Resist “Lab-Grown” Faith

Church Shift #2: Recover from simulated faith

by Kevin Freeman

Do you know how diamonds form? Virtually all of the glittering gems that catch your eye in a jewelry store have come from deep within the earth, a hundred miles or more beneath your feet. In this hostile environment, incredible pressure and temperatures exceeding 2000 degrees Fahrenheit transform a carbon deposit into a near priceless gem. Volcanic activity then brings that gem nearer the surface, where miners can access it.

The hostile environment in which diamonds form is much like the hostile environment in which our faith forms. God often leads us to a deeper commitment of faith through the heat and pressure of living out His call on our lives in a world set against Him. Paul draws this contrast in his letter to the Philippians, writing, “so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world” (Philippians 2:15).

Will we be tools or jewels?

But, labs can also create diamonds. The simulated heat and pressure deep within the earth have historically produced diamonds that work for commercial applications, such as diamond tips which add durability to saw blades. Over time, lab diamonds may become popular for jewelers as technology improves, but a question remains for Christians. In forming our faith, will we prefer the lab simulation or the real thing? Will we be tools or jewels?

Is this a problem for you or your church? Are God’s people settling for a substitute over the real thing? Here are a few signs that may indicate shallow, laboratory-simulated faith.

Prayer is mostly about health or other physical needs. Simulated-faith Christians stick to genie-level prayers (as if God is our personal genie). We certainly should pray for these needs, but we should not neglect other important prayers. The example in Scripture is to center prayer on things we already know are in God’s will. Paul’s exhilarating prayer journal in Ephesians 3:14-19 shows him hitting his knees to ask that God would dwell in the hearts of believers, allow them to comprehend the full extent of God’s love, and fill them with His fullness. The Psalms are filled with prayers that believers can pray right back to God. Churches with shallow faith do not get around to this sort of praying.

Small talk stays small. If people are not interested in spiritual things, they will keep their conversations shallow. Conversation with a mature believer who bring up matters of faith amid everyday talk helps me make more faith connections in my life. The less believers bring up faith in their conversations, the more likely they are to relegate spiritual matters to Sundays only.

Worldly wisdom mixes with biblical truth. Although Christians may hold to a theology that says the Bible is the ultimate authority for life, their practice may reveal that they hold other authority sources in higher regard. Statements such as “the Bible’s authors weren’t aware of this issue,” or “the Bible doesn’t have anything to say about that,” often reveal subconscious limitations Christians place on the authority of the Bible in almost any area, often including mental health, parenting, and matters of science.

Faith focuses on personal empowerment. Instead of God’s glory as the ultimate aim, the self has moved to the center in our culture of personal gratification. People engage historic Christian disciplines only if they find them helpful. This effects even worship. Many songs have lyrics that focus on the worshipper rather than the God we worship.

When was the last time you found yourself in awe of God? A recovery from simulated faith begins with a deeper view of God, the sovereign Lord of the universe. Biblical figures such as Moses, Job, Habakkuk, and Paul encountered God and came away forever changed and in awe. Without this right view of God, our faith will remain shallow, empty, simulated.

What does all of this have to do with post-pandemic Christianity? Churches are in a unique position to reconsider much of what they do. Everything is on the chopping block. Ministries can be refocused, programs can be restructured, and the practices that have enabled a simulated faith can go on a hiatus. Does that prayer meeting need to be revamped? Now is the time. Is it time to ask the pastor about a ministry opportunity close to your heart? Maybe so. Before you do, don’t forget to spend time in the Word and on your knees.

Kevin Freeman is an associate pastor of Redland Baptist Church in Rockville, Maryland.

This is the second in a six-part series which explores how God may be calling the church to shift her practices and focus as a result of the pandemic. What feels like a shift may be more of a realignment toward her calling. Read last week’s selection, “There’s No Going Back”.