Authenticity at the price of Holiness

I’ve been writing on and off for the past 10 years. Maybe longer. It started out as a way to just document my life and my feelings. I never expected to write in any other capacity. I never thought my personal blog would ever be read by people who were not blood relatives reading out of duty.  I definitely did not expect that I would be writing for a church blog one day (shameless plug: Christ Community is looking for other writers...the bench is not deep, people - in fact, the bench is me).

 

I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed sharing. It’s life giving for me. And I’ve often gotten really great feedback, confirmation, edification - whatever you may call it - concerning my writing. And that’s really nice too. Because who doesn’t love praise?

 

You want to know what I hear most?

 

Thank you for being so honest.

 

Thank you for just being so open.

 

I just really like hearing something that is sooo “real.”

 

I just love your authenticity.

 

And there’s that word…”Authenticity” (I’ve even written about that word).

 

This past week, I’ve come across two different writings that talk about the Church in the postmodern era and specifically how the postmodern view (or even experience) of church has led to a mass exodus of sorts (Bible pun intended).

 

“Ranier Research found that nearly three-quarters of American youths leave church between ages eighteen and twenty-two, while the Barna Group estimates that by age twenty-nine, 80 percent of the churches population will become ‘disengaged’ with church culture. (Jen Hatmaker, For the Love)

 

So what is missing for the postmodern world?

 

“An incredibly reduced explanation of modern thought (which most of us have at least one foot in) would be : I have all the answers and so can you. This drove society for three hundred years. The shift to postmodernism began in our childhoods and absolutely defines the next generation. Their mantra is; I don’t have all the answers and neither do you.” (Jen Hatmaker, For the Love)

 

They desire authenticity.

 

The church I grew up in did have all the answers - or at least said it did. It was very black and white, and I don’t remember much confession of sin among leaders...until they were caught by someone else and forced to step down.

 

Millennials aren’t buying it - they can spot a sham. And while the Church has never been a sham, churches and church leadership don’t tend to be transparent in their struggles.

 

During testimony time when I was a kid the common phrase used to shy away from struggles past or present was, “I don’t want to glorify the sin.”  And we’ve all experienced and employed the  “unspoken” prayer request. It always seemed like the grit of life was swept under the rug. I admit that sometimes this was probably an honest attempt to have congregations focus on Jesus during a sermon instead of speculating on how the speaker or other congregants were handling their respective issues.

 

There was a disconnect.

 

Car fights on the way to church were abandoned in the parking lot for forced smiles and cheerful greetings. The opportunity for true repentance and reconciliation gave way to “keeping up appearances.” Even as a kid, I felt that I could not live up to this perfect, holy calling - even with God’s help. I thought I was too inherently flawed to be capable of pulling off this whole holiness thing. But everyone else seemed to be doing it just fine.

 

As I entered college, there was a switch in Church culture. Younger leaders who mentored me were very open and authentic. They let me know they weren’t perfect and this gave me freedom to be honest with them about my own struggles and imperfections.

 

I still didn’t see a shift in authenticity of pastors until I was well out of college. And I’ve only really seen apparent humility and authenticity in a couple of my own pastors...ever. And to see such vulnerability in church in front of people was humbling. I trusted them. I knew they weren’t perfect and that God was still working in their lives, just like he was in mine.

 

And that’s the beauty of the shared Christian journey. The beauty of authenticity.

 

The authenticity of the churches they led was apparent and people who had been burned by the “perfect churches” were drawn to this strange place where brokenness was admitted - a gathering of broken people wanting to be healed (whether that be spiritually, emotionally, mentally, or physically). We all came as we were - wanting more of Jesus.

 

I think it’s what the early church may have been like...a bunch of sinners that Jesus spoke to...just wanting Jesus to speak over them again and again.

 

This authenticity is good for us.

 

But over the past several years, this talk of authenticity (in my own circles and in the larger Christian culture) has become more common. Spend a week on social media (just looking at the statuses of your peers, friends, and Church folks you follow) and you’ll see a theme.

 

I’m just being honest.

 

Hey, I gotta be me.

 

I’m just keeping it real.

 

Just sayin’.

 

But  these conversation starters are rarely “real.”  They are not authenticators of authenticity, but disclaimers to try to make the unacceptable socially acceptable: hurtful words, grumbling, mumbling, gossip, rebellion, justification of sin...all in the name of being authentic. Instead of true humility, brokenness, and authenticity, it is more of a “letting myself off the hook for not doing the right thing” - for not seeking holiness.

 

And here’s where the authenticity train derails:

 

Authenticity is not holiness.

 

In his article Has Authenticity Trumped Holiness, Brett McCracken explores the Church’s jump onto the Authenticity bandwagon:

 

“...In an attempt to “purge itself of the polished veneer that smacked of hypocrisy. But by focusing on brokenness as proof of our ‘realness’ and ‘authenticity,’ have evangelicals turned “being screwed up” into a badge of honor, its own sort of works righteousness? Has authenticity become a higher calling than, say, holiness?”

 

This goes back to our postmoderns fleeing the church and becoming disengaged as a result of desiring depth and something more honest.

 

We are not allowed to be both a broken people and a holy people. We’ve revoked that right as a way to avoid the air of hypocrisy that has plagued the church for a good many years. But in trying to leave holiness behind, we’re getting it all wrong.

 

Whether it is out of complacency, laziness, outright rebellion, or maybe a true desire to be completely “real” and approachable to those who don’t know Jesus,  somehow we’ve turned authenticity into our identity. As if God calls his people to say, “We are an authentic people!”

 

Does Jesus ask us to be an authentic priesthood or a holy one?

 

I’m not suggesting that we conceal our sins or our struggles. I think we should be real. I think we have to admit our brokenness. It is a way for us to have confession and repentance and accountability - which are all a part of following Jesus and pursuing holiness. But I agree with McCracken when he writes, “We’ve become too comfortable with our sin, to the point that it’s how we identify ourselves and relate to others. But shouldn’t we find connection over Christ, rather than over our depravity?”

 

We can’t hop off the train at “Broken Station” and pitch a tent. We need to move on. There is sweeter ground ahead.

 

If we stay in the brokenness and the sin and focus only on how God’s grace covers, we miss out on something:

 

“Grace covers. And it covers again and again. Thanks be to God” But if we stop there, We are only telling half of the story...Receiving grace for my failures also includes Christ’s help to turn from sin and embrace new obedience.” (Megan Hill, The Very Worst Trend Ever)

 

Sin is a necessary precursor of Redemption. And we are a redeemed people. “We shouldn’t ignore or make light of it (sin). But we also shouldn’t wallow in it or take it lightly, for the sake of earning authenticity points.” (McCracken)

 

We need to move past authenticity and onto holiness. Otherwise where is the hope? The postmodern world (just like in every other era) needs hope. There are authentic psychopaths, folks - authenticity is not what makes Jesus impossible to ignore. Broken people turned into holy people doing holy things for other broken people out of love to give them a glimpse of holiness - that’s how Jesus becomes impossible to ignore.

 

That’s the goal.  Or at least it’s my goal.  Hopefully, it can be our goal.

 

Written by Lydia Wells

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