Authenticity and the Church
I attended a Zoom Bible study last night. I’m heartily sick of the restrictions of Covid, but one muddles along as best one can. I miss hugging my friends in the study, miss the really good coffee that the host normally serves, miss being in a place besides my own living room. The worst thing about Zoom — the internet delays. It leads to people interrupting each other.
All that being said, it was great to see my friends and to talk about God and our lives, even if it was all virtual.
Our topic of discussion last night was sin. Not anyone’s favorite topic, but a necessary one, especially in this age of constant offense.
It seems one can’t say a word without accidentally offending someone.
But why do we offend? Is it because others are too sensitive, or is it because we, ourselves, are imperfect creatures? Sinners, to be more pointed.
It is impossible as an imperfect human being to go through life without hurting others and without being hurt, even when we have the best intentions. We try to be good, we try to be kind, but we fail.
It’s not because we are bad people. It’s because we are fallen, broken, sinful creatures. There is a reason Christ died.
None of this should come as a revelation to Christians. I mean, it is the basis for our faith. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…
Why is it, then, that Christians feel they need to appear “holy”?
This plays out in various ways. I’ve noticed, and been bothered, over the years, when I’ve seen congregational dynamics play out. People who are patient with non-Christians will be harshly judgmental with fellow believers.
But just because someone becomes a Christian doesn’t mean they suddenly cease to be annoying.
The guy sitting in the pew behind you, the one whose voice grates on your skull when he belts out a hymn? His baptism will not give him the voice of an angel. It might make the problem worse as he becomes even more enthusiastic about singing his praise to God. But don’t blame him. If you’re going to blame anyone, blame God for giving him that voice…
Better yet, take a look at yourself. Because you’re annoying, too.
The thing is, we are all annoying in our own unique ways.
Beyond mere annoyance — we have all sinned. Even those of us who have been Christians for decades — we continue to sin. Yet God’s grace is enough for us all. When I look deep into my heart and see the wrongs I have done, even after I became a Christian — it makes it easier for me to forgive others.
As Christians, sometimes it’s easier to forgive the unchurched. But we need to give equal grace to those in our congregations.
The other side of this coin is — we need to get rid of our masks of holiness. Too often Christians feel they need to be “super holy”. They need to be perfect and never show any weakness. After all, they represent Christ, don’t they?
Thus we have congregations full of the Christian equivalent of Stepford wives. These can be very uncomfortable places to be. It’s no wonder that people who go to churches like this do so with a sense of duty, leaving as soon as the last hymn is sung and the blessing given.
The reality is that authenticity is required in order for us to grow as Christians and to connect with each other.
Authenticity means we accept our imperfections. It means accepting the lack of perfection in others. Giving and receiving grace. Being open and honest about our struggles, and supporting others in theirs.
It demands a sense of humor as well as compassion. Sometimes we have to laugh with each other so we don’t cry.
One of the great things about my Bible study group is that we do laugh together. Sometimes the humor is pointed. But it’s real. It’s authentic. And it acknowledges our foibles and imperfections.
Christ is perfect. We are not.
We are imperfect people who are trying the best we can. When we are honest about our struggles, we can support each other as we strive to do better. We can love each other with genuine compassion. We can show each other forgiveness and grace.
Authenticity is a gift we give not only to ourselves and each other but also to the Lord. It is a gift of ultimate trust.
We stand naked in the garden before the Lord of Hosts. We are exposed, warts and all. Yet we are precious to Him.