We Pretenders

When I was a kid, I loved to pretend.  My life was filled with forts, guns, armies, horses, dragons, talking animals, magic swords, and space armadas.  You didn’t have to point out to me that I was pretending, I was doing it on purpose.

Jesus pointed out the pretenders who did not seem to know they were pretending. To the Romans he pointed out that they were merely pretending to be the masters of the world. In fact, the Kingdom of God was in our midst and held sway over what mattered.  To those pretending to be good, he said there is no good but God.  To those pretending to honor the temple of God, he dealt a beating.  To those pretending to be his disciples, he exposed as denyers, betrayers, and court jesters. Jesus was God who pretended to be a man and–in the end–He exposed this pretense as well.

Few would disagree that those who follow Jesus only pretend to.   The Old Testament teaches us that we are foolish and pretending children to a Perfect Father who has given us his law, the New teaches us that we are all fallen and lost, incapable of following the law God gave–we can only pretend. The Book of Mormon teaches that when it comes to obedience, we are less than we are not the dust of the earth, only pretending to be submissive. Joseph Smith taught that our compliance and authority is often–because of our nature and disposition–simply pretense to fulfill our pride and hide our sins. Jesus’ apostles made it clear that Jesus was the Christ, we merely pretend to be Christians. Paul taught that whatever we are of Christ is not us, but Christ in us.

Ironically, Christians also like to point out pretenders.

When Protestants and Mormons see Catholics and Orthodox, they see a bunch of people pretending to have authority from Christ.  When Protestants and Catholics see Mormons, they see people pretending to follow the Bible and a common men pretending to be prophets from God.  When Catholics, Orthodox and Mormons see Protestants, they see people pretending to be saved, pretending to speak in tongues, and pretending to be Christ’s Church.  All of the errant doctrines, prophecies, practices, prayers and priesthoods of the other Christians are merely pretend, only man-made pretense.

Unsurprisingly, most Mormons believe that most Evangelicals are merely pretending to be Christians.  Of course you may find the occasional “true follower of Christ” among their bunch but most are merely pretending that their being “born again” means anything. Mormons pity them for their ignorance and are grateful that they don’t have to pretend.

Mormons are taught all people are assumed children of God by birth, so they pretend to be like God himself.  God is the great King with whom we contract,  Christ our advocate in his courts.  They, like God, live by immutable laws of heaven. The priesthood Mormons hold is the very power of God himself. Their families, the very fabric of heaven and divinity itself. They readily offer anybody the tools to start pretending this way, and to joy the blessings that come.

Evangelicals are adept at seeing through the Mormon pretenders.  Evangelicals deny that we can pretend to be God, so they only pretend to be His children. As well they should. They recognize, with science, that man is born base animal whom religion has taught to pretend to be like God. The God that made this unfathomably big universe must also be unfathomably large, unique, and powerful– unlike us in every way. Thus, Evangelicals strive only to be His children through Christ, the evidence of His unfathomable love.  Adoption is free, any impediment is merely pretend. Those that accept this doctrine are born into a new family, those that deny any important part of if it, can only pretend to be saved in His kingdom.

Science also points out pretenders. At root, it is a mechanism to remove the facade of authority from any who deny experimentally demonstrable facts. So science would also agree that we merely pretend to be Christians.[But those pretend Christians can happily point out with philosophers that--even in the most rigorous science--our knowledge is only the pretense of a Truth unsullied by all of this human pretending.]

What kind of Christian do you pretend to be? This is the question each Christian would do well to pose their ego. But it’s hard to ask that way, isn’t it?  It supposes that we might not really have it all figured out. That– on some important level–we might only be pretending- no matter what we do, say, or believe!  This is why we generally politely refuse to make this inquiry.

And rightly so!  We are pretending to be above all of that. Whatever it is that causes us to pretend the way I do must somehow be more trustworthy than those of other pretenders– on every important point at least.

