Dealing with hypocrisy
Recently one of my international partners suggested that I address the issue of hypocrisy in the church and how believers should handle it. I thought about it for a while and realized that this is a current relevant subject that needs to be addressed as it impacts the church in a significant way.
This thought also took me back to my trip to Ireland a few years ago where I noticed that a number of people I talked to were very nonchalant about the church. On closer examination I received startling information from a church leader. He stated that people were jaded about the Catholic Church because it was discovered that a fairly significant segment of the population had suffered some form of abuse by priests or nuns. This was borne out in a number of studies that indicated systemic issues with abuse in some church run orphanages, schools and foster homes. In other churches in the United States and around the world there have been endless reports of the same type of behavior across many denominations. No denomination has been immune to the scourge of hypocrisy. While I don’t have statistics available, news reports, court records and other information indicate that the problems run through all churches and indeed all religions and professions in society.
How do we deal with this dilemma in the church, not only of abuse but of hypocritical actions regarding finances, legal matters and any number of behavioral conduct issues?
What happens when leaders and members say one thing and then do the opposite?
I believe the first response to this situation is to separate personal behavior from what the Bible and the church teaches. If people say they are Christian but live against what they believe, it does not negate what the church teaches because no church has ever taught people to abuse children or misappropriate finances.
When people do it, they are not representing the tenants of the church and they are representing something that church teachings and indeed the Bible does not teach. The 10 Commandments are clear, and God has established very clear guidelines for human conduct. If someone misrepresents God we should hold them accountable, but not judge what God said and established by their behavior. In fact, the Bible gives clear guidelines for when this happens. Here are some Biblical guidelines for leaders: 1 Timothy 3:2-12 New King James Version (NKJV) – A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover, he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Qualifications of deacons
Likewise, deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless. Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
So, the Biblical position is very clear. If someone who purports to represent God lives contrary to what the Bible states, then they should be held accountable and those of us who see this behavior should not support the churches that allow this abuse of standards that have been clearly outlined. They should be punished according to church law and societal law where appropriate and be removed from office. They should be held to account for their hypocrisy and not given a pass because of their position or status in the church. The biblical standards are clear, and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles clearly outline what is right and what is wrong.
If a teller or bank manager steals from the bank or misrepresents the bank, we don’t say close the bank, we refer to the principles that govern their employment and they are held accountable and either fired or disciplined. If it is found the entire bank leadership is corrupt then they are removed. There is nothing wrong with the church; the principles of the Bible are proven and tested, and multitudes have lived exemplary lives applying those principles. The issue is not the church as much as it is those who claim to represent the church. When someone exhibits hypocritical behavior, they should be called out, reminded and judged by the very principles they say they represent. Persons in churches who see hypocritical members or leaders should question them and hold them to account – and if there is no appropriate resolution they should leave that church and find another with genuine leadership. Of course, you cannot eliminate hypocrisy entirely and there will always be issues in any church, but systemic and prevalent hypocrisy should not be condoned or tolerated.
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.