We were always worried about maintaining the “victory.” We had the ultimate recipe for any trouble that dared enter our bubble of triumphant Christian living: we “rebuked” the trouble and “claimed” our victory – the victory won by Jesus Christ. In a way, trouble – i.e. any sort of physical illness, emotional pain, financial difficulty, etc – was seen as a personal deficiency of faith. If a person had financial lack it was because they were not “in faith” enough (don’t ask me what that means); if they were sick it was because they were not “claiming their victory over sickness;” if they suffered any sort of emotional pain or physical addictions they simply needed to “confess” their way out of it (i.e. quote Scripture at the pain until their faith was strong enough to overcome it).
Looking back, this lifestyle we lived as independent, charismatic, word-of-faith, full-gospel Christians (we used so many titles, good grief) was the epitome of emotional abuse.
Essentially, we could not admit of any problems. Admitting problems was labeled “bad confession,” and was a guarantee that the admitter was doomed (this is why very few alcoholics who tread this path of effortless-Christianity ever enter Alcoholics Anonymous, an organization which teaches that the first step in healing is to admit one’s alcoholism. The idea that one must admit they are an alcoholic is absolutely unthinkable). Instead of finding comfort and healing within the Eucharistic community of the Church, we were relegated to self-medication; left alone to tend our wounds in private while wearing our “victorious Christian” mask in public. We were sheep without a shepherd, wondering isolated individuals who all claimed the victory of effortless Christianity through faith. We had no concept of true healing because all of our healing was supposedly granted at the very moment when we were born again, i.e. when we “confessed Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior,” and our duty was to simply maintain this victory through our faith confessions.
But when this notion of “faith” becomes the comprehensive panacea for all matters of affliction then the Christian faith is subtly transformed into an individual work of righteousness (though we would never have admitted it). One’s entire success in life lay squarely on one’s own shoulders; squarely on the shoulders of one’s own autonomous, individual effort of “faith.” I put “faith” in quotation marks because this sort of faith is not at all the faith found within historic Christianity, but rather a linguistic innovation; a philosophy of faith based on a loose and fragmented teaching of Scripture, but I digress (we will take up the issue of defining faith in the next post).
The true destructive quality of this doctrine of “faith” proposed by this brand of Christianity, affectionately referred to in this series as the “Effortless-Christianity movement,” is that it strikes at the very heart of authentic, living Christianity by attempting to alter it into a set of quick fixes; a series of cold, objective and impersonal means of getting what one wants out of life with the least amount of effort possible. Effortless-Christianity proposes that one is not at all obligated to deal with his or her own mess, so-to-speak; rather, they are obligated to find out what Jesus secured for them – via His torture and execution – and lay claim to it.
It rarely, if ever, entered our imagination that Christianity was ever anything else. From our perspective, our churches and our theology perfectly reflected the heart and mind of the Apostles and the first century Church. It was only after the Church fell into the hands of the dreaded Catholics (the word “Catholic” stood for whatever smacked of legalism and pharisaic religion, most of us never made an honest inquiry of the true history of the Church) that the faith was irreparably damaged, saved only by the Pentecostal movement of the early 20th century. We were living bastions of authentic Christianity raised from the ashes of dead, traditional religion. We owed Church history nothing. We were perfectly self-sufficient and did not need any coaching from the prior 20 centuries of Christian thought and practice.
One must of course keep in mind that this brief reflection is my own. I do not claim to speak for each and every person wrapped up in the movement. I only speak from my 20 years of experience within various churches and communities which hold to this mindset. My hope for this article is to give the reader my personal inventory of what effortless-Christianity has accomplished thus far: the production of legions of unhealthy Christians in our day. I have purposely made no attempt to compare the movement with the Apostolic Tradition, however as these articles continue we will dive headlong into a specific and detailed look at the myriad dislocations between Effortless-Christianity and the historic Church, and let the reader decide which points are a matter of indifference and which demand attention. For now, thank you for joining me on this half rant, half analysis of the movement.
Thanks for reading.