James P. Needham
The title of this article is often the cry one hears when talking with people about their lost souls. How many times I’ve heard someone exclaim, “I am not a member of the church because I am just as good as the hypocrites you have in it!” In reality, this proves just one thing, namely, that the one making the statement is just as good as a hypocrite!
This article is not written to defend any hypocrite, either in the church or out of it; it is written to show that “hypocrites in the church” as an excuse for not doing one’s duty is ridiculous and absurd. We freely admit that there are some hypocritical members in the church of Christ. We would be denying the inspired prophecy if we said there were none, for Paul declared,
Now the Spirit saith expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils: speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared as with a hot iron (1 Tim. 4:1-2)
But this does not justify anyone in a failure to obey the gospel of Christ.
An Excuse, Not a Reason
“Hypocrites in the church” is an excuse for not being a Christian, not a reason. There is a world of difference between the two. Excuses are those things we give for not doing, our duty when we do not have reasons. Hambone said, “Excuses are just dressed-up lies.” If we really knew the hearts of those uttering this excuse, in 90 percent of the cases we would probably, find that this is not the real reason; they simply love sin too much to turn loose, hence offer this as a convenient scapegoat. In so doing they are actually acting the hypocrite themselves!
Often a Misnomer
Many times when people say they are not Christians “because of hypocrites in the church” they do not mean hypocrites at all. When pressed to specify, they will point out the mistakes and weaknesses in the life of some Christian. They fail to realize that becoming a Christian does not automatically turn one into a sinless God. After obeying the gospel, one is still subject to temptation, and many often fall into sin and error. But, as a Christian, he has the benefits of the blood of Christ which will take away all sins (1 John 1:7) and if in penitence he turns from his sin, he can always obtain forgiveness. The great apostle Paul continually had to buffet his body and bring it into bondage. This certainly is not to be taken as an encouragement to sin, but rather as an honest facing of the fact that in spite of all our desires and efforts not to sin, even the best of men at times may fall. To pick out some such mistake and brand the man who is guilty as a hypocrite is unrealistic, to say the least.
Man’s Relationship to God
Man’s duty to God can be divided into two distinct spheres: (a) God’s law of pardon to the alien sinner (which embraces faith in Christ (John 8:24) repentance of sins (Acts 17:30) confession of Christ’s name before men (Matt. 10:32) and baptism into Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16, Rom. 6:3, Gal. 3:27) and (b) God’s moral law governing the life of the one thus baptized. The hypocrite in the church has obeyed the first division of God’s law, but is failing to obey the second. The good, moral man who makes the excuse of “hypocrites in the church” has perhaps been obeying the second division of God’s law, but is refusing to obey the first. Actually, both the hypocrite and the one who uses him for an excuse stand condemned in God’s sight, because each of them is guilty of partial obedience; and obeying only a part of what God says is no obedience at all! James says, “to offend in one point, is to become guilty of all” (Jas. 2:10). My appeal to the hypocrite and to the one who uses him for an excuse is this: go all the way in your obedience to God. Why this half-way service? It will bring nothing but misery and eternal doom for both of you. Why travel a road which you know will lead to destruction?
A Personal Matter
Living the Christian life is an intensely personal matter, and our relationship to God does not depend upon the righteousness, or wickedness of any other person on this earth. Each of us shall stand or fall in the judgment upon our own record, not upon what someone else has, or has not, done. Paul says, “Every one of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). I cannot answer for you and you cannot answer for me. It has always been this way. Were it any other way, God would be unjust. God did not refuse to save righteous Noah because the rest of the world was wicked. If every person in the church is a hypocrite save one, that one person can be saved eternally and go to heaven!
The Fatal Excuse
There are at least two ways by which this old threadbare “hypocrites in the church” excuse proves fatal to the one making it: first, it admits that the hypocrite is bigger than the excuse-maker because the excuse-maker is hiding behind him; secondly, the thing behind which one hides is closer to the thing from which one hides than the person himself is. Else he could not hide behind that object. If a man hides from Christ behind a hypocrite in the church, then this puts the hypocrite closer to Christ than he is!
It may seem strange to many that in this article we have freely admitted that there are hypocritical church members. Sometimes people get the wrong idea as to what the Bible teaches along this line. Gospel preachers proclaim that one must be a member of the Lord’s church to be saved (Acts 2:47; Eph. 5:25) and this leads some people to reason like this: “Since you teach that one must be a member of the church to be saved eternally, then you must believe that everyone who is in the church will be thus saved.” Not at all! All of the saved are in the church, but not all who have become members of the church are to be saved eternally. It is like this: every sheriff is a citizen of the nation, but not every citizen is a sheriff! And so those who are finally saved will all be members of the church; but not all members of the church will be saved.
“But” says one, “when you admit that there are hypocritical church members, you admit the church is not perfect.” Well, that is true, but only in one sense. The church consists of two elements: the divine, and the human. The divine element is perfect, and cannot be any other way; the human element is imperfect, and often makes mistakes. It matters not how corrupt the human element may become, it can never effect the divine element. We must ever keep this in mind when thinking of the body of Christ, which is his church (Eph. 1:22,23). It is our duty to strive to make the human element as much like the divine as possible; we are partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4); and the more we partake of it, the more perfect we become.
In conclusion, if you have been using the “hypocrites in the church” excuse as an alibi for remaining in sin, why not stop it immediately and obey the gospel? Why should you go to hell just because the hypocrite is going there? Make up your mind now to do that which is right, and obey the gospel at your next opportunity.