Faith Teaching - Pitfall or Paradise?

At the age of 21 I was first exposed to faith teaching, and boy did I like what I heard. I’d been seeking God for several years, and had found real treasure in the Holy Spirit, but faith teaching helped slot ideas into place in a way that made sense of my many questions. It systematized faith, giving me a structure that I valued at the time, but which later came to imprison me.

I learned a lot from the Faith Movement that I still hold to today. More than any other denomination I’ve been a part of, they believe that God is truly good, rejecting the cruel notion that God sends hardship, illness or tragedy to teach us a lesson. It was important for me to hear this, as it set me free from heavy notions of the Lord that had plagued my childhood and early adulthood, and for what it’s worth, I still hold to this tenet of faith teaching today. James 1: 16-17,

‘Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.'

It is a great comfort to me that God doesn’t change like shifting shadows, to know that he will always seek to make my life better, as I walk closely with him. His love is as trustworthy and supportive as any good parent’s, only more so.

Faith teaching also helped me understand Jesus in a fuller way. The church of my childhood told me God makes us sick to teach us lessons, but faith teaching made me take another look at Jesus to test this notion. Guess what I found? Jesus never turned anyone away who came to him for healing. Nor did he make one person well and curse the next with a health condition, telling them God wanted to use it to instruct them.

Jesus never made a single person sick, never refused to heal, and the many healings he performed flowed from a place of compassion. Faith teaching helped me understand for the first time that God isn’t just an occasional healer – he is the Healer. The healing of our souls and bodies is fundamental to who God is, and to humankind’s relationship with him for eternity. Ultimately, we will all stand whole before him.

I firmly believe that grasping the nature of God is crucial to spiritual wellbeing and healthy, active faith, and despite the damage faith teaching caused me, I have never changed my mind about God’s yearning to heal every one of us in every part. When I turn my face to him in worship, I approach my healer, protector, deliverer, and comfort. I am safe in his presence, and knowing that allows me to yield more completely, in abandonment and trust.

So what went wrong?

There is a subtle poison in faith teaching – it makes us gods. The teaching I’d listened to told me that I was responsible for exercising my faith and driving the world around me into obedience to the word of God. For example, I was living on a ship at the time, travelling from port to port in South East Asia, where I was working as a missionary. During my first voyage (from Hong Kong to Taiwan), the seas grew rough and I became seasick. I hated it, and as an anxious person I feared being out of control, at the mercy of elemental forces. Then I remembered that Jesus calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee, and that ‘even the wind and the waves obey him’. It was an easy and seemingly logical step for me to apply the teaching I’d heard and start doing the same, commanding the seas to be still.

From that day, things changed. In the first moments of every voyage, I would go to the bow of the ship and command the wind and the waves to be still. Faith teaching tells us that faith is ours to use to bring the Kingdom of God to bear, which made controlling the ocean my responsibility. If I didn’t command the wind and waves, exercising my God-given authority as a child of the Almighty and follower of Jesus, I could not expect the elements to obey. It was all on me.

This extended into every area of life. Suddenly I was responsible for everything, which seemed empowering in the beginning, but became an increasingly punishing burden that I struggled to bear.

One night I was struggling to sleep. I’d delivered a well-received, exciting sermon in a church in Port Moresby, and had got back to the ship mere moments before the military curfew was in place. I was excited, and couldn’t stop reliving the most impactful moments of the night. I tried to calm down but my mind wouldn’t respond. I tried commanding myself to calm down, using spiritual authority, which only made things worse. Every time I’d start to drift off my brain would rev its engine and I’d be wide awake, my thoughts spinning. It was torturous, and I grew frightened.

Morning came around and I was in a state. I felt like I was on the brink of madness. I rushed to breakfast and grabbed a friend, saying I was in desperate need of their help. She forwent her morning meal and we sequestered ourselves in a private spot, where we began to pray. I was begging the Lord for help, terrified of losing my mind.

The Lord spoke. I will never forget it. In words that were as close to audible voice as I’ve ever heard during prayer, he said this:


I could hear/feel the fury in his voice, and he practically spat the word ‘faith’. There was no doubt in my mind. I knew my Lord, and had to accept in that moment that my idea of faith was a counterfeit. But how much of it? I couldn’t separate the commanding of wind and waves from other aspects of my spiritual practice – preaching, teaching, evangelism, worship leading, prophetic ministry, personal prayer, Bible study, communal prayer, discipleship. It was all tainted, compromised by the toxicity of faith teaching, and I was in no state to unpick the knot.

I let it go – everything. I gave myself back to God, abandoning all my efforts and consciously rejecting the version of faith I’d been holding to. The tension left me. I was retreating from the brink of madness, safe from harm, but I was bruised and broken, and barely able to function.

To cut a long story short, it took weeks to emerge from convalescence, and years to fully recover from the damage I’d inflicted on my own mind. My faith needed to be unpicked and simplified, returning to childlike adoration and trust.

I found my Lord again. The faith movement had placed all the responsibility for my discipleship and effectiveness on my shoulders, which robbed me of the light and easy burden Jesus promised. It had blocked my view of the Good Shepherd – why do we need to be led, if all the responsibility for personal discipleship is ours? It had removed the Holy Spirit from his rightful place – why did I need guidance, if I already knew what to do?

By relinquishing my hold on faith teaching, I was able to cling to God with both hands. I learned to let the Spirit lead me once more. If he told me to stop, I stopped. If he told me to go, I went, but at no time was it all down to me anymore. I had a Lord, a Shepherd, a Father, a Guide. I was a follower of Jesus once again.

Trying to live a life of faith without the gentle leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit is a fool’s errand. None of us are responsible for anything other than that which he leads us to, and we do those things in his strength. Even Jesus relied on the leading of the Holy Spirit in his ministry. John 5:19,

‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does’.

We are not in charge, even of ourselves. We are meant to walk closely with the Holy Spirit, yielding to his love and following his leading. Each of us is called to do our part, without assuming the burdens and callings of other people. In my experience, one of the keys to finding peace is discovering what that part is, and embracing it. When we live that way, we walk in God’s strength and company, and life can be truly wonderful. Matthew 11:28-30,

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

Lord, let us lead organic, spirit-led lives. Help us discover our individual calling, and hear your voice more clearly day by day. Help us find our place in the Body of Christ, and embrace the roles we are crafted for. Free us from burdens of false faith, as we keep our eyes on Jesus. Amen.

12/8/2022 8:06:50 PM
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  • Duncan Pile
    About Duncan Pile
    Duncan Pile is a writer, author and speaker, living in Derbyshire, England with his wife and stepson. His mystical approach to faith straddles the Evangelical/Progressive divide, and flowing from lived experience, he is passionate about the deconstruction and reconstruction of the Christian faith.