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.
30 thoughts on “Plastic Christianity (Independent Baptist Truth Revolution #18)”
This kind of Christianity not only engrains hypocrisy, but enshrines it, glorifies it–makes it the norm–super Christians who praise each other, everybody being fake and promoting fakes, all who will do everything to not let the mask be revealed. This is what makes churches hide sin in their leadership or in their ranks, which causes the cliques, and everything else that people hate about Fundamentalism. Thankfully, though, there are many (mostly small) churches and pastors who remain sincere and true. I am grateful that I know many.
On the other hand, I have seen some of such pastors fall to the “dark side.” In nearly every case, it was a matter of character failure that wasn’t admitted to, and not necessarily “sin” as people would presume.
But like you said, this is a problem that goes to the roots, not merely of Fundamentalism, but Christianity, and not only in America, but where we serve as well.
A popular phrase used in our IFB circles is “Fake it ’til you make it”. Problem is, some never make it. My husband addressed this not too long ago on his blog “Think on These Things”. The entry is “God is not Fooled by Religious Pretending”. Why are we stupid enough to think He is? Maybe its because it’s not Him we are trying to impress? Hmm.
“Fake it ’til you make it”… Goodness!!! Do people actually say that??? And MEAN it??? My! I’ve never heard that before, and it sounds absolutely horrible!
My son belonged to a church where the pastor said that regularly. My understanding is that the phrase was said often at the college he attended.
I often wondered where the saying came from.
I have heard it too!
Man. I read this, and my first thought is, “I don’t want to know where that is…” but then, I wonder if it wouldn’t be best to simply name them. Paul never hesitated to name the guilty (Peter, people in the churches he wrote to, fellow workers who had departed–Demas, etc.) Such thinking can, in no way be called scriptural, and is so humanistic as to be hardly believable that people would say such things from behind the pulpit! I’m still amazed at this…
I never heard the quote in those terms, but it was common on one church I attended to be told that “if you play the part long enough, eventually it will become genuine.” I suppose this may have been the intent of the quote you mentioned. The problem is, it’s not biblical, and it rarely if ever works (The Spirit can still use us despite our weaknesses, and teach us truth when others teach us falsehood), and it teaches people that purity comes from without rather than from Christ.
Exactly, it circumvents the real Source!
I too have heard that phrase and even planned to write on it too someday.
Please share here the link to your husband’s blog so we can look at it!
Sin emerging from the front put up is a good point and has happened too many times.
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Question: If your ‘denomination’ has 18+ things that need to be Revolutionized, do you think it is time to stop being a part of it?
PS> I know that Independent Baptist Churches are not formally denominational, I’m asking the question as if I’m an outsider looking in.
I can’t speak for Pastor Reagan, but these issues are pretty much rampant throughout Christianity of all stripes, and not only in the US. They are the result of human nature. I know many good independent Baptist churches that don’t exhibit these problems, and that are full of sincere Christians who love the Lord, and who actually fight with these issues in their own lives. Nobody’s perfect, and no church is perfect. That’s how I view things.
I agree with you completely! It runs through all of Christianity.
I agree with you. What’s sad is that this article is now on Facebook and it makes independent Baptist look terrible. Actually, if lost people see this, it’s a bad reflection of Christ. There are bad people in all groups of people. I sure hate when negative things about Christianity get put out there for the lost world to see.
I appreciate your position, but I feel:
1. Lost people don’t read such articles as a rule.
2. I think accountability impresses the world even if they don’t believe what we do. They are aware of problems, but when we call out our own, in a Christian manner without ugly name calling of individuals, we take a dart away they could shoot at us. Plus, the sermons of Jesus call out vividly the failures of His Own and they are put in the Bible for all to see.
Thanks for sharing and please do so whenever you like.
