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Friday, May 06, 2005 

Holiness and Authenticity

After a short absence, I have to report that I have been doing a lot of thinking about holiness as it relates to authenticity. For many years "authentic" has been a buzz word among many younger evangelicals. Unfortunately, it is about as difficult to define as postmodernism, making it necessary to understand in order to communicate to those who use it so frequently.

Authentic is defined by Merriam-Webster OnLine as something "not false or [an] imitation." Further, it is "true to one's own personality, spirit, or character." The word GENUINE is given as a synonym and "implies actual character not counterfeited, imitated, or adulterated." I would imagine that this should be what is meant when people say they are looking for "authentic worship" or "authentic people" or an "authentic church." However, what I have found is that what is meant by authenticity tends to be what corresponds to their OWN reality. It is what resonates with them ALONE (or them as a group).

One example of this is in the fad of Christians using profanity. When I was in seminary I often heard people being praised for using profane words (and I have to admit that I have done so as well). This praise came from the idea that the person who expressed themselves in this way was being "authentic." Now, let's dissect this understanding of authenticity. First, the person calling this behavior "authentic" must understand this as being a part of that person's character that naturally comes out when provoked. This is a problem in and of itself, for the one who keeps this language within them is in need not of expressing it, but of weeding it from their mind. They need to purge these worldly thoughts from their mind. Secondly, if this is authentic behavior, does that conversely mean that those who do not use such language are being inauthentic or not worldly enough? Third, if this behavior is encouraged, then it becomes more regular within the community of God, indeed becoming a distraction for some and, even worse, an unfaithful example to those who are weaker brothers and sisters. Here, authenticity becomes not a pursuit of holiness, but a lack thereof. Hopefully, you can see the potential problem with a subjective view of authenticity.

So, what would authentic Christianity look like if we were to take the above definition and the Bible alone as our guides?
1) It would recognize the dichotomy of our human nature -- as Christians called to be set apart, but yet living in a perpetual state of sin, unable to completely break free, but always commanded to do so.
2) It would accept that all Christians are in a state of flux between the two natures. Sometimes we commit grievous sins and other times we are Christ to those in need. Authentic Christianity would see that those sins need loving rebuke and those times of ministry need positive reinforcement.
3) It would seek to lessen the frequency of those sins and increase the frequency of true worship and communion with God through Biblically defined spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, fellowship, communal worship, and (at times) retreat from the culture.
4) It would repent of and rebuke the "ME" mentality and seek to live as those of Acts 2:42-47, sharing their possessions with those in need. Additionally, all in a local body would understand their need to submit to discipline in order to insure a continual movement toward holiness in the community and in prevention of Satanic footholds.
5) There would be a vigorous pursuit of Biblical knowledge such as that of the Bereans, recognizing that all the knowledge of God that a Christian can have is objectively given to us through the Holy Scriptures and subjectively experienced through our emotional interaction with that knowledge.
6) Additionally, there would a vigorous pursuit of a practical application to that Biblical knowledge that would include love for all men, but a firm desire to direct all men to the love of Christ.
7) It would recognize Christ's call for us to live in the culture, but to reject all cultural experiences which do not directly honor Christ as the glorious and Holy God of the Universe.
8) It would seek to hold to the mandate of James when he says, "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world," recognizing that a Christian cannot keep the first half of the command and yet neglect the second half (as well as vice versa).
9) Finally, it would reflect authenticity by being able to point to the Bible as its ultimate source of all truth, rejecting all competing truth claims as did Paul when he claimed that all false gods are demons and that true Christians cannot simultaneously drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.

To me, the above is authentic Christianity. I recognize that authenticity is subjective to all. That is why I tried to point all things back to the Word of God, our only objective frame of reference when it comes to God the Father and Jesus Christ our Saviour. And so through the Word of God we are made authentic worshippers of God.

Until Christ is Formed in All of Us,
D.R.

Good sir,

After reading your post I am not seeing how your definition of "authenticity" goes along with the dictionary definition. In fact, it seems like a spring board from which you depart from.

I don't beleive authenticity is what is being debated. Authenticity is quite easy to define if you ask a simple person like myself. It's being real. I think common street people and the dictionary can agree on that.

The debate or problem that I see you working out is how this authenticity is practiced. It seems that your definition of authenticity carries with it a lot of baggage.

I would suggest that some people who curse are doing so because they do not see anything wrong with it. And therefore I can see how it's a sign of authenticity. They are refusing to buy into a cultural norm. It is a passive resistance against the code of rules that some, like yourself, try to impose on others.

