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Is It Reasonable to Expect Christians to Practice What They Believe?

Updated on November 4, 2014

The Eye of The Needle

Perhaps one of the more attractive aspects of many religions has been the notion that with wealth and power comes a responsibility to the less fortunate. Christ, along with those who first wrote about him, emphasized that wealth was a great impediment to spiritual growth and made no bones about telling the rich and powerful that they were naïve to believe that they should expect any kind of reward for either greed or abuse of power. Jesus consistently points out that not only are there great perils in striving for these advantages but the mere possession of them is perilous in itself.

As religions or, for that matter, many ideas evolve, they're usually in lockstep with a hierarchical system with all the attendant power and wealth. It's clearly the height of irony that a religion that quickly came to glory in the splendors and trappings of worldly power was founded on the ideals of someone who had turned down these very temptations.

Christ’s three temptations are often regarded in metaphorical terms.

The ability to turn rocks into bread clearly suggests that Christ's ability to perform miracles of this order would have allowed him to live without any physical hardships; further, the ability to transmute physical objects would've given him the Midas touch, as it were, and limitless wealth.

If Jesus had jumped from a pinnacle where many could witness it, he'd have been able to win followers effortlessly. This temptation is perhaps the most insidious since part of the temptation is to do the wrong thing to achieve a good outcome. Show your powers and effortlessly win converts is part of Christ's temptation; however, it goes further because it offers a rationale or excuse for the wrong act. These are the times when we excuse our bad actions by rationalizing our base motivation. We justify wrong behavior by rationalizing that our reasons are good or even noble.

There's little subtlety to the Devil's third temptation for Jesus to establish his power over all the kingdoms of the world including Rome who had absorbed Israel into their Empire. But Jesus resists having it all and one has the sense that he is able to go forward on a clear path that would lead to Calvary having settled self-doubt.

There are many other instances in the various accounts of his life given by each of the apostles where he saw the poor as his main audience. In fact, Jesus often emphasizes that lepers, prostitutes and those considered society's outcasts deserve to be treated with both dignity and love. The Sermon on the Mount is another instance when he clearly views his constituency as largely consisting of the poor and downtrodden.

I have extracted these impressions from a fair amount of study at one point in my life, and they have always seemed to me some of the most important to be drawn from Christianity. However, the institution of religions requires money to sustain a clergy, churches and, in time, palaces and even larger excesses.

Many religious men seemed no different to others – most men seem to delight in earthly pleasures and the trappings of wealth and power. Other sources confirm that Chaucer's many all too venal religious characters were representative of the church at that time – too frequently they served their own needs rather than emulating Christ's example. Where we might hope otherwise, the large number of sexual predators among members of one church in particular would not have surprised Chaucer. It suggests that both the behavior of a number of priests and the cynical methods used by the church to conceal wrongdoing has not changed a great deal since the Middle Ages.

Certainly one of the most troubling aspects of an institutionalized Christian Church is that it accumulated a great deal of power and wealth over time. The embarrassment of riches was so great and apparent and, also, in seeming contradiction to all the strictures of Christ's teaching regarding both wealth and possessions that the church itself, as well as particularly wealthy god-fearing Christians, had to justify or rationalize their great wealth.

The usual justification given by Christian churches and individuals is that the wealth belongs to God and is merely being held in trust for him by the church or individual. Less sophisticated rationalizations popular among recent celebrities include the idea that God intercedes in the ways of humankind to reward a particular sportsman or businessman, say, in recognition of something or other that has won the Lord's favor or approval. But it is difficult to see how a reading of the New Testament can ever justify an accumulation of either wealth of power as a gift from God.

Quite rightly, when religions practice the opposite to what they preach, it proves troubling for both their adherents and those who wish to understand them. To accumulate great wealth while preaching that the poor shall inherit the earth smacks of hypocrisy. Other than a few orders that take vows of poverty seriously, the troubling gulf between what is taught and what is practiced becomes increasingly apparent to today's better educated congregations. What's somewhat reassuring is that Christ made his feelings quite clear when he saw synagogues abused and, in uncharacteristic anger, said that the money lenders and other sellers had turned his Father's House into a den of thieves.

