Monday, June 04, 2007

Esse quam videri

Before moving to South Carolina almost seven years ago, I served a church in the northern foothills of North Carolina. North Carolina's state motto is perhaps my favorite. I say "perhaps" because I haven't really studied them all. At this writing I can't even recall the state motto of my current resident state. Shameful as that may be, it's quite beside the point.

North Carolina's state motto is a Latin phrase "Esse quam videri" which as I understand it translates: "To be rather than to seem." That wonderful ideal came back to the front of my mind as I began reading a new book this morning: Bob Roberts Jr.'s Transformation: How Glocal Churches Transform Lives and the World. In the introduction (and yes, I do read the introductions to most books of this type ... it often helps me get into what the author is trying to say), Roberts writes the following:

The church has been stripped of its power and influence in the West today, not because it has lost its wealth and position in society -- it hasn't -- but because the church has lost credibility. On the whole, we can hardly change ourselves, much less the world. We cannot consistently live the message we herald to the world, but never have we been more effective at religious marketing of products that help us appear as if we are living it. As a result, the growing perception is that the church is religious but not spiritual. It has style but not enough substance. (p. 15)

Recent polls show virtually no difference in the ways in which professing Christians behave in comparison with the behavior of people with no professed religious affiliation. There is little comfort in the fact that the same kinds of tendencies we are seeing in our local situation is reflected in churches across the United States. As a matter of fact I find it even more disconcerting. We are more concerned with appearing holy than we are with actually experiencing holiness. We have turned the ideal of the North Carolina state motto around to read "To seem rather than to be."

Help us, Lord, for we cannot help ourselves.



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