Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Monday, September 29, 2008

The New Sacraments: Authenticity

Authenticity is pretty much in vogue with the church these days, especially those embracing a "postmodern" slant. In previous generations the sacraments of the church- that is, those aspects of church life that were generally regarded as fundamental to our relationship with God and fellow man- included such things as baptism, marriage, and Holy Communion. Although still with us, these sacraments have largely been replaced by what I call, "The New Sacraments" which include Uncertainty (also called Mystery), Relevancy, and (today's winner) Authenticity.

Authenticity is HUGE in the church today. Books, magazines, and blogs churn out a seemingly never ending diatribe chastising the church about how "inauthentic" it is and that it better start getting "authentic" real soon. I like to browse church websites on occasion and its very common for those sites to market how "authentic" they are. They usually explain how "this generation" only responds to authenticity, which always makes me think, "as opposed to my generation when we responded to in authenticity??"

What is the reason for this sudden rush to the authentic? There are a number of reasons of course and this simple blog entry will not begin to cover them all. However, I think part of the reason centers on evangelism and hell.

For the last 50 or so years evangelism has been centered on very overt techniques. Because the focus was on a very real hell of which only belief in Christ could save, evangelistic practices where designed to produce a very definite "decision" for Jesus in the least amount of time. The guiding adage was, "if you were to die tonight, where would you spend eternity." These evangelistic techniques (such as the Four Spiritual Laws) were often noble in their intentions, but over time get marketed and packaged until evangelism begins to be viewed as an impersonal, assembly line, cookie-cutter entry road to the Christian faith. Or otherwise known as "inauthentic".

Authentic evangelism (and I use the evangelism term cautiously as even the term is viewed with suspicion in "authentic circles") centers on more passive practices. These passive practices focus more on introducing friends into a journey with Christ rather than escape from hell. With eternal damnation put on the back burner, the Christian becomes more the life coach, helping those around them in their joys and sorrows, rather than the fireman breaking down the door to save those inside from the flames.

With this transition, authenticity becomes key. If a fireman is saving us from a fire, we don't really care about his motivations. He could be doing it for his image, to get on TV, or for his own ego but we don't care as the life he is saving makes those secondary issues moot. However, if we are looking for a life coach, authenticity is essential. We don't want someone guiding us in the ways of Christ who is hypocritical or false.

The problem I see is that with one focus, lots of people get "saved" but lack discipleship and the teachings to help us deal with life this side of heaven. On the other side we have a lot of people liking Christianity much more than they did before, but often not really believing in Christ. I can't tell you how many times while living in Boulder (where authenticity is a major sacrament)a friend would tell me that I was a __________ (better, different, more real)Christian than what they have known." I used to feel good about that. I was "sowing seed" in these friendships and that one day when they were ready, they would accept Christ. Trouble was, that day never came. And the answer to this lack of impact was not that perhaps I was diluting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but that I was not being "authentic" enough.

The Apostle Paul addresses the issue of authenticity in Philippians 1:15

"15 It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. 16 They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. 17 Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. 18 But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. 19 For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.

For Paul, the message itself was more important than the heart or motivation of the one bringing the message. Obviously, Paul makes mention of the fact that pure motives are better, but even that is secondary to the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that statement is anathema to those who have come out of years of evangelical "games" and are enjoying the Christian life that is a little more relaxed and "organic". I am with you and have been there...but I cannot ignore what the Word says on these matters. There is an imperitiveness which Paul brings in this passage that is being overlooked by the church in "emerging" circles.

It would be mindful to note as well that there is no inherant goodness in authenticity. I think we can all agree that both Gandhi and Hitler were very "authentic" people. However what makes us respect one and despise the other was not the authenticity they had, but the message they brought.

As for me, I am renewing my commitment to authenticity, but focusing on my message that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and through belief in him we can have everlasting life.

Now that is Good News!!!


Andrew said...

I think that your reasoning also justifies being authentic. So what if it is the latest buzzword, whether from false motives or true - Christ is preached. Are you looking down your nose at other churches and believers?