I think you stumbled across something when you point out the two natures in the christian. To be authentic is going to involve not always honoring God, having bad days, etc. I'm not real convinced faking your way through the christian game is the answer.

-john

John,

When you say that you don't think my definition of authenticity is on par with that of the dictionaries, I take it to mean that you are referring to the list I gave of what authentic Christianity would look like.

Hence, I would say that
1) It does not carry with it baggage, but rather a Biblical working out of how to become more authentic - a MORE real Christian. That reality finds it's place in Christ alone and by means of a Biblically defined identity alone.
2) True authenticity comes only through Christ. This is because from the beginning we were created with the Imagio Deo, which means we were designed to reflect who God is. Our purpose is such that our true nature is found in following Jesus Christ and being conformed to His image. Thus true authenticity means getting back what sin has destroyed, namely our virtue.
3) To do this we must become holy as God is holy. Holiness is obtained forensically through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, but practically it is worked out in us through our being conformed to His image (sanctification). Hence, Paul says, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).
4) Hence, that baggage (as you termed it), is not as such in the true sense, but rather is the burden we have in our own salvation, which according to Paul is actually the burden of the Holy Spirit, who works in our life to bring that about. We should not look at sanctification as baggage, but rather as a means of becoming more authentic, more true to our Imagio Deo, our real selves.

Having said that, let me add that I do not buy the argument that those who curse do so because they do not know. Even the vilest of pagans slap their children's mouths when they use profanity. And here I am talking about Christians who indeed have restrained themselves in the past, but now in the spirit of authenticity do so no longer and thus let fly all that would proceed from their hearts.

Also, I would say that you are wrong when you say, "To be authentic is going to involve not always honoring God, having bad days, etc. I'm not real convinced faking your way through the christian game is the answer." I would say that authenticity to our Creator and to our Saviour involves fighting the good fight of faith and waging war in our members as Paul did in order to not allow those sins to come out, not to embrace them wholeheartedly and engage in them. Christianity is a religion for sinners, but is not a religion where sinners are allowed to continuously engage in those sins. At some point we must embrace the Lordship of Christ or face the fact that we are not truly of God (See Luke 14). Additionally, I don't think you can fake Christianity and don't think you should. What you should do is repent of your sin and seek Christ. Confess your sin to others and ask them to come alongside of you and pray for you and help you to keep from sinning. According to the great old theologian John Owen, "we must be killing sin; or it will be killing us." So I encourage you and everyone else to do this.

Authenticity involves being honest that we are all sinners. I sin constantly. I have sinned in some egregious ways in the past, and for some of those I still feel a weight of guilt. But because of that I must "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Being real means that I admit these mistakes and not act as though I am above making them again, but it does not mean I stumble again and again without regard for what it is doing to me spiritually and it means that I should not flippantly engage in acts that will cause others to sin as well. That would be a lack of love and selflessness -- marks of true, authentic Christians.

I hope John, that I have shown in this what my article was lacking and that you understand better what I was trying to say. You still may not agree with me, but I hope I have made you think deeply about some of this. Additionally, I think you shoud read one of the following books:

-The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
-Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan
-The Race Set Before Us by Tom Schriener and Ardel Canaday
-Desiring God by John Piper
-When I Don't Desire God by John Piper

I think the last one is the best for those who are struggling to make sense of the commands of the Bible and the difficulty with which they are carried out.

I pray that God will bless you John and impart to you all wisdom and the knowledge of Christ that you might be equipped for every good work and that you might indeed follow hard after Him who called you.

Soli Deo Gloria,
D.R.

When I read your words, I read a manual on "how to be a good Christian." And apparently if I'm not a good Christian, I'm not being authentic. If your stance is that we are only real when we are found sactified in Christ, then I humbly disagree and must conclude that we just see things differently.

However, I find that being real is to recognize the two natures within us and, like Paul, to recognize that what I want to do, I don't do. Now we can say that Paul wasn't authentic because he wasn't being conformed to Christ, or we can confess that he is being all the more real by recognizing that sin is apart of the game.

I would argue that being authentic is not living up to your list and rules of "how to be authentic and holy." I would suggest that true authenticity sometimes takes on the form of holiness, but regularly does not. Any good student of Piper and the reformed tradition will recognized that the damned are being extremely authentic by sinning.

