When I was a little younger and a little less mature (read: before marriage and kids), I spent a lot of time reading high-toned, fancy classical literature, smoking my Camel cigarettes and drinking like a fish and discussing “worldly” secular philosophy with like-minded friends like someone who actually knew what they were talking about. I didn’t, of course, but that wasn’t the point. I affected a worldly, jaded cynicism which my experiences had not truly earned, thinking it made me seem more wise.
How foolish youth can be.
Since then, I’ve thrown off that goofy mask, married a wonderful woman who has given me two beautiful little girls, and rediscovered the faith of my childhood with a feverish zeal I once ascribed only to the marginally sane. I’ve in effect become one of the silly believers I used to denigrate while drinking rum & coke with my buddies. How this happened is a story in and of itself that may end up written some other time. However, I feel it necessary to qualify what I’m about to say by making sure it’s understood that I’ve been there, done that, and got plenty of pithy tee shirts to show for it.
My pastor said something to me about a month ago that rocked me back, and it’s been the last month churning in the back of my mind what this phrase really means. We were discussing the SBC conference and all the administrative and policy goofballery that goes on and how ultimately disconnected from the needs of the new generation the convention actually is, and he sent me an email with this little gem inside, “[Young Christians] want an authentic Christianity that relates to the needs of our world.”
So what is authentic Christianity?
Well, there’s two definitions (courtesy of dictionary.com) that I think we ought to look at. Bear with me while I build this. The first is, “not false or copied; genuine; real.” Is a photocopy ever really as good as the original? No, they’ve always got little inconsistencies, little blemishes here or there which give away their clone status. So it is with “false” Christianity. No matter how much you try to hide it beneath clever preaching, the stench of eisegesis, which is the deliberate misinterpretation of scripture to fit a prejudicial view, will inevitably seep out and drive away those whose faith has not yet been infected by the apathetic scriptural lethargy that so often permeates congregations. In effect, such preaching hamstrings the spiritual growth of a congregation by driving away the very souls through whom Christ shines most clearly.
The next part of the definition of “authentic” that I would like to apply is, “entitled to acceptance or belief because of agreement with known facts or experience; reliable; trustworthy.” Again, this has direct bearing on the ability of a congregation to grow healthily. If your preaching, if the Christianity that you teach is less than trustworthy, you can forget any dreams of a young, hip congregation, as most of my generation of Christians are very cautious listeners (anecdotal, all of my friends are, hence this is my belief), made so by years of being lied to by the baby boomer generation in TV news, politics and even by our parents in many cases. If these new, fiery-zealous Christians get one whiff of the scent of dishonesty, they’re gone.
Well, we’ve taken care of what “authentic” means in relation to faith, but we haven’t really taken care to define that faith. I briefly thought about quoting one of the several Christian creeds out there or linking to the Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement, but I think I’d rather put it in my own words.
The Christian faith has, as its absolute pith and core, four concepts. First, that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant, revealed word of God. Without this bit, everything else fails, since the Bible is our only account of these events and is a uniquely self-corroborating document. Denial of any part, no matter how small, unravels the whole. It is either wholly true or wholly false, no middle ground. Secondly, that we, without exception, are a fallen race incapable of the perfection that was present at Creation. There is ample evidence of this without ever leaving your home, but it requires looking in the mirror honestly, and a lot of people never make it past this point. Next, because we are incapable of that perfection, we are therefore unsuited to being in God’s presence. We are in dire need of a savior, someone to cleanse us so we can be fit for communion with the divine and eventual entry into His kingdom after our mortal death. Third, that savior arrived in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of God’s Son, His human incarnation, Jesus Christ. When Christ died, he did so with the weight of the sins of the world, past, present and future, on His shoulders, paying the price for them for any who will accept it. At last, this gift, this grace, is freely given to any who confess their sinful nature and accept His cleansing faith.
There are a lot of secondary things that I think are very, very important in order to truly understand what’s above, but they are exactly that: secondary things. Things like understanding of the Trinity, the mechanics of grace (Calvinism vs Armenianism, and Grace-Alone vs Works), and the exclusivity of Christ as the source of salvation are examples of these. Very important, but not the kind of things we should break fellowship over. I’m sure many will argue with me on this one, as I’ve just thrown to the sideline a pet theological topic, but the undeniable truth here is that Christ is the only thing necessary for salvation. None of our pontification since then matters a damn in comparison.
