Archive for the 'Miracles' Category

Spiritual gifts sign of Christian maturity

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

Image result for question marks public domain

By Spencer D Gear

Have you ever heard Christians say things like: (1) I’m not interested in those Pentecostal-charismatics because all I hear when I enter their meetings is that hokus pokus of raving on in that tongues nonsense. (2) Those Pentecostals are into gibberish and I want nothing to do with that subjective garbage. (3) I’ve moved beyond that immature stuff to grown-up Christianity.

As John MacArthur began his exposition of 1 Corinthians 14, he stated:

I was listening to a well-known charismatic preacher this week who was saying that to receive the Spirit of God, you must receive, you must receive tongues. And he was saying, “It isn’t like you’re seeking tongues. It’s that you’re seeking this fullness of the Spirit, and tongues comes with it.” And he said, “The way to illustrate this,” and it was interesting because he didn’t really use Scripture, but he said is, “When you go to a shoe store, and you look in the window, you don’t say, ‘I’d like to buy those tongues.’ You just want to buy those shoes, and the tongues come with them.” And so he was saying that, “What you really want is to buy or to purchase or to gain the power of the Spirit of God, your spiritual walking shoes, and tongues come along with them” (MacArthur 1977).

John MacArthur (public domain)

MacArthur then gets into what he thinks is an elevation of spiritual superiority among charismatics. He wrote (remember that this is back in 1977 when he preached on this):

‘Well, what happens in this thing is you divide the church into the spiritual haves and the spiritual have-nots.  And this is the tragedy of the thing; the haves cannot help but feel a sense of superiority over the have-nots.  It’s just kind of built in.  And even though they may resist it and fight it and some may succeed, the vast majority of folks cannot help but feel that everybody else is missing something that they’re not missing.  I guess I would have to say that I’m among the have-nots, and even once in a while, I get a little intimidated about that.  But I’ve wondered if the intimidation doesn’t even reach right into the charismatic ranks.  I’m afraid that maybe some of them are intimidated.  Some of them perhaps tempted to exaggerate or dramatize or fabricate miracles because of peer pressure or the desire to also belong in the group that’s sharing rather strange and bizarre things’ (MacArthur 1977).

Miracles, tongues and spiritual maturity

Image result for charismatic worship public domain

Rev Frank Hughes Jr (public domain)

I met some of MacArthur’s kind of sentiments on a Christian forum in 2015. I had been defending a continuation of gifts of the Spirit for today and stated that in church gatherings I have heard the genuine gift of tongues with the required accompanying gift of interpretation. I have been edified and to call it ‘mad raving babbling’ is insulting to those whom God uses to manifest the genuine gifts of tongues and interpretation.

The biblical mandate is: (1) ‘Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy’ (1 Cor 14:5 ESV). (2) ‘So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor 14:39-49 ESV).[1]

I asked another person, ‘So was Paul contradicting himself because he also said: ‘Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy’ (1 Cor 14:5 ESV)?’[2] His response was, ‘Not at all. He was speaking to the Corinthians. He said, “I want you all’.[3] Then he went on to say that ‘Not at all. He was speaking to the Corinthians. He said, “I want you all”’.[4]

After this kind of interaction I encountered the reaction regarding

The test of spiritual maturity

He wrote:

It was not my intention to say that miracles indicate poor spiritual maturity.  It is my intention to say that miracles or tongues are not a test of strong spiritual maturity.  My point is that there is nothing in the Scriptures that indicate these gifts have anything to do with maturity.  If anything, Paul says these gifts do not aid in the maturity or building up of others.  This is why he encouraged prophesy.  So again, I am not saying these gifts are a sign of immaturity (if they are legitimately taking place today), but I just don’t see any evidence that they have anything to do with maturity.  That is the claim many Charismatics often make and I find it to be entirely baseless.  This brings me to a couple thoughts about these gifts:[5]

My retort[6] was that I did not know why he placed this emphasis on maturity vs immaturity when God has clearly told us this about the spiritual gifts: ‘All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills’ (1 Cor 12:11 ESV). Are we open to the Holy Spirit giving us the full range of charismata that the Spirit gives? His general emphasis in his post indicates that he is not interested in the gift of tongues being manifest by the Spirit in his life. Have I gained a correct understanding of your view?

It’s not a matter of maturity vs immaturity. It’s based on a biblical, spiritual answer to this question: Am I open to the Holy Spirit apportioning to me whatever gifts he chooses, including tongues and interpretation? I’m not hearing that he is open to the latter. He continued:

There is no indication in the NT that miracles or tongues were gifts that were given for those who sought them passionately enough.  In fact, we see tongues simply falling on people without any coaching, expectation or desire for this gift.  To say that someone does not have the gift because they don’t seek it enough tor because they do not have enough faith (which is a constant theme in charismatic circles I am aware of) finds no validation in Scripture whatsoever.  Yes, Paul wished that they all spoke in tongues, but he preferred they all prophesy.  So why are we so focused on tongues as such a meaningful gift when Paul not only indicates that not all would have this gift, but that there are other gifts to be much preferred.  Again, Paul makes it clear that not all have the gift of tongues.  And we see from the issues in the Corinthian church, that tongues is certainly not a barometer for  one’s spiritual maturity.  If anything, it has nothing to do whatsoever with maturity or faith.  I find no basis in the argument that all Christians should have a “prayer language” or should seek to speak in tongues.[7]

This is not so.[8] First Corinthians 14:1 (ESV) makes it very clear that spiritual gifts (a range has been given in 1 Cor 12-14) must be desired: ‘Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophecy’.

