Is the Church “full of hypocrites”?

It’s something I’ve heard frequently throughout the years: “I don’t want to go to church because its all just a bunch of hypocrites.” I understand why people say this. Churches have at times struggled to be consistent in practicing what they preach. And there certainly are circumstances in which the leadership of the local church are wolves in sheep’s clothing. But there’s a trend within churches that is problematic.

I’ve heard multiple church leaders at times address this issue of hypocrisy within the church by stating that they agree with it. I’ll hear things like “we are all hypocrites, but we’re striving to grow and change.” I’d like to that statements like these are wrong-headed and downplay both the nature of the church and of the gospel.

What is a hypocrite? The word comes from a Greek term used of someone who was two-faced, and would become a common term used of actors who wore a mask, thus appearing to be someone they weren’t. In modern use, the word connotes an individual who is not who they appear to be. This would be someone who preaches one message, but practices something contrary to that. A hypocrite is not someone who teaches a message of holiness and growth, but falls short of that standard. That is simply the nature of the human condition, and a byproduct of our brokenness. Hypocrisy is also not doing something that you don’t feel like doing. I don’t always feel like being in church on Sunday mornings. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t show up. It means that I do what I know is right and trust that my feelings will follow. The fact is that feelings are fickle and arbitrary. Hypocrisy would be telling others they need to be in church on Sundays, but then never going myself. This could be applied to just about any situation. We need to better understand the difference between feeling and doing, and make a clear distinction between someone who shoots for a standard and falls short versus someone who tells people to do one thing but really does another in his own life.

So, is the church full of hypocrites? Not a healthy one. Is the church full of struggling, broken people? Yes, every single one. There are two pitfalls to avoid here. On one side, beware of churches who treat brokenness like Bruno (they just don’t talk about it). This creates the idea that churches are places for those who have already reached a certain level of sanctification. The other pitfall is positively stating that the church is full of hypocrites. This misunderstands the nature of hypocrisy, and reflects a deficient theology of sanctification. If you’re reading this and have been burned by a church, welcome to the club. There are hypocrites in churches, and they will act like what they are: people holding others to a standard that they don’t hold themselves to. But don’t let those experiences distort your view of what the church is supposed to be: a community of faith made up of broken and fallen people who are moving together towards Christlikeness. The fact is that you need the church. I need the church. As hypocrisy is found, it must be confronted and dealt with, not accepted as normative. But don’t let that prevent you from enjoying the divinely given blessing that is the local body of believers.