Is Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church Full of Hypocrites?
“They are not all saints who use holy water.” (English proverb)
Most unbelievers, when invited to come to church by their relatives or friends, will balk saying, “I don’t like going to church. It’s full of hypocrites.” Worse, even some people who claim to be Christians agree. But is it true that the church is full of hypocrites?
What exactly is a hypocrite? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a hypocrite as “a person who claims or pretends to have certain beliefs about what is right but who behaves in a way that disagrees with those beliefs.”
The English word hypocrite is a transliteration of the Greek word hupokrites, a mask used by an actor or role-player in the Greek drama. The actor will hold a mask in front of his face, and sometimes, they use more than one mask if they played more than one role. An actor is someone who pretends to be someone else, someone whom he is not.
So the meaning of hypocrite in Biblical use has evolved into someone who professes to be a Christian in the church, but his private life is far from his profession. But the accusation that the church is full of hypocrites is mostly, if not completely, baselesss. True, there will always be pretenders in the church, as no one really knows the human heart other than God. And I suspect that many among thousands who fill megachurches are also pretenders, since they have no knowledge, and are there for the entertainment.
In the Old Testament, there is no single word for hypocrites, except for the LXX translation of chaneph as hupokrites (”godless,” ESV) in Job 36:13. But the idea is already there of Israelites—God’s covenant people—who were “godless,” especially those who worship with unrepentant hearts. So their offerings and sacrifices were unacceptable to God, “The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless” [chaneph] (Is 33:14).
In the New Testament, false worshipers were also condemned as hypocrites. Pharisees flaunted their good works in giving alms, praying and fasting in public, but in their hearts, they were “whitewashed tombs full of uncleanness and lawlessness” (Mt 23:27-28). The wicked servant was destined for hell together with all other hypocrites, because he always beat up the other servants and got drunk while his master was away (Mt 24:48-51). Simon Magus pretended to believe, yet was only after shameful gain, and was condemned by Peter (Ac 8:18-23).
Article 29 of the Belgic Confession of Faith (1561) affirms that there are “hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there.”
But the true Christian in the church who professes to be a saint in Christ and acknowledges his sins is a totally different matter from a hypocrite. Though he continues to commit sins, he repents and turns back to God stronger in the faith because of his repentance. How can he be a hypocrite when he admits being a sinner that he is, according to the Word of God? Unbelievers and professing believers who do not attend church—and there are many—see churchgoing Christians sin, and then conclude that the church is full of hypocrites. Far from the truth!
There is no church that has 100 percent true Christians, even if they have all been baptized as professing adults. All throughout Biblical history, from Adam and Eve down through the two millennia after Christ, there has never been a perfect church. The church will always have false professors—hypocrites—among the true believers. And true believers will still continue to sin until Christ returns to make the church perfect. But again, BC Article 29 describes Christians as saints-sinners:
They believe in Jesus Christ the only Savior, flee from sin and pursue righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor without turning to the right or left, and crucify their flesh and its works. Although great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their life. They appeal constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of Jesus Christ, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins through faith in Him.
These saints-sinners are not hypocrites!
So then, who are hypocrites? Again, there are some in the church. But it is the world outside the church that is full of hypocrites. In self-delusion, they present themselves before others and before God that they are “basically good” people. In a recent survey, 65 percent of all Americans agree that most people are basically good, when all of them are condemned by God as worthless and wicked:
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rm 3:10-18).
Revivalist Billy Sunday once said, “Hypocrites in the Church? Yes, and in the lodge and at the home… Go home and look in the mirror. Hypocrites? Yes. See that you make the number one less.” Never believe it! If you’re a churchgoing true believer, you are not a hypocrite!
Is Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church full of hypocrites? By no means! There may be a handful, but the great majority who have made profession of faith or come regularly are sinners who have been justified and declared righteous saints by our holy God by faith alone in Christ alone. And they show it in their public and private lives.
But since hypocrisy is all too real in the life of a church, it is well to heed God’s warnings about it all over Scripture. The Puritan Stephen Charnock wrote:
It is a sad thing to be Christians at a supper, heathens in our shops, and devils in our closets.
Without the heart it is not worship; it is a stage play; an acting a part without being that person really a hypocrite. We may truly be said to worship God—though we lack perfection; but we cannot be said to worship Him if we lack sincerity.