I’m beginning to think there are some things you can’t talk about in church. Mind you, nobody has come right out and told me this. But then maybe everyone just assumes I should have the good sense to know without being told.
To be clear, it’s not in the church building that you’re not allowed to talk about things. It’s as the church. The Christian church isn’t a building, after all; it’s a gathering of believers in Jesus Christ assembling for a common cause.
Generally speaking, you actually can talk about almost anything within the walls of a church building. It’s a remarkably safe space so long as you approach your subject in the right way.
Dress your words and phrases up in pious humming and nods and sober expressions and you can complain about your family and friends and co-workers and neighbors under the guise of prayer requests. Complain about how sorry your life is, how hard and trying it is, especially when you’re sick or anxious or poor. Or else brag to everyone how great you and your life are if the Lord has blessed you.
That’s all well and good within the walls of a church building, as if the church were a physical place. It’s highly doubtful anyone will outright question your motives or scold you for what you say in the church, even if inwardly they’re concerned or skeptical.
What you have to take special care about, however, is what you say once you leave that local brick and mortar institution you’ve come to think of as the church. Not every topic is as polite or safe to talk about once you’re outside, and the rules change completely for what is and isn’t considered appropriate and spiritual.
We Christians are really two-faced sometimes.
Are we the same people inside and outside church?
We know we should be, of course. The ideal is that we are always consistent regardless who is or isn’t around to see us or what external influences are trying to push us one direction or another. Yet recognizing the ideal doesn’t make it the reality. Recognizing how things should be doesn’t automatically make them so, and supposing otherwise is naïve and counterproductive.
Progress begins, or at least can begin, when we distinguish between the ideal and reality as Point A and Point B. As Christians, confession and repentance amount to recognition both that there is an ideal – a standard of righteousness and holiness which God above has given us in His Word – and also the reality that we have failed, are failing, and will fail to meet that glorious standard.
By God’s grace, we Christians have God’s Word and His Spirit. Only by submitting ourselves to both are we able to identify Point A and Point B with certainty. And only by identifying these two points are we able to chart a course from one Point to the other. If we as Christ-followers forget this and deny a distinction between Points A and B, the Scriptures should serve to quickly disabuse us.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
In light of this fundamental truth about the Christian worldview – that our Christian walk presumes we do not meet God’s standard – it shouldn’t shock us to find that part of our failure involves not being the same people both inside and outside the church! Don’t be offended by the question of whether we’re two-faced.
Suppose instead that Point A is authenticity. Are we there yet?
We hide our true selves because we’re anxious and afraid.
In figuring out where we’re at and plotting a course to where we should be, we need to understand how we got off-track.
In Genesis, at the beginning of man’s walk with God, a precedent was set.
Adam and Eve were sinless at first, enjoying perfect fellowship with God, one another, and their environment. If Point A is the ideal, Adam and Eve were created and initially resided at Point A.
But then the serpent arrived and presented Point B as an option.
“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
In what followed, we see how powerful the insertion of doubt toward God can be in effecting whether we will trust and obey Him or not.
What followed Eve’s dialog with the serpent is well known. Eve was seduced by the sales pitch that she and Adam could become like gods themselves, knowing good and evil. She saw that the forbidden fruit looked tasty, so she took a bite and gave some to her husband who was with her.
Immediately they both realized they had erred. Their eyes were open and they knew they were naked. So they hid themselves from God and made clothes for themselves out of fig leaves.
In this we see that the pattern is as old as sin itself to hide our true selves when we know we’re not meeting God’s standard of right conduct and goodness.
Yet we also see that God is not fooled; He sees us even when we’re hiding in bushes, clothed only in fig leaves. As the writer of Hebrews tells us:
“No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
God’s grace should produce authenticity in us.
The cure to all the fears and insecurities that prompt us to hide ourselves is God’s grace.
This is not true in an artificial way. Don’t pretend to be brave and confident just because you know that’s what’s expected of Christians. After all, what good is pretending?
Rather, our fears and insecurities are resolved best by God’s grace because in knowing and believing that grace we see that God still loves us in the midst of our imperfection.
God the Father sent His Son to atone for our sins just as He promised Adam and Eve because He is gracious.
“…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God sees us for who we really are more than just the endearing qualities we selectively present to one another to give a favorable impression of ourselves. Jesus didn’t atone for our sins in a state of ignorance about our sinfulness. On the contrary, it was precisely because God could see our sinfulness that he provided a remedy for it.
In light of this grace having been gifted to us in our imperfect state, we Christians should be the people freest from insecurity and anxiety when it comes to being authentic. God’s grace should make us honest and humble, yes. But it should also make us bold and courageous rather than timid and fearful.
So why doesn’t it always? Where does the breakdown occur when we as Christians fail at authenticity?
We need to start trusting God and stop fearing man.
More often than not, it’s a very simple thing that hijacks our authenticity: we fear our fellow man more than we trust God.
“The fear of man lays a snare,
but whoever trusts in Yahweh is safe.”
And why wouldn’t we fear man? Mankind has been breaking God’s laws – scheming against, stealing from, lying to, assaulting, and murdering one another for thousands of years. What’s not to fear from man?
