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.