Keeping it Real
Raw. Organic. Authentic. Non GMO. Verified. These are the labels we look for on our foods and, heck, some of them we want to use to describe ourselves, our pastor, and our worship services. As I'm writing this, I am enjoying my breakfast smoothie, replete with super fruits, kale, Greek yogurt, coconut milk, and, just to make me feel a little more superior and wholesome, a sprinkle of chia seeds---organic, of course. I think I can actually feel myself getting awesomer with each self-righteous sip.
We now live in a culture that cares about natural sources and baptismal candidates that aren't going to break the pastor's back. In a time where our technology can easy distance us from meaningful relationships, we are also concerned about Christian community. But we don't want the plastic community that tucks their shirts in and pretends like they are more sanctified-than-thou. We want authentic community that is honest about their struggles in the journey.
I get that. I remember well the happy-starchy families that surrounded me in church when I grew up. My pastor had the perfect comb-over, everyone was smiling, and I'd see them all again next Sunday. Meanwhile, I spent the sermon imagining what it would look like if I combed my pastor's hair the other way. By the time I was in high school, many of the perfect-Sunday families had gone through divorce. Turns out there was quite a bit of scandal going on. And so, just like my breakfast, I wanted to rid myself of the additives. Where were the real people?
However, in our effort to keep it real, maybe we have committed another form of hypocrisy. While it is good that many in the church have worked to break the fake veneer of a Colgate smile, Brett McCracken has written an article worth reading where he asks the question, "Has 'Authenticity' Trumped Holiness?" He sums up the argument well when he quotes Erik Thoennes, professor of biblical and theological studies at Biola University, "There's this idea that to live out of conformity with how I feel is hypocrisy; but that's a wrong definition of hypocrisy...To live out of conformity to what I believe is hypocrisy. To live in conformity with what I believe, in spite of what I feel, isn't hypocrisy; it's integrity."
The article is well worth a read, and it made me reflect on just how bogus our claims and attempts to authenticity are. Are we really going to let our subjective feelings determine authenticity? I'm afraid we've lost the meaning of authenticity as well. It brings me right back to something G.K. Beale wrote in The Temple and the Church's Mission (Yes! I'm going there again).
One of the best illustrations of a similar use of 'true' occurs in Revelation 3:14, where Christ calls himself the 'faithful and true witness', and designates himself as the genuine or authentic witness in contrast to fleshly Israel as false witnesses. The word 'true' likely includes more than mere moral and cognitive truth, but also the idea of 'authentic' in the redemptive-historical sense of Jesus being true Israel by fulfilling the Isaiah 43:10-19 prophecy about God and Israel's witness to the new creation. (296)
This is written in the context of addressing our misconceptions about the true temple verses the figurative temple. We often think of the heavenly temple as figurative, but in pointing the reader to Heb. 8:5 and Exod. 25:40, Beale demonstrates that "the pattern that Moses saw on Sinai was apparently the true heavenly tabernacle that was to come later with Christ and descend and eventually fill the whole earth...the literal sanctuary is the heavenly one and the figurative sanctuary is the earthly" (295).
We often confuse the raw, here and now, recognizable situation as the true and authentic. But there is only one person who is authentic, Jesus Christ. And the truth is we need a preservative of sorts to reach holiness. In order to even be able to have eyes to see and ears to hear about this truth, we needed to be regenerated by his Holy Spirit, who is sanctifying and preserving us now by his Word and sacraments. We depend upon him by faith as we strive for holiness and authentic, obedient living, whether it is with an ironed shirt or sustainable and organic fair trade clothing. Let's not rely on our own means of feeling authentic, but rather the means of grace that God has promised to participate in that Great Day when we will behold the face of the One who is authentic.