Is the Church Full of Hypocrites? by R.C. Sproul

About thirty years ago, my close friend and colleague, Archie Parrish, who at that time led the Evangelism Explosion (EE) program in Fort Lauderdale, came to me with a request. He indicated that on the thousands of evangelistic visits the EE teams made, they kept a record of responses people made to discussions of the gospel. They collated the most frequent questions and objections people raised about the Christian faith and grouped these inquiries or objections into the ten most frequently encountered. Dr. Parrish asked if I would write a book answering those objections for evangelists to use in their outreach. That effort resulted in my book Objections Answered, now called Reason to Believe. Among the top ten objections raised was the objection that the church is filled with hypocrites. At that point in time, Dr. D. James Kennedy responded to this objection by replying, “Well, there’s always room for one more.” He cautioned people that if they found a perfect church, they ought not to join it, since that would ruin it.

The term hypocrite came from the world of Greek drama. It was used to describe the masks that the players used to dramatize certain roles. Even today, the theatre is symbolized by the twin masks of comedy and tragedy. In antiquity, certain players played more than one role, and they indicated their role by holding a mask in front of their face. That’s the origin of the concept of hypocrisy.

But the charge that the church is full of hypocrites is manifestly false. Though no Christian achieves the full measure of sanctification in this life, that we all struggle with ongoing sin does not justly yield the verdict of hypocrisy. A hypocrite is someone who does things he claims he does not do. Outside observers of the Christian church see people who profess to be Christians and observe that they sin. Since they see sin in the lives of Christians, they rush to the judgment that therefore these people are hypocrites. If a person claims to be without sin and then demonstrates sin, surely that person is a hypocrite. But for a Christian simply to demonstrate that he is a sinner does not convict him of hypocrisy.

The inverted logic goes something like this: All hypocrites are sinners. John is a sinner; therefore, John is a hypocrite. Anyone who knows the laws of logic knows that this syllogism is not valid. If we would simply change the charge from “the church is full of hypocrites” to “the church is full of sinners,” we would be quick to plead guilty. The church is the only institution I know of that requires an admission of being a sinner in order to be a member. The church is filled with sinners because the church is the place where sinners who confess their sins come to find redemption from their sins. So in this sense, simply because the church is filled with sinners does not justify the conclusion that the church is filled with hypocrites. Again, all hypocrisy is sin, but not all sin is the sin of hypocrisy.

When we look at the problem of hypocrisy in the New Testament era, we see it most clearly displayed in the lives of those who claimed to be the most righteous. The Pharisees were a group of people who by definition saw themselves as separated from the normal sinfulness of the masses. They began well, seeking a life of devoted godliness and submission to the law of God. However, when their behavior failed to reach their ideals, they began to engage in pretense. They pretended they were more righteous than they were. They gave an outward facade of righteousness, which merely served to conceal a radical corruption in their lives.

Though the church is not filled with hypocrites, there is no denying that hypocrisy is a sin that is not limited or restricted to New Testament Pharisees. It is a sin with which Christians must grapple. A high standard of spiritual and righteous behavior has been set for the church. We often are embarrassed by our failures to reach these high goals and are inclined to pretend that we have reached a higher plateau of righteousness than we’ve actually attained. When we do that, we put on the mask of the hypocrite and come under the judgment of God for that particular sin. When we find ourselves enmeshed in this type of pretense, an alarm bell should go off in our brains that we need to rush back to the cross and to Christ and to understand where our true righteousness resides. We have to find in Christ, not a mask that conceals our face, but an entire wardrobe of clothing, which is His righteousness. Indeed, it is only under the guise of the righteousness of Christ, received by faith, that any of us can ever have a hope of standing before a holy God. To wear the garments of Christ in faith is not an act of hypocrisy. It is an act of redemption.

Dr. R.C. Sproul is founder and president of Ligonier Ministries and president of Ligonier Academy.  He is the author of the expositional commentaries on Romans and John.

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The filth of the world

What is “the filth of this world”?  Is it the womb of evil of which the national syndicate crime is born?  Is it the cult of ritual murderers and abortionists? Is it the perverted molester or rapist or the coven of unrepentant witches? Is it the evil business genius operating in international upheavals? Was it Babylon? Is it Rome? Is it sin? Has a tribe of evil spirits and demons been located bearing this repulsive title? What is it?   

