The Idol of Faith

“I’m a cur dog of Christianity.” This used to be my standard answer to the question “What denomination do you belong to?” It was an upgrade from what had been my standard reply for years, which was “I’m a heretic.” After reading this, you might argue that I still am.

Is there an idol of faith vying for the affections of the children of God? If so, it would be truly troublesome. After all, salvation is by faith and faith in the Gospel must be had to join the assembly of – well – the faithful. And yet, I fear that many in the body of Christ may be burning incense to Faith.[1] I’ve lit several of the smelly sticks myself and reaped some the benefits that idol worship usually brings: self-righteousness, arrogance, disappointment, confusion, and alienation from God.

In case you might be thinking that when I say faith I mean a pretend faith or lip-service faith, let me be clear. I’m talking about the same kind of faith Jesus spoke of when he taught about moving mountains, a believing that makes all things possible.[2] I’m talking about the faith of “faith, hope, and love.”[3] If it helps you to see this as “positive thinking” or the spiritual endowment of “the gift of faith”, then we can throw those up on the altar as well. The principle is venerated as a Principality.

Have you ever doubted your faith? I don’t mean a classic crisis of faith that calls in question the validity of Jesus as the Messiah. I mean, have you ever doubted your faith. Have you had an illness, missed the rent, gone through a divorce, lost a job, or been passed over on a promotion and thought, “If I had just had more faith, it wouldn’t have happened?” If so, better check where you’re kneeling. Ever looked at your personal environment and thought, “I deserve better – better car, better house, better food, better pay” and then leveraged faith[4] to get it? Let me ask you, who was being worshipped in that moment? Ever thought that only faith pleases God? You may want to think again.[5]

As a cur dog of Christianity, I’ve spent time in several tributaries of the river of life. One of the main currents I have sailed on would be included in what many call the Word of Faith Movement. It is not my purpose here to examine the movement’s history, its critics, or its controversies. I am thankful for its heritage and perspective and agree with Joseph Mattera when he says, “I would much rather be with people attempting to walk in faith and victory than be hanging out with depressed saints filled with unbelief and doubt.”[6] That being said, swimming with saints who believe that miracles must happen has its own particular challenges.

In the assembly of saints who believe in miracles[7], there are several layers. There are those who believe that miracles have happened; they are historical and past and not to reoccur again now that we have the Bible and doctors. There are those who believe miracles could happen; they are theoretically possible and certainly within the power of God but happen seldom, if at all. There are those who believe miracles should happen; God’s supernatural intervention is promised and He is poised to suspend the laws of the universe in response to a faithful heart. And then there are those who believe miracles must happen; their failure to appear is proof positive of your lack of faith. I am sorry to say that the haves and coulds are much safer from sacrilege than the shoulds and musts.

The pitfall for the shoulds and musts is the temptation to have faith in faith. In other words, that faith in and of itself is what brings deliverance. But reliance on a principle is a far cry from trust in a Person. The faith-worshipper will jump with the presumption of angelic catchers.[8] The faithful are thrown into the furnace proclaiming that God is true regardless of what may burn.[9] The faith-worshipper declares and demands his rights to property and prosperity. The faithful are content and thankful in whatever state they are in.[10] The faith-worshipper seeks control over other people, certain that his positive confession will cause them to behave differently.[11] The faithful trust in God who alone can change hearts.

Faith is vital and important. But it isn’t the all in all. Scripture is clear that we must have faith in God. But it never says faith is God. Faith is only one ninth of the supernatural tools given to the saints[12] and of the criteria used for judging our fruit.[13] It features larger among the abiding principles, sharing the stage with only hope and love. But even there, it doesn’t take center. No, the greatest of these is love.

 

[1] It is possible that even more are bowing down before the altar of Fate through acts of pious passivity, but they are outside of the scope of this post.

[2] Matthew 17:20

[3] 1 Corinthians 13:13

[4] You may have called it prayer.

[5] I hope you are the type that reads footnotes. If you are, I bet you just ran Hebrews 11:6 through your mind. You might even be a little upset with me at this point. Sorry about that. Read the question again. Read the verse again. There is a difference.

[6] http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/41054-10-ways-the-word-of-faith-movement-went-wrong, accessed 3/30/14. Mattera details more issues than just faith in this article. A very worthy read.

[7] For the purposes of this discussion, miracles would be any supernatural supply or intervention in the life of the saint; from the dramatic instantaneous healing to the exquisitely timed supply of finances.

[8] Matthew 4:5-7

[9] Daniel 3:16-18, regardless the outcome – whether delivered from the flames or consumed by the fire – they knew they would be free of the king’s demand. Their trust was in God. They did not presume to tell God how He was supposed to work out His purposes in them.

[10] Philippians 4:10-13

[11] I’ve seen this displayed most prominently during marital breakups where one partner is “standing in faith for the marriage” and then is bewildered and confused when their spouse divorces them and actually marries another. One cannot control another’s freedom of will – not God’s or anyone else’s. Faith employed against another’s will only produces anxiety and frustration.

[12] 1 Corinthians 12:7-11

[13] Matthew 7:20; Galatians 5:22-23

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4 thoughts on “The Idol of Faith

  1. Saw a sign along the road today “church for sale or rent” and it caused me to wonder how they could offer it for sale if they didn’t own it. Then I remembered they probably were referring to a building or church sanctuary. I’m sure they already know that Christ paid for the church with His own blood and he owns it. But words are important and that word ‘Church’ is one I wish people would respect a bit more.

    1. Did you ever play the old clasped-hands game: here’s the church, here’s the steeple, look inside and there are all the people (you had to wiggle your fingers once the hands turned up)? The idea that the building is the church is perhaps one of the biggest subterfuges since the garden; a masterful bait-and-switch. Of course, there are those who are fully cognizant of the true meaning of the word and still try to sell or rent the body of Christ.

  2. There is an idea of ‘list order’ we find in the Scriptures from which we find the first in a list is important but the last of a list is most important. Faith, Hope & Love. From that we could conclude that Love is the greatest but we can also discover that Faith is greater than Hope:

    The temptation to turn Biblical life in Christ back into a set of rules that we can keep and thus save ourselves is so strong in all the churches today that I’ve made Love my #1 talking point no matter whether the person I’m talking to is churched or unchurched, saved or agnostic.

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