1. The act of pretending; a false appearance or action intended to deceive.
2. A false or studied show; an affectation: a pretense of nonchalance.
3. A professed but feigned reason or excuse; a pretext: under false pretenses.
4. Something imagined or pretended.
5. Mere show without reality; outward appearance.
6. A right asserted with or without foundation; a claim. See Synonyms at claim.
7. The quality or state of being pretentious; ostentation.
[Middle English, from Old French pretensse, from Medieval Latin *praetnsa, from Late Latin, feminine ofpraetnsus, alteration of Latin praetentus, past participle of praetendere, to pretend, assert; seepretend.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
We all do it to some degree. For crying out loud, I'm blogging anonymously.
Incidentally, the reason I created this blog anonymously is to actually drop any pretense without adversely affecting my family, church, physician, counselor, etc. This gives you, the occasional reader, the opportunity to see what kinds of thoughts might be ailing that poor soul sitting a couple of pews over from you so that you might better minister to him or her.
But the most pretentious time of the week for most of us is Sunday morning (and Sunday evening and Wednesday evening for Baptists).
Now there actually is a good reason for this. We all sin. If we were to let everyone else in on all our little private sins, we wouldn't be able to trust each other. The problem is that we take it too far. We come to church and put on our best churchly face. Where is Galatians 6 in the way we conduct ourselves at church? Let's take a look at this:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. (Galatians 6:1-5, ESV)
How do you catch someone and restore them in any transgression unless there is a lack of pretense? But there is a limit. That's why we must keep watch on ourselves so that we are not tempted. This is the way we bear one another's burdens and it links us to the work of Christ on the cross through sacrificial love.
The next sentence brings up another aspect of pretense: self-deceit. It was enough of a problem then for Paul to address it and it is certainly a problem for us today in the Western Church. Western culture, in particular, breeds an exceptional form of pretentiousness. We think we are better than everyone else and we think we deserve more of whatever we covet than everyone else. And this makes its way into our churches. We think our opinions are superior. We might not say it or always act on it, but it's in the back of our heads. We are willing to compete for our superiority.
The thing is that while the Bible tells us we are not to think to highly of ourselves, it never tells us not to think too little of ourselves. Nevertheless, I have heard people say that it is sinful to think too low of yourself. There is no scriptural basis for that. The reason they say it is in part because many people who put themselves down do it because they really think too much of themselves and are being passive-aggressive. Also, it's because the culture, rather than the Bible, tells us that thinking highly of ourselves is a good thing. It's called self-esteem.
But what do you do if you really think lowly of yourself? You might realize that you have spiritual gifts to offer people, but you also recognize that you lack some ability to use those gifts effectively. You realize that you can't use those gifts unless you compete against others who are exhibiting their gifts pretentiously. If you tell someone about your gifts, then you either must be pretentious in order to use your gifts by competing successfully against others or you must expect to lose against others who are exhibiting their gifts pretentiously. If you don't tell someone about your gifts, then you are being pretentious. So it's a catch-22.
What is honest in this situation is that you realize that you cannot minister effectively without being pretentious. So I say with Isaiah, "I am a man of unclean lips."