Letter to the Editor: Hypocrites keeping you from church?
Frequently, people tell me they don't need to go to church to be a Christian. However true this statement may be, it is misguided. Either they don't believe what Jesus teaches on the subject, or, and, most likely, they don't understand what he says.
It is true that church is filled with lots of hypocrites, i.e., sinners. As a pastor I am a hypocrite who sins against my members, and, my dear parishioners sin against me. This shouldn't surprise us. Sadden us, yes, but surprise us, no. We deal with it through forgiveness of sins, just as Jesus forgives our sins, and generously so. We are not surprised when we meet sick people in a hospital and nor should we be surprised when we meet sinners in the hospital of the church.
When Jesus went to church, or, more accurately, the synagogue, he knew the synagogue was filled with hypocrites. This concern over hypocrisy is the usual reason offered as to why people avoid church. Not to be snarky, but we need to be honest and realize that we all are hypocrites. I have found that the people who are upset and offended at sin in the church often are the last to see their own sin, their own hypocrisy.
Jesus knew the synagogues he went to were filled with hypocrites. Yet Jesus still went because it was the children of Abraham who had "...been entrusted with the very words of God" (Rom 3:2). The Word of God delivers the forgiveness of sins to all who receive in faith because it is an all-powerful Word which "...gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist" (Rom 4:17). They, who had the Word of God were expected to be waiting for the Messiah to be born of a Virgin. But sadly, this was all-too-often not the case. And nothing is new in our day and age.
The answer is not to reject corporate worship or what some people today would call "religion." Over the last 21 years of my pastorate, numerous people have told me that when they miss church for sleeping, boating, golfing, fishing, farming, or, whatever idol is in their heart, they spend time with Jesus having devotions.
Occasionally I have asked them to share with me what their devotional reading material was for that morning. The silence, the stuttering, the redness in the face is deafening as it is embarrassing. Don't worry, I don't ask this question too frequently.
We need to remember that Jesus does not forgive sins and grow us in the knowledge of the truth through the seat of a John Deer tractor, a fishing rod, a pitching wedge, or a comfy pillow. Jesus forgives our sins and grows us in the knowledge of the truth through; Word, water, bread, wine, and holy absolution.
This rejection of religion or seeking Jesus privately is not the corrective. Listen to what Jesus says in his Word for those who would opt to no longer assemble with believers for acts of piety of their own choosing.
Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them" (Mt 18.20).
The writer of Hebrews warns us not to forsake the "assembling of ourselves together" (10.25).
We would do well to notice that the longest of the Ten Commandments is the Sabbath commandment calling us to the Divine Service.
Luke tells us that on the Sabbath Day Jesus went to the synagogue "as was his custom" (Lk 4.16).
Jesus also describes the church as the "body" of which he is the head. No one can love the head (Jesus) without loving the rest of the body (the church) (Col 1.18).
St. Luke (4:16) records it was Jesus' custom to attend a house of worship - the synagogue in his day - that was filled with, you guessed it, hypocrites. Jesus, who is without sin/hypocrisy, lovingly and humbly worshiped alongside hypocrites. What conceivable reason then can be offered to keep us hypocrites from worshiping alongside fellow hypocrites on Sunday morning to receive the gifts offered by the crucified and resurrected Christ?
In John chapter two we read about Jesus clearing the temple of animals and money-changers. He wanted to clean up the hypocrisy and weakness that sometimes infects worship. But he didn't tell them to stop coming to the temple. Instead he renewed worship by calling people to repentance and by offering his own perfect life and death as a redeeming sacrifice.
When you enter any church you will simply be one more sinner/hypocrite joining other sinners/hypocrites. The sinless one, Jesus will also be in attendance when and where his gifts are rightly administered. He is there in mercy and kindness to forgive our sins, give us knowledge of the truth, and, in his time, take us to that place where there will be no sin, hypocrisy, or sorrow.
Blessings, my friends,