In this article, Pastor Chen Shengfeng emphasizes the necessity of personal, living faith. He points out that some people who calls themselves Christians do so because Christian faith is simply something they have inherited from people around them.
Is Your Faith “Second-Hand Goods?”
Being a “poor preacher” I am used to shopping for old books in second-hand book shops. From the used book shop on Shanghai’s Fuzhou Road, to Confucian temples’ used book markets, used book shops in Hangzhou, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and back to the biggest online market for used books, Confucius Used Book Shop Online—I have left my footprints there. Embracing the belief that “books may be second hand but the knowledge found in them is not second hand,” I buy books in line with my interests and research. In the spirit of a “knowledge porter,” I voyage on the ocean of books. Using the phrase “tireless enjoyment” to describe this attitude of mine ought not to cause too many objections!
However, in my pursuit of faith, I often soul-search as to whether or not my faith is “second-hand goods.” I certainly must not be careless when it comes to my personal spiritual life and my lifelong pursuit and service to the Lord. What is more, I cannot turn into a “faith porter.” At the same time, even if my faith is not “second-hand goods,” I must not become a “religious professional” in my serving, nor must I turn the spreading of the gospel into a mere industry.
After a heritage of over 200 years of Christianity in China, there are now tens of millions of recorded Christians in China. Inevitably not a few “second-hand” Christians have emerged. They are found throughout churches in the whole country—occupying positions of service, and even in positions of leadership. This kind of “second-hand” faith is harmful for the individual and also unprofitable for the church. Below are listed some of the symptoms of “second-hand” faith:
1. Faith becomes an inheritance from one’s ancestors
Faith needs to be passed on. This kind of passing on includes vertical passing on between generations and horizontal passing on in human relationships, and it shows itself in teaching and carrying on traditions. But the spreading of the faith is different to passing on of culture. It is not only the transmission of knowledge and traditional ceremonies, which you can study a bit, imitate and copy word for word. It requires the Holy Spirit to move the heart.
In the midst of carrying on the tradition, it requires the passer-on of faith to be spiritually joined to the God they believe in. Therefore, you and I will discover that in church history, the sons and daughters of pastors may find passing on of their faith easier, but it isn’t all that way; this is about an individual’s relationship with God. Parents hope to pass their treasures of life to their children, but if someone is not moved by the Holy Spirit, they cannot say, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Therefore, our faith cannot be derived from “my parents are believers,” “He is my parents’ Lord” or “our family believes in Jesus.” Instead, we ought to come to the “Our Father in heaven” of the Lord’s Prayer, and from generation to generation name God as our Father.
2. Faith as hearsay
In today’s churches, evangelism is the “horizonal passing on of faith in human relationships” as I mentioned above. This kind of passing on of the faith is, in essence, the command the Lord Jesus gave to the church, but it does not ensure everyone’s faith is “first-hand.” A personal experience of the Lord’s calling, recognition of one’s own sin, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord—these are not “faith as hearsay.” We must reflect on this: sometimes the church has overlooked whether or not those coming for baptism have really experienced grace in order to boost its church membership, consequently, this has brought “idlers” into the church whose God is hearsay, with no personal spiritual experience to speak of. This has largely secularized the church.
3. Pretentious spirituality
Whether it is “inherited faith” or “faith as hearsay,” in the church the expression of zeal can become “pretentious spirituality.” The “zeal” I am talking about here is not that of nominal Christians, but that expressed by those Christians who display their enthusiasm for serving. I must admit, spiritual life is something that can be seen; but spirituality is also something that can be imitated. The daily pursuit of spirituality, for example prayer, worship, and Scripture reading, or the details and particulars about one’s manner of speech and actions—these can all be imitated. A famous joke goes in the history of the Chinese church: the students of Principal Jia Yuming, a famous theologian, thought that the principal’s every action was performed very spiritually. So, the students studied his every action, and even imitated the sound he made after he lost a tooth, to the extent that his teacher didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
4. Copy-cat ministry
In church ministry development, we also see “second-hand faith” showing itself in the copying of other successful church ministries. I believe that such successful ministries can mutually inform us and are worth studying. However, it certainly should not be the case that, just because someone else has something that I must have it too. This phenomenon has become quite widespread in the last ten years.
