“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Friday, January 27, 2006

'Authentic' Christianity

What is 'authentic' Christianity? I have been spurred to post regarding this by a couple of recent discussions I have been involved in.

I am a Messianic Jew,. Now before someone gets up in arms about that statement, I am NOT trying to make a delineation between me and everyone else. I just want to put this forward intially to provide some perspective. I also co-pastored a home church for two years, and had a wonderful time in the intimate setting. I now pastor a church slighter larger than a home church, and we meet in a building. As this will come into play in this post.

As a Messianic Jew I have been acosted by many who want to return to the 'authentic' Christianity that was found in the early church. These folks are often disappointed that I am not more 'authentic' in my presentation of the gospel; they want me to 'do church like the apostles did'... I assume that they want me to be beat by rods, and thrown into Roman jails, and then they can go into hiding and pray for my safe return? I mean, what does this mean -- 'Authentic' Christianity?

Truth is, it means something different to everyone, but the reality is that we don't live in the 1st century, so it is foolish to assume that we can 'get back' to authentic Christianity as if it were a ritual, method, or model that can be bottled, marketed, and sold like some cheap perfume.

I have friends in the home church movement who say that 'authentic' Christianity is home churches. Well, that misses a couple of points in the Bible; one being, if Paul had a better reception in the synagogue, he would not have met in homes, the synagogue would have been the place. So, it is not home churches that 'make' Christianity authentic.

Some say that observing all of the feasts is the way to authentic Christianity, well I disagree, and I say that as a Jew. Keeping the feasts did not make the Pharisees MORE authentic than, say Lydia, did it? Do I love the feasts? Absolutely, and our church observes them, but this does not make me more 'authentic' in my practice of Christianity than the Baptists down the street!

And we always have my dear Reformed friends who say that the 'regulative' method of Worship is the way to be, and provides a setting that is conducive to 'Authentic' Worship. Now, not all of the Reformed guys that I hang out with have completely bought into every aspect of the 'regulative' method of worship, but there are those... The regulative method DOES prevent excesses from occurring, but let us not think that the regulative, or 'Biblical' style is all about 'What the Bible says' -- For example, not only the Reformed folks, but the some of the Church of Christ friends I have say that they ONLY practice Christianity that is 'authentic' because it is 'what the Bible says and nothing more'.(I have a very, very bright friend who is a CoC Pastor (Charles) who is an exception to what I am saying here. He is a good friend who may chime in on this)

[BUZZER], I am sorry, that is the wrong answer: For example, I don't know many Presbyterian churches that have sold all that they have and give to each as his need. And I am unaware of any CoC churches that greet one another with a Holy Kiss! (maybe some Mennonnites, and Amish, but certainly not the guys I know).

Now, I am not condemning these folks for not doing that, we don't do it either. What I am trying to say is that 'authentic' Christianity is not a method, a plan, a box of instructions, it is authentic Christians living out their faith. That traverses denominational boundaries, and worship styles.

Don't you think, all of my home church buddies, that Paul would have loved to have met in a building, so that more people could hear the gospel? You bet he would have! He would have met at the Temple if the opportunity afforded itself.

For my Messianic friends -- Go and read what Paul had to say about days and times, and about making Gentiles become Jewish in order to experience the grace that is found in our Savior. He was staunch about his stance.. If you don't know where to start I recommend Romans, Ephesians, Galatians...

All those who think that they have captured authentic Christianity because of the way they worship, or the type of songs they sing have missed the boat, IMHO. I know a REFORMED, REFORMED Presbyterian!! (I KNOW, I KNOW), who is a wonderful man of God and loves the Lord with all his heart, but he truly believes that his church has it all figured out, and is authentic because they ONLY sing Psalms, and then, only accappella!

I know folks that say that it is ONLY proper to have the Lord's Supper once a month, some annually, and some INSIST that it is to be weekly. I am just glad that they think it should be celebrated at all! Some churches have even given up this ordinance (sacrament for you sacerdotal types).