When I was a Mormon I was sensitive to pretenders. Those who went to church but didn’t really take it seriously. Those who pretended to believe. Those who would show up in church but were just like the non-Mormon kids at school.  Of course I could distinguish myself from this group, despite my own sinful ways and inconsistencies, because I was pretending to be a true believer, dyed in the wool.  I was the kind of pretender who had disdain for pretense of others.

Now that I am not pretending to be a Mormon any more, I am coming to terms  with the fact that I was pretending then and continue to pretend to be a Christian now.  It is is nothing to be ashamed of really. How could it be? It is is our inescapable fate. The hope for those pretenders like me is that–at some point in practice–pretense magically can become a sort of equivalence.  When we become like a child, and yield our hearts to the game, it transforms us like falling in love transforms a more formal relationship.  We start pretending that his person is the only one in the world for us (which is a happy game indeed.)

What I am starting to find is that on some things, it doesn’t matter whether I think I am pretending or not.  When I really pretend hard to live as Christ taught, pretend that my sins are forgiven and God loves me and all others, and pretend that it is not mere nonsense to say that we children of God (i.e. the creator and sustainer of the universe(s)), I feel something quite unique and amazing in my life (which I pretend is His Spirit.)  When I see that that this same principle applies to others, I pretend that this is very good news.

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22 thoughts on “We Pretenders

  1. Jared, I like the idea that we are all fellow pretenders quite a bit. I think that somewhere in the nihilistic pursuit of “personal authenticity” our society has rejected the idea that we ought to aspire to anything at all.

    Because anything other than your own personal status quo would be “inauthentic.” Trying to be something you’re not. One of the things I love about my religion is that it calls on me, and allows me to hope to be something I’m not. That’s much of the point.

    But I have to disagree with you that “most Mormons” or “most Evangelicals” believe that other religions are merely pretending to be Christians while THEY are the true version. I don’t see that attitude at church.

  2. Nice, thought. I like the foil you pose between the idea that we are pretenders and striving for authenticity.

    When we search for the thing that we are trying to be authentic to, we often find the things that we merely like to aspire to. This sends us back to the tough question of what kind of person are we pretending to be, and what roles we should embrace and take seriously.

  3. Those who are needful, who know they are not up to it, but trust that Christ is up to it, are the kind of folks that Christ is looking for. That is Christ is making, and bringing to faith.

    He does this through law and gospel. The law to expose our great need and the gospel to lift up, make new, and give life.

    Those who have a good doctrine of sin aren’t pretending. They are positive that they haven’t a chance without Gd’s mercy for the ungodly.

    Methinks.

  4. Hey sorry I’m not jumping in on commenting. I’ve been busy with work and trying to get some personal stuff sorted out.

  5. theOldAdam,

    “Those who have a good doctrine of sin aren’t pretending.”

    The question is, why do you pretend your doctrine of sin is so good? There may be good reason for this, but its worth exploring.

    Both Mormons and Lutherans believe that we are not perfect and sinful. But it seems Jesus seems to be pretty cagey about the precise standard by which we will be judged for our imperfections (see Matthew 7:2.) Mormons pretend it matters in this life and the next that we push ourselves for excellence in all things and deny ourselves ungodliness. Lutherans pretend that it doesn’t matter if we push ourselves to be good, we should simply submit to God and whatever good that follows (i.e. that He produces in us) is enough.

    In the context of what Jesus said regarding judging others the way we should want to be judged, it seems that Christians could adopt both views. We stop pretending that we can’t do any more good (by pretending we can), yet we can stop pretending that God cares so much how we pretend to be good if we end up judging others harshly in our pretense.

  6. Jared,

    Lutherans know that it does NOT matter (if we push ourselves for excellence)…for righteousness sake…not one bit.

    For even “our righteous deeds are as filthy rags”, where our righteousness is concerned.

    We do not pretend to have any goodness in ourselves…at all. Jesus said to the rich young man, “why do you call me good? There is no one good but good.”

