Consider the following metaphor:
A child is running on the sidewalk. He trips and falls down. After a moment of being stunned and another moment of reflection and evaluation, he ties his right shoe lace, brushes the pebbles off his pants and shirt, gets up, and continues running.
Who is the best witness? I would suggest that it is an individual who lives a life of faithful imperfection.
Not everyone agrees. Often the thought is that perfection is the best model. Certainly, Jesus is our model. Yet, He is the image of the transcendent God in immanent form. Yet, Jesus did not stay with us, but rather returned to heaven leaving us as imperfect people acting as witnesses of a perfect God. PERHAPS an imperfect witness is a better witness than a perfect one since we have a hard time relating to perfection… or even recognizing it.
Certainly, many groups seek to show themselves in terms of perfection. Turning the channels on TV here in the Philippines, I stop briefly at a channel owned by a local religion created by a man who claims to be “the new Son of God.” He says that Jesus was the Son of God, but now Jesus is the Father, and he (Apollo Quiboloy) is the new Son of God. I don’t really pay much attention to the group… happily the group has little impact up here in Baguio… but the channel really portrays a very sweet, syrupy, (and to me at least, creepy) image. The people at his temple in Davao are all dressed the same and act the same. The leader is the clear center of attention (of himself as well as his followers). All of the TV productions are developed to portray a certain perfection. The camera angles and lenses are set up to make the temple appear larger than it really is (it is kind of reminiscent of the Mormon tendency to always show the Salt Lake Temple from low angles to make it look taller and grander). The music is heavily audio mixed, with photogenic singers (all dressed the same) or with idyllic backgrounds like those used for videoke.
I am sure this sort of production is appealing to some. For me, it is very disturbing. The narcissistic leader, the high pressure towards group conformity, and huge concern about image points towards an authoritarian, “cultic” structure (though I have never talked to an insider, so I can only go by the way they wish to present themselves). Such an image could never appeal to me and most people I know.
I would like to suggest that the example above is NOT what we are supposed to show as witnesses of Christ. Yes, it might be attractive to some, but it may be drawing people to individuals or churches rather than to God. It is interesting that none of the church fathers in the New Testament are shown this way. Rather, they are shown making mistakes and learning. Even Jesus is shown in surprisingly human (non-idealized) terms. It is also interesting that there are very few examples of perfect followers of God in the Bible. Daniel might be an exception, but few look to Daniel as an example except for courage.
In business/marketing it has been discovered that when a problem occurs with a customer, it is better to to treat the customer graciously and extravagantly than it is to try to cover things up. In fact, there is greater customer loyalty from those who were dissatisfied and then treated well than by those who were not disatisfied in the first place! Many companies embrace faithful imperfection in building a strong customer base, rather than by denying errors and covering things up.
Let’s return to the metaphor. The boy falls down… making a mistake. There is the momentary shock (normal) followed by self-reflection (what went wrong, what problems now exist). The problem is found and corrected and cleaned up. Then the boy continues on the way. This is faithful imperfection. It is inspirational. It is more inspirational than seeing a child running and apparently not challenged by obstacles and gravity.
Faithful perfection is hypocrisy since we are NOT perfect. (Those who are part of the Holiness tradition believe in the possibility of perfection in this world. I will leave that to theologians to argue about. But I am unaware of any perfect people and am uncertain that a perfect person would be very useful in this world.)
Unfaithful (perfect or otherwise) is simply secular. I have heard some church leaders describing the church as simply a congregation of sinners. Yet that is NOT simply what we are meant to be. We are meant to be sinners, learning, and growing in faithfulness. Otherwise we are no witness at all.