So, I’ve been thinking about the core values that I feel we should be seeking after in a church. I’ve seen list upon list, with plenty of great values, like humility, obedience, excellence, love, faith, and all of these other spectacular words. If I’m honest, I think that those are great values. I would never look at anyone who practiced those and made them part of their life, and think they were somehow out of touch with the values that should be important to anyone who calls on the name of the Lord. However, I also think that there is a deeper value that, when in place, can be a total help to us in expressing those values. In it’s absence, it can be an utter hindrance in our ability to emulate our Lord. That value is authenticity.
Authenticity is a big word for “being genuine.” Authenticity is sadly lacking in the modern church. Church seems to be the one place on earth that we should feel safe being ourselves. I mean, when we consider the amazing truth behind the gospel (we are all tied for most evil person on earth, but God loves us regardless and desires to save and shape us), then it should be only reasonable for us to all feel safe and loved at church, right? Right?
Sadly, that’s not the case. If you want to see the one place on earth where people feel the need to play the game of spiritual oneupmanship, it is USUALLY the church. I say usually to qualify that, but let’s be honest. How many people ever walk into church and say something like “I don’t really feel close to God because I’ve been too busy doing drugs this week?” Or, maybe, “Well, since my wife and I have been arguing like ogres for this week, I’ve been struggling sexually?” I can honestly say, that I have never… ever… ever… ever ever ever ever heard anything even similar to the sort. I mean, I’ve heard things like this:
“Well, we all have our struggles.”
“I’m a fallen sinner saved by God’s grace.”
“I’ve had my sins and shortcomings in the past, sure.”
Loosely translated, this means “I can’t say that I’m sinless, because we all know it isn’t true, but I’m afraid that if I have to open up and be real with people, someone’s going to look down on me, or I won’t be perfect anymore, and I’ll have to deal with my stuff.” Or, “if I let someone know that I’m a complete screwball, they are going to look down on me and judge me.” The very fact that these attitudes exist (and please don’t waste my time by telling me they don’t, I see it every Sunday I walk in a church), tells me something sad about the body that Christ died to give life to. It’s this:
We live in a society, day, and age where our authenticity before God and others is overshadowed by our need to protect ourselves from our own fellow brethren either out of fear of judgment or fear of addressing our shortcomings.
There, I said it. I feel better now. It’s out there, so now we can all deal with it. None of us are perfect. Billy Graham is not perfect. Mother Teresa was not perfect. Pitchers who throw perfect games are not actually perfect. Bowlers who bowl 300 games are not perfect (mostly because of the shoes). And our fail rate in following God’s Law perfectly is hovering around 100%. As a consequence, the death rate hovers around 100% as well. But rather than allow God’s transforming gospel clean us and continuously wash us clean of our iniquity, we wish to cover them and turn them into proverbial white elephants, with everyone knowing they are there, but no one ever pulling back the cover on them.
I understand the reasons for it. I’ve experienced it myself. I had a particularly painful situation in a church where I came clean on some of my dirty laundry, and when I encouraged others to do the same, my wife and I were completely ostracized. It was one of the more painful experiences I have had in the church, but it taught me a valuable lesson. Two of the most common ways for people to react to sin is to either judge harshly, or hide. Both are based in a game of spiritual “King of the Hill.” People judge harshly against our sins (and we against other people’s sins) because they(we) view the downfalls of others as a way of building themselves(ourselves) up. As a consequence, we tend to hide our sins so as not to be pushed from our perches. We also hide our sins in order to save our own skin. If we are open and confessing of sins, we open ourselves to the judgment of others, and we also put ourselves in a place where we have to deal with our own sins.
Why does any of this matter? Because the power of transformation in the gospel is unleashed when we are honest with ourselves and each other. If we are open with our own sins, we can become reliant upon God and the accountability of our fellow brethren in Christ to free us from our sins and our depraved nature. If we are open with our own sinfulness, we are less able to stand in judgment against others, as we realize that the line of separation between us and our fellow brother’s sin is nonexistent, and we can begin the move towards helping one another grow and develop in the love of God to become the people God calls us to be.
Authenticity: it’s the key to developing real relationships with God and with our brothers. Without it, we wander through life surrounded by our own illusions and those of others, never allowing truth to see the light of day in our lives and never fully realizing the power of God’s truth. With it, we are able to finally begin to see ourselves as we have been seen, and allow ourselves to grow in the way in which God intended us to.