIV).
The Corinthian Church? Paul said to them, “I can’t speak to you as spiritual, but as carnal, because you’re fighting each other all the time” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NIV).
The Galatian Church? Paul chided them, “Oh foolish Galatians, who tricked you? You began in the spirit, and now you’re finishing in the flesh” (Galatians 3:1 NIV).
The Ephesian Church? Their love for Jesus was faltering (See Revelation 2:4 NIV).
The Philippian Church? Two women, Euodia and Syntyche, were spoiling the church unity by their fighting (See Philippians 4:2 NIV).
The Colossian Church? Paul repeated a whole list of good things that they had in Christ, and then said, “But not all is well. There’s sin in your church!” (See Colossians 3:7-9 NIV).
The Best Way to Heal Hypocrisy in the Church Is to Examine Your Own Heart
Ask yourself these questions:
Have you ever led people to believe that you are better at some things than you really are?
Have you ever put people “down” so that you feel better about yourself while they feel less about themselves?
Have you ever said, “I love you” to someone when you really don’t?
Have you ever told someone that you like them when you really despise or hate them?
Do you ever brag about yourself in a way that causes people to think more highly of you than they really should?
Have you ever given the impression that you had your life “together” and they don’t?
Do you ever intentionally put others down so that you can look better than they look?
Have you ever criticized others’ failures when your problems are similar?
Have you ever told people the things about yourself that you want others to know instead of what is true?
Have you ever lied about things that happened to cover up what you did?
Have you ever lied to gain the acceptance of others?
Have you ever given money to gain the praise of men?
Have you ever tried to impress others with your spirituality?
Have you ever pretended to be excited about service for the Lord when you are merely doing it out of obligation?
Have you ever pretended to be spiritual when you know that you are not?
Do you ever pretend to have pure, moral thoughts while all the time yielding to lustful thoughts and fantasies?
Do you ever pretend to be close to God while not desiring or enjoying a relationship with him?
Do you ever pray to impress others with your spirituality?
Have you ever committed a sin and continued living as if nothing had happened?
List adapted from “Freedom In Christ Ministries” Dr. Neil Anderson, founder.
How Can I Be Free from the Sin of Hypocrisy?
We all struggle with hypocrisy at times—but when we seek to live according to God’s will, He will give us the ability to change! Start here:
- Consciously choose to take off your mask.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to identify areas of hypocrisy in your life so that you can live with integrity.
- Repent and ask Jesus for forgiveness so that you may have a fresh beginning.
- Allow the Holy Spirit to convict you of the sin of hypocrisy.
- Listen to the people who listen to God. In other words, invite some of the wise and godly people who know you to point out areas of hypocrisy you might’ve missed.
Well, I hope this helps. Let me know if you have more questions.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/AJ_Watt
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].