I am not here to validate what he considers is ‘a constant theme in charismatic circles’. When does he visit charismatic churches? How many has he attended in the last 12 months?

I’m here to discuss what the Scriptures state and I’m hearing from him a denigration of the scriptural gifts, especially of tongues. Tongues fell on people on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) but we have a different manner of manifestation given in 1 Cor 12-14 where there ‘are varieties of gifts’ (1 Cor 12:4 ESV) manifest in the local church. Speaking of the range of the gifts of the Spirit (including tongues and interpretation), Paul stated, ‘All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills’ (1 Cor 12:11 ESV). Someone does not have the gift because God has not given it to that person. However, his opposition to these supernatural gifts is a fair indication that he is providing a block in his own life that prevents such manifestations coming through him. Paul’s command to us is: ‘Earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues‘ (1 Cor 14:39 ESV).

There is no such coaching for spiritual gifts but I tell you what is needed more and that is careful exegesis of the text and exposition of passages such as 1 Cor 12-14.

He says, ‘So why are we so focused on tongues as such a meaningful gift when Paul not only indicates that not all would have this gift, but that there are other gifts to be much preferred’. Simply put, ‘One who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God’, uttering ‘mysteries in the Spirit’ (1 Cor 14:2 ESV). Surely everyone should want to speak to God in the Spirit? Well, I do. I praise God using the gift of tongues when he gives it to me. Non-charismatic churches will not allow me to do that, so I do it in my prayer time at home. ‘The one who prophecies [another spiritual gift given by the Spirit] speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation’ (1 Cor 14:3 ESV). So the gift of prophecy is clearly a manifestation among the people of God for spiritual edification. This is surely not to call such people immature but is to ‘build up the church’ (1 Cor 14:4 ESV). What does the person do who speaks in tongues? He or she ‘builds up himself/herself’ (1 Cor 14:4), which is not an egotistical ministry but one that is perfectly legitimate according to Paul.

He states, ‘And we see from the issues in the Corinthian church, that tongues is certainly not a barometer for  one’s spiritual maturity.  If anything, it has nothing to do whatsoever with maturity or faith.’ That’s his perspective. It’s not what 1 Corinthians teaches. It teaches that what was happening in Corinth was disorder (which is also in some charismatic-Pentecostal churches in my region) and they needed to get back to this emphasis: ‘But all things should be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor 14:40 ESV). That emphasis is one that should be taught to many in the charismatic-Pentecostal ranks. But the problem is not with the nature of tongues and interpretation, but with how they are being exercised in the church. Extreme examples should not deter us from biblical emphases. I don’t allow the Mormon view of prophecy to interfere with a biblical understanding of prophecy.

He said of the gift of tongues: ‘If anything, it has nothing to do whatsoever with maturity or faith.  I find no basis in the argument that all Christians should have a “prayer language” or should seek to speak in tongues’. His is not a biblical emphasis. Speaking in tongues has everything to do with maturity or faith because when a person has the genuine gift of tongues, he or she ‘speaks not to men but to God’ (1 Cor 14:2 ESV). Is that what he wants to do – speak to God?

He could possibly respond, ‘But I can do that in English’. He can, but the Holy Spirit comes upon people with the gift of tongues so that they speak to God through ‘mysteries in the Spirit’ (1 Cor 14:2). I never knew anything about such an understanding when I was a cessationist Baptist who did not believe in the charismata, including tongues and interpretation. That changed drastically for me in the early 1970s when God came upon me through a genuine manifestation of the gift of tongues where I was able to speak to God in a way that brought edification that I previously did not know.

Why are tongues and miracles not in every church?

He continues:

You still did not answer the question about your view on tongues and miracles.  If these gifts exist for the purpose of building up the local body, as you assert, why do we not see them in every local body?  Does God not want most churches to be edified?  Isn’t it the Spirit who gives these gifts freely?  Why is it that only those congregations that are coached to expect and desire these manifestations have them when this is not what we see in the NT?  Again, I am not going to try to discount any supposed prophet and his miracles.  I don’t know the man and I am not in a position to claim you or this prophet are being false.  I just simply think that if these gifts are for the purpose of the body being built up and not functional (they have a very specific function and should not be expected as a regular part of the Christian experience) then we should see them in most churches…and not just hear about them in remote places as very unusual circumstances.[9]

I think he should now have some understanding of my view on tongues. However, why are these gifts not in every local body? Simply put, if tongues were to be manifest in the evangelical Presbyterian Church my wife and I currently attend, the person would be quickly ushered out of this cessationist church by the elders. It would cause such a ruckus that the person would be told never ever to engage in that kind of thing again. Frankly, it is NOT WANTED so it is never likely to happen in that church. I’m of the view that the Holy Spirit’s ministry is frustrated, even grieved or blasphemed, when something like this happens. So, people who are open to the full range of gifts of the Spirit go to charismatic-Pentecostal churches where they will have the opportunity for the Spirit’s manifestation through the gifts.

(public domain)

I think he is excessively harsh with his statement: ‘Why is it that only those congregations that are coached to expect and desire these manifestations have them when this is not what we see in the NT’? That might be what he has seen or heard about in his region, but I have never ever been part of a charismatic-Pentecostal church that has engaged in ‘coaching’ (I find that to be pejorative language). I have been part of churches that have pursued the biblical mandate, ‘Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts…. Do not forbid speaking in tongues’ (1 Cor 14:1, 40 ESV).

