Authenticity and Transparency are Overrated

I do not understand modern Christian values. When it comes to what is acceptable in the church I feel like a moral Rip Van Winkle, as if I fell asleep twenty years ago and have awakened to a whole new way of doing things.

The church I grew up in valued character, godliness and (gasp) holiness. People were supposed to do the right things, believe the right things and say the right things. We were wretched sinners and we knew it, but our goal was to be less wretched with each passing day. We worked to be different, to be better. Foul language was foul, revealing clothes were inappropriate, and crudeness was crude. No one talked about “being true to yourself” because ourselves were sinful and not worth being true too.

Everything has changed.

I listened recently to the podcast of a prominent Christian teacher. In the podcast he and a friend were talking about the struggles and challenges they had faced in their lives. They shared stories of loss and suffering that were real. In the midst of these stories their values were revealed. They spoke of other Christians with an air of condescension, castigating those who responded to their struggles with what they considered clichéd and shallow platitudes. They implied that these people were less Christian and less loving. They did not consider those well-meaning but misspeaking people simply mistaken, they considered them wrong and hurtful and deserving of being called out.

Profanity was also a part of the podcast. Proudly and without apology the pastor and his friend used language that was unprofessional and crude. It was clear that they had no problem using this language and that they thought it was silly for anyone to take offense. What was also clear was that they had no aspirations to improve the content of their speech. The social mores and standards followed by people like me were to them artificial and outdated and not worth following.

How could this happen? How could people who purport to be spiritual leaders be so lacking in grace and honor?

The answer is found in the comments people posted about the podcast. In the comments the speakers were repeatedly praised for being “transparent” and “authentic.” Transparency and authenticity seem to have become the most important values in "modern" churches. Because we are all sinners what is most important is not dealing with our sin but accepting our sinfulness. Because we all struggle what matters is sharing your failings, not recounting victories. Because Jesus accepts us as we are what is important is loving ourselves as we are.

As warm and affirming as this sounds, it is not what God desires. While God understands our brokenness and our sinfulness, He did not send His Son to die so we could remain in our fallen condition. Jesus died that we might have new life, not that we feel comfortable in our old lives.

It seems some have cast aside those passages of scripture that call us to be better, that call us to aspire to be more like Jesus not only in love and kindness but also in words and character. I believe that we need to remember that God calls us to be better than we are. As Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy-

“Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Tim 4:12-13

The God who calls his people to “Be Holy, for I am Holy” wants his people to break free from the world’s practices and desires, to be well-rounded people of faith who, in every area of their lives, strive for the excellence displayed in Jesus. The apostle Paul said it well in another of his letters-

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice." Phil 4:8-9 NIV

Authenticity and transparency are of no value in and of themselves. There is no praise due those who are authentically crude and transparently selfish. We need to pursue lives that are authentically and transparently good, pure, just, holy, loving and godly. We need to be better.

-          Bart

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