Truth be told -- many of those that are searching for 'authentic' Christianity, are only looking for the novelty of it, not the lifestyle. They want to participate in 'authentic' Christianity the same way that they want to participate in 'authentic' Scottish Highland games (wouldn't Robert the Bruce be surprised by the 'authentic' highland games? Wouldn't Paul be surprised by 'authentic' Christianity?).

So, to finish off; I am not writing this from the storied Ivory Towers of Academia; my perspective is a simple country hamlet. I am not a scholar, I am a practicing pastor at a small church of people attempting to practice 'authentic' Christianity with other 'authentic' Christians, be they in a home church, a building, or even a Messianic synagogue. I am sure that there are things that I might have glossed over, or omitted -- this is not a doctorate thesis, this is an observation.

I also want to make the disclaimer that I am not saying ALL forms of worship, no matter how heretical, or non-glorifying to God are acceptable. We must guard against heresy and blasphemous practices, no doubt about that, but to say that one church model is more 'authentic' than another misses the whole point of the church being made up of living stones!

Let me provide this story -- Polycarp and Anicetus had a disagreement about Easter, (the Easter Controversy), wherein Polycarp, representing the Eastern Church celebrated the resurrection of Messiah on Passover (14th of Nisan), and Anicetus insisted that it was to be on a Sunday which was designated by the Western Church. They came together and agreed, after much discussion, to disagree. Now, Polycarp had every right to throw out the 'authentic' Christianity barb, and say we are right and you are wrong, because John the Apostle taught me this! However, while he did make reference to that fact, those two men of God sat down, and took communion together in a symbolic act of fellowship. They disagreed on something they both felt passionate about, but when it came to breaking fellowship they declined to do that. It was later that this boiled over, under the leadership of less mature, less Christ-centered leaders. Polycarp and Anicetus understood (IMHO) that 'authentic' Christianity is not defined by a 'style' or 'method'.

What is an authentic Christian? -- Go read 1st John, go read the Gospels, go read the Pauline epistles which touched upon Body life more than almost any other subject. What do they say? You tell me, but one of the things ringing in my head, from our Lord and Savior, is this -- "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and Love your neighbor as yourself". I think that is a great beginning to 'authentic' Christianity!


Charles North said...

Ray. I feel obligated to "chime in" now. That was a good post. I really do struggle with the concept of authentic Christianity (what we in CofC call "Restoration.") We say that the goal is to restore NT Christianity (doctrine, worship, baptism, etc.) 2000 years later. But is that possible? That's the question I struggle with. Do we restore the Corinthian church? How about the Roman church? No? Antioch? How about Jerusalem? See the problem? A problem exacerbated by the hateful condemnation of anyone who hasn't "restored" NT Christianity as narrowly as we have. Perhaps the answer is to restore the functions and behaviors of the NT church, not the forms of their faith and worship. Perhaps it's even simpler - "my dear friends, love another."

Ray said...

Amen brother -- You are, as usual, right on!

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Ray that was a really good post.

I do like the home church idea. Homes are more comfortable than church buildings.

From a Brethren perspective, it is impossible to restore the Church to how it was in the apostles' days. The Church has fallen into ruin. God does not restore a fallen dispensation, but He begins a new work and blesses those who are faithful in their humility until that new work begins.

Every Blessing in Christ


Libbie said...

Grace, grace, and a bit more grace. If you have some more room, stick a bit of grace there ;-)

I don't want to be part of a New Testament church. Everytime I read the letters to the Corinthians I thank the Lord for His providence to me :-) Authentically Christian. Saved and serving seems a nice, simple grace-filled definition of that one, if I may. I don't think that looks the same everywhere you go. But hey, Grace is a mighty broad brush.

Ray said...

Amen libbie!

Steve Sensenig said...