He will not see the gifts in churches that are denying that these supernatural charismata should be happening. I know from personal experience that cessationist churches would censor a person who wants the supernatural gifts to function. I attend a mid-week Bible study of another denomination and the pastor has come from a South African Pentecostal denomination. He has been told by the denominational leaders here in Australia that he MUST NOT ALLOW THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS – especially tongues – TO HAPPEN IN THAT CHURCH.

Tongues as ‘ecstatic utterances’

This forum poster wanted to place tongues with ‘ecstatic utterances’.

You also did not answer my question as to your Scriptural validation that tongues is merely an ecstatic utterance and not a miraculous speaking in another human language. If tongues does exist today, I am still not convinced that what is happening in most charismatic circles meets the NT definition of this gift.[10]

I’ll start with his last comment. What I have seen in some charismatic-Pentecostal churches (not all of them that I have attended) is not consistent with the biblical manifestation of tongues and interpretation. For example, if tongues are manifest (aloud so all can hear) in a congregation, there MUST BE the accompanying gift of interpretation. Otherwise, ‘I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me’ (1 Cor 14:11 ESV). The biblical emphasis with the gifts is to ‘strive to excel in building up the church’ (1 Cor 14:12 ESV). That means there must be intelligibility – English in Australia, Spanish in Spain, Arabic in Saudi Arabia, etc. ‘Building up the church’ is a ministry of edification. Surely that cannot be described as an immature ministry!!!

I would not use the language that tongues is ‘an ecstatic utterance’ because that is not a biblical emphasis. Tongues is a divine gift of the Spirit that needs the accompanying gift of interpretation.

Tongues may be a miraculous gift in another human language, but who am I to tell God what he should do when he gives the gift of tongues? He has told us what he does: The one speaking with the Spirit’s gift of tongues – given in love – ‘utters mysteries in the Spirit’. I would never ever be so brazen as to tell God that he MUST DO IT with human languages that are spoken on this earth? I would be foolish to tell the omnipotent Trinitarian God what he must do to satisfy my inability to understand all he does through ‘mysteries in the Spirit’.

For this I pray that it will happen in more and more churches: ‘When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up’ (I Cor 14:26 ESV). One of the great tragedies of the contemporary church is that the people of God are convinced that only a handful of people – pastors, elders, teachers, etc – have gifts and most of God’s people are not allowed to function when the church gathers.

‘Crazy dog’ behaviour

I can understand some of the objections to charismatic excesses. See an example of the ‘Crazy dog man’ behaviour of the Toronto Blessing on YouTube. This pandemonium is not only shameful, but in direct conflict with the exhortation of Scripture – in the context of teaching on the gifts: ‘But be sure that everything is done properly and in order’ (1 Cor 14:40 NLT).

Further assistance

designQuiltsmall You might be interested in my explanation of a bad experience I had in a charismatic house church. See: Charismatic chaos in a Brisbane house church.

designQuiltsmall Gift of tongues is gibberish?

designQuiltsmall Does the superiority of New Testament revelation exclude the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit? Is cessationism biblical?

designQuiltsmall Can cessationism be supported by Scripture and church history?

 

Works consulted

MacArthur, J 1977. Where does the Bible end? Part 1, February 13. Grace to You. Available at: http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/1364/where-does-the-bible-end-part-1 (Accessed 1 July 2015).

Notes


[1] OzSpen#9, Christianity Board, Christian Theology Forum, ‘The Administration of Tongues’, 19 June 2015. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/21597-the-administration-of-tongues/ (Accessed 1 July 2015).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#10.

[3] Ibid., Butch5#12

[4] Ibid., Butch5#13.

[5] Ibid., Wormwood#59.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#61.

[7] Ibid., Wormwood #59.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#61.

[9] Ibid., Wormwood#59.

[10] Ibid., Wormwood#59.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 8 June 2016.

The fake and the genuine mixed in some churches: A dangerous concoction!

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Landmine Doctrine

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

I’ve been interacting with a missionary friend in a foreign country who wrote of a person from the Bethel Church who feeds 10,000 children, has established churches, and has a humble ministry of bringing healing to the black children of Africa. A film has been made about this person raising people from the dead. This person gains no money from the actions and aches as she sits in the dust with African children, preaching Christ. But she is part of the Bethel Church, Redding, CA, USA.

The question the missionary asked of me: ‘How can this person be misguided and as far from Christ as the church leaders of Bethel church’?

What does the Bethel Church teach?

Bethel Church, Redding CA

Courtesy Wikipedia

The Bethel Church, Redding, California has this teaching on YouTube where there is alleged gold dust falling. See: ‘Gold dust rains during worship at Bethel!

See also:

blue-satin-arrow-smallBethel testimonies’;

blue-satin-arrow-smallJeremy Riddle – Our Father PART 1/2 (Gold dust in the room)’;

blue-satin-arrow-smallGlory Cloud & Gold Dust at Bethel Church’;

blue-satin-arrow-smallBethel’s ‘signs and wonders’ include angel feathers, gold dust and diamonds’.

