FULL TRANSCRIPT HERE! A consideration of the view that the gift of healing ceased when the first apostles died. This message was delivered to around 100 “evangelists” gathered at King’s Church, Catford, for the ‘Newfrontiers Evangelists Summit’.
Driving through 12 road-blocks to healing today 11 May 2007
Five years ago, we began the evangelists summit in a very low key way gathering some emerging evangelists in Bedford. Probably the biggest difference between back then and now, is that, back then healing was a fairly feint blip on our radar screen, whereas now it’s somewhere between a loud blip on our radar screen and an armed nuclear torpedo.
At prayer and fasting, for example, healing and the miraculous is now something we almost always pray about. Healing seems to be the big buzz at the moment.
Now, funnily enough it was a very similar situation when I became a Christian in 1985. At that time, John Wimber had held a number of hugely significant conferences in the UK, and healing was a big focus for him, and quickly became so for us.
So for example, every week at the end of our evening service at the newfrontiers church in Wimbledon, there was a sort of informal opportunity to come forward and be prayed for for healing, and I’d go forward to pray for people or just watch. And the testimonies usually came during coffee. Someone would get on the mic, “Can I just have your attention please,” And then the sound man would rush back to the desk, and then you’d hear “Sally’s just been healed.” And then of course, because we were British, we never quite knew how to react, so there was a sort of slight smattering of applause.
But they were exciting days. And there was a preacher who would visit our church who had an amazing healing ministry, his name was Ian Andrews, and I remember going to big Ian Andrews meetings. I would take non-Christian friends to Ian Andrews meetings. I remember, my friend Bob Baker made a commitment to follow Jesus after seeing a healing at an Ian Andrews meeting at Tolworth Leisure Centre.
The books that everyone was talking about were John Wimber’s Power Evangelism and Power Healing.
And there was also a Vineyard methodology, a way of doing healing, a five step procedure, which we all followed, it started with the interview, and so on. In fact, you could actually buy Vineyard T shirts, which had lots of hand or palm prints on them, and it just said “Doing the stuff.” That was one of Wimber’s big exhortations, ‘lay on hands, let’s get involved, let’s get practical. You, yes, you go and pray for someone. God wants a healing army.’
So here’s my question, ‘whatever happened to that Wimber healing wave?’ Whatever happened to the healing army? Where did it go? I moved on from Wimbledon, but I can tell you that during the 1990s, I could go for a whole year in another newfrontiers church without hearing anything about healing, or hearing of anyone getting prayed for? Why did it take until 2004 for people like me to get active in healing ministry once more?
It seems that we got out of the habit of praying for the sick, and whatever my theological reasons for pursuing healing were, for many years they didn’t seem to motivate me to actually pursue healing.
And I can’t help wondering whether we still had some lurking doubts about healing. I know I did. And for me anyway, as this new wave has come through over the past two or three years, it has really helped me to go right back to basics, and tackle again some theological objections to healing.
Because looking down the centuries into church history, if we take a step back from the whole thing: In the 500 years since the reformation, most evangelicals have not pursued healing, and many have taught that we should not expect God to heal today. Why? What arguments did they put forward? Well, I have found my faith that God will heal today has actually increased by looking at the arguments they put forward.
And I suspect that if we are to avoid this healing wave being no more than a passing wave, we will need deep roots and strong convictions about healing today.
Because folks, if at some point now or in the future, people aren’t being healed, we could be tempted to slacken off or give up, and when the pressure is coming from the church or from the world about the unhealed, which it will do, I will need to know whether there are any biblical reasons to not go for healing. But if I’ve looked right down the barrel and if I’ve examined the opposition case, and I’ve still got no biblical reasons for quitting, I’m likely to keep going.
And if the bible really does teach that healing is for today, then the process of examining the arguments of those who oppose healing should only strengthen our faith.
So in this session I plan to tackle some theological objections to healing today, rasied by evangelicals who love Jesus just as much as any of us in this room. And so this talk is entitled:
SLIDE: Title: Driving through 12 theological road-blocks to healing.
If the Bible’s teaching on healing really does drive through all 12 road blocks, and if we really are gaining our motivation from scripture rather than experience, then nothing should stop us, and I would expect us to be as active in healing in 10 or 20 years from now as we are today, if not more so.
So let’s look at 12 theological arguments against healing today.