Although nearly all religions and churches founded on Christ's teaching seem to operate in complete contradiction to many of his teachings, particularly regarding his views on wealth and power, it doesn't alter the truth or insight of his message. The Bible seems quite clear on these points, and it's why I find it puzzling that so many continue to attend church when the churches often fail to practice what Christ taught – particularly regarding the accumulation of wealth and power.

In nearly all instances outside of religion, a valid test of individuals' professed beliefs is to ask if their actions are consistent with those beliefs. For instance, anyone emphasizing and preaching the importance of leaving a small carbon footprint who buys a Hummer for transportation would be seen as behaving in contradiction to his or her beliefs and lead to a valid questioning of the sincerity of those beliefs. Why aren't Christians held to these same standards? Isn't it reasonable to expect Christians or, for that matter, all religious adherents to practice what they believe and sometimes preach.

Writer's Note

Much the same question as appears in this article's title was posted to garner some viewpoints prior to publishing this Hub; however, it was taken down by the moderator. It was posted in the wrong section since it tended to inspire debate rather than simple responses – my fault. I apologize for any comments posted that I wasn't able to reply to and hope that their authors will find this article and be able to post their comments, questions or observations again. Also, I hope that the article will stimulate as many interesting comments and discussions as the original question! Peace.

Biblical Sources

While in the wilderness, Christ is tempted by the Devil. The story is told in Mark, Matthew and Luke (Matt. 4:1; Mk. 1:12; Lk. 4:1).

The account of Christ driving the money lenders from the temple and admonishing bird sellers to "Get these out of here! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!" [Jn 2:13-16] Or in the words of the less accurate but far more poetic King James Version: “It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.” [Lk 19:46]


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    • Sembj profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Hi Chefref:

      It does seem ironic that some Christians behave in ways that seem to directly contradict the teachings of Jesus.



    • chefsref profile image

      Lee Raynor 

      7 years ago from Citra Florida

      Hey Sembj

      This is a good article that just touches on the subject at hand. I'm not especially concerned about the wealth of the Church because it is an institution. There is much wrong in the Church, I just don't see wealth as among the problems; a church has no soul to save.

      On the other hand individuals, especially those who proclaim their Christianity should at least try to uphold the teachings. What we get instead, is hatred, "second amendment solutions" and cutting Medicare so Granny has to buy private insurance. Today's conservatives are following an atheistic philosophy of what's in it for me?

      Up and Awesome

    • Mandrake_1975 profile image


      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I gave up attending a church institution years ago because I clearly saw the hypocrisy. Many other Christians have taken to forming house churches.

      I don't think the majority of churches are anywhere near teaching what Christ taught. These church institutions seem more interested in propping up "the system" than they do in fighting the wrongs within it. Actually, I would say that the original intent of the Christian church began going downhill as soon as church got cozy with state around the time of Constantine.

      I believe that a church leader requires some financial support if he/she is going to operate within a modern society and I would even go so far as to say that they require financial stability, but living off more money than the poorer members of a congregation seems to show a general lack of conviction in one's own faith.

      I don't mean to pin it all on the church leaders either! How can an extremely wealthy member of a church call their self a true believer while living a fat life? If they are using that money to help the poor and needy then fine, but most only offer just enough that they can feel good about their deeds while still maintaining their above average life. They could do more with what God gave them, but they don't want to (the parable of the talents) because they love their own life more than Christ. Such Christians aren't sacrificing for others, but are merely giving the left-overs.

      I know that if they continue to prosper they can keep giving, but that doesn't excuse the shiny new car, antique furniture, $500 suits, etc.