Critiques of the Bethel Church movement

Empty Words

(image courtesy ChristArt )

What are the issues with Bethel Church, Redding, California, and its teachings? There are many links to assessment of the heresy of Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Apostasy Watch:

blue-arrow-smallWarning – Bill Johnson and Bethel Church’;

blue-arrow-smallSound advice for Bethel Church Pastor Bill Johnson’;

blue-arrow-smallBob Dewaay: Bill Johnson, IHOP [IHOP], & Ancient Heresy Reborn’;

blue-arrow-smallThe dangers of the International House of Prayer’, CARM;

blue-arrow-smallBill Johnson and Bethel – Report from Redding Record Searchlight’;

blue-arrow-smallBill Johnson / Bethel Church, Redding, California’ (links to other criticisms built into the article);

blue-arrow-smallBirds of a Feather Flock Together: Strange Manifestations in ‘Christian’ Circles – from God or not? Feathers in Church? Bill Johnson of Bethel Church, Redding California’;

Let me say up front that we cannot discern a heart before God of any person, whether associated with a church teaching false doctrine or one teaching the truth. That discernment is in God’s hands. But the Scriptures give some strong indicators of what can happen.

What did Jesus say about the mixture of the fake with the genuine?

When I turn to Jesus, this is the truth that he proclaims:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt 7:21-23 NIV)

Only Jesus knows the truth of the human heart and the eternal destiny of people. It is evident from these Scriptures in Matthew 7 that Jesus did not regard good deeds and supernatural miracles to be guarantees that a person is a Christian who will enter the kingdom of heaven. It is evident that people can do many good works, perform miracles, and not do the will of the heavenly Father. It sounds strange to us, but God knows this is so. In fact, God calls these kinds of people, ‘evildoers’ (NIV) or ‘workers of lawlessness’ (ESV). So, these people are false prophets, even though they perform mighty works.

Evangelical commentator, William Hendriksen, wrote of this passage:

‘Does not all of this point to the possibility that also the demon expulsions and other mighty works of which the false prophets of Matt. 7:22 boast had been nothing but sham? Have not investigations proved again and again that among false prophets illusions, trickery, sleight of hand, etc., abound, and that what is presented as genuine is very often nothing but deception?’ (Hendriksen 1973:376).

Matthew 7:23 indicates a very high Christology. Jesus decides who will enter the Kingdom on the last day and he also decides who will be banished from his presence. That he never knew these people is because they falsely claimed him as Lord.

I find it interesting how the writer of The Didache, after the close of the New Testament, puts it this way, ‘But not everyone who speaks in a spirit is a prophet, except he have the behavior of the Lord. From his behavior, then, the false prophet and the true prophet shall be known’ (Didache 11.8). This is a good summary. One can use the word, ‘Lord’, of Jesus, allege to be a prophet and perform mighty works, and still be a fraud before Christ.

Therefore, the application to the Bethel Church is that a person can perform miracles, do other good works, but engage in false teaching and still not be a Christian who will enter the Kingdom. This does not mean that there are no genuine Christians associated with this church. That discernment is in Jesus’ control. However, ‘I never knew you’ are tragic words when they think that they are doing it for Jesus. Let’s understand that who enters the kingdom will be decided by Jesus. But here in Matt 7 there are strong indicators that good works and miracles can be associated with those who claim Jesus as Lord, but he is not their Lord. These are the penetrating words of Jesus.

I understand that we would like to think that there are those who perform wonderful deeds towards the needy, are used in supernatural miracles, but proclaim false doctrine, are misled but are truly Christian. But that’s not how Jesus sees it according to Matt. 7. I have to be true to Jesus and his teaching. It will sound harsh, but I have to answer at the end of my life to the Lord for my accuracy or otherwise with my biblical teaching. I hope people understand this. There is an attack on the truth of Scripture in the contemporary world.

Mark 9:39 states, ‘But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me’ (ESV). Those who proclaim false doctrine are speaking evil of the Lord as what they proclaim is not true.

I do not believe that miracles ceased with the original 12 apostles. See my article, ‘Can cessationism be supported by Scripture and church history?

Worm and Lace

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Which Jesus?

There is the problem we face in the twenty-first century that was also there in the first century: Which Jesus are they/we serving? Is He the one who mixes falsehood with truth, or is he the one who is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ ALWAYS?

Consider these sources of falsehood and truth. We have warnings and affirmations in Scripture:

matte-red-arrow-small ‘But test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil’ (1 Thess 5:21-22 ESV).

matte-red-arrow-small‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1 ESV).

They were there in the first century. They are here n the twenty-first century. There will be the fake performed alongside the genuine. To the human eye they may look similar, but to Jesus he is the one who discerns those who knew him and those who didn’t. This we know from his teaching: Genuine good works, genuine miracles, and false teaching do not go together. They are often mixed and Christians are to be people of biblical and spiritual discernment. Too often we are not!

Therefore, the Lord calls all true believers to be people committed to the ministry of discernment:

matte-red-arrow-small ‘But test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil’ (1 Thess 5:21-22 ESV).

matte-red-arrow-small‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1 ESV).

The challenge

Here is the challenge that you and I face, whether in an overseas country or here in my country of Australia. We are to be these kinds of Christians: ‘So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes’ (Eph 4:14 ESV). It is tempting to see those who are doing massive good deeds mixed with fake miracles, to be seen as genuine. But the false and the truth cannot be mixed and come out as genuine. That’s according to Jesus and the Scriptures.

