Reverence and the new authenticity
Authenticity seems to be the thing today at church, a fad as trendy as skinny jeans and hang out plaid shirts. It seems a little out of place for me, our current obsession with with being real. Still, when you get down to it church does have some branding problems, especially among the younger cohorts. Talk to the "nones" and "nominal Christians" and you'll hear phrases like out of touch, fake, bogus, counterfeit, lame---all disconnects to people looking for something real. Of course, most of the criticism isn't about weak theology, doubts about God, or skepticism about Scripture. Lump all of the harsh terms together and there's the ultimate label---we're all a bunch of hypocrites. Now, don't get me started on that one.
The remedy? Get real. Put authenticity on public display. Lay everything on the table---doubts, fears, temptations, personal anecdotes, cynicism, likes and dislikes---anything that will strip away the layers of deceptive falsity from the facade of faith. Including, BTW, new advances in edginess, dancing around the lines of decency, playing footsie with the dark side, and being irreverent. The latest life equation seems to put them in sync, irreverence and authenticity. To be real now, you've got to be willing to push the envelope of irreverence.
It's not new, the quest to demystify the appearance of faith. Decades ago C. S. Lewis challenged his readers about the separation of church and real life. He wrote---
And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered
voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all
these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and
Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their
real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons?
Lewis wanted people to discern faith as essential beyond Sunday and the walls of the church. He wanted our faith to travel with us and for us to hear God's voice in the everyday processes of life. But, there is no evidence in his writing of an irreverence to the Father, Christ, his church, the people of God, or even to the creation. He wanted believers to be real---authentic in our current jargon---and to speak of God and faith in very realistic terms. But, not in profane ways.
That's the rub with the new authenticity. Suddenly, irreverence shows itself in more worldly fashion. It's trendy to skirt the edges of decency with questionable language, stories, illustrations, and life experiences laced with gutter talk, crude images, and mimicry of famous people who live on the boundaries of acceptable behavior. God is often portrayed in overly familiar terms, and Jesus, God incarnate, as totally human. Our quest for reality can easily morph into irreverent tones that diminish God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, the church, other people, and the Gospel that he sent us to announce.
Occasionally I love to read the Epistle to the Hebrews. The other day a verse popped off the page to remind me of the place of reverence in my life, and I think the life of every believer, especially those called and equipped to lead.
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and
thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God
is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 12:28-29, ESV
It may be an odd take on this verse, but I sense standing before God, unworthy in every respect, and being reminded of his gracious benevolence to me. As a result, my heart should overflow with gratitude and throw me to my knees in worship. Reverence and awe for him should erupt from my heart. The acknowledgement of his awesomeness and holiness, his sovereign rule over all things, the recognition that he is a consuming fire should generate my reverence for him. Gratitude for what he has done should be coupled with reverence for who he is.
We don't have to lower him, his work, his Son, his people, to make him appear more real or to give him an air of authenticity. Our reverence for him should raise him, his creation, the gift of life, the mission he has given us, and the world in which we serve, and lower us.
There's no room for irreverence in our service or our mission. That is especially true of those of us called to lead.
So, there they are, character traits often left behind: excellence, vigilance, endurance, diligence, and reverence. Be sure to pack them every moment.