The Secret Lives of Christians - a hidden crisis

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(© Jeffrey S. Bowman, all rights reserved, use by permission only)


The church today faces a hidden crisis: The Secret Lives of Christians.  Let me see if I can summarize my observation.  Bob and Mary are deeply involved in their church, he is on various committees, and she is part of the worship team.  They have great kids and as a family they all love God very much.  Their church is a typical conservative Bible church.  Each Sunday the pastor teaches lessons from the Bible and encourages his congregation to “live for the Lord.”  That is fine except that the church has also taken a “stand” against social drinking, i.e. having a glass of wine or a beer.  The pastor readily admits that the Bible does not condemn a glass of wine.  Yet, “because we don’t want people to stumble,” the pastor reasons, “we must abstain from social drinking.”

The dilemma is that Bob and Mary really enjoy a glass of wine with dinner.  So because they don’t want to offend their church, they must tell no one.  On the surface this seems to be what they must do and after all, it is their personal life.  Yet there is a problem – they can’t be honest, they can’t share their lives, they must “hide” their enjoyment of a glass of wine.  This starts building a wall of secrecy between them and their church and it also affects their children.  The kids see them have an occasional drink and that the way to do so is to be very secret about it.  The kids grow up thinking it is normal to live one way in front of family and another way in front of fellow church members.

This problem of the secret lives of Christians has always been around.  But I have observe that is has grown to major proportions.  The wall of secrecy has grown so high that we then believe we can hide REAL sins – no one will ever know.  This also impacts how we view all of life.  We create a sacred vs. secular dichotomy in our living.  On one hand the church promotes a “separation” from the world and yet on the other the Christian knows that much of the “separation” is over cultural issues, not things that are truly wrong.

Pastors and church leaders themselves are involved in this crisis.  They too have “secret” lives hidden from their flock.  It might not be a social drink but cable TV or the music that they enjoy.  There is no way that they can tell their congregations that they listen to Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd (can you guess my age? <grin>) while they are working on their sermons.

I think this “secret” crisis springs from a misdirected desire to not cause people to stumble.  We don’t want to let anyone know about our secret (yet non-sinful) lives because they might be offended.  This results in a stagnation of growth within the church, an unhealthy spiritual life, and prevents a true dialog involving our engagement with culture as Christians.  

Another cause for this crisis is the fear of being “judged” by fellow Christians with the conclusion being that you are somehow less spiritual because you enjoy a freedom.

In my opinion there is also a difference between a secret life and a private life.  In our private lives we do things that we typically (because of culture) do not talk about.  It might be our hesitancy to talk about the great sex we had with our spouse the night before or the argument that preceded it!  These things are private to our lives BUT they are not “secrets” that we feel compelled to keep from others.

What would happen if we lived without a secret life?  I think it would be spiritually healthy.  We’d have to grapple with cultural issues that we fear to discuss but intrinsically know are NOT sinful.  We’d be forced to communicate with those who hold differing opinions about topics.  We’d actually learn that two people can disagree agreeably.  Perhaps we’d also learn that in such a context our love for each fellow believer would grow and we’d learn to love those who name the name of Christ yet hold a different cultural value than us.  I think we’d also see that we’d force people to a deeper spirituality – one where they are personally accountable to God for their lives, not simply following the rules of a church.  People would learn that it is OK to “live and let live” in life when it comes to non-sinful activities.  I think this is what Paul was getting at in Romans 14.

How is your life?  Do you hide any “secrets?”  Why?