    We look to Jesus and the Cross, alone, for the goodness required by God. Other than that, our efforts benefit our neighbor. And that is a good thing.

    Thanks.

  7. I like that about Lutheranism (and Evangelicalism I suppose). It doesn’t pretend we are anything but what we are, it accepts humans warts and all. I am still unclear about what happens after people are saved. What is the script after you accept salvation?

  8. Jared, isn’t that just the same thing as having no aspirations, and ultimately – settling for less?

  9. I think your point is sound Seth. In my life I know that God is there most palpably when I decide to be better than I am– when I want to be happier, better, more loving. To me, Christianity is about wanting to be the person Jesus taught about in the gospels, and hoping that it is possible. We are not naturally that person, but desire and faith will shape us. We have to be aware of what kind of person we are pretending to be if we want to eventually be that person. Submission of our will/ego, stillness, worship, are part of this, but a vision of who we could be is important as well. The promise of Christianity for me is about having Christ in us now.

    But I also think we have to balance our desires with clear judgment about ourselves and others. The “filthy rags” rhetoric has its place. I don’t think we join the Kingdom by simply trying to be the best animal in the pack.

  10. I don’t think you can have a better marriage, be a better worker, be a better parent, or be a better person without striving for some ideal – the ideal you strive for matters.

  11. The filthy rags rhetoric has a context. One that I think is probably not so different than coming to grips with how we can go on pretending.

  12. Of the clip just posted, “This is the tension that New Testament doesn’t ever really resolve…unless you understand how to read inbetween the lines…as the Reformers did.”
    He states, right before this, that the Light of Christ is needed for guidance. I pray for the Light of Christ ot guide us, and our hearts toward mutual understanding and enlightenment.

    Our differences stem from what we each “read between the lines”. We must be humble and admit the context and definitions we add, and the purposeful, individual words of God that we set aside.

    Matthew 15:19-20 “19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

    Romans 10:10 “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”

    I think we stumble over each other because we misuse the context and content of the scriptures. The Word of God teaches that the sinner can be redeemed, sins forgiven, and perfected in Christ. Does not the Word of God speak to us in all stages of conversion/progress/life? If Christ enters our hearts, purifies our minds, and we are gifted with the faith of security in Christ, does not our lips confess Christ? Does God not work through our hands in miraculous ways? Is there not fruit to praise our everlasting God for? And surely, in full conciousness of our fraility, we cannot claim these works our own, or of our doing, yet we are participants, by the Grace and Mercy of God.

    And so it is with “filthy rags”. The act of confessing Christ saves us. The heart that believes is justified. To say your righteous works are but filthy rags, to a group who is just going through the motions, is obviously appropriate. Yet, to apply Pauls words to himself, I wouldn’t say, “Paul, your letters and words of encouragment are just filthy rags, no better than…”

    My point is, the converted/disciple/saint is able to do and say things that are not jugded to be filthy rags…..when what they do and say is One with God and his Holy Spirit. True still, without the Holy Spirit, one cannot have part in the goodness of God, their own works are just that, and have no eternal stance. If only God gave man authority to act in his name, could anything we say or do have eternal weight…for it is not our will that binds it, but the authority, power, and will of God. Our works, acting as ourselves, of ourselves is fruitless and dead…only acting through the Holy Ghost, and through Jesus Christ, can we live.

