In 2007, the Barna Group conducted an extensive research project in which they asked non-Christian people why reject Christianity. An astounding 87% of these people said the Church is filled with judgmental people; 85% believed Christians are hypocritical.
The numbers are a little mind boggling, right? But it’s important to understand that in our culture, many individuals base their view of Christianity on the behavior of those of us who follow Christ. When Christians don’t act the way skeptics think a Christian should act, they use that as proof in their minds that God doesn’t exist.
And it’s not only today’s Christians they’re talking about. Many skeptics refer to the slaughter of millions in the name of Jesus during the middle age Crusades; or if they’re a literary type, will reference Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code when, during the witch trials in Europe, the church killed “more than five million women”.
I get it. When you hear stories like this, it might be easy to wonder why anyone would want to align themselves with a faith that produces this kind of fruit? Why would anyone want to engage in this kind of faith? And why has there been this much hypocrisy in the church?
Humbly, I’ll admit: there have been some terrible atrocities carried out in the name of Jesus. Yeah, Christianity has some red stains. I also believe that even one person killed in the name of Jesus is one too many. That’s not following Jesus in any way, shape or form. Unfortunately, many people who call themselves Christians throughout history and today have done, and are doing, terrible things in the name of Jesus.
Take The First Step: Repent
The bottom line is that we can’t dismiss these facts. We must be sensitive to the realities of what happened, and own it.
One of my favorite books, Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller (this one has the Brad Seal of Approval; I highly recommend it), tells a story about how he and his friends built a confessional booth on the campus of their very liberal university.
When people would enter to confess their sins, Miller would instead confess the sins of the Church to them, and apologized for the pain Christians have caused throughout history. Believe it or not, this helped Christianity gain credibility because Christians were owning our mistakes.
As followers of Jesus, we need to start with repentance. This is what Jesus called us to do; in His early ministry, He called to “repent”, and not just the people who weren’t going to church but to the most religious people of His day. Jesus was essentially saying, “I know you’re following God, but you’re not perfect. And that’s OK.”
He asks us to humbly turn from, admit to, confess those imperfections, mistakes and sins, and to do it boldly, without fear.
Why We’re Called Hypocrites – And What We Can Do
It’s not a secret that people and institutions who are causing pain in the name of Jesus, and who proclaim their faith do not always represent Jesus or what Jesus taught. You see, there are two major reasons that Christians are called hypocritical.
First, not everyone who identifies as Christians are Christians. I mean, just because you have a “Jesus is my copilot” bumper sticker doesn’t automatically make you a follower of Jesus. Cultural Christianity is often the culprit of Christians image problem. These are the individuals who label themselves as Christians based on their background or upbringing rather than any personal conviction that Jesus is Lord. When your belief as a Christian is based on social instead of spiritual, you’re not going to produce the fruit of the holy spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Here’s a perfect example of this label not producing the fruits of the spirit. A poll a few years back showed that the lifestyle activities of Christians were statistically the same as those of people claiming not to be Christians when it came to the following list:
Gambling, visiting porn sites, stealing, gossip, consulting a medium or a psychic, fighting or abuse, using illegal or nonprescription drugs, lying, and several others.
There was no statistical difference between Christians and non-Christians. The only activity that was less common for Christians was recycling.
So, Christians aren’t very good at sorting their trash. That’s a joke, but also reality.
No wonder those who aren’t in the church look into the church and call us hypocrites. “They can’t even recycle right…dang.”
This is what people mean when they say Christians are hypocrites. When the people who claim to be morally upright look, sound, act, and live no differently than anyone else in the world…yeah, that seems pretty hypocritical.
In scripture, if there was no outward change in behavior, allegiances, and passions, Jesus would question whether these people are actually Christians. This message isn’t to judge those of us who follow Jesus passionately and work daily to be more like Him, but to educate you on how the world sees us…and how to fight back against this judgement.
If this is the reason why you are skeptical about Christianity, I encourage you to assess the Christian worldview not on how the students are doing following the teaching, but instead to evaluate the teacher. We should ask: What does Jesus actually say? What did He teach? How did He live?
The essence of Christianity is not me. It’s not you. It’s Jesus. The church is full of people who come from different backgrounds, have different experiences and are at different places on this journey of following Jesus. And there’s no linear path. There’s not a secret formula. There’s no programming that creates a perfect Christian robot.
This living like Jesus…it’s not about you and what you can accomplish. It’s about Him and what He’s already done for all of us.