In the Christian, authenticity will take on the form of sin as well. You leave this out and this is somewhat disturbing to me. I am assuming here, but it seems you're a calvinist. But I would assume that you would agree that we are naturally sinful people. This doesn't change after regeneration unless you buy into some form of holiness or perfectionism. Which is where it seems you are leaning by arguing like we are only real when we are like Christ. Sorry, but I guess I'm not real and authentic because I'm pretty far from Christ like.

The vilest of pagans slap their childrens mouths for using profanity? That's quite humorous actually. I can tell you don't work in an inner city. I can also tell you're white and Southern Baptist from that comment. Sir, spend one day working with children in the hood and come back and tell me that these children and their parents find words to be "vile."

To argue that words are inherently evil is quite a stretch. It sounds very much like the argument twenty years ago against that "christian rock music." As if music was inherently evil. You probably assume that hand gestures are inherently evil as well. Yet if you travel to another country and use these "vile" words in another country, you'll find no response to it being vile because it fails to carry with it the social and cultural connotations. And if you could please list which words are "vile" and which ones are not, I would appreciate it.

Blessings,
john

John,

I think you are missing my point here. I am not dismissing the fact that sin is not a part of the human condition. I am not saying that we do not continue to sin once we have been justified -- even willful sin takes place in the life of a Christian. But I do think that continual willful sin without repentance is not authentic Christianity (see 1 John). Also, what I am commenting on regarding sin and authenticity is that when Christians sin for example when they use profanity and others come along and suggest that BECAUSE they do this they are being more authentic Christians, then it is a disgrace to Christianity. Christians do not revel in sin. They do not take pleasure in sinning continuously. They may enjoy it for a time, but anyone who repeatedly takes joy in sinning and encourages others to do so as well is seriously in need of repentance.

Now, my list, I believe echoes Paul's Christianity. He acknowledged his sin and his depravity, but yet he took every thought captive for Christ, he strived to take hold of eternal life, and he indeed fought against his sinful nature in order to not give the flesh any footholds. Often what I see in Christianity is a laissez-faire attitude toward sin. It's punished on the cross therefore we should just move on. But when John says in his first epistle that if we sin we have an Advocate with the Father, he is not giving us a freedom to sin. In fact, he makes some of the strongest distinctions between those claiming Christianity and those who actually are Christ-followers.

You do not have to be perfect to be a Christian, but you do have to be in a process of being perfected in order to have assurance that you are saved. That is Biblical. Claiming salvation on the basis of a one time altar call is not. Look at John's epistle -- it is chocked full of examples of how we can know we are saved and not one time does he say that we can be saved on the basis of a one time confession. That is what I am getting at. Christianity is a relationship lived out and continually pushing us toward more holiness -- which should be the authentic Christian experience.

Now, for your comment regarding my sentence about the pagan's slapping their children's mouths. Well, I have seen it. I saw it when I spent a summer working in inner city parks in Philadelphia. I saw it when I did a backyard Bible club in the Foote Homes area of Memphis (one of the most crime riddled neighborhoods in the U.S.). I saw it in inner city New Orleans, where I lived and worked. I saw it working at the YMCA in Jackson, TN with very low income families. So make sure you know what you are talking about before you speak about what you can assume from my words sir. I have been to the hood. My father was a policeman working some of the toughest streets in America and it was my family who was home worrying about whether he would be the latest TACT unit (SWAT team) officer to be killed. So, sorry, you may be right that I am white and an SBC'er, but you have proved that stereotyping doesn't help your case.

Finally, you have again missed my point by focusing on this issue of profanity. As a Christian, I know I shouldn't say certain words. Paul commanded me not to let any unwholesome speech come out of my mouth. Hmmm. Now it is likely that what unwholesome speech he was referring to was cultural. So, we can assert that all cultures will to some extent understand what they deem as unwholesome. Our culture is not different. It is no coincidence that the FCC bans several common words from the airwaves. Those same words are generally seen as improper to be used in front of children. We don't let those words be used in formal papers and we certainly don't want to hear them come from politicians' mouths (remember the big stink Cheney made when liberals assaulted him for dropping the F-bomb last year?). So, if you want a list go to the FCC's website. I am sure you can get it there.

John, I think you are not being honest here with me or with yourself. I think you are just being disagreeable. You recognize some of my argument is very true, but you don't want to admit it because they may mean that you have to conform to something. I am sorry, but I am trying to get people here to conform to Christ and not to culture. Christ transcends culture and calls us often times away from the norm of a society. As Christians we should look nothing like the world and act nothing like them either. We should have a hope that they cannot understand, a faith they cannot comprehend, and a love they cannot engage in. That is our call. We fall short, but we should be continually striving after that perfection, even if we won't attain it until heaven.