I too cannot speak for Pastor Reagan, but from my viewpoint, as one who sees lots of problems with IFB circles, when I look at the churches I do not just see a movement. I see people. I think that the proponents of the common problems associated with IFB churches are perpetuated by a minority, and the rest just follow for whatever reason. I think there are many people in our IFB churches that are really genuinely trying to follow Christ and be (not just do) what is right. We cannot think about a church without thinking about its people. Otherwise we have our own problems. And if we leave a church, we are leaving the people. If we leave because we do not agree with such-and-such or so-and-so, we must also remember we aren’t just fleeing what we don’t like, but we are also abandoning people that need our help to also come to the truth. Growing up in the IFB church, puritans were spoken of like the devil. They were treated like nasty barbarian christians because they did not separate from evil and false teaching. Come to actually think for myself, I think the puritans, NOT the separatists, were the ones who actually loved the people they were trying to reach. They loved them enough to face persecution, imprisonment, and death so that they could rescue some.
David, thanks for your good comments here.
I see your point. Knowing our hearts, though, don’t you suppose any group could find many issues that needed addressing? Since I am doing my little part on a blog, you must remember that each post must be short or busy folks won’t read it. That is the style of writing that is required for blog writing. Put them all together and they hardly make a long chapter.
Still, it is fair for you to ask. There are many Independent Baptists with their heads on straight, but they don’t have the microphones,so to speak. It will take time I am sure.
It’s a self-perpetuating phenomenon that all starts when we start judging people according to things that God never told us to judge people according to. Nowhere in the Bible does it say a large study Bible means you’re spiritual, or a suit and a tie, or not having any tattoos or holes in your jeans, or only using the KJV, or saying all the “right” answers, or having a comb-over, or wearing a skirt, the list goes on and on of what we judge people according to. The Bible does, however, have lists that reveal a mature walk with God. 1 Peter 2, Galatians 5:22-23, Matthew 5:6, 2 Peter 1:5-8 to list a few, where it’s the inner qualities that are emphasized. Then, if you really want to fight the root of waywardness and hypocrisy, you have to see where your sanctification comes from: Philippians 1:6, 9-11, Galatians 2:20, 2 Peter 1:3-8, 2 Corinthians 3:12-18. Each list could go on and on. But the point is, our holiness comes from within is and our sanctification comes from outside of us. Our holiness is the inner production that is worked in us by the daily saving (progressively via the more common term of sanctification) power of Jesus Christ by faith. But we usually get it backwards. Jesus comes and “lives in our hearts” and then after that holiness is produced by what we do and look like. We don’t even have a clue that sanctification and salvation are essentially the exact same things (raised from death to new life) with the exact same source (Jesus) via the exact same channel (grace through faith). Instead we treat our salvation as by grace through faith in Jesus, but we separate our sanctification as by works according to standards and disciplines. We uplift our salvation and treat it in eternal terms, however our life is just as carnal as before, just with different elements. In either case, we were trusting in the flesh to accomplish God’s will. Back to the point, we put on our facade because that’s what people want to see. Then people get so used to the facade that the Christian walk now becomes defined by the facade so that anything else looks like heresy. It’s a double headed lion that devours genuine disciples of Christ. Just like any cult, the elements are loosely based on poor interpretations of Scripture, but are perpetuated by agenda, control, and polemic ambition.
In case anyone is interested, my husband’s blog address is: http://pastorcliveellis.wordpress.com/. I know I’m a bit biased, but I think he’s pretty good. 😉
Thanks for sharing! He has some nice articles there.
I read this post this morning and it really fits into something I have been pondering in scriptures. I decided to share it. (By the way, I plugged your blog in it…hope you don’t mind me sharing) http://www.iolabaptisttemple.com/1/post/2014/02/his-countenance-becomes-our-countenance.html
Enjoyed your article too. Thanks!
Did I miss #17? Or was this just a test to see how well we respond to something that’s not perfect? 🙂
You are the first one to notice, even before me. This only proves how imperfect I am, though there was quite a body of evidence already!
Actually, these are human traits, and can be witnessed across faiths.I am as troubled by certain denominations that can no longer hide that they aren’t even nominally Christian, who promote the lie that Christ was only a metaphor, & that it’s intolerant to not approve of sin.
You are correct. We all face the temptation.
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