Not long ago the pastor of a large evangelical church spoke on the topic of hypocrisy. His sermon defined hypocrisy, the charge that Christians are hypocrites, and discussed the truth of that charge. It was, to say the least, an interesting sermon. For many, It was likely an uncomfortable sermon as well.
For AnOldSinner, it was nothing new. Hypocrisy within the Church was one of the excuses I used for years to justify my skepticism concerning churches and those who called themselves Christians. I wrote about my position on the subject some years ago in Seeking an Excuse, but the pastor’s sermon on this day brought another question to mind. What makes so many people see Christians as hypocrites?
No! I am not speaking of those Sunday Christians who turn into pushy, possibly not so honest business people when they go to work Monday morning. Nor, am I speaking of the Friday night partier who will be front and center on Sunday morning. Neither am I speaking of the individuals or couples around whom gossip swirls regularly. Though I might be speaking of those contributing to the chatter.
Of course, one might consider the people in the previous paragraph to be hypocrites if the charges or perceptions are valid. On the other hand, hypocrisy is not defined solely by a Christian’s sinful behavior. The Bible teaches we are all sinners. If we are all sinners, we are going to sin. It is one’s denial of sin or condemnation of others who sin that can push someone across the line from simple sinner to sinner and hypocrite.
My argument to this point may or may not make sense to you. It may or may not fit with your view of theology, religion, Christianity, or the world in which we live. However, the question at the moment is not whether Christians are hypocrites. Instead, it is why they are so universally viewed as hypocrites.
In this writer’s opinion, it is not the way one conducts his or her business dealings. It is not the way one wind’s down on Friday night or celebrates the end of the week. It is not when people violate their wedding vows. Yes, those things can contribute to the way Christians are perceived, but even the harshest critic should realize not every Christian behaves in that manner, sins in those ways.
As noted above, I was one of those folks who took every opportunity to find hypocrisy in the actions of those who claimed to be Christian. Yet, I have come to understand there is more to the matter than whether someone decided to have one too many on a Friday night or commit some other act that many would consider a sin.
Big sins are a problem. I am not attempting to minimize the impact of significant inappropriate behavior on the part of a Christian. Instead, I would like to emphasize what I have noticed over the last few decades of attending church regularly. It is the little things that make us look bad.
Whoa! That sounds a bit extreme, doesn’t it? What do I mean the little things make us look bad? I mean exactly that. It is things we do without thinking. The things we regularly do that may not even to be sinful to anyone but a Pharisee. Still, they are the kinds of things that raise an eyebrow, make someone look petty, or project an image that does not match the image Christians want to project. In fact, it was a little thing, that triggered this piece, a spoiled Sunday lunch.
The details of the lunch are to some degree unimportant. Suffice it to say, there was a group in a small neighborhood restaurant acting in a less than civil manner. Oh, they were not being foul-mouthed or having a drunken, ribald time. They were merely allowing, in some cases inciting the children in the group, to yell, laugh at the top of their lungs, run around the restaurant like they were in their own backyard, and make it almost impossible for those around them to enjoy their Sunday lunch.
Yes, this sort of disturbance can be caused by people who are not churched. Atheists, agnostics, Christians, Scientologists, and Wiccans can all be guilty of failing to control their children. Still, the folks who go out to lunch on Sunday looking like they just went to church are likely to be seen as some form of Christian. Based on that perception, those around them expect them to behave in a somewhat civilized manner. That was not the case on this particular Sunday. Everyone around the party above likely went away with a less than positive feeling for them.
Of course, unruly kids are not the only possible blemish others may see in Christians. Consider a Sunday lunch conversation in which this writer was a participant, not just a witness. In this case, there were no unruly children. Instead, there were adults, discussing a mutual acquaintance. None of us thought there was anything wrong with the discussion until I noticed an eavesdropper. To be fair, the individual did not have to work very hard to hear us. We were not secretive about our discussion.
The person’s face and body language radiated a level of disdain that was impossible to miss. I realized immediately that from the eavesdropper’s standpoint we were a bunch of gossips. Not only were we gossips. We were gossiping about a fellow Christian. At first, I was amused, if a bit put out that the individual was judging our conversation. Then I remembered a conversation I overheard years ago while attending a Bat Mitzah.
A group of older ladies sat around a table commenting on every person walking by. It could have been a comedic skit on television or a scene in a black and white movie. A group of matriarchs sitting around critiquing the children, cousins, and other relatives of the ladies sitting at other tables. They did not think a thing about what they were doing. It was just part of their culture. Still, to a non-Jewish guest, it spoke to every stereotype I’d ever heard.
Christians are supposed to be “the light unto the world.” (Matthew 5:14) That does not mean we will be perfect, but it does imply people will be watching us. Accordingly, on Sunday after church, we might want to be a little more considerate of those around us in a restaurant. We might want to avoid topics of discussion that might be misunderstood or intentionally twisted. We might want to be a little more forgiving of the harried server who forgets to bring a tea refill in what we consider a timely fashion.
I could go on, but you either get the point, or you don’t. It sends the wrong message when Christians, or any group identified by its faith, occupation, culture, or ethnicity, engage in behavior that can allow others to see them in a negative light.
Are we going to make mistakes? Are we going to be hypocritical at times? Of course, we are! We are human, and humans are not perfect. Still, Christianity holds itself out to the be the hope of the world. If we’re the hope of the world, one would think we could manage to behave in a way that leaves a good impression with those around us on Sunday after church.
© sinnerswalk.com 2018