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For the past several years the Lord has increasingly called me to speak up about abuse in the church. This is not a topic that I ever expected to be addressing but something God opened my eyes to and drew me into. I can relate to Jude, who wanted to write about our salvation in Christ but was compelled instead to write to the believers to contend for the faith and expose the abuses of false teachers and false prophets (see Jude 1:3-4). There are many other subjects that I love to teach, but to ignore this topic would be like walking past the man on the side of the road in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I can’t unsee what I have seen and I can’t unknow what I have come to know.
What I have found is that the problem of abuse in the church is much greater than we have imagined. Domestic abuse, sexual abuse, abusive leadership, and other abuses are happening at alarming rates. One of the things that perpetuates these abusive dynamics is that we have often been naïve to the nature of evil and the nature of abuse. This must change so that abuse can be properly dealt with.
How Can Abuse Hide in the Church?
How do abusers and predators blend into the church?
- How can a pastor, church leader, or itinerant speaker get away with sexually abusing women or children for years?
- How can abusive spouses keep Christians and church leaders fooled?
- How can false teachers and false prophets continually manipulate and rob the people of God of money?
- How can predatory or abusive “Christians” prey on the flock and wreak havoc on congregations?
A few years ago the Holy Spirit gave me a key insight: In order to understand how abusers and predators blend into the church, we must understand the true nature of hypocrisy. This insight eventually turned into a book, Hypocrisy Exposed, which gives a detailed look at what hypocrisy really is and how evil blends into Christian communities.
Hypocrisy: When Evil Pretends to Be Good
Here is an excerpt from Hypocrisy Exposed that gives insight into the true nature of hypocrisy and how predators and abusers can blend into the church:
The key to accurately understanding the sin of hypocrisy lies in the definition of the word hypocrite, and the context in which Jesus consistently uses it. Throughout this book we’ll look at various verses in which Jesus uses the term, but particularly helpful in forming a definition is Matthew 23:25-28:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Do you see the pattern? The cup is clean on the outside, but filthy on the inside. The tomb appears beautiful outwardly, but is full of death and decay inwardly. There is an external appearance that covers a very different internal reality.
The Greek word for hypocrites used in the above passage (and throughout the New Testament) is hupŏkritēs and carries the meaning of an actor, someone who is playing a character on stage. Similarly, the Greek word for hypocrisy is hupŏkrisis, which refers to a person who is acting under a feigned part. So, in the original Greek language, the words for both hypocrite and hypocrisy come from the same root, and have to do with acting or playing a part. Actors in that day would often wear masks in order to be in character for their show. Jesus is therefore likening a hypocrite to someone who is acting a part instead of living a reality. In the context, this acting is specifically designed to portray something nice and beautiful on the outside in order to hide something dark and hideous on the inside.
A hypocrite then, is someone who wears a mask of righteousness in order to veil a heart of wickedness. Hence, a whitewashed tomb. Hypocrisy is the appearance of good in order to conceal evil. Those who live in chronic hypocrisy are not those who merely commit sins or occasionally fall short of the standard of righteousness that they aim to live by—or we would all be hypocrites! A hypocrite is not the person who genuinely desires to live in holiness, but slips into sin. A hypocrite is not even necessarily the one who preaches one thing and then sometimes practices another; although characteristically not practicing what you preach is one of the traits of hypocrisy.
Hypocrites are those who consistently portray outward displays of godliness to the public in order to hide gross and unrepentant sin in private. A hypocrite puts on a façade. He or she displays a public persona while living a very different private reality. A hypocrite is a phony, an actor, someone who is playing the part outwardly while not having the reality inwardly. The hypocrite is not the righteous man who sins; he is the evil man who pretends to be good.
Growing in Discernment
Jesus admonished us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). There is a need to grow in discernment so that we are not perpetually duped by manipulation, deception, abusive tactics, and hypocrisy. While we are always called to love, this does not negate the importance of exposing corruption and being wise and discerning.
The church is meant to be a safe place for sheep, not a safe haven for predators and abusers. Shepherds are supposed to protect the flock, not enable wolves. In order for this to happen, we must grow in our ability to discern abusers in the church and grow in godly wisdom in how to respond to such situations. As we embrace these areas of growth, we will see cleansing, healing, and reformation come to the church!
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