Alright all you churchly people, here’s a newsflash: There are some who think we are just a bunch of hypocrites! I have heard this excuse from one too many former church attenders, and I have been offended by it. I do not wish to stand in the way of anyone who is seeking a right relationship with God Almighty (in fact, Jesus warns us sternly against such stumbling blocks). So I’ve done a little research on the meaning of the word and applied my own experience. The result? I’m inclined to agree. The church is full of hypocrites, of which I am one.
According to dictionary.com, a hypocrite is “a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, esp. a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.” Here’s a practical example: Gossip. Everyone knows that gossip is a bad thing, certainly not a virtue, and is soundly condemned in the Bible. A quick search of the word ‘gossip” on www.biblegateway.com reveals its use in 8 verses and none of them positive. Truthfully, church people are notorious for gossiping… sometimes we even try to make our gossip sound righteous by calling it “prayer requests”. Not all prayer requests are gossip, of course. But sometimes we do share a little too much information. Just pray for the person. God knows the details already.
The word that really bugs me in the definition of “hypocrite” is “pretends”. “Pretends” gives “hypocrite” such a negative connotation. Perhaps we can replace it with “aspires” or “tries”. For example, I am not nearly as convicted when the definition reads: “a person who works hard to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess (and we must put in a “yet” here). To be honest, this has been my own personal definition of hypocrite until I looked it up this morning. I was mad because I felt unfairly judged. My defense was, “Yes, we’re hypocrites. But at least we’re trying.” But when I looked up the definition, my outrage lost its steam. “Pretends” socked me in the gut. It made me ask the question: “Am I guilty of pretending and not really trying? Of putting up a good front on Sundays that won’t hold on Friday night?” What would happen if we came to church and, instead of trying to impress all our church friends, freely admitted we have screwed up? What if we admitted we still sin? We might just run the risk of becoming the subject a “prayer request”.