One knock against Christians is that we are too serious, that we lack a sense of humor, that we need to lighten up a little. April Fool’s Day affords the perfect opportunity to address this criticism.
I like to think the early church had something akin to April Fool’s Day. Perhaps some rowdy Christian teenagers in the first century A.D., for example, would dress up on April 1 like Roman soldiers and storm their parents’ house-church meetings. Well, maybe not. But who needs historical precedent to lighten up? As the TV commercial says, just do it. Consider the possibilities:
Southern Baptists could wait outside in the foyer during the opening hymn, making the pastor think no one is coming. Of course, this wouldn’t work in Methodist or Presbyterian churches.
Mennonites could arrive at church in three-piece suits, complete with breast-pocket handkerchiefs and diamond-studded Jesus pins.
Ecumenically minded Episcopalians and Baptists (any brand) could swap Communion elements.
The principle could be applied outside denominations. Someone could sneak onto the set of practically any television ministry and hide the hairspray. Robert Schuller could claim that he ghostwrote Disappointment with God for Philip Yancey.
I’m convinced the only way to counteract the perception that we are too serious is to take joking seriously, too.
One more for the road: George Beverly Shea could steal a trick from Milli Vanilli and claim he has lipsynced all of Carmen’s albums. Maybe not.

Life gives us subtle hints that often tell us much about ourselves and our situation, or at least provoke us to thoughtful self-examination.

Such self-scrutiny was recently stimulated for me in (of all places) our faculty men’s washroom. Someone had left a booklet on the window sill next to the commode. It was entitled 114 Ways to Improve Your Teaching.

Perhaps the booklet was left there inadvertently by one of my colleagues—though it remained there for about two weeks. How subtle, I thought, if it had been placed there by our principal for his faculty’s contemplation. Even more subtle, however, if placed there by the Student Council!

Of course, that booklet’s presence in the faculty washroom may have been accidental. I am not entirely paranoid—at least, I don’t think I am. (But then, as one of my friends rather caustically observes, “It’s not paranoia if, in fact, everyone is indeed against you.”) I’ve always felt administrative and student support in my teaching. Of late, however, I have (somewhat facetiously) wondered if that booklet might not have been someone’s subtle suggestion for improvement.

While my musings on the mysterious booklet may have been a bit frivolous, I have found something similar, and more sober, occuring in my personal life. I have often been drawn up short by the realization that there are subtle, but serious, differences between my proclamation and my theology, on the one hand, and my practice, on the other—with my practice often giving the lie to what I believe and proclaim. Frequently, it seems, my theory far outruns my practice, with the result that I often feel as though what I know to be right is only dragging along what I do, as if hauling about a dead weight.

Of course, it is possible to be spiritually neurotic, with introspection sapping the energies that should be spent on thankful praise and helpful service. Nonetheless, I must confess that, while as a New Testament theologian I am daily immersed in the task of correlating proclamation and theology, I find real gaps between my own proclamation and theology, on the one hand, and my practice, on the other.

I don’t believe I am alone in this. Indeed, Romans 7 seems to convey a similar experience. But that is hardly any great comfort personally. To be frank, I find that there are subtle, but significant, gaps in four areas of my life.

First, there is the lack of correlation between my proclamation of the oneness of all believers in Christ and my elitist attitudes toward others. Admittedly, scholarship requires a certain type of elitism, the elitism of expertise. But to carry this over into my attitudes toward and dealings with others gives the lie to what I proclaim. Second is the gap between my biblically based theories of equality and egalitarianism and my subtle put-downs of women, minorities, and those culturally different from me when they seek to exercise their God-given ministries. Third is the difference between my convictions regarding the importance of evangelism and my catatonic spirituality. Fourth is the distance between my fervent desire to see my Christian faith expressed in loving acts of concern for others and my lack of feeling for others and consequent inaction on their behalf.

My purpose in confessing these shortcomings is not to “dump” on you, my readers. Rather, I want to highlight the fact that all too often we Christians have difficulty bringing our practice into line with our proclamation and our theology. That may be true of humanity generally, whatever philosophies of life are espoused. But Christians, who claim their lives to have been transposed by God into a higher key, ought to be specially concerned. The subtle gaps between theory and practice need to be recognized and dealt with.

Article continues below

Confession, of course, is a start. There must also, however, be a will on our part to get our Christian lives together—always realizing, as Paul told his Philippian converts regarding the expression of their new lives as Christians, that “it is God who works in you [both] to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13, NIV).

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.