I recently read an article published by skeptic Valerie Tarico on the left-wing, anti-religion, news-and-commentary website Alternet.org entitled, “8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert — to Agnosticism or Atheism.”
Most of the articles on this site are either offensive or just plain ridiculous, this article caught my interest, because it contains some truths that Christians need to understand.
People who reject Jesus Christ ultimately do so because they choose to suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). However, there are also many things that those in the church do to push people away. As Tarico states, “if you read ExChristian testimonials you will notice that quite often church leaders or members do things that either trigger the deconversion process or help it along.”
I’ve found that I can often learn a lot by listening to what skeptics say about their perceptions of Christianity. This series looks at the eight reasons Tarico highlights.
Reason #4: Hypocrisy
Christians are taught – and many believe—that thanks to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit they are a moral beacon for society. The writer of Matthew told his audience, “You are the light of the world.” That’s a high bar, and yet decent believers (along with many other decent people) try earnestly to meet it. But the added pressure on those who call themselves the “righteous” means that believers also are prone to hiding, pretending, posing, and turning a blind eye to their own very human, very normal faults and flaws.
People who desperately want to be sanctified and righteous, “cleansed by the blood of the lamb” – who need to believe that they now merit heaven but that other people’s smallest transgressions merit eternal torture—have a lot of motivation to engage in self-deception and hypocrisy. High-profile hypocrites like Ted Haggard or Rush Limbaugh may be loved by their acolytes, but for people who are teetering, they help to build a gut aversion to whatever they espouse. But often as not, the hypocrisies that pose a threat to faith are small and internal to a single Bible-study or youth group. Backbiting and social shunning are part of the church-lady stereotype for a reason. They also leave a bitter taste that makes some church members stop drinking the Kool-aid.
Tarico’s comments show both considerable insight and a fundamental misunderstanding of what Christianity is all about.
The comment that Christians “believe that they now merit heaven but that other people’s smallest transgressions merit eternal torture” shows a very common, yet very fundamental, misconstruing of the Gospel. The Bible does not teach that Christians merit heaven. Christians will spend eternity in Heaven despite the fact that we do not merit Heaven. Because of our sin, we deserve Hell. Yet, through the blood of Jesus, those who receive Jesus Christ as Savior will spend eternity in Heaven despite the fact that our sins merit Hell. Christians are not more moral than non-Christians; we are just forgiven of our immorality. A Christian’s righteousness is not a result of our superior behavior or character; it is because Christ’s righteousness is credited to us. We are saved solely by God’s grace!
Unfortunately, there are many who call themselves Christians who have the same basic misunderstanding of the Gospel. Many of these so-called Christians are actually false converts; they have never placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and have never received Him as Lord and Savior. As 2 Timothy 3:1-5 puts it:
1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!
Or, as Jesus put it in Matthew 7:21-23:
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
There are also some true believers – those who have a saving faith in Jesus Christ – who do not understand that Christians don’t “deserve heaven.” Many of these Christians have simply been taught falsely. For others, their pride and arrogance lead them to think that they are morally superior to others, and that this moral superiority somehow makes them more acceptable to God. One of the problems I have with Calvinism is that many Calvinists teach that God love the elect, but hates the non-elect; that the elect somehow deserve Heaven, but the non-elect deserve Hell. This belief is nothing more than pride and arrogance run amok, and comes straight from the devil.
Tarico is right on the mark with her charge that hypocrisy drives people from faith in Jesus Christ. Numerous studies have confirmed that one of the main reasons cited by those who leave the church is the hypocrisy of Christians. Numerous high-profile Christian leaders have been exposed as adulterers, thieves, liars, or outright frauds. Tarico is correct in stating that “backbiting and social shunning are part of the church-lady stereotype for a reason.” The Bible teaches Christians to “love your neighbor,” but too often churches are filled with factions, condemnation, and hatred. It’s not just the Westboro Baptist Churches of the world; it’s also a problem in almost every church. Churches are filled with sinners, and sinning is what comes naturally to us, even as Christians. We teach one thing, but live another. Our pride and arrogance fuel this hypocrisy.
Christians need to get real with themselves, real with God, and real with the people around them. We need to understand that we are fundamentally sinners; our righteousness is not our own; we are saved, not because God loves us more, but because we received His forgiveness, which is offered to all. We need to quit trying to convince ourselves that we are morally superior to others; rather, we need to fall on our faces before our holy God and repent of our pride and conceit. Paul tells us to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Pride and arrogance lead to hypocrisy, and hypocrisy drives people from the church. Tarico is right on the money when she states that, “believers … are prone to hiding, pretending, posing, and turning a blind eye to their own very human, very normal faults and flaws. ” Christians must learn to acknowledge our faults, both before God and before others, and not allow pride and vanity to turn others from Christ. There is no room in the church for snobbery, smugness, or self-importance. Rather, humility, genuineness, and unpretentiousness should rule our lives. Humility and genuineness will draw people to Christ; pride and hypocrisy will push them away.