      I do not think it is unreasonable at all to expect Christians to practice what they claim to believe; however, I also realize that if you are doing well in this world it is probably because you put a great deal of work into helping support the ways of this world (I speak of it's structure and expansion). With all that work going into promoting the ways of this world how could these Christians be expected to have time to actually learn the ways of Christ?

      I'm not perfect myself and I don't pretend to have all of the answers, but you have to call a spade a spade. Hypocrisy is rampant in the Christian church and none of us Christians have any place in preaching to others so long as we are not attempting to correct that problem within our own ranks.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you, Sembj. That's quite a compliment, and quite a challenge. I pray for the renewal of the Church (universal Church) every day, and work toward showing Christ to everyone I meet. Your words humble me, and encourage me to continue to do so.

    • Sembj profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Motown2Chitown - I hope that the Church will be guided by spirits as enlightened as yours. Thanks you for your useful contributions to the article in the comments.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      The wind of the Spirit still does blow through the Church, my friend. But we tend to stand in His way quite often. Change has come before with renewal, and we can only pray it comes again - in the meantime, to answer your original question, it's perfectly reasonable to hold Christians to Christ's standards. We should be doing it for each other, but too many of us are busy trying to shove faith down the throats of non believers.

    • Sembj profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments Motown2Chitown. I think that you are right and many Christians do no harm and some show through their behavior that they are good people; and the media love to find church officials accused of criminal and bad behavior - it is good for their bottom line.

      Among other things, I had hoped to emphasize that Jesus' teachings seemed to be about tolerance and empathy, particularly to those in trouble, and the church itself shows many examples of contradictory behavior. I suppose I am somewhat naïve and in the minority of one in thinking it bizarre that there should be even one incidence of the kind of hypocrisy that is almost taken for granted. It is a shame that the positive members of Christendom don't insist on some proper housekeeping.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      At this point in time, I think Jesus would be quite disappointed with what the "Church" has become. I do believe, however, that there is honor and integrity within the Church being practiced much more quietly than one would expect. Also, the negative is always louder than the positive, else Christ would have lived to proclaim the true and saving message of God much longer, rather than being murdered by the ones who thought the message should be shot down so they could continue to pursue wealth, power, greed, and the subjugation of others. Excellent hub, by the way. Glad that I stumbled on it!

    • Sembj profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you M. T. Dremer - I think you make an excellent point and I am sure that you are right. However, if many in the public eye are merely using Christianity unchallenged they become the public face of Christianity. Why don't the various churches point out the hypocrisy and misinformation?

    • M. T. Dremer profile image

      M. T. Dremer 

      7 years ago from United States

      I've seen some Christians who make a good effort to follow Christ's teachings (helping out the poor and such), so I think the biggest disconnect is with those in the public eye like celebrities and politicians. To them it seems like Christianity is more of an accessory that one needs to have rather than actually follow. I mean, it's unheard of to vote for a politician if they're an atheist, even if they're qualified, so they all adopt Christianity to make sure no one can get on them for not being religious.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Excellent writing skills!

      I look forward to reading more of your Articles.

    • Sharon Storm profile image

      Sharon Storm 

      7 years ago from Mid West

      In order for Christians to practice what they preach they would have to be on an equal footing with God. Christians preach God's wishes but have a very difficult time following them. Because Christians and all humankind are subject to temptation and quite often give in to it, Christ died to atone for their sins. We are not perfect, but because of our belief in God's son Jesus we will still be acceptable to God...we will be forgiven.

    • profile image

      White Horse 

      7 years ago

      Extra well written.

      Nice one.

    • Sembj profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks, CMerritt.

    • CMerritt profile image

      Chris Merritt 

      7 years ago from Pendleton, Indiana

      Great Hub!...keep it coming.

    • Sembj profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks, TravelinAsia. I'm planning to proof-read and post the next article in this series after I've got some sleep!

    • TravelinAsia profile image


      7 years ago from Thailand/Southeast Asia

      Sembj, Great hub.. voted up and awsome!

      Please follow up on this subject, I think these are important questions that need to be asked.


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