Is the Church full of hypocrites?
I hear it often. It seems like an auto-response for many when describing the Church; "the Church is full of hypocrites." I usually end up smiling as I remember an old friend when faced with the same response. He would smile and warmly reply "Yes! And there is always room for one more! Why not join us this Sunday?"
To be fair, I can understand why the hypocrite card gets played. How often do professing Christians, those who wax eloquently, often self-righteously and condescendingly, get caught with their hands in the coffers, sketchy business dealings, or with their pants down! It happens more than it should, and of course, this makes excellent fodder for media and alike to leverage the scandal. These things are not the proprietary domain of the Hollywood pastor and can infect the pulpit and the pew alike. So what is one to do about hypocrisy? It is here that Henri Nouwen can provide insight as he writes to Christian leaders:
It’s not easy to avoid hypocrisy completely because we find ourselves saying things larger than ourselves. I often call people to a life I am not fully able to live myself. I am learning that the best cure for hypocrisy is community. Hypocrisy is not so much the result of not living what I preach, but much more of not confessing my inability to fully live up to my own words. - (Sabbatical Journey. Crossroads, New York 1998. pg. 219-20)
For me, I have some pretty big ideas and dreams around authentic love; God as the source of that love. I dream of a new way of being human, of being community founded on a love that transforms us and makes us whole. No sappy sentimentality or romanticism could ever do this, these ideas demand BIG love – divine love. In the words of the modern day psalmist and penny philosopher, Neil Peart "In a world that seems so small, I can't help thinking big." The problem is, the idea(s) are so big, and I am so small that I cannot live this kind of love the way I wished I could all the time. As I continue to learn and mature I do make some progress towards living this idea better, and more consistently. However, it is undeniable. I cannot live all the things I dream of, aspire to and write about. The truth is that, for every loving and heroic thing I do, there are many times I fail to love well. I want to do much better, and I identify with the Apostle Paul's lament that he does not do the things he wants to do, and does the things he does not want to.
As Christians, we often fail to live up to our big dreams and ideals. We all fall short of the glory of God. We stumble; we fail and… we get up and try again. This is not hypocrisy; this is being human on a journey. Hypocrisy is not the failing or falling down; it is the pretending that we do not fail. It is the posture of self-righteousness, arrogance and condescension of insisting others take the speck out of their eye while denying the log in our own.
This does not mean we lose our voice. It is silly to suggest that if you're not perfect, you have no right to share your opinion or conviction because there is no such thing as a perfect human being. If this were the case, no one could ever speak. We cannot be dissuaded from standing for our big ideas but in a posture of genuine humility and love.
So where do we go from here? Even though we will continue to make mistakes, safe in the faithful, forgiving love of God, we need to own our stuff – take responsibility for our mistakes – get up and try again. As wonderful as achieving our high ideals will be, the achievement of trying and failing, and trying again makes for a most excellent character and testimony of the loving goodness of our God. It also produces a genuine empathy for those who struggle, those who make mistakes, and makes us more likely to offer a hand up rather than a boot of condemnation.
Any genuinely transformative idea is really big. The Good News of the Kingdom of God is really big. When we aspire to live in these big ways, we will make mistakes. I contend; it is better to try to live for something bigger like love and fail, than to live for nothing any bigger than our own selfish interests.