Is the Church full of sinners?

on 28 October 2023 by R.C. Sproul

Frequently words "sinner" and "hypocrite" are confused. The confusion is one that is commonly found between genius and species. Sinner is the generic term. Hypocrite is the species. Since hypocrisy is a sin we can say, "All hypocrites are sinners." But we must not view this statement as an equation of identity. We cannot reverse the statement and say, "All sinners are hypocrites." Let us use the standard syllogism to clarify the confusion:

The church is full of sinners.
Hypocrites are sinners.
The church is full of hypocrites.

What is wrong with the syllogism? Here we see one of the most common fallacies of the undistributed middle term. A similar incorrect syllogism may illustrate the problem further:

The church is full of sinners.
Murderers are sinners.
The church is full of murderers.

What happens is that people observe church members sinning. They reason within themselves, "That person professes to be a Christian. Christians aren't supposed to sin. That person is sinning; therefore, he is a hypocrite." The unspoken assumption is that a Christian is one who claims he does not sin. In reality just the opposite is the case. For a Christian to be a Christian, he must first be a sinner. Being a sinner is a prerequisite for being a church member. The Christian church is one of the few organizations in the world that requires a public acknowledgement of sin as a condition for membership. In one sense the church has fewer hypocrites than any institution because by definition the church is a haven for sinners. If the church claimed to be an organization of perfect people then her claim would be hypocritical. But no such claim is made by the church. There is no slander in the charge that the church is full of sinners. Such a statement would only compliment the church for fulfilling the divinely appointed task[1]



[1] The text is taken from: R.C. Sproul, Reason to believe, Grand Rapids 1978, s. 78-79.

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Dr. R. C. Sproul (1939-2017) was the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries and the author of more than seventy books including The Holiness of God, Chosen by God, and Everyone's a Theologian. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.