Why don’t you take a read of this article about the teaching of Bill Johnson and the Bethel Church, ‘An Invasion of Error: A Review of Bill Johnson—When Heaven Invades Earth

Part of the problem we face in the contemporary church is that teaching the truth through sound doctrine from the pulpit and in small groups is on such a low level in many evangelical churches. Many are too interested in their contemporary worship, topical sermons, and Gospel light, to be pursuing the need to teach true doctrine and refute false doctrine.

My wife and I had an experience of that in the last 18 months when we moved to a new suburb in northern Brisbane and sought an evangelical church that proclaimed sound theology in both teaching and song. We visited 8 different churches before we found one that came close to sound teaching (expository preaching from books of the Bible) and solid lyrics in the songs they sang. Most were into rock ‘n roll Christianity in their music and songs, and light sermon content.

I emailed one pastor whom I had never met as he wasn’t there and preaching when my wife and I visited his church on one occasion. I had enquired about going to one of his cell groups locally. His response was that a cell group at his church would not be suitable for me as it was ‘more contemporary than the church service’. I had not mentioned a word to him about ‘contemporary’ anything. Obviously the one person we spoke to after the service conveyed to the pastor some of the comments we made about the service. As for solid teaching in the evangelical churches, we did not find it – except for one. But the problem with this one, which we currently attend, is that it is super-traditional in all that happens in the services. However, the pastor is a sound expositor of Scripture who is not afraid to exegete the Scriptures and provide careful interpretations of the meaning.

See my articles:

silver-arrow-smallFive ingredients of a healthy church: Colossians 4:7-18‘;

silver-arrow-smallDouble faults and no aces: Margaret Court’;

silver-arrow-smallAre the dead raised today?

silver-arrow-smallSeventh Day Adventist atonement doctrine’.

T

(image courtesy ChristArt)

References

Hendriksen, W 1973. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 April 2016.

Christianity in free fall: the Toronto blessing

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

(courtesy thepocketscroll.com)

By Spencer D Gear

I urge you to view what happens when the Scriptures are abandoned and chaos sets in. Take a read of My Experiences with the Toronto Vineyard (Rick Friedrich of Michigan)

Why wasn’t there pastoral leadership that stopped this lunacy and called it for what it was – an erroneous view of Christianity. Correcting false doctrine seems to be low on the agenda of many in the church today. What Toronto (and Pensacola) descended into was something abhorrent.

I pray for God’s leaders to become just that – men and women who are not afraid to correct and stop false doctrine. As a result, in some of these churches there is still a movement of existential nonsense when some churches gather. Sound doctrine goes out the window!

What is existentialism in religion?

clip_image001

Rudolf Bultmann (courtesy Wikipedia)

I use the term ‘religion’ because it is a far cry from the self-denial and commitment of Jesus Christ. Existentialist religion happens when experience is given a prominent place. We saw an example with German liberal, Rudolf Bultmann (AD 1884-1976), when he de-mythologised the Bible in the 20th century. In his chapter on ‘modern biblical interpretation and existential philosophy’, he wrote:

Over and over again I hear the objection that de-mythologizing transforms Christian faith into philosophy. This objection arises from the fact that I call de-mythologizing an interpretation, an existentialist interpretation, and that I make use of conceptions developed especially by Martin Heidegger in existentialist philosophy (1958:45).

See, ‘Rudolf Bultmann: A critique’, for an assessment of Bultmann’s theology.

But what is existentialism?

(courtesy www.wrs.vcu. edu)

 

Wikipedia has a lay-level article on existentialism that tries to help our understanding of what is happening in philosophy, psychology and counselling, and in the Christian churches. This philosophy, which is alive and well in many evangelical and Pentecostal churches around the world, is defined thus:

Existentialism is generally considered to be the philosophical and cultural movement which holds that the starting point of philosophical thinking must be the individual and the experiences of the individual, that moral thinking and scientific thinking together do not suffice to understand human existence, and, therefore, that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to understand human existence. (Authenticity, in the context of existentialism, is being true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.)…. Existentialists generally regard traditional systematic or academic philosophies, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience.

When applied to the church, this means that your experience of Jesus is given primary importance. Where do biblical teaching and theology fit into existentialist Christianity? Existentialism is alive and well thanks to liberal Christianity and the Pentecostal-charismatic movement.

However, there is a supposed difference. Liberal Christianity denigrates the Scriptures and has a different view of God. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

1. One assessment of Bultmann’s view was, ‘One could not know much about God, only what God did for one. (When Macquarrie urged him to follow Tillich in using the philosophy of Being to reconstruct a purified theism, Bultmann could only confess: “I myself cannot conceive of an ontological basis.”) One could not do much for God, only gamble one’s life on his reality and on his power to uphold one. One could not say much to God, only give thanks and surrender’ (Edwards 1976). Bultmann himself wrote, ‘The invisibility of God excludes every myth which tries to make God and His action visible; God holds Himself from view and observation. We can believe in God only in spite of experience, just as we can accept justification [by faith] only in spite of conscience’ (Bultmann 1958:83-84). That description automatically excludes Jesus, the second person of the Trinity as God, and his visible actions in our world.

2. How about the Episcopalian, John Shelby Spong’s, view of God? He wrote, ‘I refer here to a deity who is “a being,” not even if we claim for God the status of the highest being. I speak rather of the God I experience as the Ground and Source of All Being and therefore the presence that calls me to step beyond every boundary…. I intend to demonstrate that probing this new God-possibility begins with a search for clues in our religious past…. The limits on the theistic definition of God have been present for centuries…. The theistic God of the past was created by us and in our own image? As I have suggested in a previous book, “If horses had gods would they not look like horses?’ (Spong 2001:60-61). See my analysis of this publication by Spong in, ‘Spong’s swan song – at last!

