Ever since the First Pretty Good Awakening (at least), a kind of conservative Protestant has looked for indications of genuine faith — such as religious affections, or unwillingness to compromise with worldliness (read holiness) — to distinguish real Christianity from one that simply goes through the motions. (The search for certainty comes in other forms. Think of the “logic” that concludes with papal supremacy as the guarantee that inauthentic Christianity won’t prevail. Then we have the politicized Protestantism that looks for public square displays of moral outrage as indicators of the real deal.)
The First Pretty Good Awakening’s brief against nominal Christianity — going through the motions — raises serious problems for means of grace (confessional) Protestants since going to church, singing the psalms, receiving the Lord’s Supper, hearing the word read and preached are the very God-ordained motions that real Christians go through. Can singing be faked? Sure. The awakeners’ answer, then, was to find some form of Christian devotion that avoided dissimulation. One of the more recent examples of this quest for authenticity was charismatic or Praise & Worship worship (redundancy intended). Here, supposedly, was a vibrant display of worship, with music that would always yield the desired spiritual vigor.
Turns out that even charismatic worship can be faked (thanks to our Presbyterian-in-exile):
The lights are dim, candles are lit, the music swells as the lead vocalist goes up an octave for the climactic end of the song, and throughout the room dozens of college students raise their hands as they sing with abandon. It’s a powerful moment in the worship service. Then the song stops. The students drop their hands open their eyes. In front of me two of the girls who had their hands raised a few seconds earlier are having a conversation about their afternoon plans. Then the music starts up again, they end their conversation, close their eyes, and throw their hands up in the air again.
The solution is not to find the next devotional fix that will show when faith is real. It is instead to abandon QIRC and be content with the means that God has ordained, and the struggles that accompany seeing only by faith.