SLIDE: Road-block 1. Healing miracles were given to authenticate the apostles until the New Testament was completed. Now that the canon of scripture has been completed, we should not expect to see miracles.
This is the argument popularized by a man called BB Warfield that healing miracles were given to authenticate the apostles, until the NT was completed.
This is not the same as saying that God never heals anyone ever today.
Actually it’s quite hard to find a cessationist who says that God cannot and does not do any miracles today.
Here is the position of one of the world’s leading cessationist theologians, Richard B Gaffin Jr:
SLIDE: “I do not deny that God heals (miraculously) today . . . I do question, however, whether the gifts of healing and of working miracles as listed in 1 Corinthians 12:9-10 are given today.” (Richard B Gaffin Jr)
So the view is that God can and does do it, but that it’s almost a surprise when he does.
So what modern day cessationism is saying is not that miracles are impossible today and never ever happen. What cessastionists today are saying is that we should no longer be seeking what they call “the sign gifts” because we now have the closed canon of scripture, and things like prophecy, tongues and healing are no longer needed because their purpose was to authenticate the apostles until the New Testament had been written.
Now the motivation of cessationists is an absolutely excellent one. Seeing as the Reformers fought so hard for so long for the principle of “Sola Scriptura”, the cessationists are determined not to see the authority of Scripture undermined and diluted now by contemporary claims to spiritual gifts, and their main concern is prophecy.
They are really bothered by contemporary claims to prophetic gifts, because they believe the canon of scripture is threatened by prophecy today, whereas we don’t. We don’t think the Canon is in any way challenged by prophecy in the church today.
They are also really bothered by contemporary use of the term ‘apostle’, because they hold that there was something unique about the 12 original apostles. Now as it happens, we’d agree with that, and of course, we aren’t saying that anyone is an apostle today in the way that Peter was, for example.
But healing is on the same ticket as prophecy in that both are listed as spiritual gifts, and healing is linked to the apostles, because the cessationists are saying that miracles were given to authenticate the apostles in the period of the open canon before the NT was completed.
Now I think you can quite easily show that the purpose of miracles was not to authenticate the apostles. And here are five reasons:
SLIDE: i) There is no specific text of scripture that says that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were in any way a temporary thing.
There are texts that lead us to think that the gifts were for the whole church age (I’m particularly thinking of 1 Corinthians 1:7 and 1 Cor 13 which we’ll come to in a moment). So the burden of proof is most definitely on the cessationists to prove their case.
They argue from 2 Cor 12:12 which says that
SLIDE: “the things that mark an apostle – signs, wonders and miracles, were done among you with great perseverance.” (2 Cor 12: 2 NIV)
but it seems to me that this falls a long way short of proving that the purpose of miracles was to authenticate the apostles. Besides, not for the first time, the NIV translation misleads us here.
SLIDE: Sam Storms writes: “the signs/marks of an apostle are in the nominative case, whereas signs, “wonders and miracles” are in the dative. Contrary to what many think, Paul does not say the insignia of an apostle are signs, wonders and miracles. Rather as the NASB more accurately translates, he asserts that “the signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by [or better still accompanied by] signs and wonders and miracles.” (2 Corinthians 12:12 NASB)
So in 2 Cor 12:12 Paul is not saying that the way you judge whether someone’s an apostle is by whether they do miracles or not. And this translation should not surprise us because if you look at Paul’s writings as a whole, Paul argues that the signs that he is an apostle are his holy life of suffering for the gospel and the churches he’s planted, rather than the miracles he performed. And yet this is the main text that cessationists argue from, because there is no biblical author who ever says that the purpose of miracles was to authenticate the apostles until the NT was completed. And that’s the first problem for cessationists.
SLIDE: ii) there are too many exceptions.
a) What about the man in Mark 9:38-41? “Teacher,” John says, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” Jesus doesn’t reply: “What? how can he possibly have miracle power from God? He’s not an apostle. You’ve just totally blown my whole frame of reference. Go and find him, I’ve got to get to the bottom of this.” Jesus doesn’t say that, Jesus replied: “Do not stop him. Whoever is not against us is for us.”
b) Similarly, if miracles authenticate the apostles, then surely Jesus confused the issue when sending out the 72 with miraculous powers in Luke 10.
c) Anyway, what about Simon and Phillip? They are not apostles, and yet they are doing signs and wonders. This is a big problem for cessationists. We’re told twice at the start of Acts that the apostles were doing many signs and wonders, but we are then given specific examples of miracles performed by two men who were apostles (Peter and Paul) and two were not (Stephen and Phillip). If the purpose of miracles is to authenticate the apostles, Stephen and Phillip are a massive anomaly.
