Day: July 1, 2020

The Danger of Performative Christianity

“All the World’s A Stage” – William Shakespeare, but we are not called to be performers

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

The Christian Heavy Metal band and Grammy winning artist Demon Hunter has a had a stinging critique of both the Christian Metal industry and Christianity in general the last decade. The critique is best expressed in the lyrics to their song: “Artificial Light” which I encourage you to read. In an interview with Ryan Clark, the bands front man, he says concerning the song: “So many bands offer platitudes that sound good, but without Jesus they are nothing more than artificial light.” That is, they do nothing but sugarcoat the hearers tongue, they taste good, but they are just darkness masquerading as light. This is also the critique of longtime DC Talker Kevin Max and Jars of Clay Founder Matt Bronleewe. Both of whom have written much about the irrelevancy of much of the Christian Music industry, particularly CCM, to our present world. It makes you feel good about yourself but offers nothing of spiritual value. This has been backed up by Pastors who use their pulpits to spread the gospel according to individualism rather than Jesus Christ. And has contributed to the inability for the church to say anything in regards to our current cultural moment.

I have said before that I do not believe in #Activism. That is, I rarely post on social media in support of a cause because I would rather be doing than saying. But in recent months we have heard a new phrase enter the public conscious: “Performative Wokeness.” This is the idea that you can appear to go along with what is going on in the culture by the image you curate on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or wherever you hang out on Social Media. But behind your appearances are either actions done only to reinforce what you are claiming or no actions at all. The whole idea is based on virtue or vice signaling which tells your tribe that you are with them, even if your actions do not follow what you are signaling you believe. I could write an entire post on this concept and have in the past I will leave what I have written stand.

Like with most things though, as Historian Cameron Brock puts it: “The Culture swims in the soup the Church created.” If you want to know what the culture is doing or going to do, look at events in the church over the previous 50-100 years and you will likely find it there. Hence the reason the current movement in the culture has taken on a sort of Charismatic tone and vision as some have noted. I have also noted that our current divisions and infighting were the norm for the Church throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and we were warned thoroughly about the results of a “Tw0-Party System” by Theologians like John Williamson Nevin and the monster it would create (gestures broadly to the political landscape of the United States). If Church technology is 20 years behind the culture, the culture is 50 years behind the church.

We have long had a problem with “performative Christianity” and that is driving a movement away from Christianity. Performative Christianity in the modern sense, and age of social media, is when we post bible verses out of context or we do all the religiously appropriate things like tithe and go to church but when someone mentions biblical teachings on Injustice or loving our neighbor we try to tune it out. Or we go the opposite direction, we do everything to make ourselves look good, like we are living out what the bible teaches when in reality it is just a show and our hearts have not been effectively transformed by the Gospel.

Jesus teaches the first of these ideas in the Gospels, Check out Jesus words to Matthew 23:23 ““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” The Pharisees are doing all the right things religiously, but they have neglected to live out the Moral Law of God, which Jesus has already made a matter of the inward attitudes of the Heart and outward actions of the hands, rather than just the outward actions. One can make much of their religiosity without having a true faith of the heart. James picks up this in his epistle chapters 1 and 2. Having outward piety is not a way into heaven, it is the heart that God cares about. The same principle can be applied to those who do works in God’s name but have no relationship with Him. The people in Matthew 7:22 thought their good works would save them, casting out demons, performing miracles, prophesying. No doubt with an eye towards helping their neighbors. Yet, devoid of a relationship with Christ. Paul teaches us in almost every book, that faith is the key to justification, that is, we are justified by faith in Christ and when we are baptized into Christ our spatial position changes from outside of the Body, to inside of the Body. We are then united spiritually to Christ and can live out the new life. We now live as Jesus has given us to live and laid out for us to live in His Holy Word and both happen by His Holy Word. One of the ways that Christ has put before us to live is to “when you give to the needy do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing” (Matt 6:3). And “when you fast, do not do what the hypocrites do who look sad” (Matt 6:16). Neither performative religiousness, nor performative philanthropy, the two types of performative Christianity, are acceptable to Christ.

Christianity, in Paul’s own words, requires us to “put on Christ” (Gal 3:27) and to do that as genuinely as possible so that when people see you in the streets, they see Christ. The individual self that was you, is replaced by Christ. We give up our right to this life and take up the cross and life of Christ. This is not something you can fake, and those who try are often see through. There is a genuiness to those who have put on Christ that you cannot copy. They are natural peacemakers and reconcilers. Natural care takers and naturally loving. They are not perfect, but you can tell the Gospel has made an effective and lasting change through Jesus Christ that it is noticeable. As C.S. Lewis says: “God is in the business of making old men new, not nice men nicer.” Thus, as I have written several times, Christianity requires recreation.You should come as you are but leave transformed. If we continue to live in the old Adam what is Christ to us? Paul condemns the Romans for this in 2:1-11. They were judging people for the sins listed in the vice list in 1:29-31 while they themselves were doing them. Paul says for this they were storing up wrath for themselves, though they claimed Christ, they were condemning the world while they still lived like the world. As Jesus tells the Pharisee’s in Matthew 15, they were “white washed tombs” if that.

If you are a Christians be a Christian, live out the Words of God first and foremost and do so in every area of life that you come into. Be it out in public or in the world of social media or in private. If you are going to support something, do it, but be all-in and be working for the best of that cause, not the worst. Our culture has a major problem with performativism, that keeps us acting but never achieving. The Church should be different. If we are really Christians, we should live as though we really believe everything the Bible says. God did not leave it here for us to pick and choose what we want to follow and what we want to apply. He meant for us to live out his words and to teach others to do the same (Matt 5:20). Condemnation follows both those who try to perform religion devoid of relationship and those who do the work of God devoid of relationship. Those who live in Christ, who live as Christ, will be the ones who hear: “Enter eternal life.”

The same applies to the #Activism people, if you truly support something, then support it. But do so by wanting what is best for the peace and well-being of everyone involved. Do not just unquestioningly support something, work to make it better. A broken and unjust system is harmful to everyone who is involved or in proximity to it. The oppressor does harm to himself as well as the oppressed. The Church should work to ruthlessly eliminate both categories because Christ did so on the cross. But we cannot sit back and signal our virtues without genuine action.

May God work and transform us. Amen

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.