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Too Many Hypocrites in Church? That's No Excuse to Miss Worship!

February 14, 2009 2 comments

By Richard Zowie

When you look at church directories throughout the years, the families come and go. Some stay at the church, their kids grow up, get married and sometimes remain at the church to start families of their own. Even in as little as two years’ time you can view the directory and see members that have long since left.This is something I especially grew accustomed to growing up in a small South Texas town, which used to be the location of a Navy base. Military personnel came and went at our church, mostly because their next duty assignment took them elsewhere. We’d also have families that would leave for work, decide to attend another church in town, and so on.

This fluctuation of membership is something I’ve seen at all the churches I’ve attended. One thing I have noticed is that each church has its members who decide to quit attending for one central reason: “There are too many hypocrites in the church,” they argue.

As a person who has at times been out of church, I find this excuse as useful as that ageless “My dog ate my homework” excuse. Or as lame as the “Honey, I can explain!” a person might say when their spouse has caught them in a moment of indiscretion.

Too many hypocrites?

Welcome to the real world. Hypocrites are all too common in this world screwed up by Adam and Eve’s decision in the Garden of Eden to disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit.

What exactly is a hypocrite? The Merriam-Webster has two definitions: 1) a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion; 2) a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings. In the King James Bible, the word hypocrite occurs 11 times-eight times in the Old Testament and three times in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word is chaneph (or חנף). According to Strong’s Concordance, chaneph can mean hypocritical, godless, profane or irreligious. In the New Testament, and this is where things get really interesting, the word hypocrite comes from the Greek word is hypokritēs (or ὑποκριτής ). This fascinating word has three definitions: 1) one who answers, an interpreter; 2) an actor, stage player; 3) a dissembler, pretender, hypocrite. In the three times “hypocrite” is used in the New Testament, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and how they make big deals out of nothing while ignoring the parts of the Word of God that truly matter. In short, the Pharisees were being hypocrites.

Our English word hypocrite, therefore, comes from the Greek word hypokritēs, commonly used for “actor.” After all, an actor gets on stage or before a camera and pretends to be someone they’re really not. The American actor Robert DeNiro, for example, often plays violent criminals in his movies. In one movie, Cape Fear, DeNiro played a Georgia-born rapist who did lots and lots of talking. However, DeNiro, a native New Yorker, is said to be polite, shy and quiet in real life. Just as DeNiro makes a living pretending to be other people, others in church do it because following God is a daily challenge that they (and I) often fail at.

robert-deniro

Yes, there are hypocrites in the church. To be honest, I would say there have been many times where I would be guilty as charged.

But when you think about it, the world is filled with hypocrites.

In the Army, I knew of sergeants who, despite their hair constantly looking like they were about a week past due on a haircut, would nitpick soldiers and tell them they needed to get trimmed. At one job in Texas, I was lectured about not using the company e-mail system to send friendly messages to work colleagues who were friends. A short time later, the supervisor used company e-mail to send me one of those annoying e-mail chain letters.

Then there have been the doctors I’ve had who would assure me a shot wouldn’t hurt-it did.

There was the Internet service company that assured me I would be compensated for an error on their part-I wasn’t. There was the auto parts store that prides itself on service but wouldn’t take back an alternator (our original alternator turned not be the culprit for our engine problems). There were the people I’ve known who would seem so nice to others but yet be complete jerks in private. Again, I’ve been guilty of this also.

And yes, there are hypocrites at church. I can remember being the anti-social person in the service (back when my people skills were really lousy). A female soldier from my company visited my church. Because I didn’t really know her, I didn’t acknowledge it. She told a friend, and my actions-10 years later-still are a source of deep regret.

Also I’ve known musically-talented people at college who, though often called to sing in front of church, seemed to have major issues in their private life. I’ve known Bible majors who are now out of the ministry, and I’ve known of men who’ve split churches. There have also been the Jim Bakkers and Jimmy Swaggarts who preached holiness but yet got into sexual indiscretions. I remember one minister who preached endlessly about how former President Bill Clinton should be removed from office due to his disgraceful actions in the Monica Lewinsky Affair. Well, as it turns out, this minister himself was an adulterer.

Yet, despite all of this, I still visit the doctor and get shots when needed, consult with attorneys, go to the store, use the Internet and so forth.

Yes, there are too many hypocrites at church. But let me ask you this question: Are you really going to let a hypocrite cheat you out of fellowshipping with other Christians and furthering your walk with God?

Life is filled with two-faced people. Get over it and realize that life is unfair. You need to determine that you will serve God to the best of your abilities regardless of the obstacles placed before you. Please, get back into church, serve God with all your heart and trust in Him to help you use your talents for His glory. Maybe, just maybe, some of the “hypocrites” might see from your example and experience a revival in their own lives. Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to forsake gathering together as a church, so that we as Christians can encourage and hold accountable each other in our Christian walks.

Satan’s time is short, and he has two tasks: 1) to take as many people as possible with him to eternal punishment, and 2) to hinder Christians in their walks with Christ. If Satan can accomplish Number 2, then Number 1 usually will fall right into place. My friend, if you are absent from church because you are sick of the hypocrisy, you are unfortunately doing exactly what Satan wants you to do. I encourage you to either get back into that church or, at the very least, ask the Lord’s leading regarding another Bible-believing church in your area.