d) Ananias. Quite apart from all the non-apostolic people who spoke in tongues or prophesied (people such as Cornelius, Judas, Silas, Agabus and Philip’s four unmarried daughters), we also have the specific case of Ananias, who was not only used by God to heal Paul, but Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit when Ananias laid hands on him (Acts 9:17). (And while we are on Ananias, let me just comment as an aside, when I was at university, the key players in the Christian Union held that you cannot use the gospels and Acts as evidence that God heals and works miracles today because they are “transition” books. I was repeatedly told: “Acts is not prescriptive, it’s descriptive.” Yet 2 Timothy 3:16 directly contradicts this view saying that all scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking and correcting. And as the only inspired record of church history, the book of Acts is the best source we have for what normal church life should look like.) Besides, we also find examples of miraculous gifts being used by non-apostles when we go beyond the book of Acts.
e) 1 Corinthians 1:7 says that every spiritual gift was present at Corinth Community Church. 1 Corinthians 12 says that one of the spiritual gifts is “gifts of healings” Well, if the purpose of healing was to authenticate the apostles, then what on earth was God doing giving the gifts of healings to ordinary Joe Christians at Corinth? This is a problem for cessationists. These were ordinary Blue Jeans Christians at Corinth who were operating in every spiritual gift. (Parenthetically, we also have prophecy happening in Romans 12:6 and 1 Thessalonians 5:20.)
SLIDE: iii) 1 Corinthians 12:7 says that the manifestation of the Spirit is given “for the common good” and 1 Corinthians 14:26 says these gifts are “for the strengthening of the church.” So here we have a definite statement about what the purpose of spiritual gifts is, and it’s nothing to do with authenticating apostles.
We don’t know of any apostles who were present in these meetings, and we have no warrant to conclude that God no longer wants to strengthen the church for the common good through these gifts.
Sam Storms writes: “How can one argue that such miraculous gifts lost their validity and practical value in accomplishing that for which God ordained them simply because at some point in the first century, the apostles died?”
But if I am a cessationist I have to interpret the instruction in 1 Cor 14:1 to eagerly desire spiritual gifts, as something that was only relevant for a period of 45 years during the first century, between 55AD when the letter was written and 100AD by which time John, the last of the apostles was dead. Would any of the Corinthians reading this letter have drawn such a conclusion? Isn’t this sort of reductionism foreign to the New Testament?
The same hermenutic would lead us to take the command “Do not forbid speaking in tongues” in 1 Cor 14:39, as only binding for 45 years. To make that kind of call, I would surely need a specific text in the Bible that tells me that I should be interpreting scripture in such a bizarre way.
If I’m a cessationist, aren’t I forced to conclude that much of what Joel prophesied about the Holy Spirit being poured out upon all people with the resulting dreams, visions and prophecies, was actually fulfilled exclusively by a very small group of people for a period of at the very most 70 years?
However, surely the most important point of all is that . . .
SLIDE: iv) we do have a specific statement that spiritual gifts will endure until Christ returns.
Firstly, Paul says: “You do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1 Cor 1:7) but then he goes on in 1 Cor 13:8-12 to say that prophecies and tongues will continue until “perfection comes” and “we see face to face.” This is a time Paul says when “I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” These three references taken together must mean that Paul is talking about the return of Christ. So we do after all, have a definite statement that spiritual gifts will continue until the Lord returns.
Cessationists used to argue that the perfection spoken of here is the completion of the Bible, however they now seem to be in full-scale retreat on this point. Gaffin says: “to argue as some [of his fellow cessationists do] that “the perfect” has in view the completion of the NT canon . . . prior to the Paousia is just not credible exegetically.”
But the cessationists’ problem is not confined to Corinth, Rome and Thessalonica, where prophecy was happening, Galatians 3:5 tells us that God was working miracles amongst the Galatians. Why? If the purpose of miracles was to authenticate the apostles, then how can we explain the fact that God was working miracles in the absence of apostles amongst people who were in the process of deserting the gospel?
But is there an even larger problem here for cessationism?
SLIDE: v) Large parts of the NT are written by people who performed no miracles (as far as we know).
