The Christian life is not a role played on the religious stage. It is the reality of the life of Jesus Christ lived out in the behavior of Christians.
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The famous bard from Avon, William Shakespeare, wrote into the script of his play, As You Like It, these lines,
Is it true that "all the world's a stage," and life is "playing various parts" or roles? The world-system seems to be built on the pretense of playing roles. All men and women are either actors or actresses. Some work back-stage, some have bit-parts, some have supporting roles, and all aspire to achieve a star-role.
There is a basic philosophy which pervades the thinking of our society today which regards everything as a "show," a "production," a "performance." It is all "staged" and orchestrated and choreographed by the Producer/Director named "Fate." "The Show must go on!"
In this humanistic drama of human existence all the players develop a "false persona." It's a ruse. It's a fake. It's all fiction. W. Somerset Maughn, in his work, The Summing Up, writes, "The drama is make-believe. It does not deal with truth, but with effect."2 What he seems to be saying is that the drama is not reality or truth. The projected symbol and its effect on the audience is all that matters.
Talk-show host, Rush Limbaugh, has pointed out that there is an abundance of unreality on the political stage in our society today. He has pointed out the hypocrisy of "symbol over substance," and playing for the effect that something has upon others. All that seems to matter is the existential perception of the individual.
The concept of life as "role-playing" has permeated so much of our society today. Take, for example, the societal issue of homosexuality. When two men enter into what they call a "relationship," they are role-playing. Usually one assumes the role of the husband, and the other assumes the role of the wife. Neither is a real man. A real man relates to a woman as God intended between husband and wife. The one who plays the role of the husband in the homosexual relationship is not a real male, and the one who plays the role of the wife in the homosexual relationship is not a real female (obviously). It is a perverse form of role-playing. Why is it that homosexuals are so often attracted to, and found within, the fine-arts community? Actors, actresses, musicians, artists, dancers. Is it because these often engage in the unreality of role-playing?
The social issue of feminism looms large in our society today. They are concerned about gender-roles. Thinking that "wife" and "mother" are just roles that women play, they aspire to the star-role of being C.E.O. of the company or President of the United States. Will that make them more of a woman? more female? more feminine? It will not. It will only set them up as another kind of actress, playing another role. Radical feminist theology wants to call God "Mother" or "It." They fallaciously think that "Father" is just a role that God plays, and they want to recast His role. Little do they realize that to say "God is our Father," is to explain and give meaning to Divine provision, protection, propagation of life, etc. It is not just a title-role. Radical feminism mistakenly casts everything into the role-playing of gender roles.
The contemporary psychologism of identifying dysfunctional families and their inter-relational traits, likewise casts all family dynamics into role-playing. Family members are regarded as playing different roles, such as "codependent enabler," the "scapegoat child," etc. If the relationship of a family is considered only as different members playing different roles, it will be dysfunctional indeed.
Is religion any different? Religion just presents mankind with another stage, on which to engage in yet another avenue of "role-playing." Sometimes it is nothing more than assuming the role of audience or participant in the Sunday morning "production" of a worship "performance." Staged Christianity puts on the show! It is all symbol without substance. When it is over and the curtain closes, everyone takes off their costumes and their masks and their make-up, and goes home until the next production, feeling no need to maintain the role except when they are on the religious stage. John Calvin refers to such religious actors, noting that "in all ages there have been certain worshippers of God who have worshiped him like stage-players, whose holiness did wholly consist in gestures and vain pomps."3
Sometimes religion casts itself as a lifestyle of role-playing. The convert assumes the identity of a "Christian" on the religious stage. They are expected to play the role and stay "in character." They repeat their lines, parrot their part, and play their role. They "go through the motions" knowing that the rituals are not reality. Religion is just a "bit-part" they play in life. It's not real. They are wearing masks and costumes. It is hypocrisy! Their continuation in such makes them enablers to one another in the fictional drama that they are all play-acting, and they become codependent to one another's sins.
Activistic religion has encouraged its cast to play various roles in support of chosen causes. Often it is the "crusader role" against abortion, pornography or specified social evils. Other times it may be the "Good Samaritan role," serving in a soup-kitchen or at a rescue mission. The role is played with the utmost of sincerity as it is regarded as the reality of their religion.
In order to play the role in the religious drama, there must be a supporting cast to make the play work. Everyone has to play the game together, and be willing to act-out the same scenario, longing for the applause of a job well-done. Without such the individualized hypocrisy becomes a sham! The ecclesiastical community of the institutional church has served as the supporting cast for this religious role-playing.
Religion is a simulated reality role-playing. The misnomer of "Christian religion" has long encouraged its cast to play the role of a Christian. People are encouraged to "act like a Christian." The effect upon others is emphasized to the neglect of reality.
Christianity, as differentiated from "Christian religion," is not role-playing!
The Christian identifies in spiritual solidarity with Jesus Christ, who becomes his/her life, and the basis of their new identity as a "Christ-one," a Christian. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; old things have passed away, behold all thing have become new." (II Cor. 5:17). The Christian does not have an assumed identity, but the real identity wherein "Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). The Christian is not playing a role, but the essential reality of the life of Jesus Christ indwells within and is to function through his/her behavior. The ontological Being of Jesus Christ, the "I AM," constitutes who we are and what we do. It is an actual living-out of the life of Jesus Christ in the Christian's behavior.
It is not "make-believe." Christianity is real-believe. Faith involves the receptivity of the activity of the life of Jesus Christ in me. It is the receptivity of divine reality; the Being of Christ expressed in our behavior.
There is a vast difference between acting out a role or part, and acting in our behavior by the expression of the life of Jesus Christ lived out through us. Trying to "stay in character" throughout the religious "performance" is very difficult and demanding, but Jesus Christ wants to "manifest His life in our mortal bodies" (II Cor. 4:10,11), His character in our behavior. We are not called to the false-persona of an actor or actress, but to the Reality of the Person of Jesus Christ lived out through man.
This reality of an ontological identity with Christ is relational, first in the personal relationship the Christian has with Jesus Christ, and secondly in the relational community of the Church wherein we need each other in order to encourage one another (Heb. 10:25) in the living out of our new identity. The Church is not merely a "supportive cast for our role-playing;" it is the extended Body that shares in the very Life of Jesus Christ that forms our identity as "Christ-ones." We are "in Him" together, sharing His Life, and encouraging one another to behave like who we have really and spiritually become. This genuine mutuality and unity allows for no masks of hypocrisy, but allows us to "drop our guard" in true transparency in order to live out His life together.
Christianity is not role playing! Christianity is the reality of the Person of Jesus Christ lived out in Christian behavior.
William, As You Like It, Acts 2, Scene 6. The Plays and Sonnets
of William Shakespeare.
2 Maugham, W. Somerset, The Summing Up. 1938. pg. 39.
3 Calvin, John, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles. Vol. I. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, pg. 559.