Most church leaders have read the account of Peter cutting the ear of the high priest’s servant (John 18:10; Luke 22:49–50). What’s fascinating about this account is before this happened Jesus told Peter that he would deny him three times before the rooster crowed—to which Peter replied, “I’m ready to go with you to prison and [if need be] to death.” With that exchange in the picture, Peter was telling the truth, he was willing to go to prison and to death. Although it seems he doesn’t know how to wield a sword, he is ready and willing to start swinging.
Fast-forward moments later at the scene where Peter is by a fire, having quietly followed the authorities to where they were holding Jesus, and people start to peg him for one of Jesus’ disciples. The sword wielding fisherman becomes a blatant liar and denier. He swears he doesn’t know Jesus.
In a short amount of time, we see one man with two different versions of himself: brave and bold on one hand, then afraid and angry on the other. Peter, in this short span of time, experienced a crisis of faith.
In this post, I want to use Peter and this situation to define faith, describe four elements of faith, and denote where Christians in America may be experiencing a crisis of faith.
What is Faith
According to Luke, Satan had asked Jesus to sift Peter as well as the other disciples (Luke 22:31). The idea of sifting means to shake violently. The process of sifting included loosening the chaff by beating the wheat followed by winnowing the chaff by scooping it up (with something like a pitchfork) and throwing it into the air. During this process, a gentle wind would blow the chaff away while the heavier wheat would fall to the floor. Satan wanted to spiritualize this agricultural process and sift Peter and the rest of the disciples.
But what exactly is Satan sifting? According to Jesus it was their faith. Jesus says, “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32). In short, Satan wanted to sift their faith. He wanted to see how real and strong it was. Faith simply means to have confidence, to believe in, to trust in, to be committed to. In other words, Satan wants to shake violently their confidence, their belief in, their trust in, their commitment to Jesus. Satan wanted them to have a crisis of faith.
When it comes to faith, any faith, there are four elements that form the totality of one’s confidence, belief, trust, and commitment.
Element #1: Worldview
Many have offered their definition of worldview but suffice it to say that a worldview is how one frames, sees, and understands the world. One’s framework provides for them foundational data that helps them process and understand life. Theism, Naturalism, and Postmodernism are three of the major worldviews that exist today—particularly in the West.
In the passage at hand, it doesn’t seem that Peter’s worldview was under attack.
Element #2: Object
Every worldview has an object at its center. The object of the worldview is the fixed object by which all of life revolves. In other words, it is like the sun. The sun is fixed, and the planets revolve around the sun. Now this is where worldviews, even similar ones, begin to differ. For instance, there are some theistic faiths that while they worship a deity (or many deities), the deity isn’t the center or object of their worldview—they are. Any faith that has humanity working for their salvation—working and sacrificing with the hopes of appeasing and satisfying that deity—doesn’t have that deity as the center but their works. They are relying on what they do thereby becoming the center and object of their worldview.
Once again, in the passage at hand, it doesn’t seem that the object of Peter’s worldview was under attack. I think Peter legitimately believed in Jesus as Christ and Messiah. In fact, Jesus highlighted Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God,” and said “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven” (Matt 16:17).
Element #3: Purpose
Whatever or whomever is the object of the worldview establishes the purpose, goal, or mission of the faith. The purpose, goal, or mission of the faith is the ultimate aim that the faith seeks to accomplish.
This seems to be the first element by which Peter has a crisis of faith. For the Jews at this time, they believed that the Christ, the Messiah, would come and overthrow the oppressive powers that be and reinstitute and restore Israel and thus her dominance in the world. This is why Peter is so quick to draw the sword. He’s ready for battle, for war. He’s ready for this hope to become a reality. But when Jesus rebukes Peter and the two others with swords, picks up the severed ear and restores it, and willingly submits to the authorities, Peter’s purpose, goal, and mission of faith experienced a crisis. As a result, Peter’s isn’t as ready to die for this Messiah as he was the one he had in his mind.
Element #4: Ethics
The ethics of one’s faith is the result of all other elements combined. In other words, ethics enacts the right vision of life; the vision of what it means to be human taught in its worldview, by its object, and for its purpose. Included in this sphere of faith is everything having to do with morality, behaviors, and values with regards to all of life. Ethics provides you with the right direction on issues related to relationships, marriage, family, sexuality, vocation, stewardship of resources, treatment of the “other,” etc.
Because Peter misunderstood the purpose of his faith, he missed the mark ethically in living out his faith. He had picked up a deadly weapon with the intention of hurting and harming and even killing someone because he viewed them as an enemy combatant. He had chosen to lie and save his own skin rather than to identify with his suffering Savior. Never mind that Jesus, over and over through his ministry, had communicated he came to seek and save the lost, to serve not be served and give his life a ransom for many, that his kingdom is not of this world, and that he must die and be raised from the dead.
Crisis of Faith in the American Church
Peter had a crisis of faith both in his purpose and ethics. If you follow Peter’s journey, you will see him struggle with both throughout his ministry (See Acts 10 and Galatians 2). Similarly, I believe Christians in America are experiencing a crisis of faith. Let me briefly outline a few.
First, we have seen in recent years a number of prominent Christian leaders come out and say they have deconstructed their faith—either to the point of no longer believing or drastically changing or altering what they believe. In these cases, these people had a crisis of faith regarding their worldview and the object of their worldview. [Never mind that many alter and change their worldview and object to accommodate their ethics, but that’s another post for another day.]
Second, we see many conservative Evangelicals express the need to reclaim America as a Christian nation. These are culture warriors who believe their mission is to push back the darkness of the secularization of America. I too am concerned with the trajectory of the cultural (and political) climate in America. However, I don’t believe the church in 21st Century America is to have a different mission than the church in 1st Century Roman Empire. We cannot let penultimate purposes overshadow and derail the ultimate mission of the church—which is to participate in God’s mission of redeeming a people from all peoples on planet earth who reflect his glory in all spheres of life by sharing and showing the good news of King Jesus in the power of the Spirit.
This doesn’t mean that Christians and churches cannot work for the common good with the hopes of pushing back or hindering the acceleration of darkness. It simply means we watch our rhetoric and posture towards people we are ultimately called to be witnesses. Our witness for the Gospel is more important than our warrior spirit for our nation.
Third, many who claim the name of Christ are experiencing a crisis of faith around areas of ethics. There are many I could cite, but one of the more pronounced areas has to do with human sexuality. With the sexual revolution in full swing, many Christians are struggling with and even doubting or deconstructing what the Bible has to say about sexuality. To lose our biblical ethics as the people of God is to lose our distinction as the people of God. When people of faith start making accommodations for their ethics it is only a matter of time before they start making changes to the other elements of their faith—like their object and purpose.
In closing, throughout Scripture some of God’s most faithful servants had moments where they experienced a crisis of faith. Peter is a prime example. My hope is that we would be able to discern when we are having a crisis of faith and why we are having a crisis of faith and then allow the gospel through the Holy Spirit to bring correction and alignment in our life so that we may be bright and bold witnesses in a dark and dying world.