We also have New Testament scripture written by people who weren’t even apostles, like Mark, and Luke. That’s two of the four gospels. The problem gets even bigger when you remember that Luke also wrote Acts, and when you add in Jude and the anonymous writer of the letter to the Hebrews, you’ve got a large part of the New Testament that cannot be accounted for by the theory that miracles were used by God to authenticate the apostles as writers of scripture.
We could also try and turn the tables on cessationists and argue that on the basis of Ephesians 4, that apostles are given by the ascended Christ until the church reaches maturity, and that therefore there are apostles today. But let’s not get into all that, we don’t need to here.
Anyway, there’s 5 reasons we can drive through our first road block to healing. And the most important reason must be the first one . . . if cessationism were a biblical doctrine, it seems that such an important doctrine would have been mentioned in propositional form somewhere in the Bible. Yet no Biblical author suggests that scripture would ever replace miraculous phenomena in the life of the church.
SLIDE: Road-block 2. Jesus and the apostles healed automatically. We don’t see that today
Another reason some have a such a struggle with this business of healing today is because we wrongly think that “in the New Testament, healing was automatic.” We think that Jesus, Peter, Paul and the rest could automatically heal people, and we don’t see that happening today. We don’t know of anyone alive today who can just lay their hands on absolutely anyone they like and see them healed. And that again may bother us. Again we’re tempted to wonder whether God really is as keen to heal now as he was in the first century.
But if we were to read our Bibles more carefully, we’d realise that healing in the New Testament was not automatic at all. In fact, not even Jesus could heal automatically.
I want to give three examples of this, the first and best example would be at Nazareth:
SLIDE: “He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” (Matthew 13:58)
We know Jesus didn’t do as many miracles in Nazareth as he did in other towns, but we are told here that the reason was because the Nazarenes lacked faith. Jesus wanted to perform more miracles at Nazareth than he actually did. Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus “could not” (Mark 6:5) perform more miracles at Nazareth because of their lack of faith. Mark tells us that Jesus was “amazed at their lack of faith.”
If healing was automatic then Jesus would have healed the Nazarenes anyway, simply because he was Jesus. But Jesus didn’t, in fact, Mark 6:5 tells us he “couldn’t”.
It seems to me that there is a helpful analogy here with prayerlessness. God allowed the healing ministry of his son to be limited on this occasion at Nazareth by the unbelief of the people. Isn’t this something that all evangelicals accept happens all the time when it comes to prayer? Aren’t all of us are willing to accept that on some occasions God responds or alternatively limits his activity in response to our prayers or lack of them?
It seems that just as lack of faith at Nazareth proved decisive, so the presence of faith at Lystra, for example, proved decisive in Acts 14. There a man crippled from birth had been listening to Paul. Then it’s as if Paul notices that the man has faith to be healed, and then in response Paul says, “Stand up on your feet.” This is Acts 14:9-10. You get the impression that Paul was not about to heal the cripple anyway, you get the impression that Paul only did so, because faith was present. So it seems that Paul did not go around healing automatically.
In fact, we know that this is the case because Paul could not heal Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25-27) and he had to leave Trophimus sick at Miletus (2 Tim 4:20).
A second example would be the healing of the paralytic in Luke 5. This is the guy who was lowered in through the roof.
Luke begins the story by saying of Jesus.
SLIDE: “The power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick.” (Luke 5:17)
which would be a totally unnecessary statement if the power of the Lord was always present for Jesus to heal the sick.
John 5 presents further evidence . . .
Jesus visits the 1st century equivalent of a hospital, this is the pool at Bethesda, which was literally full of disabled people. And Jesus chooses to heal just one of them, a guy who’d been an invalid for 38 years.
Which immediately begs the question, if healing was automatic, why didn’t Jesus heal all of them? Jesus himself may provide the answer a few verses later when he is questioned about the healing. He says:
“the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing.” (John 5:19)
Now I personally think that the Vineyard guys may have made too much out of this verse, but at the very least the whole episode in John 5 shows that Jesus was selective. Whereas on several occasions Scripture records that Jesus healed all who came to him, here in John 5:19, Jesus most definitely picked out and healed just one man among many invalids, and this does help us to answer a question which you are bound to be asked if you haven’t been already, which is: “If God really does want to heal today, then why don’t you go and empty out the hospitals, or round up the disabled in Africa, where you could really do some good?”
Our answer can at least include the fact that here we have a biblical instance of Jesus choosing not to heal all the invalids, but just one.
