A few weeks ago, two of my friends and I hit the streets of Dallas after eating Pho at one of our favorite local restaurants. Our dinner debate had spilled over into our neighborhood walk and was getting more and more heated with each step we took.
As silly as it sounds, we were actually arguing over what one of my friends was wearing.
Now, this friend of mine is known for his impeccable fashion sense. He is always wearing the latest and greatest trends... and I usually love whatever he's got on. But this night was different. He chose a bizarre combination that me and my other friend couldn't seem to get over. He had a black leather jacket, blue jeans and burgundy chelsea-boots on. Black and blue can work. Black and brown can work. But black, blue and red?!
We were perplexed.
After about 30 minutes of arguing, we decided to ask some people on the streets what they thought of the fashion combination. We stopped three different groups of people, all between the ages of 18-40.
Without FAIL, each group answered the same way when asked the question, "in YOUR OPINION, do you like this guy's clothing choice?"
It almost seemed like each group had gotten together beforehand and agreed to answer with the same exact phrase:
"Well, if it makes you feel good - it doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks. How does it make you FEEL?"
I'll never forget what my friend (the one wearing the bizarre outfit) said to one of the groups:
"It's making me feel ANGRY that you won't just tell me how YOU actually feel about it. Stop trying to tell me what you think I want to hear - is this outfit right or is it wrong?"
We live in an age where people are desperately looking for the real thing. Amongst televangelists, mega-churches and Christian radio, our generation is pleading to find something that actually looks like Jesus.
I've been in ministry, working with people for the past ten years. Most of that time has been spent talking to young people - millennials, who are fed up with the model of church that they've seen and are ready for something that connects with them.
I can't tell you how many times I hear phrases like the ones you just read. From small towns in the Bible-belt to large cities on the coasts, a resounding cry for the AUTHENTIC is being released by a generation of people hungry for something or someone that can actually fill the gaping void in their hearts.
There's a counter-Christian-culture that's beginning to emerge. It seeks to be "real" and "authentic." When generations-past shoved their doubts under the rug of "faith-talk," this generation is willing to FACE their doubts.
Open dialogue of questions and concerns have become a way of accepting the unknown instead of just blindly rejecting it. And when it comes to things that might offend others, we strive to keep those things to a minimum to create a more "accepting" and "understanding" environment around us. I mean, it's 2017 right? We live in a completely different world from our parents. It's just a different time - which means, it's time for different measures.
Yet, in the midst of all of this, I am afraid that, in our search for AUTHENTICITY, we've actually created something completely counter-productive to our original intent. I can't help but feel like, in our attempts for UNDERSTANDING, we've invited more CONFUSION.
And I really think it has to do with this word, "authentic."
I hear phrases like this all the time:
"Man... I've just gotta do me."
"I'm tired of 'picture-perfect Christianity; I'm just looking for the real."
"I need to be authentic."
Look - I've been in all types of churches. Small, large - charismatic, reformed. I've seen ministry manipulation and irresponsible leadership. At the end of the day, I truly believe that we are called to be AUTHENTIC. Our underlying desire is that we would be relatable and real to those around us. This is a GOOD desire.
I just feel that we've created a definition of the word outside of Biblical and Godly parameters.
And this, my friends, is completely unacceptable.
In fact, it's anything BUT authentic.
I've seen it time and time again. Nowadays, a Christian who uses foul language here and there, gets a little tipsy from time to time, is open to undermining arguments concerning the Scriptures in the name of "understanding" and is willing to "go there" about their doubts about God is considered to be "authentic."
In other words, if you look like the world, yet love Jesus - you're AUTHENTIC.
It's the type of Christian we can all relate to. Right?
Any definition of AUTHENTICITY outside of the image of Christ is a counterfeit.
Because when Christ came to earth, He submitted to the same suffering and circumstance that we would soon experience. He lived a fully consecrated life towards God. He refused to compromise.
We know this because Christ is the Word. The Scriptures and their commands are not locked in a particular time and space, they are transcendent - just like Christ is. And everything that the Word of God speaks of concerning morality, truth and faith was EXACTLY how Christ lived His life here on Earth. You can't pick and choose what parts of Jesus you want to follow and what others you want to reject. We're not "open-minded" about morality, ethics and salvation: we believe that the Bible is the ultimate authority for life, period.
This is why I believe the Church currently seems less potent to the world: we refuse to embrace the offense of our faith.
