“I don’t go to church because churches are full of hypocrites!” This is an increasingly common sentiment. But is it true? Are churches full of hypocrites?
Duh. Are AA meetings full of alcoholics? I’m a Christian, though I rarely use the term, preferring “Jesus follower” instead. Why? Well, for starters, it’s used indiscriminately by hundreds of millions who hold few if any actual Christian convictions.
But in another sense, I don’t deserve to call myself a Christian: the word Christian (“like Christ”) was coined by the ancient Romans as a put-down (“Hey, you! You’re like that Jesus guy!”). And I’m not worthy of such a put-down. Yet.
AA members address meetings with, “Hello, I’m __________ and I’m an alcoholic (or addict).” They say this regardless of whether they fell off the wagon yesterday or have been a “recovering alcoholic” for fifty years. Why? Because they know their addiction never really goes away. They live “one day at a time,” and even then they need others to help them do it.
It’s the same with “recovering hypocrites.”*
“Oh, you’re just making excuses,” some may say. “If your Christianity was real, or if Christianity itself was real, you wouldn’t be a hypocrite anymore!”
We live in a broken world. Everyone is broken, and our brokenness takes many forms. Here’s a quick insight into my brokenness: I have ADD and if I had a nickel for every time I’ve ever offended someone by “ignoring” them or “arrogantly” “rolling over” them with my “own ideas” rather than “respecting” “their opinions”—which I missed because I was lost in thought, or watching a car go by, or… (quotes indicate things I’ve been accused of many times)… Well, let’s just say I’d have a corner on the world’s nickel supply. So, to everyone I’ve ever offended: I’m sorry. Seriously.
I didn’t get “saved” from my ADD when I became a Jesus follower any more than short people get saved from their shortness or Scots get saved from their red-headedness.
Everyone is broken. But not everyone’s brokenness is label-able. Many suffer from what I call “normative brokenness,” i.e. undiagnosed pathologies. For example: I know a man who is extremely successful, a real leader of men. Why? Because he believes he should lead. Even when he shouldn’t. He doesn’t understand sensitive or gifted people, and routinely ignores them. Except when he prays. And then—every now and then—God humbles him.
Humility is not “natural” for him because his undiagnosed pathology is hard-wired into him, just as my ADD is into me. He too is a recovering hypocrite. And, no, he didn’t get “healed” of his hypocrisy when he became a Jesus follower either.
What we did get was a way of overcoming our hypocrisies. It’s called prayer. It’s our 12 Step program, our hotline, and our sponsorship all rolled into one. How often do I pray? As often as I need to. Which is pretty much every minute of every hour of every day (I Thessalonians 5:17).
It’s a powerful thing, prayer. But it’s not magic. It only works because there’s Someone at the other end. And it’s gradually changing me despite my broken nature. I’m still me, but now I’m me-in-love-with-Him. And that that makes all the difference.
Life as a recovering hypocrite isn’t a downhill slide into happy land—for me or for the people I’ve wounded. But it’s better than being a hypocrite in denial, which the world has even more of than it does recovering hypocrites.
I headed this post with a snipey cartoon because, yes, churches fall short. Or rather their members do. We’re just a bunch of recovering hypocrites, after all. So…want to join us?
You can bring your pathology.
*For this idea, I am indebted to John Fischer who many years back wrote a compelling magazine article entitled “Sinners Anonymous.”