In conclusion, it seems that even Jesus didn’t heal automatically. Instead he could only do what he saw his father doing.
And the apostles did not heal automatically as we’re about to see in Matthew 17.
SLIDE: Road-Block 3: “Everyone Jesus and the apostles prayed for got healed. We don’t see that in any healing ministry today.”
The objection is: “The disciples saw 100 per cent success rates, and we don’t.” So maybe these days God doesn’t want to heal as high a percentage of people as he did in the New Testament. And that would explain why we don’t see more healings today.
This argument is based on a false premise. Because, in fact, the disciples did not have a 100 per cent success rate.
After the twelve disciples have been given all authority (Matt 10:1) we find in Matthew 17 that they could not heal the demonised boy who was both suicidal and epileptic because they had so little faith (Matt 17:20). So it is undoubtedly possible to have all authority to heal and yet fail to see everyone you lay hands on healed!
Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:19-21)
This incident proves it is entirely possible that God really has given us all authority to heal even though we don’t see everyone healed. The fact that we don’t see everyone healed should not cause us to doubt whether God really wants to heal. And the fact that we don’t see 100 per cent healed should not lead us to conclude that God is less keen to heal today than he used to be.
Road-Block 4. “The quality of miracles or healings we see today is vastly inferior to the quality of miracles or healings in the New Testament.”
Let’s imagine we conceded for the sake of the argument, that the cessationists are right on this point, and we said, yes, the miracles and healings we see today are by and large inferior to those in the NT. Well, let’s be clear, that still wouldn’t prove that God has withdrawn the miraculous. There may be other reasons why God’s miraculous power is not being demonstrated, (eg. Unbelief in the church)
Now to me this seemed the strongest objection to healings today, because if you judge healings today by the standard of apostolic miracles, our healings fall well short, and this bothered me greatly, because there was an apparent inconsistency there. And I found Jack Deere’s book ‘Surprised by the Power of the Spirit’ helped me enormously on this one.
In the NT there are different degrees of healing gift.
First of all, there’s no doubt that Peter and Paul had a greater degree of healing gift than the other apostles. Acts 5:12 tells us that all the apostles did signs and wonders, but it was Peter’s shadow that God used to heal the sick. It was handkerchiefs that had touched Paul that God used to heal in Acts 19. And Luke calls these “extraordinary miracles.” In the same way, we read of Stephen and Phillip doing “signs and wonders.”
But were all spiritual gifts operating at this stratospheric level? Should we insist that they have to today, in order for them to count as genuine?
First some background considerations: 1 Corinthians 12 lists spiritual gifts given to the whole body of Christ not just apostles. As I’ve already mentioned, we find references to prophecy happening at Rome, Thessalonica and Ephesus. We find speaking in tongues in Jerusalem, Samaria, Caesaria, Ephesus and Corinth. Galatians 3:5 tells us that miracles were being done in the churches of Galatia. This sort of broad distribution of gifts is what we’d expect following Peter’s quotation of Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2 about the Holy Spirit being poured out on everyone. In 1 Peter 4:10, Peter says that each Christian has received a ministry gift, or charismata, the same greek word used for spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. 1 Corinthains 1:7 tells us that all the spiritual gifts were operating at Corinth.
Now the relevance of all this background is that we also know that spiritual gifts vary in their intensity or strength. Romans 12:6 says: “if a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.” It’s possible to have a greater gift of tongues than anyone else, at least this was Paul’s claim when addressing the Corinthians. Moreover Timothy had let one of his spiritual gifts decline in strength, so Paul encouraged him to “fan into flame the charismata of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim 1:6). So spiritual gifts do vary in their strength.
We have no trouble with this view when it comes to non-miraculous gifts. Luke says that Apollos was a preacher and teacher who was “dunatos” mighty in the Scriptures (Acts 18). Clearly not every preacher in the early church was as “dunatos” as Apollos was.
So, for all I know, a cessationist might look at one of our guest services tomorrow and say, “yeah, but in the congregation at church X, there was one disabled person in a wheelchair, and one deaf, and one blind, and none of them were healed. Yet there were two with bad backs who said the pain had gone. How can you possibly expect me to believe that whatever healing you are doing is the healing that was happening in the New Testament?”
But I think part of our response lies in the fact that our healing gift is a charismata that has not yet been fanned into the sort of healing flame that it may be in the future. In the same way, Jesus only ever commanded healings, yet in James 5, ordinary Christians are instructed to “pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Perhaps that is an example of healing going on in ordinary church life, which does not involve the laying on of apostolic hands, which is less spectacular healing than what Peter and Paul were regularly seeing.
