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Jesus vs. U.S. Evangelicals: Unmasking hypocrisy and the Blind Spots in Today's Church

Introduction

In the Bible, hypocrisy is the act of claiming to believe something but acting in a different way. It can also be defined as appearing righteous to others while being unclean and self-indulgent. The word "hypocrite" comes from a Greek word that means "play actor" or "one who wears a mask". In Jesus' terms, hypocrites are people who put on masks to present the right things instead of doing them.


Scripture Context: Matthew 23:1-36 (ESV)

​1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
 13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
 16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
 29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation."

Jesus sharply criticized the religious leaders of his time. The ruling religious elites included an important sect or group within the early Jewish religion called Pharisees. The Pharisees were strict and jealous adherents to the laws of the Ancient Mosaic Laws (Old Testament) and to numerous additional traditions within early Judaism developed over centuries.

In Matthew 23:1-36 Jesus pronounces seven “woes” against the religious leaders of his time. The term “woe” as used by Jesus is a strong denunciation which expresses grief and a prophecy of judgement against those supposed to guide, lead the people on the right spiritual path. It signifies a strong condemnation of their hypocrisy, blindness and destructive influence on others. In short, it is a sinful attitude toward God which He rejects in strong terms.


The Seven Woes of Jesus Against Religious Leaders

1. Shutting the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. They hinder others from entering God’s Kingdom through their actions in their daily lives and interactions. (v.13)

2. Making converts twice as much children of hell as themselves. They lead people astray with their hypocrisy and false teachings. (v.15)

3. Being blind guides. They claim to lead others but are blind to God’s truth themselves. (v.15)

4. Focusing on minor details such as tithing the mint and the oil while neglecting justice, mercy and faithfulness, They prioritize external rules and unnecessary practices over the heart of the law. (v.16)

5. Being outwardly clean but inwardly full of greed and self-indulgence. Their piety is a façade that hides their true nature. (v. 23)

6. Being like white-washed tombs, beautiful on the outside but full of dead men’s bones. Their hypocrisy makes them spiritually dead. (v.25)

7. Building tombs for the prophets and decorating the graves of the righteous, while being the ones that killed them. They honor the dead prophets while rejecting their message. (v. 27)


New Brand of American Christianity Rising

In recent years the U.S. population – Christian and non-Christian alike - has seen the rise of a brand of Christianity, a worry-some brand marked by politization of the faith, divisive attitudes and behaviors, an increment of prosperity gospel preachers, focus on political power, exclusionary practices and ignoring social justice issues. In some quarters, groups have risen to preach ultra nationalism and a deep desire to meld Church and State as it was in medieval times has become the clarion call for such groups.


Last year I purchased a streaming device which when connected to the internet I could download app channels to watch free of charge; I started browsing the app store for religious channel to watch and found several channels that offered an ample variety of programming. Over a thirty-day period I watched several religious shows hoping to find something of substance and learning opportunities. What I found did not surprise me but offered me a glimpse of the current spiritual state of Christianity in the U.S. in the 21st Century.




Hypocrisy and Blind Spots

The Hypocrisy and Blind Spots of a growing number of Evangelical churches divided by False Piety; Distortion of God’s timeless teachings; Abuse of Spiritual Leadership.


False Piety

  • Performing acts of charity to attract public attention.

  • Engaging in prayer as a public spectacle.

  • Observing fasts to gain piety in the eyes of others.


Distortion of God’s Timeless Teachings for Personal Benefit:

  • Manipulating scripture to ensnare and challenge others.

  • Twisting the gospel’s message for personal advantage.

  • Zealous conversion efforts that may misrepresent faith.


Abuse of Spiritual Leadership

  • Seeking accolades and deference rather than serving humbly.

  • Showing indifference to the well-being of their flock.

  • Defaming and oppressing those who speak the truth.


Jesus’s Strong Disapproval of Elite Religious Leaders of His Time

The passage of Matthew 23:1-36 is a strong disapproval by Jesus of the practices and teachings of the Pharisees and scribes, Jewish religious leaders of His time. He reproached them for their hypocrisy, legalism, and for placing burdens on people without help. When drawing parallels to today’s American religious state, several themes can be observed:

  • Controlling Leadership and Abusive Authority: Just as the Pharisees held positions of religious authority in Jesus’s time, today’s religious leaders in the U.S. also hold significant influence over their congregations and communities. Religious leaders of megachurches as well as smaller or independent congregations hold considerable power over their congregations and often dictate even the smallest aspects of their lives.

