A pastor at one of the largest churches in the country launched a new sermon series addressing the hypocrisy and the pretending prevalent among Christians.
Entitled "The Pretenders," the series draws attention to the biblical time when Jesus went not to the red light district, the nightclub or the boardroom to confront the hypocrites but to church.
"[Jesus'] main problem with the ... religious leaders in his day is that they were hypocrites," said Kyle Idleman, teaching minister at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky. "That's what he calls them to their face."
Over the weekend Idleman, who also admitted he wasn't perfect and was a sinner like everyone else, addressed the hypocrites in the church today saying, "There are pretenders among us. They're putting on a performance. ...They've learned to wear this mask in church."
There are unmarried couples who are "sitting next to each other in church pretending that their relationship was just as pure last night as it appears to be right now," he noted. "There are pretenders who will sing amazing grace with tear-filled eyes but they refuse to extend that same grace to a family member who hurt them."
"There are pretenders who have become experts at separating their faith from their political views ... from their money management ... and from their entertainment preferences," he added. "There are pretenders who spend an hour and a half every day in front of a mirror making sure everything looks great on the outside but just can't seem to find 10 minutes to read their Bible or to pray.
"There are pretenders who are so quick to point out and condemn the sexual immorality in their culture but don't seem too concerned about their lust."
Studies conducted by LifeWay Research in 2007 have shown that most people outside and inside the church believe hypocrisy is prevalent among believers. Among the unchurched, 72 percent said they think the church is full of hypocrites, and 67 percent of 20- to 29-year-olds said the same.
There are two groups of hypocrites Christians tend to fall into, Idleman observed. They include the Sadducees and the Pharisees, who made up the religious ruling body in Jesus' time. The Sadducees made up the chief priests and elders and were born into that position. The Pharisees, meanwhile, were Jews who studied their way into their position.
Many pretenders today see their faith as something they were born into and never chose, Idleman explained.
"You know how to act, you know what to say, you know what to do ... but you never chose it," the Southeast minister said. "You got the part down but it was never real."
"As long as you could remember you've always had that mask. In fact, you've had it so long that you don't even know what you look like without it," he added.
To such pretenders, Jesus would say "woe to you, you hypocrites," Idleman said.
But a lot of pretenders are more like the Pharisees, Idleman believes. They see their faith as "intellectual knowledge and behavioral compliance."
Such Christians may say all the right things and follow all the rules, but their hearts don't reflect that, he indicated.
"It's not enough just to know the right things and to say the right things. [Jesus] wants it to be in your heart," the minister stressed. "Jesus summed up the Pharisees in this way – they honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me."
Just as Jesus was upfront and harsh in rebuking the hypocrisy among the religious leaders, Idleman urged Christians to also be brutal with themselves.
"Be brutal. Be broken," he encouraged. "Jesus is trying to hold up a mirror and tell us the truth."
The cure for pretending, he said, is confessing one's sins.
"When you take the mask off ... you find a peace for your soul that just doesn't come when you're faking it," said Idleman.
Southeast Christian Church is the 12th largest church in America, according to Outreach magazine's 2008 top 100 list.