So all this biblical data means I am no longer so troubled by the apparent inconsistency between new testament signs and wonders and the less spectacular healings that you and I may see at the moment. However the challenge for us is to fan into flame whatever healing gift we may have, so that it becomes stronger and stronger. In the meantime, I no longer think we need to be too embarrassed or apologetic while we still have our L plates on. Just because we may not see too many of the extraordinary miracles that Paul did, doesn’t mean the healings we will see tomorrow don’t count or aren’t genuinely from God.
SLIDE: Road-Block 5: “If healing is for the church age, why haven’t healings happened regularly throughout church history?”
Well let’s imagine we concede for the sake of argument that the church did lose the gift of healing. This wouldn’t be the first time, God’s people had been careless. After all, sometime after the death of Moses, the entire book of Dueteronomy got lost. It wasn’t rediscovered until around 622BC, during the reign of King Josiah in 2 Kings 22.
Every cessationist champions the doctrine of justification by faith alone, however the church lost this doctrine for more than a thousand years until the Reformation. Yet no cessasionist would conclude that God didn’t want people to hear teaching about justification by faith until Luther and Calvin came on the scene. Perhaps the same is true of healing? It’s always been available to the church, but for long periods the church has not been reading and applying the relevant scriptures, resulting in fewer healings.
The bible tells us to eagerly desire spiritual gifts. But surely many evangelical protestants since the Reformation have been disobeying this command, and if many of them taught that such gifts were no longer available, that would go a long way to explaining why the church in the West has not seen more healings.
Besides which, it’s important to remember that it is God we’re talking about here. God is not obliged to heal just to prove that he still heals today. Jesus didn’t feel obliged to do miracles in front of the Pharisees. On the contrary, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5)
In any event there are examples of charismatic gifts in every century of church history. D A Carson concludes:
SLIDE: “there is enough evidence that some form of charismatic gifts continued sporadically across the centuries of church history that it is futile to insist on doctrinaire grounds that every report is spurious or the fruit of demonic activity or psychological abberation.” (D A Carson)
SLIDE: Road-Block 6: “Miraculous activity tends to be clustered around certain time periods. In fact we see 3 time periods when miracles are common,
a) Moses and Joshua
b) Elijah and Elisha
c) Christ and the Apostles
the next one will be the end times”
The only way to investigate this argument is to go through the entire bible making a note of every single miracle. Those who have done so, have shown that contrary to Warfield’s assertion, miracles are not simply clustered in three periods of time, and even if they were, that wouldn’t prove that God has now withdrawn the gift of healing. (See Jack Deere’s “Surprised by the power of the Spirit” p253)
SLIDE: Road-Block 7: Revulsion at purported healing ministries operating today. For example, a typical objection would be: “I think TV Healing ministries tend to end up exalting man rather than God.”
Seeing spiritual gifts abused may well turn us off healing ministry. But we know for a fact that that wasn’t how Paul reacted when he came across abuses. At Corinth, we have an example of spiritual gifts being abused.
1 Corinthians 1:7 says that the church was so rich in spiritual gifts that they did not lack any spiritual gift, but the worship at Corinth was a shambles, the speaking in tongues had got totally out of control, and Paul’s verdict on Corinth Community Church in chapter 11:17 was: “your meetings do more harm than good.” I mean that’s got to hurt hasn’t it? I mean it’s bad enough to have the guy who oversees your church say, “your meetings do more harm than good,” but to have that written down in the bible forever! Ouch!
What was happening at Corinth? Well, welcome to a church where one guy is having sex with his step-mother, and the church leaders are turning a blind eye to it, in fact they are proud of it. (That’s chapter 5). Welcome to a church, which is so divided that Christians are taking each other to court (chapter 6). Welcome to a church where at the communion meal, Christians are getting drunk on the wine and scoffing all the food before the rest of the church turns up. (That’s chapter 11). And some of them are claiming there is no resurrection from the dead (that’s chapter 15).
If I was Paul, I’d be tempted to write to them, “forget about spiritual gifts, let’s try and establish a few basics here.” But Paul actually tells them to “eagerly desire spiritual gifts,” one of which he lists as “gifts of healings.” In the same way, if I’d been Paul, I would have forbidden them to speak in tongues, but Paul says: “Do not forbid speaking in tongues.”
