Have you seen it? That perfect, unwavering smile? That we-have-it-all-together look? Look a little closer. Upon examination you might notice that something is not exactly right. It is not exactly pliable flesh you see, but molded plastic. What is passed off as real life is little more than a mask. The facade is what we want to be and desperately want others to think us to be. Of course this problem reaches every corner of Christianity as every one of us has some measure of duplicity in our hearts. But I address the Independent Baptist world here because in many cases we fail to seriously fight this charade. We may all be tempted to play the part, but we need not encourage it as acceptable Christian living.
In so acting we reduce the Christian life to merely an appearance where it is actually a most vital thing. Who we appear to be becomes the goal at the expense of who we are. Reputation trumps character to a fault. This derails the Christian life in more ways than you might imagine. It redefines my spiritual goals. Lost in the equation is my Lord watching me because I am so consumed with you watching me. Instead of seeking to please Him springing from a gratitude for the grace He has given me, I seek to please you springing from a fear of your condemning me. Finally, not only are my spiritual goals redefined, but my life itself.
This style of living is wrong from every conceivable vantage point. First, in my own heart it makes a hypocrite out of me. Nothing, it seems to me, as you read the Gospels receives more disdain from the lips of Christ than this. As I said before, we all have moments of indisputable hypocrisy, but this plastic Christianity engrains it as a way of life. What a misspent Christian life!
Then there is the guilt. Every look in the mirror reveals the facade to me even if no one else can see it. I know I am not what I pretend to be. I pass myself off as having it all together when I am falling apart on the inside. Since the mask has become me, I am helpless. I can’t call out for help for it would bring the house of cards collapsing around me. So I go on, forcing the smile, speaking the cliches, living a Christian life with as much misery as before I even knew Christ. This is so sad, and pointless, as it divorces me from the revealed truth of Christianity, which is a life of ongoing sanctification. We are actually told of the struggle in the Christian life (remember Romans 7?), and that we only propel forward by the merciful moldings of Christ in our lives.
If the wreck of my own life weren’t bad enough, there’s the damage I inflict on others. Other Christians see me and either a) see through me, or b) fall for it. If they see through me and notice several others like me, it leads them to a soul-damaging cynicism. In such a case the problem is me, not Christ nor the Christian life, but it can be challenging for others to sort it all out. If they fall for it, the results are even worse. They know they can’t live up to this perfectness I project and they fall into discouragement or even spiritual despair.
At times we form little colonies of plastic Christianity in our Independent Baptist world. I have talked to some who have left us and this is why they left. They wanted what was real and found they didn’t have it with us while they felt they did in other groups or individuals. Criticize all you like, but this is in some cases accurate and we should address it. People need us to be real!
This plastic environment is one where the spiritual soil is too arid to grow mature Christians. It makes paupers out of the King’s children. It is a field of dreams of what could have and should have been. Every foray into it that I have ever made has only hurt me. The least you and I can do is throw down the mask. Break the plastic and live in the fresh air of His grace.
Find all articles in the series here.