Hypocrisy Made Respectable

Where Opposites Find Their Ultimate Attraction

It’s not often that I take the time to either watch or listen to a another preacher’s sermon online, but a family member urged me to watch a young man on SermonAudio which demonstrated more than compromise, but hypocrisy made perfectly acceptable. His message was at a SBC youth rally and he preached an excellent message against worldliness for which he speculated that he would probably never be invited to speak there again.  It was an admirable effort, preached with passion and calling the young people present to change their ways and serve the Lord, but something didn’t seem quite right.

As I dug back to the church website from which this young man ministered I found a strange assortment of descriptions of its ministries. On the one hand, it was a Baptist Church, but it held a Reformed perspective in doctrine. Their self description of worship style was “charismatic.” The music ministry obviously included a praise band, much like the one I saw behind this young man at the SBC youth rally video. The Church, of course, staked a claim for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  As I watched the video, I could not help but wonder if those who heard his powerful message were as confused as I was, when he extended an invitation to repent of the very things engaged and endorsed in the rally’s program.

Hypocrisy is one of the strongest terms used in the Bible. Wherever we read it in the New Testament, it was a term of strongest rebuke and criticism, because it questioned a person’s truthfulness, consistency and sincerity of heart. The word derives from the role-playing by actors in first century theater. It is about play-acting so as to pretend to be something we are not, which was facilitated in the first century by the wearing of masks, so as to set forth an illusion by both words and appearance for the entertainment of the audience.

Jesus used the term repeatedly in the Gospel accounts, including some 15 times in Matthew alone, but it was never directed to the secular world. More often than not, the Pharisees were His target because they perpetually hid behind the masks of piety and put on a religious show from the synagogues to the street corners to impress other people with their professed intellectual and spiritual superiority. As our Lord pointed out, they professed allegiance and service unto the Truth, but their practice not only fell short of the standards of Scripture, but also directly contradicted the Truth in the service of their own will and pleasure. No wonder Jesus repeatedly exposed them publicly for the imposters  they really were, but the Gospels tell us that despite the miracles performed by Jesus, the people still naturally gravitated towards the pomp and ceremony of their religious theater. In such hindsight, it would appear that most of the recent innovations in church and worship going on around us are far from anything new. In fact, their dubious heritage of the acceptability of deception and fair speeches being justified by the ends sought, should have given pause to those tempted to follow suit in our lifetime.

Through the 20th century, the efforts to overcome the charges of hypocrisy consisted of outright attacks upon the Word of God as the standard for Truth. Since the end of the Civil War, Darwinism, Higher Criticism and the Social Gospel all did their best to escape the condemnation of being called hypocritical by rejecting any absolute Scriptural standard of measure from being of Christianity applied to their ministries or programs. For one to apply an absolute standard that was not culturally sensitive was to be declared irrelevant to the needs of society and be labeled a legalist. While the subsequent movements of Modernism,  Liberalism and Evangelicalism did much harm to undermine the clarity of the Gospel and the cause of Christ, at least their leaders were still sensitive and responsive to the charges of hypocrisy leveled against them. They just changed the rules rather than change their conduct.

Toward the second half of the 20th century we can mark the beginning of Neo-Evangelicalism which began to build the foundation for where we find ourselves now. The world’s methods, even its forms of entertainment, become fair game as acceptable means towards the end of reaching young people with the Gospel message. No matter if the “Christian” artists have reputations of broken lives and abandoned marriages. No matter if the lyrics of their songs are so generic as to be applied to any god or religious system. No matter if the message is discovering God’s plan for your life. It is the beginning of the acceptance of Christianity as nothing more than addition to all the worldly things that already preoccupy our lives. An adjunct or a postscript, more focused upon the end of life than about living now as a Christian. The necessity of “old things are passed away” is redefined so that not everything must become new. It creates an artificial partnership between the Old Man and the New Man within believers which simply need to learn how to coexist through a measure of mutual respect for the contributions each offers for the welfare of the Christian. The walls are broken down and like those in Nehemiah’s day, there are yet many content to live in the squalor of a decrepit Jerusalem, open to anything and everything, so long as it is still known as Jerusalem.  Why should anyone be surprised that the Ecumenical Movement was spawned during this period of time. All the doctrinal differences and distinctions can- yea must be- sacrificed for the sake of spiritual unity. No doctrine dare be held so precious as to not be expendable for the greater good of one world-wide Church. Unity doesn’t just trump hypocrisy. It expunges it from our vocabulary.

Since the close of the 20th century until now, we come to the last and final stage of the process with the Emergent Church Movement, where hypocrisy is neither denied, nor expunged, but rather it has become the hallmark and self-professed glory of the movement. Contrary doctrines, contrary forms of worship, contrary lifestyles all become the norms where attendants may freely pick and choose what they will or what they like, so long as they are willing to let everyone else there make their own choices as well. No one is judged, neither would it be good taste to criticize other choices as wrong or hypocritical to some absolute system of Truth. Church is thus made into a spiritual Build-A Bear” store where everybody comes together for a presumed identical purpose, but each one leaves with their own design, conformed to their own wants and needs. It is the ultimate achievement of consumer religion.

Lastly, to not only accept, but revel in hypocrisy is the ultimate success of worldliness over Godliness. It seems hardly necessary to say that politicians have been liars and hypocrites for a long time. For them to say one thing do another, prescribe a law for the rest of us, yet exempt themselves from the same law, merely adds arrogance to hypocrisy, but it has become so commonplace that we accept it as the norm in modern society. If we would be discerning at all, it is to seek the lesser degree of arrogance and hypocrisy in a political candidate whom we might support in an election. But consider a broaden perspective.
If Islam sincerely hates Western decadence and resents its corrupting influence found in Islamic nations, why have there never been terrorist threats against Hollywood? Why not attack Los Angeles, instead of New York? Perhaps it is a matter of expediency. Hollywood personalities speak out against the wars in the Middle East. Hollywood’s age old support for Israel has swung  in recent years to condemnation of Israel and support for the Palestinian cause. It’s like all the Feminist movements, whose silence about the treatment of women in the Middle East is deafening, whose true agenda must be different from that first professed to maintain such prolonged silence in the face of such profound abuse. These are but political variations of the hypocrisy now commonly accepted as normal.

Two final things; First, Hypocrisy is never about the welfare of others, it is always about accruing power over people. In that quest for power, any absolute Authority whether of the Word of God, or God Himself, must be plausibly dismantled, set aside or compelled into subjection to the asserted authority of men. Absolutes cannot be tolerated in a world governed by Relativism because the absolute standards would clearly mark the compromises and hypocrisy of Relativism..  Second, we can never forget that God hates Hypocrisy. Whether we read the Old Testament or the New, there has never been tolerance for the contrary or contradictory. It has always been that our yea be yea, and our nay be nay. While we struggle within ourselves daily over the contradictions we face between our Old and New natures, the Scripture is abundantly clear that we must perpetually do battle with ourselves, with the unbelieving world and with Satan himself to “die daily,” lest we come to some cease fire that will bring more confusion than clarity to what it means to live as God’s child in this present age. It also should be clear that we cannot countenance movements, churches, authors or ministries that have surrendered Biblical distinctions to the cliche “all things to all people.” The exaltation of acceptable contradictions and confusion will put more souls on the broad way that leads unto destruction than ever before. Furthermore, the longer we linger in the company of the confused, the more we lend our own credibility to a placebo gospel, devoid of any saving grace because it denies the Truth of the Gospel found in Scripture. Such hesitation marks the weakness of our discernment and the elevation of other things such as unity or acceptable  hypocrisy above the simple Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Charles L. Dear