I also think you put too much devaluation on your relationships with your friends who appreciated your Christianity. So what that you did not close the deal... Apollos planted, Paul watered, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

In addition, perhaps I am getting old, but "accepting" Christ doesn't mean much to me anymore. The only difference between a novice and an unbeliever most of the time is volume of rhetoric. I fear the evangelism of brownie points for conversion... I agree with you about disciple-ing. If I had ten bucks for every person in my life who made loud proclamations of faith... only to find out a few years down the line they jumped ship - this is our legacy of making everything about conversions. I agree with Keith Green that this mode of evangelism has serious holes. The Spirit of God needs some breathing room and people need to consider carefully what they are converting to. People need to be instructed in the WAY of Christ... assenting to a list of beliefs rarely produces change.

I think there is some balance with "authenticity". I have to say that living in Mormondom has put me on the other side of evangelical outreach (something most Christians never experience). Let me say that it is usually pretty gross. All the evangelistic techniques I used to think were so clever, come off dorky when they are being used on you. The stuff we thought of as good outreach only looked good to us. From the outside, 99 out of 100 times it looks contrived and silly. People were no more going to convert to Christianity under such circumstances than I am going to convert to Mormonism.

It is interesting to note to that it was not evangelism that brought in most of the church after the apostles. Pagans noted, "Look how they love each other" and Romans saw something worth dying for. I think we would reach more people with the message of Christ if we didn't look like a bunch of teenagers tearing into each other while living for the same motivations as everyone else. I don't think our over arching problem is word choice.

Andrew said...

"rather than the fireman breaking down the door to save those inside from the flames.

With this transition, authenticity becomes key. If a fireman is saving us from a fire, we don't really care about his motivations."

I am wondering if this is an analogy Jesus would endorse. It seems to me that we grew up with this high intensity, gotta save'em whether they want it or not mode cause they are about to burn. Was this the approach Jesus took with sinners? He seemed awfully casual (hardly breaking doors down). It seems to me that Pharisees were upset that he was NOT taking this approach ("If he knew who was touching him...."). Jesus seemed to spend an awful lot of time just sitting around eating and drinking and having good "conversations". He developed a bad reputation for this. I fear those who tend to berate people of an emergent bent tend to get on them about the very same things that Jesus practiced. I am all about message, but I think we need to be taking our relational views and talking points from Jesus.

Steve H. said...


I'll try to address some of your issues in the order you raise them

1) I don't think most people stressing authenticity do it from false motives. Whether the gospel is actually getting preached...I have my doubts, but thats for another blog. I don't believe the tone of my blog would lead anyone to think I am "looking down your nose at other churches and believers"

2) I am not devalueing the relationship with my friends who appreciated my Christianity. I am mearly making an objective observation that none of them (baring a couple exceptions in my early days in Boulder) got saved. Believe me I know the Apollos planted, Paul water scripture. It kept me going for years. Till one day you wake up and say, "You no what? Nobody is watering these plants." The new Testament is filled with people getting "saved" (and I know how that word has baggage, believe me) but very little about the buddy who appreciated Paul's Christianity. So it forces me to examine myself and using the Bible as a standard, see what I may be missing.

3) It's funny how in Acts 16:29 the jailer sees Paul and Silas and the first words are "What must I do to be saved?" Paul's answer is simple, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved." Simple. And yet both evangelicals and postmoderns stumble over this simple thing. Evangelicals will say the first part and then add a whole bunch of do's and don'ts. Postmoderns will be confused by the question..hem and haw, go into a history about how the evangelicals have had it wrong for so many years, and then say, "Don't worry about it, lets just go have a beer."

If I'm lyin' I'm dyin :)

Steve H. said...

As to the fireman kicking down the door analogy, I think it all comes down to what we believe about hell.

Again, a fireman kicking down my door and tossing me out of my house will not offend me IF I see the flames around me. If there is no fire that I can see, a fireman doing that will be at best a loony and at worst, deeply offensive and intrusive. Go to any church with a postmodern slant and I will bet my Lord of the Rings Box set you will not hear a message on hell or anything close to it. So of course someone who takes more of an imperativeness in their evangelitic approach is going to offend.

