It's a common complaint among young people, Christians and non-Christians alike. "The church just needs to be more authentic," we gripe. "We need more realness and less hypocrisy."
So we try to be authentic. And for the most part we live in to at least a semblance of authenticity. In fact, a large chunk of the church-going segment of my generation seems to be working towards this authenticity-driven Shangri-La, where we're all just open about our failures and everything is great because all of us realize how sick we are.
It may seem like I'm bashing authenticity in the church; I don't mean to. Authentic, redeemed, Holy Spirit-enabled saints are the best hope for turning this world around. Authenticity is important.
It's not so much authenticity itself that I have problem with. Rather, it's how we use the concept as an excuse to live on our own terms.
This problem becomes evident about the time that the pastor at a relevant, trendy church, in an attempt to be authentic, starts talking about how he struggles with stuff in his own life - stuff like cussing when he gets angry, or road rage, or any number of other issues.
His whole point is this: We all struggle with stuff. See, I'm a pastor and even I lose it when somebody cuts me off on the interstate or when I slam my thumb with a hammer.
But this pastor never seems to turn the corner and say what needs to be said next. "I struggle with this, but I'm working to make it better. I mess up, but by God's grace I'm improving and living a holy life."
Instead, he just uses examples to show how he's not some Super-saint (as if that's a bad thing). He's setting himself up as a fully-redeemed person who should be living a holy life, but instead is just using authenticity as an excuse to not improve and really be holy as God is holy.
Pastors aren't alone in this. I've read blog posts, heard testimonies, and seen articles where young people talk about their problem, and how they're finally being real about it. But nowhere in these 'authentic' testimonies is anything about how they're working to change.
Their message is simple: I'm flawed. Take me or leave me, but I'm not changing. God loves me how I am.
This is one seriously messed up take on life. And it's extremely prevalent among my generation.
On the other hand, Christians from the last couple generations don't struggle with a messed up sense of authenticity, but they're certainly guilty of a white-washed, everything's-perfect Christianity.
While the rage for my generation in the church is to own up to our problems then do nothing about them, the Boomers and Generation X'ers simply pretend like their problems don't exist and carry on the charade that everything is perfect in their lives.
It's a case of wrongheaded authenticity vs. false perfection. Both extremes are wrong.
What my generation gets right is that we need to be authentic with each other. What we get wrong is that we assume authenticity is enough and we neglect the changed heart that should proceed from authenticity.
Older generations realized that Christians are called to holiness and so they tried to be holy, even when they weren't.
We need to combine that sense of realness with a desire to be holy. Because if our hearts aren't changed, then being honest with other people is pointless. But if we just put on a show at church and aren't open about our struggles, then we aren't living the holy lives God intended for us.
Be real about the issues in your life, but don't think that simply being 'authentic' gives you freedom to keep on living with those problems. You have to change, because God wants you to be holy like He is holy.