Why is There so Much Hypocrisy in the Church?
Hypocrisy is regrettably one of the leading reasons why many people are abandoning many church groups. Even worse, many people have totally forsaken the Christian faith due to witnessing hypocrisy within a church or religious environment.
In 2007, the Barna Group conducted a survey in which they asked non-Christians why they rejected Christianity. An astonishing 87% of these people said that churches are filled with judgmental people; while 85% believed Christians are hypocritical.
Hypocrisy is defined as the following:
– a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess;
– the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another or the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform;
– the practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case
We live in a world where many professing Christians or church members live a double life and portray double standards. So for a few hours during a Sunday church service, some people act like “saints” and virtue signal – but then live like the devil every other day during the week.
Furthermore on a weekly basis many church leaders around the world are exposed for various scandals including spiritual abuse, sexual misconduct and cultic behavior within the religious groups that they control.
Frequently, many other preachers are also exposed as conmen and charlatans who twist Scripture in order to brainwash and deceive their followers for monetary gain.
Other churches or ministries are also exposed for either supporting or covering up various kinds of abuses perpetrated by their own leaders.
Then there’s also the issue of divisions, church splits and all kinds of church politics which involve slander, backbiting and even violence as church leaders campaign for church titles and fight each other for institutional control and ownership of their religious groups.
Therefore hypocrisy in the church is witnessed and observed by both non-christians and true Christian believers. Unfortunately religious hypocrisy has become a major deterrent towards bringing people to a genuine saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
So what does the Bible say about hypocrites? What did Jesus think about hypocrites? Why is there so much hypocrisy in many church groups? Should people abandon Christianity because of hypocrisy?
What Did Jesus Think About Hypocrisy & Hypocrites?
Jesus hated hypocrisy and He was extremely blunt and unapologetic towards religious hypocrites.
Jesus was not afraid to expose the Scribes, the Pharisees and various Jewish leaders as false teachers and hypocrites (Matthew 23:1-36).
At least 7 times in Matthew 23:1-36, Jesus deliberately calls out the Jewish leaders and refers to them as “hypocrites”.
For example, in Matthew 23:25-33 NLT Jesus says:
25 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! 26 You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.
27 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed, and you decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors destroyed. 30 Then you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would never have joined them in killing the prophets.’
31 “But in saying that, you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started. 33 Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?
Jesus hates hypocrisy because it is a form of deception. A hypocrite is one who lives a lie. A hypocrite not only deceives others – but he also deceives himself.
Hypocrisy hinders the Gospel and prevents others from discovering the essence of living in accordance with true Biblical Christianity.
Religious hypocrisy gives Christianity a bad name. It also gives people a false concept of God and the Christian faith. Ultimately a culture of hypocrisy leads to a counterfeit faith or counterfeit Christianity.
Why is there Hypocrisy in the Church?
1. Not Everyone who goes to Church is a Christian
One reason why there is hypocrisy in church is because not every church member is actually a true born again Christian – including the leaders. Churches are filled with people who aren’t actually Christians.
In many cases most local churches can consist of both true believers and non-christians / false Christians as part of their membership. In a local church the wheat and the tares can grow together (Matthew 13:24-30) or the sheep and the goats can reside in the same place.
Therefore not every member of a church group belongs to the [ekklesia] or the true body of Christ irrespective of the duration of an individual’s church membership or the church title that one may hold.
According to Scripture, the true Church or body of Christ consists of people who are genuinely born again and have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. The [ekklesia] does not consist of false Christians.
However, as is the case with many cults or cultic groups, it is possible that a religious group can be founded and led by a cult leader or false teacher instead of a genuine Christian, and the cult leader will refer to his group as a “church”.
In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus says: Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’
2. Poor Interpretation & Application of Christian Doctrine
When an individual or any church group has a poor understanding and poor application of Christian doctrine, this can lead to hypocrisy. Therefore false doctrines, a false gospel and bad theology will always lead to hypocrisy.
For example, antinomianism is a false doctrine which distorts the grace of God to the extent that proponents of this false doctrine will believe that grace gives them a license to sin.
Jude 1:4 NLT says: I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Other examples of false teachings which lead to complaints of hypocrisy within the church are legalism, the fake miracle antics of false prophets, the prosperity gospel and seed faith teachings which ultimately lead to brainwashing and manipulation of followers.
Philippians 3:18-19 says: For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
Therefore the increase of all types of false teachers who indoctrinate their followers with false doctrines is a factor which leads to hypocrisy. Ultimately false teachers and false doctrines can have the effect of creating false converts and this also leads to religious hypocrisy.
3. A Church that Operates like the World
Many church groups are influenced by the value systems and desires of the world. Some religious groups can operate more like social clubs or businesses where emphasis is on social status, virtue signalling, money, outward appearances, materialism, elitism, personal recognition and the pride of life. In such religious groups, leaders and members are selected based on social status, social cliques, financial wealth etc, rather than basing on God’s calling, authentic Christian character and Biblical guidelines.
As a result some members will embrace the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and all kinds of worldly passions. This ultimately leads to narcissism and hypocrisy where various professing Christians will act or behave like the world instead of behaving like true Christians.
Romans 12:2 says: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Should People Abandon Christianity because of Hypocrisy?
A non-christian should never dismiss the authenticity of Christianity because of the behaviour of any religious hypocrite.
Religious hypocrites do not represent true born again Christians. A religious hypocrite does not represent the true nature and character of God.
An abusive church or cult does not represent the true Church or Bride of Christ.
The true Church are genuine born again believers only. The true [ekklesia] does not consist of the tares or the goats.
Your individual experience of hypocrisy within a religious group or system must be separate from your individual and personal relationship with God.
A culture of hypocrisy within churches may lead to a counterfeit / cultural Christianity.
However true Biblical Christianity is found in understanding the Bible and by following the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
As long as we live in a fallen and sinful world, hypocrisy will always exist. However just as in the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30), there will come a time of judgment where God will separate the wheat and the tares and the goats from the sheep (Matthew 25:31-46).
Jesus Christ never condoned hypocrisy. Jesus hated hypocrisy because hypocrisy is the work of the devil. Hypocrisy is a form of deception which leads many people astray and deters people from a knowledge of the Gospel.
However, no matter the sin and hypocrisy that surrounds our world, we must never abandon Jesus Christ and neither should we abandon Christian fellowship with other genuine believers.
Christianity will always remain true despite the existence of religious hypocrites. Jesus Christ remains Lord and Saviour of the world and His name will always be above all names (Philippians 2:9-11). There is no other name under which anyone can be saved except through Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).
Therefore, the focus of every individual should be to fix our eyes on Jesus Christ who is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).