  • Legalism and Tradition: The Pharisees were known for their strict adherence to the Law and traditions. Similarly, some religious groups in the U.S.  may focus heavily on legalistic interpretations of scripture or tradition. For example, some groups integrate in their worship what they consider ancient dances; some including blowing of the shofar (An ancient musical horn typically made of a ram’s horn used for Jewish religious purposes) and other Jewish religious practices.

  • Hypocrisy: Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their outward show of piety but inward corruption. This critique can be applied to instances where modern religious leaders do not practice what they preach. Humility is preached from pulpits, but leaders do not practice it. Prosperity Gospel preachers live ostentatiously, flaunting their wealth as a sign of God’s blessing and a model for the congregation to follow.

  • Burdening Others: The Pharisees were accused of burdening people with difficult religious obligations. In some cases, religious institutions today might impose strict rules that can be challenging for followers. Another example of how some religious leaders in the U.S., mainly prosperity gospel preachers burden people in their congregations with ten percent of their income, special gifts to the pastor and his wife; they assign themselves high salaries, above average benefit packages and other perks, while working families struggle financially.

  • Neglecting Justice and Mercy: Jesus emphasized the importance of justice and mercy over ritualistic practices. This is a reminder for contemporary religious leaders to prioritize compassion and fairness. Prosperity gospel preachers and their leaders often do not extend a helping a hand to those in need – the unemployed, poor immigrants, single-parent families, widows and the fatherless in their midst – instead offer prayers “to break the yoke the devil has over them due to unconfessed sins” or other hidden offense to God.

Today’s Church Parallels

Just like religious leaders in Jesus’s time, increasingly contemporary evangelical leaders in the U.S. embrace separatists or racist views espoused by politicians – ancient Jewish religious leaders looked down on the people of Samaria, treated them with contempt and alienated them. In recent years one can hear statements promoting disharmony and disunity in the body of Christ from evangelical pulpits. It appears as if these evangelical leaders profess to believe the Truth od Scriptures but live as unbelieving atheists.

 Hypocrisy and unbelief carry heavy and tremendously dangerous consequences to individuals, to Christ, to Christianity and communities: it will lead to loss of credibility, spiritual stagnation, division of the body of Christ and obviously negative witnessing of God’s plan of salvation to a dying world.

Hypocrisy, the act of pretending to have beliefs, virtues, or qualities that one does not actually possess, can have a profound impact on their identity confusion. When we engage in hypocrisy, we are living a double life, presenting a false image to the world while hiding our true selves. This can lead to a deep sense of guilt and inner conflict, as we grapple with the disconnect between who we claim to be and who we truly are.


Dire Eternal Consequences

Furthermore, this hypocrisy can cause confusion and uncertainty in our identity, as we struggle to reconcile the persona we project with our authentic self. Ultimately, it is only through the grace of Jesus and his offer of unconditional forgiveness that we can find relief from the burden of hypocrisy and discover our identity in him.

In Revelation 3:1, God states, "I know your works.". God knows what you are doing. He knows who and what we are at our core. In front of him, we are fully exposed (Hebrews 4:13).


Our Hope

In addition, Jesus provides us with the relief from guilt, power, and identity confusion caused by hypocrisy, which is extremely encouraging news. Our Savior is the fountain and the source of all our true identity (1 Corinthians 1:30). As well as being full of grace (John 1:14), Jesus died when we were unrepentant sinners (Romans 5:8), He paid the debt of every sin (Colossians 2:14), and offers unconditional forgiveness to those who repent (1 John 1:9). In John 10:10, Jesus explains that his rebukes always lead us out of sin's captivity and into abundant life.

It is truly remarkable to consider the depth of Jesus' sacrifice and the extent of his amazing love for those He came to save. His willingness to bear the weight of our sins and transgressions, despite our unworthiness, is a testament to his boundless compassion and mercy. Through his death on the cross, Jesus not only provided a path to redemption but also a means to break free from the chains of guilt and hypocrisy that often plague our souls.

Furthermore, the concept of unconditional forgiveness that Jesus offers is a profound reminder of his infinitely amazing grace. In a world filled with judgment and condemnation, his message of repentance and forgiveness stands as a beacon of hope and salvation. By loving him, obeying His commandments and embracing his teachings, we can experience a transformative journey towards spiritual renewal and inner peace. SDG.

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