It’s all well and good to be vulnerable before God, and to rest in the knowledge of his grace when we realize he sees into our hearts and minds and knows us intimately, even down to the hairs on our heads.
But our fellow man? That’s a different story entirely.
Men don’t have pure motives or good intentions. Why would we trust our fellow man with the knowledge of all our vulnerabilities? When our fellow man – even the closest family member or friend – can be relied on at some point to exploit what he knows about us to his gain and our loss, why would we want to show who we really are? Why would we knowingly open ourselves up to being hurt like that?
Put simply, we would do such because the alternative is even worse than being betrayed and disappointed. The alternative to being authentic with our fellow man is self-imposed quarantine, isolating ourselves from the rest of humanity – if not physically, at least mentally and emotionally – and thereby neglecting God’s commands to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
After all, how can you love someone when you hide yourself from them? And is it loving to conceal who you really are from someone you love?
If we love our fellow man, we will be authentic.
In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth he lays out what has since become the most famous and commonly cited description of true love.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Read that again! “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
I’m at a loss for a better way to refute the jaded, cynical internal objections to authenticity embedded deep within my heart and mind, and probably yours too.
The definition of love Paul lays out for the Corinthian church tells us that real love is vulnerable. This makes sense. The undeserved love God displayed in Christ Jesus was authentic and freely given, even in the knowledge it would be spurned, rejected, and abused.
Since we Christians are called to follow and trust in Jesus, and look to him as an example, we can safely conclude that obeying God’s call to love our neighbor as we love ourselves means being vulnerable and authentic ourselves in the same way Jesus was vulnerable and authentic.
So we have to conclude that if we love our fellow man, we will be authentic. We will be real, honest, and straightforward, not hiding our true selves or pretending to be someone we’re not. We won’t claim to be without sin when in the company of our fellow Christians or inside the brick and mortar building our local church gathers at, nor will we forget God’s standard elsewhere.
Should there be things you can’t talk about in church?
Again, I don’t use the word ‘church’ here to say a physical building. Rather, I’m talking about Christians. Individual or assembled, we are the church no matter where we gather or reside.
That means we are the church at work, school, the grocery store, on the basketball court, or at home, or wherever. Wherever on Earth we are, if we belong to Jesus we are the church. We don’t suddenly become any more the church when we step inside a special building on Sunday morning, and we don’t become any less when we step back out again.
Buildings do not make us more holy, but we can make any place we’re at more or less holy depending on whether we honor God with our actions, words, and attitudes or not.
So what will we say? The question is not whether we Christians as the church can talk about politics, business, science, education, entertainment, or any other thing. The question is this: Do we have the courage to speak and act authentically and consistently from our Christian faith in those and all other spheres, or whether our unspoken ideal is the monastic life of retreating from the world so as to grow our piety where it can’t be corrupted or mocked by anyone?
The dichotomy between a Christian’s life inside and outside the brick and mortar building he gathers at on Sunday mornings is artificial, illusory, and inauthentic. We cannot be one person inside a building and a totally different person outside, or else the world will rightfully call us two-faced, duplicitous, shallow, and fake.
Being salt and light requires authenticity.
What good is salt that never leaves the shaker? What good are light bulbs that never leave the box? Be poured out and shine where everyone can see. There is no other way to fulfill God’s command to be salt and light.
As Jesus said,
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
If we’re not careful, we may instinctively seclude our genuine internal selves in a mental monastery. Yet God’s command is not that we waste our days hiding who we really are from the world. In Him we find refuge. God’s grace truly liberates us to be who we were created to be. This is so not just in certain special safe spaces, but wherever we are.
God’s kingdom and dominion are not confined to the brick and mortar structure we commonly refer to as our church.
“The earth is Yahweh’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.”
God’s purpose for us is not confined to buildings made by human hands.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Authentic action means authentic speech, thought and feeling as well.
Where do we get this idea that we’re holier at church on a Sunday morning than elsewhere the rest of the week? God doesn’t stay cooped up in a Sanctuary for six days waiting for us to come back.
If we are in Christ, God dwells inside us. We are His temple and sanctuary; we are the church.
Anything that wouldn’t be appropriate “in church” on a Sunday morning should be off-limits the rest of the week too. We are the church.
Anything we would do or discuss “in church” on Sunday is fair game the rest of the week too. We are the church.
Just so, why would we be afraid of what those either inside or outside the church might think about us?
“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”
God looks at our inner man. He both knows and judges even our unspoken thoughts to where there’s no point in being inauthentic with God. We’re not fooling Him, but “are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Meanwhile Jesus tells us bluntly to not fear men. Even if they murder us for it, our hope and redemption is in God through Christ. So we don’t have to fear what men may do.
Authenticity requires not compartmentalizing your walk with Christ.
There shouldn’t be one compartment for your Christian friends and family and a separate compartment for your secular relationships. There shouldn’t be one compartment for what happens in church and another for everything else. As Christians, we are the church.
We need to think, speak, and act in a way that honors God as businessmen, scientists, artists, civil servants, physicians, writers, or whatever else we are or may be. We cannot and should not try to be two people. And again, truly loving God and our fellow man necessitates being genuine and authentic and not wearing masks.
Just so, God has given us His Word for a purpose.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
In light of that, there shouldn’t be things you can’t talk about in church.