May God lead you into all truth though His Word,
D.R.

You don't conform to culture, but you look to the FCC for what words would be deemed "unwholesome?" Please. It's okay to say "damn" but "God" will be bleeped out of "God Dammit." And "hole" from "Ass hole." How is "God" and "hole" wrong? I believe you are undermining your entire argument by hiding behind a facade of conforming to Christ, but in all actuality--falling in line with a cultural christianity.

I am not being disagreeable good sir. Instead, I simply point out that being authentic means that we reject a lot of what culture has claimed to be right and wrong. Such as profanity. It blows my mind that you say you've worked in the hood and you believe that these children inherently know that certain words are evil. I guess you never cussed as a child, knowing that it was evil. Doesn't ring true for me.

I will hope you'll better determine the difference between cultural norms and biblical mandates. But until then, peace.

John,

First, let me say that I think we have gotten way off subject and we are chasing a tangent that needs to end. Still, I do think your critiques need to be answered, so I am going to continue this discussion for now, but likely will end it soon.

Let me explain my argument to you systematically so that no misunderstandings can occur.
1. My point that the FCC dictates that certain words not be uttered on the airwaves was a support for my position that people do indeed understand either from a cultural standpoint or inherently through their upbringing that certain words are inappropriate and considered profane. At no point did I suggest that only those words the FCC deems wrong are wrong or that the FCC was indeed the standard for conformity. I simply used this group as an example of a secular, govenmental agency acknowledging what American culture itself has deemed to be profane. They describe profanity, they don't prescribe it. There is a huge difference.
2. The fact that Paul makes mention of sinning with our lips in Ephesians 4:29 ("Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear") and again in Ephesians 5:4 ("and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks") suggests that Paul had some understanding of what this type of speech was. As I said before, this was likely somewhat culturally dictated. Paul did not know how to speak coarsely in celtic or in Arabic, but he knew what it meant to speak in an unwholesome way in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Jesus, Himself commanded us not to call another person a fool or Raca, which in our day and age is nothing severe, but in Greek was the equivalent of cursing someone harshly. Hence, our language is somewhat tied to the culture we live in. Still we understand enough to know what is proper and what is profane.
3. We do not have to know from birth right and wrong for it to be right and wrong. In some parts of America, I am sure that fornication, adultery, homosexuality, theft, murder, and other other sins that are explicitly taught as wrong in the Bible are modeled before children, allowing them to think that it is right. However, two things come into play. First, as Gentiles God has written His law in our hearts and therefore we have no excuse. We do know innately that SOME things are wrong. Secondly, as Christians we are commanded to understand God's will and to adapt to it. Paul again tells us about our change in nature in Ephesians 2: "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest"(2:1-3) and in Romans 12 he commands us thus: "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" (12:1-2). So we have a responsibility to look at our lives and be dilligently conforming them to the image of Christ so that we might be seen as blameless before others.
4. In explaining this last statement let me say that we do have a mandate not only from Paul, but from Christ Himself to be careful how we live lest we cause another to stumble. In Matthew 18:6 Jesus uses harsh language when He tells the people, "whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." Paul carries this deeper in 1 Corinthians when he suggests that Christians should not eat meat sacrificed to idols, not because it is profane in and of itself, but because of the image it portrays, namely a cultural understanding that indeed that meat was burnt for another god. In Revelation 2:20 Jesus Himself condemns this practice because of the image it portrays and links men of God with those who debase themselves. In summary here, we should be dilligent to be above reproach, not just engaging in sin flippantly, but being serious not to offend either brother or sister or a stranger among us (that being non-Christians).
5. I don't think this is conforming Christianity to culture in any way. Christianity must be above culture. If culture deems something taboo Christians themselves should not engage in it unless it violates Scripture to not do so. I mean society is not pushing a moral agenda if you haven't noticed. The least we can do is be more moral than said society.
6. I think we have both seen that personal experience is unreliable. We must go to the Scriptures to determine right or wrong. It is not about cultural norms, but rather about being above reproach and honestly, I think you have a hard time being above reproach when your language is in the gutter. Finally, profanity shows ignorance and a lack of self-discipline and control. Not fruits of the Spirit. Rather we should do as Paul has instructed us in these passages:

1 Timothy 4:12: Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.

Colossians 4:6: Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

Titus 2:6-8: Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; 7 in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, 8 sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.

