Basics of the Christian Faith
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
THORN TWO: HYPOCRITES
The second most common excuse given for unbelief is hypocrisy among believers. Christianity groans under the burden of heavy baggage, sinful lives lived by people claiming to be Christians.
Some of the nightmare derives from a failure to distinguish cultural Christians from committed Christians. Not all who claim to be Christians actually are.
Jesus spoke bluntly to this truth. “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Many were baptized as infants, or as adults merely went through the formality of becoming members of a church, and yet never entered into a personal relationship with Jesus. Until a person is born again, has yielded themselves to a life of unconditional surrender to the Lordship of Christ, there is no genuine Christianity at work.
Christ and Christianity are often blamed for events totally contrary to everything they stand for. Nevertheless, even with this disclaimer we have dirty laundry aplenty.
Christianity bears the burden of bad history. The Crusades (1095-1291 A.D.) were an effort to win back the Holy Land, which had been taken by the followers of Islam. The Inquisition was a brutal campaign to stamp out heresy.
The Salem witch trials, at the end of the 1600’s, resulted in twenty deaths. Wrong-headed Christianity and many other factors combined to cause this tragedy. Fortunately, the sane influence of Pastor Increase Mather led to the end of this hysteria.
Exploitation of tribal peoples by missionaries is often mentioned as a concern. There have been abuses, but benefits far outnumber them. Even Charles Darwin, a bitter opponent of Christianity, confessed if he were shipwrecked on the ocean, as he drifted to an island possibly inhabited by cannibals, he would hope Christian missionaries had preceded him there.
Anti-semitism, racism, and ethnocentricism have ever dogged our steps. The Church has often been wrong. When reminded of our past failures, rather than becoming defensive, we should respond with humility.
There is currently much legitimate disappointment toward believers. In our day, evangelicals are often considered the cultural hit-men. We are portrayed as inflexible, rigid, pushy, narrow-minded. Our detractors ask, where’s the respect for the views of unbelievers we disagree with?
Believers often come across as unloving. We are to hate sin, yet love the sinner. We seem to do better with the former than with the latter. We have for far too long been angry at lost people for acting like lost people. Many prechristians have been hurt by a church, beaten up and wounded by its members.
We are often unloving to each other as well. Christians can be downright mean to one another. Stories of church fights are way too common.
Our bickering often reaches legendary levels. When it comes to squabbles among church members, truth can be more bizarre than fiction.
I know of a church that split over who should have keys to the kitchen. What made this situation even stranger is that the kitchen had a huge hole in the wall for serving food. Anyone could easily reach through the hole and open the kitchen door without a key.
In another town, a church split over whether the new hymn books should contain shaped notes or round notes. I’ve long forgotten the two churches’ names, but people in the community sneeringly called them shaped note church and round note church.
A different church split over where the piano should be placed, stage right versus stage left. Churches all across the country have split due to worship wars, traditional music versus contemporary.
The list of church battles goes on and on. Meanwhile, as church members argue over causes we deem of cosmic proportions, a lost world watches, shakes its head, and says these people don’t look like followers of a Prince of Peace.
Many unbelievers are turned off by the business aspect of church life. In seeking to improve our image through slick advertising and a more polished demeanor, we sometimes come across as being as much commercial as spiritual. Prechristians surmise from this that we are in it for the money, influence, or power.
Some find the Church boring. We appear to them as lifeless, outdated, asleep. Much of what we do is of poor quality, or even worse, irrelevant.
A word to our detractors may be in order. Do not always equate failure with hypocrisy. A hypocrite is a fake, a person who knowingly pretends. Many sincere believers fail often. Their shortcoming is not hypocrisy, but rather frailty. We believers are not perfect. We strive to be, but can never achieve it in this lifetime.