3. Listen to Paul Tillich! ‘If God is called the living, if he is the ground of the creative processes of life, if history has significance for him, if there is no negative principle in addition to him which could account for evil and sin, how can one avoid positing a dialectical negativity in God himself?… The anticipation of nothingness at death gives human existence its existential character (Tillich 1968:I 210).

The Pentecostal-charismatic movement, at least in theory, confirms the authority of Scripture and of the Lord God Almighty as revealed in the Bible. However, I have my questions after visiting the website of this leading Pentecostal church on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Kings Christian Church (Buderim) and the outreach church that is now known as Noosa Hillsong. A friend of mine who visited this Buderim church called it an ‘ex-church’. The Brisbane Courier-Mail (April 22, 2007) described Kings Christian Church as ‘a new brand of church’ in which this could happen on women’s day:

IN A new building in the Sunshine Coast hinterland a woman spoons froth off a cappuccino. On her left, a teenager has her nails buffed while a silver-haired grandmother deliberates between shades of pearl and puce.

“I’ll take the pearl polish this week,” says the elderly woman. “And I’d love another coffee.”

It’s ladies’ day at the Kings Christian Church, west of Maroochydore, and groups of women are seated around “pampering stations”.

As Pastor Steve Penny dons a headset and prepares to take the stage, the women receive free manicures and premium coffee in the church’s new $4.5 million Champions Centre.

In this article, Pastor Penny ‘says young people expect the latest equipment’. The Courier-Mail goes on to report,

Officials expect to turn heads at the Champions Centre official opening and six-car giveaway next Sunday. The cars, which have been advertised on TV, will be handed out before free pizza and ice cream.

There will be jumping castles, buggy rides and fireworks at the “Event Spectacular”.

Pastor Penny said the giveaways were a means of expressing the church’s interest in the community. He said money spent on cars was donated by members and would ultimately come back to the church.

That sounds awfully like the advertising I wrote in my former days as a radio/TV announcer and copywriter. It is worldly thinking. How would it stack up against the emphases of Jesus’ instructions on being a Christian disciple?

There is some further information about Kings Christian Church, Buderim. The Sunshine Coast Daily reported problems with this church in 2010: ‘Residents fed up with church noise’ (20 January 2010). Part of the article read:

A MAJOR youth conference at a Tanawha church designed to instil community values in the young has instead led to a community backlash over the “deafening” live music at the event.

Unresolved, long-standing issues over the regular live music that blares from the massive Kings Christian Church, which has a congregation of about 1500 and hosts numerous events, reached flashpoint on Monday when the inaugural four-day Queensland Youth Alive Conference opened.

Fed-up nearby residents said years of complaints to the church, Sunshine Coast council and police over the “pounding bass” emanating from the church had landed on deaf ears.

Up to 600 people are attending this week’s youth conference, although it is believed the church’s huge hall can accommodate 1000 people.

“The music started at nine this morning,” one resident said yesterday.

“I feel traumatised. I’m tired … very traumatised.”

Police have been called to the Crosby Hill Road address an astonishing 17 times since 2007 – mainly because of excessive noise and traffic complaints – but said its hands were tied because council had issued the venue with a permit to stage church meetings.

Therefore, the provisions of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act did not apply, a police spokeswoman said.

Police were last called to the church on Monday night, but once again residents were left frustrated.

“I would prefer a brothel over there,” another resident said.

“A legalised brothel that was quiet would be better than this. You don’t behave like this under normal Christianity.”

James Macpherson, who recently took over as the church’s senior pastor but is currently based in Townsville, plans to meet with residents when he arrives on the Coast soon.

Mr Macpherson said the church should be a “blessing to the community”.

“So I’m happy to sit down with people and talk things through,” he said.

Jesus gave this solemn warning about the cost of discipleship. This is not the cost of emotionalism and falling over at a meeting. It is more than Christianity in free fall. Discipleship involves a serious commitment:

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26 ESV).

Related image(courtesy watchman4wales)

So existentialism and materialism are alive and well in this kind of Pentecostal-charismatic church. But also could it be catching on at Lifepointe Baptist Church, North Buderim?

Both the liberals and many Pentecostals emphasise an experience of God, but the experiences are radically different. Both can degenerate into existential encounters, one like Paul Tillich’s view and the other like the Toronto Blessing or Kings Christian Church.

Liberal Christianity and existentialism

Existentialists, in contrast to determinism and set rules or boundaries, want radical human freedom. German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, called any sort of determinism, ‘inauthenticity’. So, when human beings act freely rather than conforming to any church, conventional opinion, or the Scriptures, there is an unquestioned commitment to experience.

Erickson (1997:92) considers that experience is a presupposition, an unquestioned starting point. Erickson gave the example of Jean-Paul Sartre’s atheism: ‘There cannot be a god, for if there were, he would be a major encroachment on my freedom. I know, however, that I am free. Therefore, there is no God’.

Liberal theologian, Paul Tillich (AD 1886-1965), has tried to synthesise Protestant Christian theology with existentialist philosophy. See his Systematic Theology (1968) in which he stated:

The personal encounter with God and the reunion with him are the heart of all genuine religion. It presupposes the presence of a transforming power and the turn toward the ultimate from all preliminary concerns. Yet, in its distorted form, “piety” becomes a tool with which to achieve a transformation within one’s self (1968:II 99).

