The word sincere is often explained as coming from the Latin sine ceraÂ which means without wax. As it turns out this is probably not true. Barnhart’s Dictionary of Etymology says it probably comes from the Latin sincerus which means sound, whole, pure, genuine,… The Wikipedia article on sincerity has a section devoted to the false notion that the word means without wax.
Nonetheless the phrase sine cera, without wax, does come in handy for preachers and bloggers, but let’s avoid wrongly connecting it to the word sincere.Â
Much has been made lately of the fact that Christianity is losing status in culture. Multiple news articles and many blog entries alternate between celebrating, mourning, and simply observing what Newsweek describes as The End of Christian America.Â
All of this is not bad for the church. I won’t join those celebrating the changes, but I can’t mourn the situation. For too long there has been a veneer of superficial, cultural Christianity over the church. People went to church because it was the thing to do. As it no longer becomes the thing to do, uncommitted people drop out.
I’ve been listening to J. I. Packer’s History and Theology of the Puritans class from Reformed Theological Seminary (available via iTunes U) and he talks about the Puritan frustration with the Gospel Hypocrite – the person who went to church every Sunday because he had to, called himself a Christian, but knew nothing of genuine faith. America over the last 50 years or so has had a lot of gospel hypocrites. Changing mores have altered people’s perception of church and has led to a decline not of Christianity itself but of the gospel hypocrite. For Christians this should be seen as an opportunity.
It is difficult to evangelize lost people today. Changes in entertainment, media, and socialization means it is harder to reach lost people, harder to establish relationships with them. But at least we and they know who they are. A lost person believes he doesn’t need to be saved for a host of reasons – perhaps he thinks God will just forgive everyone, or thinks he isn’t really a sinner, or simply thinks the whole thing is a sham and there is nothing after death anyway, or perhaps he is so distracted by all the business of the world that he gives the matter no thought. To reach him you have to help him see that he is truly lost, that this world is not all there is, and that he will someday stand before a holy judge. A gospel hypocrite believes he doesn’t need to be saved because he thinks he already is. Talk to him all day about salvation and he will agree with you, more or less, never seeing that he is as lost as the person who never comes into the church.
Changes in the world means the church is becoming sine cera, without wax. The veneer of cultural Christianity is being shed and we are not left with more lost people but with people who finally know they are lost – or at least, who finally know they don’t fall within conservative, Biblical Christianity. The gospel hypocrite is jumping ship and showing himself for what he is.
The times, they are a-changin’, but it is not all bad. Christians will face new challenges. We will be increasingly marginalized, laughed at, and even persecuted. But the line between being a child of God or a child of the ruler of this age will finally become clear and people will have to choose whom they will serve.