My generation is the ‘authentic’ generation. We like our peanut butter organic, our meat free-range, our coffee fair-trade, our bands obscure, and our pictures “vintage”. We used to like Coldplay when no one else knew about them, but now they’re too mainstream. We don’t like big, soul-crushing corporations such as Wal-Mart or Costco. We want realness and authenticity and soul. We want self-expression. We want openness, honesty, and transparency.
This desire for realness and authenticity is what leads so many young men and women to conclude that the church is for losers. After all, the church is full of self-righteous, legalistic, hoity-toity hypocrites. There is no vibrant community, there is no deep faith, there is no openness about sin. There is no transparency of life. Everyone is doing just fine, thank you. Nothing to see here, these aren’t the droids you’re looking for, move along. Which, of course, we “authentic” Christians know is not the true state of affairs.
And there may be some truth to that argument. At times our churches can be overly superficial, and smiley, and “turn that frown upside down because God is good!” At times we dispense scripture verses like vitamins rather than the living word of God. At times we resort to speaking in trite, Hallmark-ish cliches. But, the reality is, every church is full of hypocrites (and yes, that includes you and me).
A hypocrite is someone who says one thing and then acts in a contrary manner. A man who preaches against sexual immorality and then sleeps with his mistress is a hypocrite. A woman who espouses the beauty of a quiet spirit and then physically abuses her children is a hypocrite. But so is a man who wholeheartedly affirms the sovereignty of God and then regularly sins in worry (that would be me). So is a man who preaches about being a servant and then sins in selfishness at home (me again!) So is a man who tells others to pray passionately and then finds himself praying distracted, half-hearted prayers (strike three). So is a man who tells his children to be patient, then sins in impatience (I could keep going). All of us are hypocrites in one form or another.
The great battle of the Christian life is to close the gap between what we believe and how we live. Every Christian is a slowly healing hypocrite. Every Christian is slowly learning to live in light of their true identity in Jesus Christ. There is no such thing as a hypocrite free church. Every true church is composed of hypocrites who trust not in their own authenticity, but who trust in the completely authentic, sin-free, God-man Jesus Christ.
Should we strive to be humble, transparent, and open about our struggles? Sure. God always gives grace to the humble. But more than that, let’s be open and transparent about our absolute confidence in Jesus Christ, the One who saves hypocrites like you and me. Being authentic and open about our struggles with sin is not inherently valuable. Opening up our lives is not inherently more holy. Our openness is only valuable if it ultimately points us to Jesus Christ, the one who rescues us from our sins. Our transparency is only valuable if it forces us to lean more heavily on Christ, the Solid Rock.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to eat some Velveeta cheese while listening to Nickleback.