We have all heard it - I don't go to church because they are all hypocrites. Really? First of all, at some level, we are all hypocrites, church-goer or non-church-goer. Who has not said I'm all right, when inside they are not alright. I will still go to work or a hockey game even though the workplace and the arena are filled with hypocrites.
But I think there is a deeper misunderstanding. What is often the response of the Christian when they hear someone make that astute observation about pew-sitting hypocrites? We agree and apologize! Why? Instead we ought to use it as a time of evangelism. If we are going to evangelize, we need to first understand the distinction between justification and progressive sanctification. Justification tells us of our right standing before God, not others in the church; progressive sanctification tells us of our standing before those in the church.
When we go to church, our standing before God is right through the work of Jesus' death and resurrection - we stand as if we are righteous in the presence of God. At the same time, when we sit in our chairs and worship with one another, we are those who are still growing in Christ-likeness. No, we are not all hypocrites - no one that I have met recently has claimed sinlessness in everyday living. While forgiven in Christ, the church is filled with saved sinners seeking to love God and be Christ-like, but fail and sin against God and one another.
Martin Luther writes about the Christian life: The life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished but it is going on; this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified.
Instead of apologizing for those in the church, tell the astute observers the gospel message. Talk about justification in ways they will understand and their need for a Saviour. Explain that to be saved doesn't mean perfection in this life. In others words, proclaim the gospel and the results of a changed heart, gently and honestly: God is at work to transform His people to look more like Him. We are not perfectly righteous but we are growing in righteousness; we do not yet perfectly love but we are learning to love; and we do not yet live like Jesus calls us to live, but we are growing in Christ-likeness.
So, this is good news for those who won't come to church because it is full of hypocrites. If the church is not full of hypocrites but sinners who are saved and are learning to love Jesus more each day, they should feel welcome.
So won't you come to church and know of the love of Jesus for sinners? Come on - you are more than welcome!!