When talking to non-Christians about why they don’t come to church you might hear many different explanations. Among them there is an argument that is repeated far too often. Perhaps you have come across it: the hypocrisy argument. It’s a common rationale used to justify one’s un-churched-ness. “Why would I want to go to church? It’s nothing but a bunch of hypocrites.” According to this line of reasoning the church is perceived as a place where we Christians come together to pretend we are holier-than-thou, acting as though we’re perfect saints and selectively forgetting the sinful behavior we engage in the rest of the week.
This is a horrendous perception of the Body of Christ. Sadly, this misconception is not merely the figment of the un-churched imagination. It is actually a view unwantedly fueled by – you guessed it – the church. There are many Christian denominations in our day and age that would like to forget that sin is rampant among believers. Who wouldn’t? After all, it’s always easier to close your eyes and pretend a problem doesn’t exist than to face it head on and deal with it. And though many churches today find themselves propagating the hypocrisy argument we praise God that there are still those who don’t.
On Sunday morning when we come together here at Trinity Lutheran Church we snuff the flame of the hypocrisy argument as we kneel before God confessing our sinfulness. Each of us openly admits our guilt by saying, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.” (LSB, 184) There is no self-righteousness as we bow our knees before our Lord. Our confession is spoken after a moment of silent reflection where we personally contemplate God’s Word and examine ourselves. In this time of reflection we come to the conclusion that, “I sin much!” We take refuge in the fact that our sins are forgiven through the life and death of our Savior, Jesus Christ as we continue saying, “But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.” (LSB, 184)
The recognition of sin is extremely important, for if we deny our sinfulness, pretending to be holier-than-thou, the hypocrisy argument becomes an accurate portrayal of the church goer, not only in the eyes of the non-Christian but also in the eyes of God. Or in the words of Philip Melanchthon, “Knowledge of original sin is a necessity. For we cannot know the magnitude of Christ’s grace unless we first recognize our malady. The entire righteousness of the human creature is sheer hypocrisy before God unless we admit that by nature the heart is lacking love, fear, and trust in God.” (AP II, Kolb/Wengert, 117)
Is the church full of hypocrites? You betcha! But it’s also full of repentant sinners who recognize that coming to church is precisely what hypocrites ought to do, for that is where the Word of God is preached and His sacraments are administered; that is where their hypocrisy is forgiven.
by Vicar Tyrel Bramwell (The Mora Gunfighter) for the Trinity Times (January 22, 2013)