07 November 2019

Christians who lack faith.

Nope, didn’t title this piece “Christians who doubt.” Because everybody doubts.

Which isn’t a bad thing. Jesus doesn’t want his followers to be gullible simpletons who can’t discern the difference between truth and rubbish. Mt 10.16 If we just put our faith in people indiscriminately—believe everything our friends say, believe everything the politicians tweet, believe everything the anti-vaxxer websites claim, never fact-check our preachers to make sure what they’re telling us is valid—we’re gonna be such fools. Doubt away.

But there’s a very particular form of doubt Jesus objects to most: Doubting him.

So when we talk about “Christians who lack faith,” it’s not about Christians who question all the doctrines and teachings which we presume are settled, like good postmoderns will do. It’s about Christians who lack faith in Jesus.

Yep him—not fellow Christians. And sometimes these Christians will try to mix these categories together: They’ll insist if you doubt them, you do doubt Jesus, ’cause they’re totally channeling Jesus. Nope. ’Tain’t the same thing. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. People will fail us, and Jesus is the only exception. Trust him without exception. Trust them as long as they remain trustworthy… and forgive ’em when they screw up, ’cause they will, ’cause we all do.

Now these not-as-trustworthy Christians have largely been successful at muddling who we’re to trust: A lot of Christians do trust their churches and preachers and Christian institutions. And trust ’em more than Jesus. That’s why they believe so much Christianist rubbish, and when we try to correct ’em with what Jesus actually teaches, they won’t believe us. Which is predictably typical human behavior: The more we’re around certain people, the more we grow to trust them, whether they deserve it or not. Spend all your time around Christianists, spend none with Jesus, and of course you’ll trust them more than him.

And too often Christians passively trust Jesus—by which I mean they believe things about him, and believe he’ll be there for us at the End, but following him now is a whole other deal. They’re more likely to follow the people they can see, and since they’ve not yet seen Jesus they treat him as hypothetical or imaginary.

This passive trust certainly resembles faith, but really it’s just procrastination: People who expect they’ll trust Jesus later. Not now. They don’t now. Not enough to do as he says, go where he goes, take the risks he tells us, nor heed the Holy Spirit’s course corrections. Where we are is more comfortable than where he wants us. We trust circumstances, not Jesus. That’s unfaith.

Dodging faith.

Christians who lack faith have invented all sorts of Christian-sounding excuses to avoid acting in faith. There are entire theological systems founded on unfaith, full of ways to evade Jesus. Really popular systems too.

  • FUTURISTS claim Jesus’s lessons on his kingdom don’t apply till the End Times. (Which, if they believe there’s a seven-year tribulational stretch between the End Times’ start and the second coming, is always gonna be at least seven years away.)
  • DISPENSATIONALISTS claim all the bible’s instructions are only for other dispensations. The warnings are only for people who don’t live under grace. Following Jesus isn’t necessary if we’re not saved by works, so they do no works.
  • CESSATIONISTS claim the Holy Spirit stopped doing stuff in the present day. It’s their excuse for treating him like he’s seldom here… or not here at all, so they needn’t follow his guidance. They’ve got bibles… which they twist and turn every which way, ’cause of course they’re not listening to the Spirit’s corrections of their bad interpretations.
  • PARTISANS only accept interpretations of the scripture which match their political parties. If it doesn’t sound just like something their favorite presidential candidate might say, it can’t be Christian. If its economic consequences don’t jibe with their personal convictions about money, it can’t be God’s will. The bible never gets a consult; just their consciences, which haven’t been shaped by the Holy Spirit’s fruit so much as their parties.
  • LEGALISTS don’t really trust the Spirit to instruct, guide, and convict fellow Christians. That’s our job, they figure. So they spend a lot of time condemning everyone, both Christian and pagan. But when we don’t leave judgment and conviction in the hands of the only righteous judge in the universe, and imagine we’re all alone out here, we get weird and paranoid and heavy-handed and cultish. We certainly won’t even trust fellow Christians.
  • LIBERTINES take the other extreme: They don’t trust anything. Not apostles, not Jesus, not the bible, anything. But they do trust TV talk show hosts and clever teachers. And never double-check ’em against anything.

As you can see, when Christians don’t really trust Jesus, our Christianity gets rotten.

We do few good deeds for Jesus. Oh we still do good deeds—for ourselves, to feel better about ourselves, or get praised as generous philanthropists, or feel holier-than-thou so we can tell off other Christians who aren’t as “good.” There’s so much self-interest (and tax write-offs) mixed in. That’s why, when we’re challenged to do good deeds which don’t benefit us any—the radical good deeds which actually cut into our time, cut into our finances, never get seen by others, risk our health and lives—suddenly we get strangely preachy about how we’re not saved by good deeds. It’s not really an attack of convictions; it’s another dodge.

Often what’s easier is to ditch the good deeds and focus instead on doctrine: We pursue faith righteousness. We make sure our theology’s correct and orthodox, and fight anyone who gets it wrong… so if you really like to fight, you’ll find yourself fighting just about everyone. Scratching and biting one another over the true faith.

We’ll take few steps, or leaps, of faith. Our “risks” become nothing but calculated risks, based on a reasonable expectation of success. (Or the fear of being in big karmic trouble when we don’t act!) We won’t follow prophecy, and instead of testing it, we’ll just presume it’s hogwash. We won’t try out Jesus’s commands to see how, or whether, they work. We won’t pray for the impossible, ’cause we’re pretty sure God doesn’t break the laws of nature. We’re stunned whenever we see otherwise… and frankly won’t believe it.

We’ll cling to what we have, lest losing it means we never get it back. We’ll cling to what we know, for we don’t trust new information, nor the biases of their sources. We’ll do as we’ve always done: New ways aren’t tried and true, so they can’t be better. (Unless of course we invented the new way.) We often consider ourselves conservatives… despite the fact true conservatism looks to the past for what’s good, and a lot of us are either clueless about history, or reject it because it’s “too Catholic” for our sensibilities.

If we had faith, nothing’d be impossible for us. Mt 17.20 As it now stands, our Christianity is small, hard, narrow, self-contained, and gripped tightly instead of surrendered, in faith, to the one who’s meant to own it instead of us.

I’ve said “we” throughout this piece. I’m presuming most of us fit this description—and don’t wanna! Which is good; let’s snap out of it and start taking those steps and leaps of faith.

I also recognize a number of us are gonna respond, “No that’s not me,” even though it totally is. Don’t be arrogant: Think it through. Does your life reflect faith or faithlessness? Do you trust God and those he sent, or do you trust very few, and figure it’s just God and you against the world (and you’re not all that sure about God)?

For every Christian, let’s ask ourselves, “How far does my faith go?” ’Cause it can always go further.