So in the end John, I just think that our language suggests our level of sanctification and if we speak as those who are unregenerate, then we show ourselves to be more like them than Christ. No, we are like Christ yet, but the whole point of my article is that we ought to be like Paul who never gave provision for the flesh but beat his body and made it his slave so that he might win many to Christ and might take the prize he was called to. Authentic Christianity, I agree will include sinners, but it will not allow them to stay in that sin and not grow in maturity and in holiness. As long as we seek to hold on to our old nature for "authenticity" sake we stunt our growth in Christ. No where does Paul or Jesus or John give us a hint that sin is not a big deal or that it is ok to continue in sin once we have been renewed, but rather John Owen was correct when he said, "Be killing sin or it will be killing you."

In the end I hope that despite our disagreements on this, you understand that I am trying to get people to move past their old natures and seek dilligently after Christ. I want people to grow more holy. I don't want people to fake holiness, but to be conformed to the image of Christ. And that takes work, it takes blood, sweat and tears. The cross is not light, but thankfully Jesus is there to carry us through. As Paul said after his great speech on his struggle with sin in Romans 7:

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

Thanks Be to God who saves us and sanctifies us and who will glorify us. May God move in your heart John to seek Him more and to prize Christ above all else.

Soli Deo Gloria,
D.R.

I don't know that John and you were off on a tangent. Where I agree with what I'm hearing John say is that authentic is simply authentic - loving, practical, present.

Insofar as your list includes valid points such as "selling their goods and having all things in common," and assistance and solidarity with the poor, it is authentic.

But your list also includes much that details how to be a good religious/evangelical middle class north american, that has less to do with being authentic and more with being merely religious.

Authenticity is a buzz word that is easily assigned a definition that is not descriptive of what we should be seeking to do as Christians. I would agree that John and I spoke past each other on this issue and outside of the intent of this post. However, my view of authenticity is far different from his. I view authenticity as a real striving to fulfill the purpose for which Christ placed us upon this earth and that is to glorify Him.

In order to glorify Christ, we must be holy and holiness requires that we be above reproach. What I was not seeking to do was to give a laundry list of rules and restrictions, but John and apparently you have taken it as that. What I did want to do was to show that authenticity did not mean that one could openly flaunt their sin as though it was inconsequential and I supported my position in speaking about the use of profanity. Profane speech to me seems to indicate ignorance, a lack of self-control, and a heart that is tuned more to the world than to Christ. I think in the passage I quoted by Paul, he seems to indicate that certain types of speech are inappropriate and do not build up. Those who talk of authenticity in the way John did see grace often as a license to "let it all hang out" and I think that it is a license to exercise self-control.

You might think that I am pushing one to be as you stated, "a good religious/evangelical middle class north american" and if that is what comes about when people are authenticly Christian, then so be it. But that is not my aim. My aim is a pursuit of holiness. You have placed again a false dichotomy between being a "good person" and being authentic or being Christlike. If in the pursuit of holiness one looks like your cookie-cutter definition of an evangelical north american, then fine, but that is not the goal. As I said the goal is holiness and to allow the teachings of Jesus to impact every aspect of our lives. We will never be perfect, but that does not mean that God lets us off the hook to not be. He has told us to be holy, even as He is holy. And that is our authentic struggle.

dr said:
" If in the pursuit of holiness one looks like your cookie-cutter definition..."

Actually, the pursuit of holiness would likely look opposite of the cookie cutter version of a good evangelical american. Here again, you are speaking in some foreign religious-y language separated from the real world.

The word translated, holy - as I'm sure you know, means to be set apart for a special purpose. Unusual. Distinct. Weird. And so, it is within the realm of possibility for us to be holy as God is holy as the Bible tells us.

When people start forsaking wealth, start embracing and taking up for the poor, start rebuking violence and the schemes of the powerful, well, in our culture, they start being strange, weird. Holy.

In short, they would be following in Jesus' steps, yes?

And there is no need to make understanding the word "authentic" difficult.

Authentic - 1. conforming to fact and therefore worthy of belief 2. not counterfeit.

Therefore, an authentic Christian is one that conforms to the facts we know about Jesus' teachings or that is not a counterfeit version of one following Christ's teachings.

It's fairly straightforward and I would suppose on this point we would agree.

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Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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