But who is his God/god? He stated that ‘”God has become man” is not a paradoxical but a nonsensical statement. It is a combination of words which makes sense only if it is not meant to mean what the words say’ (1968:II 109). He explains further,

Ground of Being http://www.doxa.ws/Being/Ground_Being.html

What liberalism does to missions

Take a read of this assessment of liberalism and missionary activities:

The relativistic scientific world view which underlies mainline liberalism finds it hard to be completely comfortable with the exclusiveness of the evangelical claim. Because of its respect for other religions, it is at best ambivalent about evangelization of non-Christians. Its witness is necessarily unaggressive witness, and it is far more comfortable with social witness (Hutcheson 1981).

Now look at the impact on missions when theological liberals are compared with conservative, evangelical organisations (in Erickson 1997:13):[1]

Number of foreign missionaries under appointment 1972 1988
Group A: Liberal in theology

1. American Baptist Churches

2. Episcopal Church

3. United Church of Christ

4. United Methodist Church

5. United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

 

262

165

244

951

604

 

179

72

214

416

435

Group B: Conservative Christian organisations

1. Evangelical Foreign Missions Association

2. Interdenominational Foreign Missions Association

3. Wycliffe Bible Translators

4. Southern Baptist Convention

 

 

7,074

6,130

2,220

2,507

 

 

9,000+

8,000+

2,269

3,839

Where are the sound doctrine and discernment promoted by these church leaders?

I’m saddened to speak like this, but we are called upon to uphold sound doctrine which comes from Scripture itself and not some existential experience. It is certainly true that those who repent of their sins and turn in faith to Jesus Christ alone for salvation, experience new life in Christ. See, ‘The content of the Gospel’.

The promotion of sound doctrine means that false teaching and ungodly manifestations will be stopped by church leaders.

What happened in that video above (Toronto ‘Blessing’) and what is happening in liberal and Pentecostal churches causes me to be ashamed to identify with a Christianity that will allow that kind of manifestation.

Related image(courtesy www.liveleak.com)

 

Where are the people of discernment in these ‘churches’? This is biblical Christianity:

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound [healthy] doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV)

AND

“Teach what accords with sound [healthy] doctrine” (Titus 2:1 ESV).

In the midst of Paul’s teaching on the gifts of the Spirit, he stated:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2 ESV).

Then in 1 Corinthians we have this need when the gifts are manifested:

So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church (1 Cor. 14:12 ESV)

AND

Let the others weigh what is said (1 Cor 14:29 ESV)…. For God is not a God of confusion but peace (14:33)…. But all things should be done decently and in order (14:40).

When Toronto descended into what we saw on the video, we have the Word of God being violated because the people (especially the leaders) refused to implement what was taught in 1 Corinthians 14 and Romans 12.

Are we seeing here the fulfilment of 2 Timothy 4:3 and the movement away from sound or healthy teaching to accommodate people with itching ears? Could ‘itching ears’ include hair cuts, nail manicures, swimming pools and gyms?

I pray that Christian leaders will take the Scriptures seriously and stop this chaotic existentialism that happens in far too many churches. It is still going on around the world. I am a supporter of the continuing gifts of the Spirit, but I cannot promote this unbiblical chaos and movement away from sound teaching to existentialism and/or materialism – all in the name of the church.

Works consulted

Bultmann, R 1958. Jesus Christ and Mythology. London: SCM Press Ltd.

Edwards, D L 1976. Rudolf Bultmann: Scholar of faith (online). Christian Century, September 1-8, 728-730. Available at: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1827 (Accessed 13 June 2012).

Erickson, M J 1997. The evangelical left: Encountering postconservative evangelical theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Hutcheson Jr., R G 1981. Crisis in overseas mission: Shall we leave it to the independents? (online) Christian Century, March 18, 290-296. Available at: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1740 (Accessed 12 June 2012).

Spong, J S 2001. A new Christianity for a new world: Why traditional faith is dying and how a new faith is being born. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Tillich, P 1968. Systematic theology (combined volume of 3 vols). Digswell Place, Welwyn, Herts [UK]: James Nisbet & Co Ltd.

Notes:


[1] Erickson (1997:13, n. 1) gained this information from two mission handbooks: Missions Handbook: North American Protestant Ministries Overseas (1973) and Missions Handbook: USA/Canada Protestant Ministries Overseas (1989).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 November 2015.

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DIVINE HEALING: IS IT FOR EVERYONE?

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

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(image courtesy ChristArt)

Psalm 103:2-3 (ESV):

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits,

who forgives all your iniquity,

who heals all your diseases,

No other agency on earth has been able to match the Church’s record of success in caring for the sick and afflicted. How many atheistic hospitals do you know about? How many Buddhist hospice’s have you discovered? At a time when Western culture desperately needs the church’s ministry of healing, it is the charismatic-Pentecostals who proclaim it regularly but it is almost absent or invisible in most churches of evangelical persuasion.

Western health-care has become one of the most secularised fields in the modern world.

Yet because of the cross, Pentecost and the gifts of the Spirit, the healing ministry is available in and through the church.

“It is an astonishing fact that the early Church won the population of the Roman Empire to Christ, at the rate of half a million converts every generation, while it was still a persecuted and illegal sect… Theologian John Jefferson Davis tells us: ‘The high moral standards of the church and its demonstrated compassion for the less fortunate were important features of its life that attracted outsiders. . .’

