Spiritually growing up in a church culture that values church loyalty, with an unspoken presumption of spiritual superiority of pastors and church leaders, perceived as unattainable by ordinary Christians, I inadvertently delegated my faith to this spiritual elite, by being loyal to the 'church', contributing all I could, as my expression of being Christian then, I now called those days version 1.0.
Adding to this spiritual elite that shapes my being Christian are world famous Christians, preachers and pastors, with fame and charisma, authoring best-selling books and worship songs, marketed as Christian celebrities, being hailed on their pedestals. In my being Christian 1.0 days, I unequivocally trusted and admired them. I bought and read every book they published, subscribed to their channels online, chased after every sermon they posted, attended every event when they came to speak in person in town. I honestly thought I was pursuing spiritual growth, blind to my idolizing man, by abdicating my own discernment in the Spirit, through the Word of God, oblivious to its spiritual harm.
I was caught by surprise by my overwhelming withdrawal symptoms, as the spiritual integrity of some of these Christian celebrities collapsed, publicly exposed, not just one, but serially one after another. When I traced the publication date of what they wrote, aligning with the timeline of their indiscretion made public, I felt nauseated, betrayed, thrown into a spiritual void. Such burst of the bubble confronted me with the deterioration of my personal relationship with God, as I chose to follow this spiritual elite as my substitute of following Jesus myself, trusting them without boundary, drawing strength from mere flesh, only to turn my heart away from the Lord, ended up 'cursed' (Jeremiah 17:5). I wondered to myself how come no one sounds any alarm about the snare of faith proxies, that are so spiritually destructive, that can even lead to spiritual death?
Proxy, by definition, is "the agency, function, or power of a person authorized to act as the deputy or substitute for another."
What Is Faith-Proxy
I define faith-proxy as the trusted third party that you choose to delegate your own personal walk with the Lord to, one that you trust unequivocally. Such third party becomes your agency through which you relate to God. You rely on them to discern and make judgment on spiritual matters, to distinguish good from evil. You trust their discernment and judgment over that of your own, rather than seeking guidance that you could have received through the Holy Spirit grounded on His Word, as promised in the Word. You would not cast doubt, nor would you challenge, or raise question over your faith proxies. You follow their leadership, directions and guidance, accept whatever they say, go to wherever they lead you. In retrospect, the spiritual elite I previously mention was my faith-proxies.
Some Common Faith-Proxies
Typically, faith-proxies are people, such as charismatic and famed Christian celebrities, preachers and pastors, as I previously shared. They can be someone in your life whom you think have a special connection with God that you perceive as beyond your reach, or with especially anointed spiritual gifts.
But faith-proxies can also be things, such as religious systems, like brands of mega or franchised churches; or Christian establishments, such as a church organizations; or a religious culture and traditions, such as denominations. In the days of lock down during the COVID-19 pandemic when many churches could not meet in person but at best could only meet remotely, Christians relying solely on faith-proxies without previously establishing their personal direct interactions with the Lord would find their faith void and empty.
Why & How Faith-Proxies Are Spiritually Harmful
There are at least three ways why faith-proxies are spiritually destructive.
Firstly, faith-proxies deprive us from seeking Jesus for ourselves, mistaking second hand testimonies and biblical knowledge as growth in our relationships with Jesus. Faith-proxies give us a spiritual illusion of loving God, but in reality, only spectators repeating the lingo as empty words without follow through with faith-driven actions in obedience in our own lives. The same way that a marriage councillor is not a proxy of marriage but a facilitator to point you to your spouse, faith-proxies are only supposed to be facilitators pointing us to Christ, but not standing in between you and Christ.
Secondly, faith-proxies ill-prepare us to give an account to the Lord. Jesus told us Himself that on the day of judgment, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God (Matthew 12:36, Romans 14:12), as individuals. Do you know that on that day when you give an account to the Lord, you cannot bring your church with you, nor can you blame your faith-proxies for truth you did not follow, lies you are trapped by? At the end of the day, each of us owns up to our own walk with the Lord, answering to Him if we have finished the work that God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
Thirdly, faith-proxies make us susceptible to false teaching, defenseless against false teachers and prophets, falling preys for cult. Jesus told us ahead of time that before the end will come, many will turn away from the faith, there will be increase of wickedness, love of most will grow cold, false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, even the elect (Matthew 24:10 -12,24). We are already in this era featured by widespread deceptions. That is why we must be spiritually sharp and alert and cannot afford to delegate our spiritual discernment to any faith-proxies without our own spiritual discernment through the Holy Spirit in the scripture.