So Paul knew how bad the abuses were at Corinth, yet rather than telling the Corinthians to ignore spiritual gifts, he told them to eagerly desire them. This is surely a clue to how we should respond to present day abuses of spiritual gifts.
We now come to other objections to healing ministry (which could be taken by charismatics)
Road-Block 8: “What if they don’t get healed, I’ll look foolish.”
Worrying about how we look is not a very effective way of getting our prayers answered. 1 Corinthians 1 tells us that God was prepared to allow his son to look foolish when he died on the cross. 1 Corinthians 4 tells us that God was prepared to make the apostles objects of derision, so if God was prepared for Jesus and the apostles to look foolish, he’s probably not too fussed about me looking foolish.
Road-Block 9: Genuine pastoral concern for the un-healed. If you pray for them and they don’t get healed, then you’ve left them not only sick, but also feeling condemned because they “haven’t got enough faith.” Raising hopes that God will heal, thus represents an intolerable cruelty.
Any healing ministry which requires psychological certainty that I will be healed, faces this problem. But Jesus did not require psychological certainty of everyone he healed. I mean what about the father in Mark 9 whose son is demonized and mute? The father brings his son to Jesus and says to Jesus: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” I mean that is not a promising start is it? To say to Jesus, “If you can do anything.” And then the man says: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” So he’s got less than total certainty that Jesus will heal.
But folks here’s the encouraging thing . . . Jesus performed the healing, anyway. Jesus didn’t say: “Me help you with your unbelief? Not likely. Your unbelief? You obviously don’t have psychological certainty. No can do sunshine. I only heal those who are absolutely certain that they’re going to be healed. No healing for you.” On the contrary Jesus did the healing anyway, he responded to the faith the guy did have. So we can be encouraged by that.
And it’s clear from the New Testament that there is no foolproof formula for healing that can be applied in a plastic way.
For example, do you remember the seven sons of Sceva? They thought they’d really cracked the formula for healing in Acts 19. I always picture the seven sons of Sceva, as a bit like Donny Osmond and the Osmonds all dressed in white suits, with perfect teeth and perfect hair, and TV smiles. So they said to a demonized man: “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” (Acts 19:13). So they got the right name, Jesus, they even got the right Jesus, in other words, the one whom Paul preaches, and they even got the right command: “come out”, but the demon didn’t come out, in fact the demon overpowered all seven of them and left them running for their lives naked and bleeding. So they arrived in white suits, and left without even their underpants. What do we learn from this episode? We learn that clearly there’s more to healing than just a slot machine formula.
I’m sure all of us agree that there is something worse than being unhealed, and that is to be unhealed and to believe it’s your fault that you’re not healed. The most desperate situation of all is to still have the pain and to believe that the reason you’ve still got the pain is because you haven’t got enough faith to believe God for your healing. And you’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel for the dear folks who are in this situation. Now this will understandably make us reluctant to pray for the unhealed, especially when we are operating in our own churches.
Now God’s man of power for the hour doesn’t face the problem as squarely as we do. No, he can sidestep it. He just blows into the local church, blows up and blows out. When people aren’t healed, he just jumps back in his car and heads to the next town for his next meeting. We, however, are local church-based evangelists, and if we’re praying for people in our own churches who don’t get healed, then, we quite rightly need to pick up the pieces, and help the unhealed go forward, and feel loved and affirmed by God and by us.
So what do we do? It’s very tempting to embrace the doctrine of what Ken Blue, who wrote an outstanding book on healing called “authority to heal” calls “Sanctification through sickness.” And the idea that God wants to bring me closer to himself through making me sick is very well established. It can be traced back to the monasteries. It’s an idea that is alive and well in churches today.
And it inevitably brings us into a discussion of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, which we’ll come to next.
But what I’d like to point out here is that there is an equal and opposite pastoral concern here, and that was brilliantly described by Francis McNutt, who wrote in 1967:
SLIDE: “When we say that God sends sickness or asks us to endure it, we are creating for many people an image of God they must eventually reject. What human mother or father would choose cancer for their daughter in order to tame her pride? . . . Those preachers and chaplains who try to comfort the sick by telling them to accept their illness as a blessing from God are giving an immediate consolation, but at what an ultimate cost! In a sense, we unwittingly treat God as something of a pagan deity, placated by human sacrifice.” (Francis McNutt)
Folks, teaching and believing that God sends sickness for our good is a difficult position to defend biblically, but my point is that it also creates problems pastorally, because what kind of God are you presenting to people?
