Hypocrisy has been listed as a leading reason young people are abandoning the Church or being turned off by the Christian faith. Here are 10 ways that we should respond when people say, “Christians are a bunch of hypocrites!”
Don’t Make Excuses
We don’t have any. The evidence is clear. The verdict is in. And we are guilty as charged. All of us continue to sin and fall short of the glory of God. None of us fully walk the talk. All of us are quick to judge others.
Yet, Jesus still loves us. We are under grace, even when we pretend to be what we aren’t, or confess what isn’t true, or find fault with others. But we must never deny or excuse the fact that there is still a lot of mess in our lives and the churches we attend.
Don’t Be Defensive
None of us likes it when an outsider attacks our family. We can complain about our Christian brothers and sisters, but it rankles us when nonbelievers do. I know that I get defensive when my church family gets dissed. I want to strike back. When I was young and unwise, I used to belittle those who found fault with the church by saying sarcastically, “Well, if you ever find the perfect church, don’t join it—because you’ll ruin it.” Going on the attack is never Christlike.
Another tempting defense is to point out all the hypocrisies in politics, Hollywood, in the news media, etc., so show that the church isn’t the only place where there is gross hypocrisy. This is wrong on two counts. First, that person isn’t talking about hypocrisy everywhere else. They are specifically indicting the church. Secondly, it doesn’t matter if hypocrisy is rife everywhere else. Christians and churches should be better than Hollywood, the political arena, the news media, etc. We have the presence and power of the Risen Jesus inside us. That’s why there is no defense for hypocrisy or judging others among Christians.
Getting defensive builds walls instead of bridges. It shuts off dialogue. It limits opportunities to point people to Jesus. In the end, we are not called so much to defend the gospel as to share it.
Don’t Be Dismissive
All too often, we want to shrug off the criticisms of nonbelievers. We think that because they aren’t Spirit-filled they can’t have spiritual insight. But God can speak through anyone or anything. He rebuked a stubborn prophet named Balaam by speaking to him through his donkey. He spoke to Moses through a burning bush, and even allowed a reprobate king like Saul give prophecies to his people.
The church should listen to the complaints of nonbelievers and pay attention to the ways in which they mock us. God may be correcting us through them. If thirty-two percent of the young people leaving the church cite hypocrisy and judgmental attitudes among parishioners and pastors as the reason for their exodus, then those in the pews and pulpits should prayerfully reflect, “Am I guilty of those things?”
Agree with the Charge
It’s never easy to lead with weakness, but it is always disarming. “You are absolutely right. There are far too many hypocrites in the church.” Express sorrow for that sad fact. Communicate regret that hypocrisy and judgmentalism by religious folks have wounded and disillusioned so many. Specifically, let the accuser know that you are sorry for any personal pain or wounds they may have received from un-Christlike Christians.
Draw Parallels to Jesus
Share with those leveling hypocrisy charges the gospel passages that show how angry Jesus got with the religious hypocrites and judgers in his day. Let them know that they feel the same things that Jesus felt. And, that Jesus feels their dismay and pain. By putting them on the same page with Jesus, you are drawing them closer to him.
Ask for Examples
Ask what hypocrisies in the church are most distressing to those who bring it up. Ask if they have ever felt judged by particular Christians and how it made them feel. You might even share your own personal experiences about times when you were hurt by hypocrites in the church, or the pain you experienced when a Christian sister or brother judged you unfairly.
If your dialogue is going well, you might ask them if they see their friends demonstrating hypocrisy on Instagram, Tik-Tok, or other social media to project images that aren’t true to get approval, affirmation, or applause.
Explain That’s Why Jesus Came
Without excusing hypocrites in the church, ask if hypocrisy and judging others are universal problems, or ones they struggle with themselves. Be sure to “fess” up to these struggles in your own life. Then ask, “Could it be that you’ve hit on the very reason why Jesus had to come to earth?” Here’s the key point: your answers should always lead toward the gospel.
Emphasize Forgiveness over Perfection
Hopefully, you can get permission to share how Jesus came to solve the problem through his death, burial, and resurrection. How He too was the victim of hypocritical religious folks, and suffered from their unfair accusations. How both religious leaders and Roman officials put him through a kangaroo trial and nailed him to a cross. How he took all of our sins—all our hypocrisies, lies, cruelties, false accusations—upon himself, and paid the penalty for them. And how, because he lived a perfect life on our behalf, and died the ultimate death for our sins, God has declared us righteous. We aren’t perfect, we are just forgiven. If the Holy Spirit leads, invite this person to trust in Christ’s work.
Distinguish Between Salvation and Sanctification
Just because Christ declares us righteous, doesn’t mean we are always righteous in our actions. As long as we have the old sinful flesh, we will never get it fully right. Hopefully, as we yield more and more to the Holy Spirit, we will be less and less hypocritical and judgmental. After all, we’ve been predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus. But we don’t get there overnight, or even all the way until we are glorified in heaven. It’s important that we make this essential biblical teaching clear.
Admit some ‘Christians’ Actually Aren’t
Jesus was very clear in Matthew 23:13 – religious hypocrites will not enter his kingdom. In another place, he said, “Not everyone who calls me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). The Ten Boom family hid Jews in their Dutch home during the Nazi occupation. One day, their pastor rebuked Mr. Ten Boom for disobeying the Gestapo. After he left, Corrie wondered how a Christian minister could believe that it was wrong to hide Jews from being shipped off to death camps. Her father replied, “Corrie, just because a mouse is in the cookie jar, it doesn’t make him a cookie.” Just because people are in church pews, or even in church pulpits, it doesn’t necessarily make them real followers of Jesus.
The truth is, there are fewer born-again Christians than we think. Perhaps that’s the best answer to why there’s so much hypocrisy and judgmentalism in our churches. But our hope is in something better. We are willing to face the accusations of hypocrisy and judgmentalism, even from our own children and grandkids, so that we might judge ourselves, and get rid of the sins that so easily entangle.
Dr. Robert “Bob” Petterson is an author, speaker, former pastor and founder of the Legacy Imperative, a ministry devoted to inspiring, mobilizing and equipping grandparents, parents and other advocates for Millennials and Generation Z to evangelize and disciple their loved ones who are far from the Christian faith.