A thousand guesses at this question might provide a thousand different answers with not one of them correct. The right answer is the very antithesis of our expectation. This “filth of this world” is neither men nor devils. It is not bad, but good – nay, not even good – but the very best. Neither is it the material, but spiritual; neither is it of Satan, but of God. It is not only of the church, but a saint. It is not only a saint, but the saintliest of saints, the Kohinoor of all gems. “We apostles,” Paul says, “are the filth of this world.” Then he adds insult to injury, heightens the infamy, and deepens the humiliation by adding “[and we apostles are] the off scouring of all things”    

 I Corinthians 4 [13]  Being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the off scouring of all things unto this day.    

Any man who has so assessed himself “filth of the earth” has no ambition – and so has nothing to be jealous about. He has no reputation – and has nothing to fight about. He has no possessions – and therefore nothing to worry about. He has no “rights”- and so therefore cannot suffer any wrongs. He is already dead – so no one can kill him. In such a state of mind and spirit, can we wonder that the apostles “turned the world upside down”? Let the ambitious saint ponder this apostolic attitude to the world. Let the popular, unscarred evangelist living in “Hollywood Style” think upon his ways.    

Loeonard Ravenhill

Who then hurt Paul far more than his one hundred and ninety five stripes, his three stonings, and his triple shipwrecks could ever hurt him?  The contentious, carnal, critical, Corinthian crowd. This Church was split by carnality – and cash!  Some had rocketed to fame and become the merchant princes of the city. So Paul says, “Ye have reigned as kings without us.” Ponder the glaring contrasts in 1 Cor. 4:8 “Ye are full ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us,” “We are fools; we are despised; we both hunger and thirst and are naked” (verse 10). The blessed compensation is in verse 9, “We [apostles] are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.”    

It was not hard for Paul to claim after all this that he was “less than the least.” Then, Paul pointed all this truth against those whose faith had lost its focus. These Corinthians were full, but not free. (A man escaped from his cell is not free who still drags his chains.)  Paul is not grieved that they have super abundance and he nothing. He groans that their wealth has brought weakness of soul. They have comfort, but no cross; they are rich, but not reproached for Christ’s sake.  He does not say they are not Christ’s, but that they are seeking a thorn-less path to heaven. He declares, “I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.”  Indeed they reigned in a time-bound temporal realm (of which Paul had no interest ) for he knew that what the world gives in time will be taken by the same world also in the course of time. Rather Paul sought to reign with Christ eternally.    

But who wants to be thus dishonoured, despised, and devalued?  Such truth is revolutionary and upsetting to our corrupted Christian teaching. Can we delight in being esteemed fools? Is it easy to see our names cast about as an evil thing? Communism levels men down; Christ levels men up! True Christianity is far more revolutionary than Communism (though of course, bloodless). The bulldozers of socialism have tried to “push over” the hills of wealth and “fill in” the valleys of poverty. They thought  that by education they could “make the crooked places straight”- by an act of parliament and a mere waving of the political wand, the millennium, so long delayed, could be delayed, could be brought in. But those changes in Russia have been merely a change of bosses with the underdog still the bottom dog. Today plenty of people are rich by making others poor, but Paul said he was “poor, yet making many rich.” Thanks be unto God! The bag of Simon Magus who commercialises the gospel still gets no attention from the Holy Ghost!  If we have not yet been taught how to esteem “the mammon of unrighteousness, ” how shall we be entrusted with the “true riches”?    

And so Paul, bankrupt materially and socially, was bracketed with the choice few who are listed “as the “filth of the world.” Certainly this helped him understand that, as filth, he would be trodden under foot by men. Even though he could answer the philosophers, Stoics, and Epicureans on Mars Hill, yet for Christ’s sake he was willingly rated a “fool.”  To Jesus, the world’s antagonism was fundamental and perpetual…    

 “Give me the love that leads the way, The faith that nothing can dismay, The hope no disappointments tire, The passion that will burn like fire, Let me not sink to be a clod: Make me thy fuel, Flame of God  ”    –   Amy Wilson Carmichael    

(The article is an excerpt adapted from “Why Revival Tarries” by Leonard Ravenhill)    

I Peter 2 [9]  But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:    

 My God reigns … By your grace make me worthy to reign with you forever – Lord Jesus.    

Bode      

   

   

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