  13. “Mormons are taught all people are assumed children of God by birth, so they pretend to be like God himself.”
    The notion that Mormons think of themselves as God is a dividing wedge that Evangelicals insist on driving. The piousness, the blantant defiance, the self lifting and Christ denying attitude one has to have to think themselves God makes your statement magnificently insulting. When God gave Moses instructions to part the Red Sea, to bring water from rock, and so forth, the lesson we all should learn is that the greatness comes from God, not of us.
    If you nail a Mormon down, they will admit the Biblical hope that as Christ is One with the Father, and has inherited ALL that the Father hath, that we can become One with Christ and be co-inherits with Christ…and admit that they accept the possiblility of fulfilling roles that only God has filled…such as participating or directing creation….which we already do within the divinely mandated covenant of marriage.
    Follow the pattern. We are filthy, we accept Christ, we are made clean. We are filthy, we baptize unto repentance in Christ, we aer made clean. We sin, we repent and become clean. Sex outside of marriage is the worst abomination, but between a husband and wife, its a beautiful act fulfilling the desire of God to multiple and replentish the earth.
    The LDS are condemned for not having faith, or not allowing for grace, yet most of the arguements refuse to allow Christ’s grace in on the equation. Does the marriage covenant established by God sanctify intimacy or is it still dirty and obscene? Does Christ enter our heart and purify it, or does it remain forever filthy and untrusted? I view denying the sanctity that marriage brings, and that our covenant with Christ brings, to be anti-progressive in our search for truth.

  14. Isaac, thank you for your thoughts. I did not mean to suggest that Mormons think they are God now, only that they are on the path to godhood, rather on than on the path to child-of-godhood. I am not an Evangelical and I understand the Mormon position very well.

    I think what Mormons need to understand when they relate to Evangelicals is that they see religion quite differently. There is a subtle–yet significant–difference in the way that the two groups see both the problem of life and the solution of religion. The difference may be positively intractable. The point of the post was to show that even with this difference, there is no cause for offense because we are in the same boat in pursuing Christianity.

  15. That’s a good topic Kullervo. A different Gospel. Do we pretend to believe in the ENTIRE Word of God, or do we believe in some of it, but not all? Surely, we’re all guilty of not understanding the Scriptures in their completeness, but how much Grace are we going to need? Whatever our lack, Christ’s grace is sufficient.
    God said that he would scatter the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to the ends of the earth, over the entire world, among the nations of the earth.
    God also commanded his words to be written.

    Exodus 31:27 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”

    Isaiah 30:8-10
    8 Go now, write it on a tablet for them,
    inscribe it on a scroll,
    that for the days to come
    it may be an everlasting witness.
    9 For these are rebellious people, deceitful children,
    children unwilling to listen to the LORD’s instruction.
    10 They say to the seers,
    “See no more visions!”
    and to the prophets,
    “Give us no more visions of what is right!
    Tell us pleasant things,
    prophesy illusions.

    Joshua 8:34-35
    34 Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law—the blessings and the curses—just as it is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the foreigners who lived among them.

    Jeremiah 31:33
    33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the LORD.
    “I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
    I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.”

    God has covenanted with Israel, and those covenants are made known through his Word…the Word is delivered to EVERYONE through a prophet, through hearing it, the Word is written in mind and hear, and those who receive are his people.

    When God scattered Israel (‘your gospel’ doesnt limit when that would happen), if they would be his people, they MUST have God’s law. When a nation/generation is wicked, and unbelieving, he has the words, that they won’t accept, written as an everlasting witness.

    Lastly,

    John 20:30-31
    30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

    1 Nephi 5:21-22
    And we had obtained the records which the Lord had commanded us, and searched them and found that they were desirable; yea, even of great worth unto us, insomuch that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children.

    22 Wherefore, it was wisdom in the Lord that we should carry them with us, as we journeyed in the wilderness towards the land of promise.

    1 Nephi 6:3-4
    “..for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God.

    4 For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.

    5 Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world.

    2 Nephi 33:4
    And I know that the Lord God will consecrate my prayers for the gain of my people. And the words which I have written in weakness will be made strong unto them; for it persuadeth them to do good; it maketh known unto them of their fathers; and it speaketh of Jesus, and persuadeth them to believe in him, and to endure to the end, which is life eternal.

    The Book of Mormon was written to persuade men to believe in Jesus Christ, and endure in that belief to the end. I see more in common than not.

  16. Too bad the 1000’s of Christian denominations can’t see eye to eye with Paul, or each other

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