Authenticity is a word that is thrown around a lot. It seems to be a buzz word for many these days when talking about church (or anything for that matter). I suppose it is rooted in a reaction to the thought that the American church experience was once or is currently inauthentic. An African American friend of mine even told me authentic is a word white guys use way too much! “Just be you, man. Don’t explain to me you’re trying to be you, like that’s such a big accomplishment!”
As a result of its frequent use, being authentic could convey different meaning or connotations. The definition we can work with, (which is adapted from Webster’s), is:
authenticity is the possessing of conformity to fact and origin to the extent that it produces trust, reliance, and/or belief.
This is somewhat of a mouthful so let’s break it down. Authenticity begins with lining up with what is both true and historic (fact and origin). The Christian faith lends itself to this, does it not? We have a rich history that we can stand upon and examine. The history is not always a bright one, but it is also not always dark. We have a very great heritage as we stand on the shoulders of giants. Now, whether or not they are good giants can be another issue, but we must admit that those giants shape the way we view history and the present.
Nevertheless, being authentic is not merely concerned with being rooted in truth. Something can be rooted and truth but then branch off into error and falsehood. Authenticity is more than having truth. This bears repeating. To be authentic goes beyond having all the answers, having a corner on truth, or having a perfect list of irrefutable propositions. Actually, I would begin to say that this can become antithetical to the very spirit of authenticity. Authenticity is conformity to truth to the extent that it produces trust and belief.
And perhaps this is where we can begin to lose our grip on authenticity. There is truth. There is history. And then there is the way in which we conform to/interact with these “propositions”. It is one thing to say, “We Christians believe in loving our neighbors and our enemies. It is a historic doctrine.” It is quite another to see how said Christian forgives and chooses not to seek vengeance (or fails). And then, it is even another issue to see how this person views his/her behavior.
This is the stuff of authenticity. I am formed by something. I oftentimes don’t act like I am formed by it. I usually fall short of the very things I espouse to be true.
So, if we consistently fail to live up to the things we claim to value, how can this produce trust in others? This idea is bound up in one term: love.
Love must be authentic. It is rooted in truth (God) and produces trust. How could you do anything but trust me if I would lay down my life for you. Would you rely on my if I loved you enough to bear your burdens? Wouldn’t you be more apt to believe that Jesus is real if I loved you like He loved me? This is how the Church can be and is the most beautiful thing in the world.
What keeps us from authenticity? What do we try to pass off as authenticity that is really something else? Any thoughts?