Once upon a time, there was an old priest who worked tirelessly for the people of the town he presided over. All of the people of the town loved and respected him.
But the king of the empire had a young son who hated the church. He hated what he perceived as its hypocrisy and deception. He even imprisoned many of the town’s more faithful church members. But above all the others, he hated the priest because he felt that the respect that the townspeople gave to the priest was, in reality, owed to him.
So, in order to finally expose the hypocrisy of the priest, the young prince devised a plan. “He is a poor man. I will offer him a great amount of money,” thought the prince, “in exchange for a public confession of his and the church’s hypocrisy.”
Late one night, he approached the priest with his offer: “For 10,000 gold pieces, would you write a letter to be sent throughout the kingdom telling them that you are nothing but a liar and a hypocrite?”
The priest thought carefully for a few minutes, and then agreed on three conditions.
“First,” the priest said, “if I do this, you must leave me and my church alone.”
“Yes,” the prince agreed.
“Second, you must release the brothers and sisters of mine who are innocent of any crime.”
“It will be done. And your third?”
“Well,” said the priest after a great deal of thought, “10,000 gold pieces is a lot of money, and I am but a poor man. You will have to give me time to raise it.”
–Paraphrased from a parable by Peter Rollins
So often, those who don’t follow Jesus raise the objection that they would not want to be involved with the church because the church is filled with “hypocrites and phonies” (okay, most people probably don’t use the word “phonies” anymore). Our responses are often one of two: we either tell them that those people aren’t really Christians (i.e., “There are a lot of people who say they’re Christians, but they haven’t really been born again. You need to see some real Christians”), or we point out that no ones perfect, and by that we mean, “You’re a hypocrite, too, so get that tree trunk out of your eye.” Maybe followed by a hearty internal “Na na na na nah nah!”
While I certainly think that both are often true, I don’t know if either is the approach that we should take. Both of them are really attempts to create “good PR” for the church. After all, we’re Jesus’ body on the earth, so when people think the church is a hypocrite, they think He is, right? That’s true, but I’m not sure that the way that people are going to start having a higher view of Jesus is by us correcting the view of the church in the public eye. The point of the above parable is that the priest realized that he didn’t want the townspeople primarily focused on loving and respecting him, but upon loving and respecting Christ. I think we should stand with him and say, “Yes, I am frequently a liar, a hypocrite and a deceiver. But come with me, and I promise that I will do my best to love you despite all that. You see, I’m trying to follow this guy who really loved the bad people, you know, people like me. His name is Jesus, and get a load of what He did this one time; you’ll never believe it…”