It appears today that “authenticity” has become the most important virtue.
In one sense this is good. Hypocrisy is a vice condemned by Scripture (Mathew 23:27). I often think about this with regard to my children. Never would I want them to watch me act one way in public with others and think to themselves, “That’s not how Dad acts at home.” Many a child has rejected the teaching of their parents because their parents acted one way at home and another way in public.
However, there is another sense in which we Christians must often act in ways that are not necessarily “natural” or that we don’t “feel like” in “real life.” When we act in certain ways that we know are good even when we don’t feel like it, this is not a mark of hypocrisy–it is a mark of maturity.
This is especially true for worship, particularly public worship.
Often using historic hymns or prayers in worship is condemned because, “We never talk like that in real life!” But the purpose of acts of public worship, especially those that come in an artistic form, is not to give language to our natural, “real life” feelings and expressions. Rather, the purpose of artistic expressions of worship is to form us, to mold us into what we should be rather than necessarily what we currently are.
There is great value, in any formal occasion–especially public worship, in speaking (or singing) in an elevated way, using heightened vocabulary and tone.
This has always been the case with good art as well; its purpose is not to reflect “how things really are,” but rather to shape the audience to be different than they are. Shakespeare didn’t write the dialogue of his plays such as he did because seventeenth-century Elizabethans really spoke in sonnets. He wrote the way he did in an elevated, poetic form that did more than portray “real life”–it shaped his audiences.
This is also true of Scripture. Even the dialogue in Scripture isn’t a journalist’s transcript–it is often heightened, poetic representations of what was said in various narratives. This is why, although I believe Bible translations should certainly be understandable, I’m not in favor of the more recent trend to put the language at a fourth grade level, some translations bordering on the vulgar.
Never should we pretend to be something we are not in order to garner favor or praise. But as Christians, we should always desire to be better than we are, and often the way that happens is by acting, speaking, and singing with elevated language.
No, that’s not the way we talk in real life, but maybe we should.