Ray, I appreciate (as always) your tone in writing here. It's hard to pin down some of these movements, and the house church movement is one of those that's hard to put in a box. I guess for all practical purposes, I have to wear the label of one of those "friends in the house church movement" ;) in this discussion because that's exactly where I'm at. However, I don't see it the way you portrayed it.

I think one of the things that I didn't quite follow here was your statement about whether or not Paul would have wanted to meet in a building so more people could hear the Gospel. If we're talking "evangelism" (which Paul definitely did in the synagogues and in whatever public meeting place he could get access to), then yes. And, as I just pointed out parenthetically, Paul did that.

But with regard to the gathering of believers, 1 Corinthians seems to indicate that the presence of unbelievers (and therefore a focus on evangelism in the "church service") was, at best, peripheral. So, from that standpoint, I'm not sure I would readily agree with your conclusion about Paul wanting the church to meet in a big building.

My question is, if he says that all, in turn, can prophecy, doesn't that seem to indicate a smaller gathering of people?

I dunno...just thinking out loud. And since I've been too busy with work to be able to post on my blog recently, I'll have to participate over here! ;)

Be blessed, brother. I'm cool if we disagree on this.

steve :)

Ray said...

Steve! Good to hear from you!

I don't know if we disagree or not, however there is no indicator that house churches (which is my point) are something that Paul believes is a mark of authentic Christianity, as opposed to a building.

I didn't say a big building, per se, as most synagogues were fairly small... We may not actually disagree -- I think where I was trying to get to was arrogating one way of meeting above another, and calling it more authentic exclusively because it is held in a home/building/synagogue.

I love home churches, and particpated in one for a while as I indicated, but I also find it distressing that some people I know within the house church movement seem to think that I have become 'apostate' because we now meet in a building.

Bottom line -- I don't care if one meets in a house, a garage, a strip mall (as we do), or a cathedral, if authentic Christians are practicing Christianity, then I am all for it.

Steve Sensenig said...

With relation to "authentic Christianity", yes -- we are in absolute agreement! :) I don't in any way consider you apostate for meeting in a building other than a home, so I guess we're still ok for now. ;) hehe (Not that I'm looking for things to disagree on...)

Have a great day!
steve :)

Ray said...

LOL -- Thanks Steve... I am sure we have things that we will, or do disagree on, but overall I think we are more alike than different...


Ray said...
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Ray said...

BTW, I see a discussion going on over at Pyro that is very similar regarding Church membership... Either I am timely, or they are watching my blog (I seriously doubt that!)...

A bit of a different take, discussing the necessity of being involved and members of a local body, but much of what I have posted here is reflected in the comments section in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

BugBlaster said...

Hi Ray, a great post as usual. Over-fascination with rituals (i.e. focusing on mine that I like, or yours that I don't like)is deadly. It was what doomed the Pharisees.

The rubber hits the road in the every day, in the living out of the Christian walk and whether or not I love my neighbour.

see ya

Ray said...

Bugs -- Absolutely -- and it is much harder to live it out everyday, as opposed to meticulously observing the rituals (i.e. straining at gnats and swallowing camels at times).

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

'Over-fascination with rituals (i.e. focusing on mine that I like, or yours that I don't like)is deadly. It was what doomed the Pharisees.

The rubber hits the road in the every day, in the living out of the Christian walk and whether or not I love my neighbour.'

I do not think the error you identify is characteristic of contemporary Evangelicalism. I think an opposite error is more common; that is an individualism that ignores the importance of ecclesiology and sees worship merely as a matter of preference.

Every Blessing in Christ


Ray said...

Matthew -- Actually I agree to an certain extent, today individualism is stressed to the detriment of community.

However, the individuals also develop their rituals which they stress as 'superior' to the 'old and cold' rituals of the ones who went before them.

I was going to touch upon the tendency of individualism after this post, but it looks like the guys over at pyros have their hands full with it, and between James and the commentators, I am sure they will discuss every aspect.

Bottom line is that this post was really about elevating one method above another, and individuals are not above that...