Hypocrisy: Who is most susceptible and why is there so much in the church?

Pastor John at WPBF had a great message this morning on Romans 2, Paul’s stinging critique of religious hypocrisy. It also sets us up for Romans 3:10-11 and our universal need for a Savior.

Next week, professor and author Mike Wittmer will be a guest speaker at our church. In our Sunday night services we’ve been working through the themes he talks about in his book Despite Doubt. I just finished re-reading chapter 20, “Fruit,” which has an enlightening section on hypocrisy. To the charge, “the church is full of hypocrites Wittmer responds: “Of course the church is full of hypocrites. Where else would you find them?” He explains:

“People only fake what is valuable. Do you know what you’ll never hear? ‘Larry isn’t really a sexual predator. He’s just pretending.’ Or ‘Sally didn’t embezzle the money. She only made it look that way.’ No one pretends to be a gossip, nag, or pompous windbag, because no one wants others to think that’s what they are. Only desirable qualities attract posers…” (Despite Doubt, 146-147)

This doesn’t make hypocrisy acceptable, of course, but at least it’s helpful in understanding why it’s so common. The other obvious reason why there is such a perception of hypocrisy, of course, is that we really are a bunch of hypocrites. We really want to serve God but often it’s just easier to pretend than to actually do it. At church we often say, “This is a hospital for sinners and Jesus is the one who heals.” In other words, we readily admit we are sinners. I’m not sure if the fact we admit our hypocrisy makes matters better or worse.

What scares me is what Wittmer says next. Some people are more susceptible to hypocrisy than others. It worries me because I fall within the category of “most susceptible.” Lifelong Christians are in the greatest danger, especially those in vocational ministry.

“If the first thing people say about you is that you’re a Christian… then you have an incentive to keep it going long after your love for Jesus has cooled. Hypocrisy is particularly tempting for pastors and seminary professors. We have a financial incentive to pretend, because if we no longer believe we’re going to have to find other jobs.” (Despite Doubt, 147-148)

As a pastor I’m aware of this danger. It can be easier to preach to others than to preach to myself, to appear righteous rather than to be righteous, to put in the work for my job rather than for my relationship with God. What saves me from despair is my trust in the continual work of Jesus’ grace in my life, the grace that both saves and sanctifies hypocrites like me.