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 Although still with us, these sacraments have largely been replaced by what I call, "The New Sacraments" which include Uncertainty (also called Mystery), Relevancy, and (today's winner) Authenticity.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!!!