Christians are a bunch of two-faced phoneys and hypocrites.
We get together on Sunday mornings in our nice clothes, smile big and act as friendly as we can.
We sing loudly and raise our hands during the songs. We listen attentively and take notes during the sermon. We’re all smiles, hugs and handshakes with everyone we can reach when our liturgy calls for it, and when we take Communion we’re changed and renewed again. Our post-Communion prayers are sincere, heartfelt and focused. And judging by our behaviour after service, we delight in weak coffee and small talk – in getting to know each other a little better (but only a little, please).
The kids are happy and healthy, they play video games in moderation and eat their vegetables. They never fight with each other, have a ton of friends, always do their homework and consistently try their best in school. Mom and Dad are totally united and never fight. We never say a bad word to or about anyone, and we spend plenty of quality time with each other and also with the rugrats. We’ve struck the right balance between work and church and family and self. And, of course, we read our Bibles all the time – and consistently understand and implement what we read.
That’s what we seem to want people to think on Sunday mornings …
But the other 166 ½ hours of the week, our behaviour can paint a very different picture, can’t it? Our lives are often a little (OK, a lot) less idyllic than they look on Sunday mornings.
Why can’t we just be real?
That lack of authenticity is one of the things that keeps people away from Christianity, isn’t it? We’re Sunday saints and Monday-Through-Saturday sinners – indistinguishable by our behaviour outside of church from your average atheist.
It’s a common criticism of Christians – and we hear it not only from the fault-finding, naysaying unbeliever, but also from our own pews and even the pulpit.
That was the key message of a sermon delivered earlier this month by Kent Dobson, teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan (the church Rob Bell founded). In his July 14 teaching entitled Was Jesus a Bad Farmer?, Dobson looks at the story of Jesus and the Fig Tree in Mark 11:12-14 and 20-25.
He suggests that Jesus’s actions with the fig tree are a ‘living parable’ that assaults a lack of authenticity among religious people, even linking this story with the ‘whitewashed tombs’ quote of Matthew 23:27. (I won’t try to explain the correlation here; feel free to listen via podcast. It’s well worth the 45 minutes or so to take this journey yourself).
What struck me the most in the sermon is not the assertion that our fixation on appearing to be good Christians is a barrier to Kingdom growth. That’s obvious. What he also pointed out is that this tendency is a hindrance to our personal growth. Our insistence on appearing to have it all together is the very thing that keeps us from having it all together – or maybe more accurately, from letting God put us back together.
“We need to be honest about all the ways we’re not very good at producing fruit,” he says. “When you begin to say, ‘I know I’m supposed to forgive this person but actually, I cannot do it very well. I’m only putting on a facade that says I forgive them,’ you’ve reached that moment of honesty – and that, ironically, is the place where God enters. … For some reason, God can work with that. What he has a hard time working with is the facade that says, ‘I’ve got the thing figured out.’”
Of course, he’s right.
But I wonder if the position he’s advocating could be taken too far.
More on that tomorrow. For now …
Peace be with you.