Some coastal churches have incorporated forms of ministry from overseas because of their frequent contact with each other. This has led to the introduction of a few new ways of doing ministry, but has resulted in an immediate “organ transplant failure.” Ultimately, the church experiences friction and even splits over these new forms of ministry. When other churches around the country hear about and see the new forms of ministry, they also bring some of these practices back to their own churches, not caring whether or not they are suitable for their own churches, and even open themselves us to ridicule. These kinds of examples of “putting Saul’s armor on David’s body” are too numerous to mention.
For Christians and churches today, we need to personally experience God’s activity. Every Christian quietly needs to examine themselves before God and see whether or not they have really experienced the Lord—or is their faith “second-hand?” In the Bible, there are many examples of “first-hand” faith. For example:
1. Jacob’s vision: Experiencing the vision of the ladder leading up to heaven, and hearing the Heavenly Father’s call (Genesis 28:10-22)
Jacob is a very typical case of “inherited faith.” But when he leaves his family and comes to Bethel as a refugee, God himself appears to him in a dream and even promises to become the Lord of his life. Because of this, Jacob’s faith is completely turned around. From being the faith of his father, it becomes his faith, even to the extent that later on, God proclaims this to the Israelites: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Today’s Christians must personally experience God’s work in the renewal of their lives through repentance so much so that the faith of our parents becomes our own personal faith.
2. Samuel’s experience: Personally hearing the voice of God, personally tasting the sweetness of the Lord’s grace (1 Samuel 3:1-14)
Samuel’s initial acquaintance with God all comes through the priest Eli. After Samuel personally hears God speaking to him, he himself receives God’s revelation, eventually becoming the priest of Israel, a prophet and a judge. Present-day Christians’ faith cannot just be “faith as hearsay.” They must study how to receive the Lord’s truth from the Bible, and grow in the Lord’s word.
3. Jesus’ teaching: Worship in spirit and truth; no more lip service to the Lord (Matthew 6:1-8)
Spirituality can easily be imitated, but true spirituality certainly cannot be impersonated. When true spirituality of the heart comes out, it can be felt by others—and even more than that, this is what pleases God. Facing the all-knowing, almighty, omnipresent Lord, every kind of falseness will be stripped away, because God sees the heart. The Lord Jesus requests true worship from us; that is to worship in spirit and truth, not giving lip service to him. The false spirituality that approaches the intersection of faith can only earn human approval. It can never please the Father who sees through secrets.
4. Paul’s experience of serving: Respecting the previous generation’s experience, receiving a vision from God (Galatians 1:1-12)
When Paul compares himself to the other apostles who followed Jesus, he calls himself the least of the apostles without underestimating himself. He respects the other apostles, but at the same time receives a vision from the Lord, thus breaking ground for new work, and even taking the gospel to every part of the Roman Empire. Today’s Christians must, of course, respect traditions and the experience of the previous generations. But revival and development of the church must not only be a continuation of traditions or a reliance on past experience. More than that, it requires a vision from the Lord, courageous breaking of new ground, and moving into new territories.
“Second-hand” faith is a kind of “cloud of witnesses.” It should not be regarded as insurmountable experience and traditions—otherwise, it can easily become legalistic and dogmatic with no way of revealing the living way. “Second-hand” faith makes each new generation lesser than the previous one. Relationships with God become more and more distant. This situation resembles the people of Israel after the second generation went into Canaan, those who didn’t know the LORD. “First-hand” faith, on the other hand, makes “second-generation” Christians into brand new “first-generation,” believers standing in a father-son relationship with God through personal experience and knowledge of the Lord Jesus.
Original Article: “你的信仰只是二手货吗？” by 丰盛“书”房
Image Credit: Surfing the Nations via Flickr.
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