We've become more afraid of offending others with the truth we say we believe than living a life that blatantly declares the answer to the questions everyone's asking.
Yes - we believe that Christ died for sinners. Everyone is accepted into the life He chose to give.
Yet, we also believe that God demands our life - completely and wholly - not halfway or holding back. The rich young ruler wanted desperately to follow Jesus, but couldn't follow through because he refused to give up the things he held more close than the Christ who came to save him.
Which brings me to my final point:
AUTHENTICITY LOOKS LIKE CHRIST; CHRIST LOOKS LIKE THE SCRIPTURES.
You are your "authentic self" when you are living in your true identity: a life hidden in Christ, defined by His reality. (Note: this is not an eliminator of our God-given uniquenesses, but our uniquenesses do not define us, Christ does).
If your version of Christianity doesn't line up with the Word of God, then it's anything BUT authentic. I truly believe that the world would have more respect for the Church if she would stop apologizing for being herself and just start owning the very truth of who she is - one with Christ.
Jesus promised us that we wouldn't always be liked, but that is more of a reflection on Him than it is us (John 15:18). It is our responsibility, as the Bride of Christ, to continue representing Him - even when it doesn't make us feel, or look, very good.
We are responsible for showing the world what Christ looks like. That DOES mean loving them the way Christ loves them, but the love of Christ must be defined by Christ Himself - not a cultural perversion of the meaning of the word. The same Jesus that defended the woman caught in the act of adultery was the same Jesus that told her, "get up and STOP SINNING."
One of my passions is to make sure I'm connected to those who don't know or accept Jesus. I want to be a part of a church that non-Christians can walk into at ANY TIME and feel loved & accepted. Here's what I've experienced: we can love and accept each other without agreeing with each other on everything.
In fact, my non-Christian friends respect me more because they know that I am unwavering in my convictions. That doesn't stop me from relating with them - it makes our relationship that much more AUTHENTIC.
I believe that, just like the story I shared about the people on the streets of Dallas, we have somewhat become just as un-opinionated as the world is because we're afraid of being rejected by them. We've polished the cross out of fear that its bloody stains will drive others away.
But the power of the cross is its offense.
The blood speaks ACCOMPLISHED, yet it demands EVERYTHING.
The cross doesn't apologize for itself. The cross is the true meaning of AUTHENTIC.
To help you out, I made a list of just a few things that the Scripture lays out as "AUTHENTIC CHRISTIANITY."
- Living a lifestyle of faith isn't being fake. It's trusting in a reality more true than the one we're living in. (James 1:7-8)
- Songs with lyrics of praise and positive proclamation aren't products of "bad songwriting" or "inauthentic lyricists." They're biblical mandates for declaring what we believe even when we don't feel or see it yet. (Acts 16:25)
- Believing what the Scriptures say about morality and standing firm in ones position concerning them doesn't make you hateful, it makes you a Christian. Speaking the truth in love isn't always fun - it's maturity. (Ephesians 4:14-15)
- A lifestyle of holiness and avoidance of sin is not being RELIGIOUS, it's proof that you actually have a RELATIONSHIP with the HOLY SPIRIT. (Galatians 5:22-26)
- Connection and service to a local church is not "corporate Christianity," it is a Scriptural command for our own benefit. (Hebrews 10:25)
Other verses for reference:
- You have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer you that lives but Christ lives in you. (Gal 2:20)
- You were bought with a price, therefore, glorify God in your body and spirit - which are God's. (1 Cor 6:20)
- Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come. (2 Cor 5:17)
- For it is written, "Be holy as I am holy." (1 Pet 1:16)
- In the same way, reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God. (Rom 6:11)
- For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. (1 Thess 4:7)
- That man should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all of his ways. (James 1:7-8)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jared Ellis was called into ministry at the age of 16 years old, after being delivered out of a life of darkness, depression and depravity. He has traveled all over the world, preaching the good news of Jesus Christ and has worked with some of the leading churches in the nation such as Bethel Church and Elevation Church. He also pastored in Abilene, Texas and grew a youth ministry of 12 students to over 300 - signs, wonders and miracles taking place each week. Jared is the author of "Yes: Simple Response | Radical Results." He travels full-time as an Evangelist, preaching at churches, conferences and events. He is also the GE Coordinator at Christ For The Nations Institute where he teaches and trains Youth Pastors and works as a church consultant. While at home in Dallas, TX, he serves as a worship leader at Trinity Church.