Perhaps no concept has seen such equivocation and abuse as the term “faith.” The popular caricature of it seems to be that it means accepting something blindly or even in spite of evidence. Certainly, there are reasons such a view might seem appealing, especially in today’s culture where many feel that cherished beliefs have come into serious doubt. And the Bible sounds like it supports the view: the book of Hebrews states, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). This verse is easy prey to poor interpretation and might at first glance support the caricature. I intend to show faith, especially Christian faith, in a new and challenging light.
Every day, we exhibit the sort of faith discussed in this verse. There are many things in which we have confidence, yet we cannot see them. In fact, our entire society depends on faith to function. We have experts at a variety of tasks whom we trust to produce the expected results. We have faith that the engineer will produce a working machine (or process, plant, bridge, etc.), but we do not see what he is doing. Even if we were to look at an engineer’s diagrams, most of us — save for other engineers — would not be able to interpret what the diagrams meant. But we hope that the engineer will do as he/she says, because without engineers, our world would cease to function as we know it.
Our faith must yield results. We may not understand the engineer’s work, but we can tell when the engineer fails to design a machine. If the machine doesn’t work, then we misplaced our faith in the engineer. The engineer loses his job, and someone else takes his place, because we need to be able to have faith in those who say they will perform a task.
And so it is also with our spiritual leaders. Our faith in them must yield some kind of result, but when it comes to spiritual affairs, it might seem that this “result” could vary from denomination to denomination, as different parts of the Christian faith assign values in different ways. For example, Catholics value tradition, whereas Protestants tend to value individual relationships with God. Pentecostals will emphasize speaking in tongues, whereas others believe the spiritual gifts have left us altogether. Pinpointing a single result as the criterion for our faith seems, at least at first glance, insurmountable.
But if we set aside all our theological bickering, the process is really quite simple, because Christ gives it to us. Understanding its implications, though, is more difficult. He says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
If we want to know the children of God, we should look to those who love one another — in spite of their differences. Christ, as God, could not have been more different than his own disciples. He was more pure, more perfect in every way; however, he loved his disciples. If we follow those who love only those like themselves, then we follow narcissists and false disciples of Christ. These are tribalists who divide the world into “us” and “them.”
Under Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galations 3:28). If Paul were alive today, I believe he would go on to say that there is neither black nor white, neither liberal nor conservative, nor even gay or straight. We are all the children of Abraham, the children of God’s promise, if we are in Christ. Anyone who would divide over such things is not of Christ, because he himself denies Christ and His work.
So if our leaders engender a true love by what they teach and by the lives that they lead, then we should have faith in them and follow after their teaching even if we don’t understand everything about the theology which they espouse. We don’t need to know mechanical engineering to ride in a car. We have faith because of the expected result.
The layman does not have to know theology to know what love is and how it looks. We understand love instinctively. If we take a little time to ponder the concept, I believe we also realize that love is not merely a fleeting feeling, like romance, but it is a commitment that we will treat each other with respect and kindness even amidst disagreement or offense.
I offer this challenge to anyone reading: evaluate your own church. Does your church and its leaders promote love of this sort, the kind which does not distinguish between types of people, or does it promote division and perhaps even abuse of the “other” — the one who doesn’t have the “right” theology or practice? The second part of this challenge: if your church does not teach you to love, then leave. If the church only loves insofar as people look like the “right” sort of people, say goodbye. Encourage your friends to do the same. Find a church in the area which can respect people of different nationalities, different professions, and even different theological stances. If there is no such church, be that church.
End tribalism and embrace unity in Christ. Stop bickering over differences and learn to love one another. You may not understand your faith at this point, but that’s okay. The Christian faith must result in love.