(This column originally was published in Saworship.com)

Does God allow suffering?

February 11, 2009 Leave a comment

I’m going to start posting columns of mine that appeared in a Christian website I used to write for. I may create a separate bookmark at the top of the page and provide links to each one…we’ll see.

(Originally appeared in the San Antonio Christian website Saworship.com)

Does God Allow Pain and Suffering? What Does the Bible Say?

By Richard Zowie

If you listen to some people, God has a lot of explaining to do.

In an episode of Friday Night Lights, a Christian teenager is involved in a jail ministry. One of the prisoners tells her, “If God is such a loving God, why is there sickness and death in the world?”

In the suspense film 1408, a troubled writer (brilliantly portrayed by John Cusack), learns that his beloved daughter has terminal cancer. He asks his wife, “What kind of a God would do this to a little girl?”

The now-defunct cartoon Boondocks had a strip one day where Huey, the acerbic grandson, spoke to his grandfather about church. Grandpa says that he never goes to church and speculates-incorrectly-that by doing so, he is probably going to hell.

Huey replies: “I don’t see what the big deal is about God. I mean, if he’s really all-powerful, he’s got a lot to answer for. I mean-war, famine…”

All three quotes are derivatives of the age-old question: why would a loving God allow suffering in this world? The Christian girl on FNL stumbled for an answer, and I’m sure many Christians might prefer to shy away from this question. No worries, though. The answer is much simpler than you realize.

All the suffering in this world is not God’s doing. It’s the result of man’s disobedience to God. Since the rebellion in the Garden of Eden, man has wanted to become God. All the ugliness in this world-suffering, pain, heartache, death, injustice, and so on-are the result of man trying to run the world his own way. Mankind, though it may wish to become God, is inherently unable to do so. Suffering didn’t exist in the perfect creation, but in the fallen world it is alive and well.

To understand this, let’s backtrack about 6,000 years. God creates the universe, the heavens and the earth. All of it is made and designed perfectly and beautifully. Among the creation was a tropical paradise of earth called the Garden of Eden. Man was created, and he had a beautiful world in which he could serve God, enjoy the delicious food and commune with God. As the years passed, man would grow closer and closer to God. Evil, pain, torment and heartache were things man would never have to know about.

But somehow, man found a way to mess this up. This utopia ended when Adam and Eve, with the encouragement of the Serpent, chose willingly to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil rather than the Tree of Life. They wanted to become like God, and at that moment, their eyes were opened to evil. They were driven out of the garden and had to work hard to provide for themselves. As the generations passed, mankind became very evil on many occasions, fueled by a desire to become God.

Entering into the world were sickness, disease, death, murder, rape, thievery, and many countless other evil acts. These acts were not because God caused them to happen, but rather are the result of man wanting to follow after himself and run the world his own way rather than God’s way.

But even though God didn’t bring pain and suffering into the world, that doesn’t mean He doesn’t use it for good purposes when needed. I am convinced that all the things we go through in life have two purposes: for the unsaved, to receive as many opportunities as possible to receive Jesus Christ as their personal savior as possible; for the saved, to receive as many opportunities as possible to grow in Christ. Sometimes pain and suffering are parts of the roads to salvation and becoming more conformed to the image of God.

Can’t God at least minimize life’s miseries? Again, they can be used by God. The Bible gives us countless examples of this, from Joseph to David to Job to Hosea to the Apostle Paul. Joseph tells his brothers in Genesis 50:15-21 that God used their wrongdoing of him (which included selling him into slavery and faking his death) for God’s glory. We read in verses 19-20:

“And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?
“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”

Besides wrongdoing, sometimes even physical infirmities can be used by God. Jesus tells His disciples in John 9 about how a blind man was born blind to show God’s glory. The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:1-13 makes reference to his “Thorn in the Flesh” (likely a problem with his eyes) that he prayed for deliverance from. God chose not to heal it. Instead of being bitter, Paul writes this in verses 8-10:

“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

Joni Eareckson Tada, a Christian author, commentator and artist, has spent decades living as a quadriplegic as the result of a swimming accident. She has been asked countless times if she would like to be out of the wheelchair. As nice as it would be to ride horses again, Joni talks about how God is able to use her infirmities for three purposes: to reach the disabled around the world with evangelism and encouragement and to help her grow spiritually.

Some may angrily think of how God has a lot of explaining to do for things like famine, war and injustice, but someday all of us will have to stand before God. For Christians, we’ll have to answer for our mistakes and shortcomings. For the lost, they’ll have to explain to God why they chose not to receive Jesus as their personal savior. There will be a lot for them to explain, especially since all the evidence that points to Jesus.

We can take comfort in knowing that as Christians, our days of pain and suffering are limited. Once the antichrist is defeated and Satan and those who follow him are thrown into the lake of fire for all eternity, the last chapters of Revelation describe a perfect world that will be the new heaven and New Jerusalem. It’s a place of peace, happiness and wealth, a place where God is in control and all the Christians have glorified hearts and bodies. Simply put, it is world of eternal perfection-a place that exists for those who love and follow after God. In New Jerusalem, there will be no war, no famine, no crime, no murder, not even bitter feelings. It will truly be a world beyond explanation.