You ask if Jesus would take this approach and I would say yes and no. Yes, because unlike the post mods, he actually spoke on hell fairly regularly and let people know the ultimate consequence of their sinful ways. No, because he was much like you said as well, having conversations and loving people.

That is why I want to see a blend of the emergent stream and the evanglical (among others). I think the postmoderns bring a very important aspect to the church that was neglected. The problem is they stop there. They love social justice Jesus who hangs out with sinners and has a couple drinks while he talks about the Kingdom.

But the Jesus who talks about hell, being the only way to the Father, who makes a whip and starts beating people out of the temple, and say's things like "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God" is convieniently ignored

Andrew said...

In regards to your final paragraph, I think I give latitude to Jesus that I do not give to anyone else. He gets to say and do those things. If we use them for self examination, that is one thing... but in most cases, we use them to slam someone else... in love of course.

I think Peter was trying to pull this a little at the end of John. Feeling a little guilty, Peter decides to do some finger pointing at John. Jesus lets him know gently but firmly that John is none of his business. Every parent knows this. I have to often remind Kathryn that it is not her job to straighten Jacob out. She would insist it is for his good, but it is clear to everyone but her that there is more self interest there than anything else.

Paul restates this in multiple letters... in Romans 14 he declares "Who are you to judge someone else's servant.. to his own master he stands or falls, and he will stand for the Lord is able to make him stand."

In 1 Cor 4 he says "Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. (Then Paul pulls the rug out from those hoping for a harsh judgment for others) At that time each will receive his praise from God."

I think there are a lot of Christians running around with a guilt complex and they alleviate this a little by boasting loudly of their orthodoxy while spending countless hours hounding after those they think unorthodox... emeregent/postmoderns being the latest whipping boy. Though I often share your concerns, I just hope you are not heading down the road of the self appointed orthodox police. :)

Steve H. said...


We are approaching this from two different angles.

I am simply trying to put the bible on the ground as a compass and see where my walk is in relationship to it. When I see a gap between what Jesus put emphasis on and my own walk, I reflect on that. Sometimes that reflection makes note of various trends I'm seeing in the church today. I then raise general questions, and yes, what I feel are gentle swipes at a couple different streams of church thought.

I gently take a swipe at the evangelical church for creating conditions which force others to swing to the other side of the pendulum. In this case in the area of authenticity. I then take a small swipe at the postmods for taking authenticity past the point of balance and transform it into a guideing sacrament. I believe both sides err. Its true, I do have concerns about postmodern thought in the church, but that seems to pale at the anger you have toward evangelicals.

Brook said...

Great post Steve. a good reflection of the ever-swinging pendulum of humanity trying to "get it right". Reminds me of what Glenn Kaiser says a lot lately: "I don't ask people anymore if they're saved, I ask how long have they been following Christ". The once-upon-a-time-I-prayed mindset of salvation is useless without the walk afterwards. A marriage is more than saying "I Do" and going on a honeymoon. there's this whole messy business of an actual marriage to work through, and the "I Do"s are pretty pointless without it, but they're pretty important nevertheless. I think Karen Armstrong put it very well in that video I have on my blog of her (plug plug shameless plug), regarding our notions of "Believing" something, and how that notion has changed over the centuries. the concept of "belief" once used to make no sense apart from action and a changed life. now it is a mental exercise, and for some can be exclusively that.
Though I appreciate the striving toward authenticity, I agree with the dangers of a "life-coach" mindset drawing a lot of people to church these days. Good Catholic that I am, it's one of the things that turned me off to some modern church services (I won't mention them by name lest I offend any present here ;-) ). I'd rather just listen to a Tony Robbins tape if that's what the sermon is going to consist of...

more to say, no time to say it...

Steve H. said...


I love the Glen Kaiser quote about asking people how long they have been following Christ. There is a guy who has been following Christ for a LONG time
Oh, and you don't need to worry about plugging your blog, I started reading it and love the pictures of your books. Mine are all boxed up in America unfortunantly :(

Brook said...

"Mine are all boxed up in America unfortunantly :("

Speaking of hell...