I think one of the reasons that my dad and I get along so well is our shared love of problem-solving. Both of us spend our days working closely with people and helping them surpass whatever hurdles might be in their way, but I have to admit that he’s got a major advantage over me. Unlike me, my dad is a physician, meaning that people are honest with him in a way that they typically aren’t with a minister. In fact, when I asked him about his choice in careers, he put it simply: “Pastors see people at their best. Lawyers see people at their worst. Doctors see people as they really are.”
As a test case, let’s try a sample question: “How did you get that rash?”
You might tell your pastor, “I think my faith is being tested.”
You might say to your lawyer, “It’s those awful conditions at work. I swear there’s something in the air ducts. Do you think we can get some money for that?”
But you would probably tell your doctor, “Here’s a full medical history including everything I’ve eaten over the past month, all my international trips over the past year, every allergen I’ve come in contact with, all my medications (legal or otherwise), and a complete sexual history.”
Unless they’re trying to score pain medication, people know better than to lie to their doctors. After all, their very lives could depend on it. There’s a unique level of honesty and trust in a doctor’s exam room, and I think we in the church can learn from this.
The main reason I bring this up is a complaint that I hear on at least a weekly basis: “I hate going to church because I feel like the people there are putting on a show, and I don’t want to be like that.” Sometimes it’s said to me at a restaurant or by the pool. Other times, it’s said right there in my office by members of our own congregation. Regardless of where it’s said or by whom, it cuts pretty close– especially because there’s a disturbing grain of truth there.
Hypocrisy is an easy sin to fall into. We all want to be respected. We all want to be loved. It’s all too easy –not to mention socially acceptable– to tell people what we think they want to hear. We want to put on the face that will be most pleasing to our brothers and sisters in Christ, but what is the cost to our spiritual health?
1 John 1:8-10 puts it bluntly: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”
That’s a pretty unequivocal call to be ourselves and to bare our souls to one another on a regular basis. We can’t let untreated sores fester under ineffectual bandages (no matter how embarrassing those sores might be). The best remedy for hypocrisy is real, intentional honesty, but what can we do to cultivate that?
Perhaps we need to change how we think of church, and I’d encourage anyone reading this to take a cue from our teenagers. For some reason, people in that age group can spot a phony a mile away, and in working with them, it’s a huge liability to wear any face but your real one. “Church answers” are immediately spotted and ignored. False piety is immediately detected and tuned out. And contrary to what you might expect, the most valued answer to a question is often “I don’t know either.” If only all of us had that level of intolerance for hypocrisy! Imagine what a different world this would be!
When we go into a doctor’s office, we are no one but ourselves. For the sake of our health, we leave all pretense at the door and share some very intimate details of our lives. We reveal whatever information will help our doctor get to the root of the problem, and shouldn’t it be the same where our spiritual health is concerned?
In Mark 2, Jesus famously states that he came not to heal the healthy, but the sick. He came not to dine with the righteous, but to dwell with sinners. Just as no one in their right mind would go to the ER and then claim to be perfectly healthy, there’s no point in going to a church and claiming to be righteous.
We’re all here because we need the healing touch of a nail-scarred hand. To forget that is to put our lives at risk.
Grace and Peace,