Road-Block 10: “Paul’s thorn in the flesh is a very good example of how sickness sometimes is from God.”
The first thing I’d say is that it’s possible that Paul’s thorn was physical, in which case this objection does have real weight, but I’d want to back up and first of all say that there’s a bigger problem here, which is that we mistakenly think that sickness and suffering are one and the same thing. And in the New Testament, they’re not.
You see in English we often say things like: “I’m suffering from a heavy cold.” Or “she was doing well until she suffered a broken arm in a fall last winter.”
But in the bible, the Greek words for suffering and sickness are different, and whereas there are loads of verses that make clear God’s will sometimes for us as Christians includes suffering for the sake of Christ. In other words we most definitely are called to suffer for the sake of Christ.
There is no verse in the New Testament that says that it’s God’s will that we should be sick. I’ve spent hours searching for this verse at home, “now where is that verse that says that God wants me to be sick?” I know it’s in here somewhere. “God wants me sick, God’s plan for me is sickness. God wants to teach me a lesson by making me ill. Let me get a concordance.” It’s just not there.
The only possible contender is Paul’s thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12, and even then it is highly unlikely, given the context, that Paul was referring to a physical affliction. It’s much more likely that his thorn in the flesh was a person or a situation, and that his thorn in the flesh is a figure of speech like “a pain in the neck.”
And we so easily forget that the whole context of the passage is that Paul is saying that he is a totally unique case. Paul was given the thorn to stop him from become conceited because of the surpassingly great revelations he received. You see God had given the apostle Paul an experience that as far as we know, no other Christian has been given, either before or since. God gave Paul a day trip to heaven, and gave Paul an experience there so awesome that Paul was not permitted to tell any human being about it.
So, Question, ‘am I in the same category as the apostle Paul?’
For example, can I say that like Paul, 14 years ago I went up to the third heaven? No! 14 years ago, the closest I got to heaven was driving a Marine blue 2 litre Ford Sierra.
Have I been chosen by God, like Paul was to write a third of the New Testament? No! I’ve written shopping lists, and some extremely moving Valentine’s Cards to my wife, but I’ve not written scripture.
Have I received 5 times from the Jews the forty lashes minus one? No.
Have I been beaten with rods three times? No.
Have I been stoned? That’s none of your business.
Have I been shipwrecked three times? No.
And have I spent a night and a day in the open sea? No, the most I’ve done is 25 meters, one length of Morden Baths.
But Paul talks about his thorn in the context of listing these hardships in 2 Corinthians 11.
So to believe that God wants me sick I will have to abandon every rule of biblical interpretation I’ve ever been taught, and, on the basis of one highly unlikely interpretation of one obscure reference in Paul’s letters, I would have to choose to ignore all the hundreds of verses that clearly say that God’s will is healing. No we interpret the obscure in the light of the clear. Not the other way around.
SLIDE: 11. I am unhappy about “healing is in the atonement” because it leads to a the view that God always heals
I do believe that there is healing in the atonement, but I don’t think that necessarily means that everyone is going to be healed.
Answer – According to Benny Hinn at Manchester Evening News Arena, 2003
Answer – According to John Groves (Newfrontiers magazine April 2007)
Answer. [according to John Hosier] we know that the 2 Peter 3 quotation of the rest of that Is 53 passage should be interpreted in terms of sin, rather than sickness. Yet, as Christians, we still sin, even this side of the cross. Therefore, could it be that we are healed this side of the cross, but just as we still sin sometimes, we might also not be healed sometimes.
Finally, let me just say that the main reason why some evangelicals don’t pursue healing is because of experience, or lack of it, not theology.
Road-Block 12: Many Christians in the UK haven’t seen a miraculous healing.
It’s probably true that many or most Christians in the UK have not seen what they would call a miraculous healing. This includes many of those writing commentaries on the bible, many who lead churches and even denominations, have not seen many or any healings that they can be sure of. This is the main reason that they are not pursuing healing, because they don’t see it happening, not in this country anyway. Actually those of us in this room, have therefore a great opportunity to demonstrate God’s healing power. Who knows whether we can pioneer something with a very broad impact across the church in the UK?
Acts 4:29 might be a good prayer to finish with:
“Now Lord . . . enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:30)