Editor’s note: The definition of a ”hollow" faith is having the outer behavior of belief, but lacking the inner life of Christ. It is that the loving and committed relationship that a Christian has with God has become stiff and tired. It is characterized by serving people without joy, acting joyously without the mind resting, serving without reverence, being called a disciple but having commitment, or being religiously ritualistic but lacking the essence of the love of the Lord.
The Christian Times, an online Chinese Christian newspaper, invited five Christians and pastors from different churches in Jiangsu, Guangdong, and Fujian to share their views on the topic of the “hollowing” of faith. On average, the five guests’ have each been believers for ten years. Below are their sharing in the first person.
Ms. Ran, a layperson:
The hollowness of one's faith is about there being no intimate relationship between the individual and God. The help of the church is needed, but more depends on the individual.
From the perspective of relationship building, the first thing to prevent a hollowing is to establish more two-way communication with God. The way we listen to God is to read the Scriptures and listen to Christian teaching. The way to speak to God is to pray. Communicating with God does not need to be too complicated and difficult scrutiny. Just listen to God’s voice from the Bible every day, get correct guidance through the help of the pastor explaining Scripture, and pray much.
In addition, hollow Christians can be said to have lost their personal relationship with God-- a correct relationship with God, true and pure. Then incorrectly, possibly as an employee to employer, turning from God’s responsibility to us to our responsibility to God, so that there is no joy, no gratitude, no sincerity, only tiredness and ritual. When I am full of gratitude and trust in God, I am full of love and security in this relationship.
In reading and meditating, we should pay more attention to the part about sin and salvation. I have always thought that this is the core of faith. Without the re-establishment of this part, no matter how much we talk about “building a correct self-awareness”, “how God loves us, how God looks at us” and “God will help us”, we will be scratching our heads. Only when the Scriptures, such as David’s penitent poems in the Psalms, the prophets’ reminder in the prophetic books, the teaching of Jesus Christ in the four Gospels, and Paul’s book of Romans, touch us, are we aware of sin and repentance. We naturally feel God’s love deeply, and then joy, gratitude, and peace will follow.
My personal experience is to learn to pay attention to myself in my daily service and life. Each person's unique qualities, spiritual situation, and emotional needs are different. I should be sensitive to my spiritual state and tell God more about my state and needs.
Ms. Zhang, a pastor:
As a Christian, the hollowness of faith is a common phenomenon and it needs to heed.
One sister said that she had lived in a Christian family since she was a child, and she had a lot of knowledge about her faith. But I know in my heart that there are very few things that can really be done. I preached the gospel to others only a handful of times, and I do not feel any substantial difference from others. Some Christians even say that we just keep our faith. We do not need to preach the gospel to others. We just have to believe.
This sister took part in a program bringing education to a remote mountainous area and felt that she was connecting to Jesus Christ. She needed to take care of several students. When she saw that they felt helpless and had nothing to do, she wanted to witness to her faith. But the result was rejection. She began to feel the same way as Jesus most have, a little bit about love on the cross. It was at that time that she planted the seed of service.
Paul, a believer:
One of the important reasons for the hollowness of faith is that people are busy with various ministries. I think we should do what we can in serving, especially having a clear understanding of our gifts, and not taking on more work than we can afford, so as to avoid serving too much. However, the problem of not pursuing any spiritual endeavors can only be remedied by developing good daily spiritual practices.
There is another situation that needs attention, and that is the motivation of faith and service. Some people join the church, and participate in serving is not necessarily out of a calling, but rather to seek fame and reputation. This kind of motivation is wrong from the start, and as a result, hollowness developing is inevitable.
David, a pastor:
As a full-time pastor of the church, David has been serving for nearly five years. This problem has caused him to reflect often.
A person who serves God full-time will definitely develop a hollowness in his/her faith. The root cause is alienation from God.
The reason for alienation may be that the ministry takes too much time and leaves too little time to be quiet and draw near to God. Or when facing temptations in the world, life begins to crack and break slowly. Because the identity of the person is one who is called and has a face, the problem is hidden underneath many layers. The more you hide the problem, the more serious it is. In the end, one's life rots, and one cannot turn things around. One can only put on act like an actor, wear a mask of disguise, and lead a life of deceiving God, others, and oneself.
Nowadays, materialistic desires are rampant, and all kinds of temptations are pervasive. If you want to hold on to the values of the Christian faith, life is indeed greatly challenging.
Talking about preventing hollowness--like a cup, hollowness is not about nothing, but rather about a wrong thing. One can make a cup of dirty water slowly become clean without moving the cup by continuing to pour clean water into it. “Cleanliness” represents holiness, and holiness is the premise by which we have interaction with God. “Pouring in water” means a kind of replacement and renewal. We must have the power of the Holy Spirit, draw near to God himself, rely on Him, and establish a close and truly loving relationship with Him.
There are three reasons for the hollowness of faith. The first is that believers lack knowledge of the truth. Christians do not know God’s kingdom and mission. They do not know God’s eternal plan and their own responsibility and mission in that. I do not have a clear view of the church, and I do not know that I am a part of Christ’s body. It is necessary to connect with believers and complement each other to become the body of the Lord. Without such a concept, it is difficult to have a true commitment and presence in the church. Not knowing discussions around salvation or the order of salvation (such as predestination-calling-rebirth-confession-justification-raising-sanctification-perseverance-glorification); I thought that as long as I was baptized, I already had the ticket to enter the kingdom of heaven, but I did not know that I had to take the path of sanctification.
The second point is the lack of spiritual sight and practice. Work and play will take up a lot of our time. Life is full of weeds and thorns. If we cannot keep our minds clean before the Lord, it will be difficult to meet him and establish a close relationship with him. As a pastor, sometimes I fall into another misconception, that is, I replace my relationship with the Lord with my own ministry. However, the final result of my busyness is exhaustion in my spiritual life. In addition, the church has the responsibility to give correct guidance and accompany believers in their spiritual practices, to help them implement these in their lives, and to cultivate habits and methods of spiritual practice.
The third point is the lack of promoting and leading believers to respond to the mission entrusted by God in these times. It is hard to hear a heart-gripping sermon from the pulpit today. The pastor lacks challenging believers of today, and it is hard to give a jab of what will cure this malady.. Pastors do not know the needs of the masses or what is wrong with them. They know nothing about their private lives except their life in the church. When pastors do not promote all the ministries that the church should do and guide believers to do something, believers will not do anything. Finally, the emptiness of personal belief is the alienation of the relationship between the individual and the Lord. The emptiness of the community is the indifference of the church to God’s mission and its inaction today.
- Translated by Charlie Li