Authentic Christianity, then, is a preaching and teaching of this faith whose character remains consistent with that of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ as revealed by the inerrant word of God. It is a Christianity that promotes and produces faithful disciples who are steeped deeply in the word of God, humble, strong and courageous in the convictions of their faith and able apologists for their beliefs in whatever culture they choose to minister. Christ was explicit in that He wants us to teach all nations to be disciples.
This is why it saddens me when I run into the kind of jaded cynicism I’ve seen lately. I’ve met people (not here on RedState) who seem to take a sick sense of glee in destroying the zeal of a new Christian. “Take care with that light, there, you might burn yourself,” they chuckle knowingly. Well, I’m gonna lay this out pretty harshly and let you all be the judge.
This jaded attitude towards the fire of a Christ-fueled faith is the most dangerous thing a new Christian faces, and has destroyed the authenticity of the faith in our culture.
Often we talk about the shock a new Christian feels when they discover that they continue to sin even with the salvation of Christ. It’s a bucket of cold water over our heads, bringing us back to the reality that sin is an infectious disease whose cure, though complete and without fail, produces a transformation over time culminating in the final ascension after our mortal death. While we’re here, we must continue to struggle with sin, though it does get easier with time and closeness to Christ. This shock is a healthy realization of truth, and can strengthen a Christian who is willing to face up to it.
However, it is an entirely different kind of shock when a world-weary, cynical elder of the faith tells that new Christian to “tone down” their zeal for their newfound salvation. It can take any number of forms, from, “Aww, that’s cute son, but real theologians don’t get all that excited,” or as simple as a brush-off from church staff to a new Christian volunteer. It’s simultaneously a simple buzzkill and something far more sinister.
You see, to anyone who has wandered the wilderness of the absence of God and found their way back to the open arms of Christ, the comfort and freedom of that salvation is… well, it’s the most important thing. Period. No qualification needed. The zeal for Christ’s ministry overtakes every priority in your life, especially when you realize that in order to love your family, your wife and your kids, the way they deserve you have to love God first.
When that zeal is killed in its infancy by the aforementioned cynical elder, what replaces it is a distrust of other Christians. It stunts the growth of new Christians as surely as tying a cinder block around their necks. Suddenly they become afraid of sharing their thoughts for fear of being wrong and being patronized by the “wise” elders. They volunteer less frequently and eventually cease altogether. Eventually what replaces the zeal is that same jaded cynicism about all other Christians’ faith, the formerly-new Christians become a part of the problem and the cycle continues.
This cynicism is addressed several places in the Bible, such as Job 12 or Revelation 3:15-16, and always with the utmost in revulsion. Christ himself dealt with the ongoing cynicism of the Jewish leaders of the time, countless times using their cynical attempts to entrap him in some philosophical error to both expose their unbelief and teach us some truth. Never once does Christ say, “now, in order to avoid persecution, you should hide the light of the Holy Spirit and try your best to be inoffensive about the gospel.” In fact, quite the opposite!
13″You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
14″You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Christ himself blows the idea of a “cynical faith” being in any way Biblical out of the water. I mean, come on, there’s even a childrens’ song about letting your light shine! If we, as the leaders of the next generation of Christians, can’t acknowledge the need for zealous confession and profession of Christ as Lord, how hypocritical do we look before our children?
This cynicism is one of the smells of inauthenticity that I discussed before, and is probably the single most insidious battle we face as Christians on our home turf today. The home front in the war for the souls of mankind here in America is more active today than it ever has been, such that ministry here at home is as necessary if not more so than anywhere else in the world. In order for us to reach the committed Atheists, the Taoists, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and simply “lost” in our communities we have to first be clear about what we believe, and understand it as best we are capable. Next, we have to decide to BE that beacon, that shining city on the hill, to which people look in times of great fear and distress. The only way to do that is to pick up the zeal we left behind and act as mirrors for Christ’s illumination of the truth.
Reflect Christ, and they will come.