Faith-Proxies Can Cause Spiritual Death
This is how faith-proxies can cause spiritual death. If you can only relate to Jesus indirectly, relying on faith-proxies, through things such as church programs, or through people such as pastors and preachers you respect, as the agent in the middle to relate to God, but you have difficulties to turn to Jesus yourself, then Jesus does not know you yet, because you are yet to establish a personal relationship with Jesus.
Those who have been Christians purely through proxies, but have never come directly to turn to Jesus yourself, just between you and Him, to confess your sins, to surrender your life, you are following the wrong things. If church leaders you follow do not lead you to follow Jesus, you are following the wrong people. Either ways, you are still in your spiritual death. Without the Holy Spirit living in you, you do not belong to Christ yet (Romans 8:9).
How to Guard Yourself Against Faith-Proxies
After my awakening, the following are the shifts I consciously made to guard myself from falling to the trap of faith-proxies again.
#1: Follow Jesus. Fix your eyes on Him
It took several rounds of spiritual upheavals for me to finally learn the hard way that every Christian is to follow Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2), the Head of His own Church. 'Church' is not His organizations, but His people. Jesus is the only One to whom we yield our loyalty. You either follow Jesus or you don't. There is no delegation. If we misplace our loyalty in man, in Christian institutions such as church organizations or denominations, we will suffer spiritually (Jeremiah 17:5). Church and spiritual leaders are sign points, with the indispensable functions of building up people's faith in Christ, pointing people to walk with Jesus, to love the Lord of life. But when sign posts become the objects of devotion, drawing others to themselves instead of to Christ, it is spiritual suffocating instead of life-giving.
#2: Guard your time with the Lord behind closed door
It is critical to own your relationship with Jesus by establishing your own line of communication with the Lord in private, behind closed door (Matthew 6:6). If you regularly dwell in the Word through the Holy Spirit, fellowship with the Lord, with increasing knowledge of His heart and His ways, your spiritual discernment and ability to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14) will be sharpened.
#3: Test everything, Hold on to what is good, Reject evil
The biggest mistake I made in my being Christian 1.0 days, was that I follow people, I slotted Christian writers, preachers and pastors into categories of "good" vs "bad", then unequivocally trusted those slotted in the "good" category. When I found one point off the biblical teaching, I moved them over to the "bad" category. Soon I found there is no spiritual leader I can trust anymore. 1 Thessalonian 5:20-21 dug me out of that hole that I made for myself and set me free. Instead of finding people I can follow blindly, the verse opened my spiritual eyes and taught me to test every teaching, prophecy, words of wisdom. Hold on to what is good. Reject what is evil. I also learned from the Berean Jews, to whom Apostle Paul preached. The Berean Jews first examined the Scripture to see if what Paul said was true, before receiving Paul's message to their hearts (Acts 17:11). I consider Apostle Paul the most trusted preacher of all time, yet Berean did not blindly trust Paul without testing first. How much more so should we test everything before receiving.
#4: Be Intentional to Establish your faith-tribe
There is a general saying that you are shaped by the five people closest to you. Proverbs 27:17 says, "as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." It is important to be intentional to establish your faith-tribe, the five people closest to you that God placed in your life to spur up one another to steward the Lord's purposes of placing you on earth, to obey and walk in bold faith, living for His glory. You will guard each other from falling prey to false teachings and idolatrous trust in man, share what is good, decry what is against God. The following three relationships are essential to fall prey to faith-proxies:
spiritual parents who invest themselves in you to build your faith in Christ by modeling, sharing their own walk with Jesus;
spiritual siblings who walk alongside each other for accountability, for fellowship;
spiritual children you disciple in serving the Lord with love.
Recently, there is another fallout of spiritual indiscretion of a world-famous spiritual leader whose sermons and preaching had been shaping me in the last decade. I noticed the absence of withdrawal symptoms that used to overwhelm me. I consider this a concrete sign of my spiritual growth. For that I praise the Lord and celebrate.
As I am running this race, there are coaches and fellow runners along the race. If some coaches and runners fall, or injured, I would keep on running. No runner would drop out of the race just because others on the race are injured or fall. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth (Galatians 5:7 NIV)?
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