The Deadly Church Mask

by Matthew W. Bassford

This is about masking in church, but not the kind you think. I have zero desire to return to the debates from two years ago about covering our faces with bits of paper and cloth! Instead, I am concerned with the invisible masks that we put on to conceal our true selves when we assemble.

We all have one. Sometimes, we deploy it because of relatively trivial issues. We spent the whole car ride to church fussing at our spouse and children, but we pop out of the minivan smiling and, when asked, confidently assert that we are doing fine. I've often done this myself.

At other times, though, the church mask leads to spiritual disaster. Indeed, it can ruin us in a couple of different ways. Some brethren are quietly losing the battle with sin. Their souls are in danger, but they would literally rather die than acknowledge their struggles to the church, the elders, or anyone else who could help them. Sadly, dying is usually what they end up doing.

Christians also don their church masks when they are overwhelmed by troubles. Just the other day, I heard from a dear sister who has been pushed beyond her limits by the health problems of one of her children. “I feel like I'm drowning,” she told my wife and me.

She confided in us because we are so candid about our own challenges. I strongly suspect, though, that she has not been as vulnerable with her own church. Everybody else has masked up, so she feels that she has to mask up too.

Ironically, when all of us obeyed the gospel, we implicitly acknowledged our helplessness. Our spiritual problems were so bad that only the Son of God could fix them. However, once we're out of the water, our church masks inform others that we've got it all figured out and are doing very well, thank you.

Church masks exist because of fear. At times we are afraid of giving up our cherished sin (so that the church mask is really the mask of the hypocrite), but mostly it's fear of embarrassment. We act like everything is fine, especially when it's not, because we are worried that others will look down on us and gossip about us if we admit our difficulties.

As always, when fear keeps us from proceeding, we should suspect the activity of Satan, and it is certainly present here. The devil is lying to us about our brethren, telling us that we can't trust them, because he wants to keep us isolated and weak.

I think this fear is largely overblown. In my experience, the few who do come forward because of sin problems are received well, even if their sins are dramatic. The young sister who gets pregnant out of wedlock is welcomed by the congregation and given the support she needs. She was forced to be open because of the nature of her sin, but openness ends up helping rather than hurting her. I am sure there are exceptions, but this has been the rule everywhere I've been.

I believe that all of us would find the same thing if we owned up to our problems, even when our circumstances do not compel us to. In Tennessee, one of the elders’ wives came forward whenever she felt like she needed the prayers of the saints. This did not diminish her standing in the congregation. On the contrary, it enhanced it. Other women felt comfortable coming to her because they knew that she was real and would understand them. My wife certainly did.

My experience has been similar. Since I was diagnosed with ALS, I have been open not only about my physical struggles but also about my mental and spiritual ones. The whole brotherhood knows about my battle with depression!

As a result, even Christians I don't know have showered me with prayers. These prayers have made an incredible difference in my mental state. Although I am dying, I am also experiencing greater peace and joy than I ever have before.

My heart breaks when I think about all of my brothers and sisters who struggle with depression too (which affects our spirits as much as our minds) but do so in isolation. They spend every day immersed in Satan’s lies, but they conceal their suffering because maintaining that church mask is so important. It's a foretaste of hell on earth, complete with loneliness.

My brethren, none of these things should be so! Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. In fact, share your lives with one another, the sorrows as well as the joys. Be real. It will help you, it will help others (not least elders who are purely sick of closing the barn door after the horse has escaped!), and it will make the work of the devil a whole lot harder.

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