The Fickle Finger of Faith
If you’re as old as me, you remember the phrase “fickle finger of fate” that was especially popular during the years of the variety show Laugh-In. But today I’d like to take a look at how faith has been used to undermine those who innocently mistake faith for gullibility.
Whether the topic is healing, prosperity, or prophecy, many are led to believe that unless they throw caution and reason to the wind, they lack faith. If the healing doesn’t come, if prosperity eludes us, if someone’s calculations about the end of the world don’t pan out, the faithful and trusting ones are made the scapegoats. They are set up and used by devious hucksters who have honed the technique of dangling the carrot in front of the mule, keeping the prize just out of reach, but knowing that the mule will never raise its head to see who it is that ultimately gets fat, rich, and then disappears without a trace.
This innocent and gullible trust in human teachers is the power behind cults and scams of all kinds. They fill people’s ears with “O ye of little faith” and hammer the lesson home with layer upon layer of guilt and fear until the people are like spiritual zombies who will reflexively shuffle to their deaths at the command of their handlers. This is not to say the people are stupid or weak, but that they made a terrible miscalculation at the very beginning: allowing someone else to take the place of the Holy Spirit and the scriptures in their lives.
Discipleship is hard work; there’s no shortcut for spiritual growth. Not everyone will be a theologian, but all should know the foundation of the faith and enough of the Bible to defend it at the most basic level. Yet the teachers and preachers and seminaries have neglected their duty to raise the young in faith to maturity, keeping them dependent and controllable. When these people are found out by enough of their followers, they skip town and start all over again, leaving a trail of vulnerable orphans behind them.
All of this comes about by the long tradition of institutional religion that says the individual cannot come directly to the throne of grace, that Jesus needs human mediators to do His job. This system was supposed to guard people against heresy but look at the record and see how well this has worked. How many times have people been led off the edge of a spiritual cliff, and how many more must follow them before we take a major “time out” and reconsider how we disciple believers?
As you may know (unless you’ve been on some other planet the last few months), a preacher has convinced his followers that May 21 at precisely 6pm is when the Rapture will happen. But where does the preacher’s arrogance fit into the humility a Christian pastor must have, saying with absolute certainty that which not even Jesus would say? And what kind of ego believes it cannot be wrong in its calculations and molestation of the scriptures to support them? But most of all, what happens to his followers on May 21 at, say, 6:30pm? Will the preacher “disappear” with the cash and make them believe only he was worthy? Will he even care what happens to the people? Does he care now about what a laughingstock he’s making of the Christian faith?
Faith was never meant to be a means of control by leaders, or a magic wand or “get out of responsibility free card” for followers. Instead, “Now faith is a sure hope, a conviction about what is not seen” (Heb. 11:1). It is a conviction born not of gullibility or childish wishes, but of the Savior who said, “You have seen and believed; happy are those who believe without seeing” (John 20:29). Jesus rose from the dead, and we trust those who testified to what they saw. We trust the Holy Spirit to confirm it, and we believe Jesus will return. But we are also told to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1), to judge in the everyday matters of life (1 Cor. 6:2), to weigh carefully what we are told and observe the examples of those who tell it (Heb. 13:7).
If the churches had been more concerned with real teaching and less groupthink and control, there would be far fewer lemmings jumping the cliff after every strong personality that comes down the pike. There would be practically no scandals and little true poverty among believers, and far more souls won for Christ. There would be less entertainment and more power. And since the timing of Jesus’ return is based on the number of Gentiles saved (Rom. 11:25, Acts 15:13-18), we could probably have been raptured to heaven by now.
Methinks a lot of leaders will have some ’splainin’ to do!