“Less well known today is the fact that the demonstrated ability of early Christians to exorcise demons constituted a powerful weapon in its evangelistic arsenal. . .

“The Church either has the dynamis of the Spirit or she does not. . .

“We must insist that Biblical, orthodox Christianity includes exorcism and healing, in a proper balance with worship and the Church’s ministries of teaching, evangelism, and charity. This is certainly the testimony of the New Testament. And it is witnessed by the historic Church as well” (Chilton 1987:160-161).

I. A BRIEF THEOLOGY OF HEALING

The basis for divine healing is not all that complicated. Read Isaiah 53:3-6 and Matt. 8:16-17.

A. Healing in the Redemptive Work of Christ

Please note that I will not use the statement, “Healing is in the atonement.” This is very deliberate because when we say, “Healing is in the atonement,” we are tempted to put it on the same level as salvation. “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (I do not believe in limited atonement.) But whoever intercedes for divine healing may or may not be healed. Why is this?

There are two main camps in this discussion:

1. Healing is available on the same basis as forgiveness.

Therefore, all Christians should experience immediate healing for every sickness, the same way they experience forgiveness.

2. Christians are not always healed; therefore, healing cannot be in the redemptive work of Christ.

Both sides are partly right and partly wrong. The problem lies with this kind of misconception: healing in the atonement automatically implies perfect physical health for every Christian who asks for healing. Because many Bible teachers and preachers have adopted this point of view, they have brought confusion, bondage for believers, and have hindered God’s people from receiving the blessing of physical healing.

See my article, ‘Should God heal all Christians who pray for healing?

3. An examination of Isaiah 53:3-12

  • This is a prophetic passage concerning Christ’s crucifixion.
  • Two human problems stand out in this passage: sin and sickness.
  • Verse 3 prophetically refers to Jesus as a man of pains and sickness. (There is no indication in Gospels that Jesus was ever in any kind of ill health until 24 hours before his death. e.g. Gethsemane, Luke 22:44.)
  • Psalm 22:1-2, 6-8, and11-18 further describe the physical and emotional aspects of Christ’s overwhelming pain and sickness in prophetic expectation.

Why did Jesus have to suffer such pain and sickness? Isaiah 53 says that he took our infirmities (sicknesses); it is our pain he has borne. He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him. By his wounds we are healed.

From this passage it is clear that sin and sickness are borne by Christ on the cross in exactly the same way. I cannot see any other conclusion from this passage.

T.J. McCrossan (1982) in his book, Bodily Healing and the Atonement, wrote:

“In Isaiah 53:4 we read, `Surely He [Christ] hath borne our griefs (kholee–sickness), and carried our sorrows (makob–pains).’ Kholee is from chalah–to be weak, sick, afflicted. In Deuteronomy 7:15 we read, `The Lord will take away from thee all sickness’ (kholee). This word is translated sickness in Deuteronomy 28:61; I Kings 17:17; 2 Kings 1:2; and 8:8. Makob is translated pain in Job 33:19: ‘He is chastened also with pain (makob).’ In Jeremiah 51:8 we read, `Take balm for her pain (makob)'” (1982:17).

When Matthew refers to this passage he uses the words infirmities and diseases (Matt. 8:16-17, NIV; illnesses and diseases, ESV). He then connects the passage with Jesus’ healing ministry while here on earth. They are not griefs and sorrows as in KJV, but illnesses and diseases (ESV).

What does it mean that Christ has borne (nasa) our sicknesses and pains? It is interesting that the same word is used in both Isa. 53:4 and 53:12, “he bore the sin of many.” The Hebrew word, nasa, means to bear in the sense of “suffering punishment for something” (Sipley, 1986:115-116).

A.J. Gordon wrote:

“The yoke of His cross by which He lifted our iniquities, took hold also of our diseases. . . He who entered into mysterious sympathy with our pain–which is the fruit of sin–also put Himself underneath our pain, which is the penalty of sin. In other words the passage seems to teach that Christ endured vicariously our diseases, as well as our iniquities” (n.d., pp. 16-17).

Andrew Murray’s interpretation was:

“It is not said only that the Lord’s righteous Servant had borne our sins, but also that He has borne our sicknesses. Thus his bearing our sicknesses forms an integral part of the Redeemer’s work, as well as bearing our sins” (1934:99).

However, I Peter 2:24 seems to be in the context of bearing our sins for salvation, not sicknesses for healing.

B. Practical Outworking of Healing in the Church

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(image courtesy ChristArt)

1. I Corinthians 12:4-14: “gifts of healings” (v. 9)

The risen Christ has given gifts to his church (Eph. 4:7-16). Healing is supposed to be a normal part (not to be over-emphasised or an exaggerated part), but a normal part of the on-going life of the church.

There’s a controversial passage at the end of Mark’s Gospel. The early church, after the Gospels were written, believed that one of the “signs” of the believing community was healing. Mark 16:17 (ESV) reads: “They will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” Please note, that I do not accept that Mark 16:17 is part of the canon of Scripture.

However, William Hendriksen’s words provide a wise assessment:

“What, then, must we think of Mark 16:9-20, that is, of the ending? It is an interesting summary of some of the appearances of the risen Savior and of his subsequent ascension and session at God’s right hand. As such it is instructive, for it shows us an early church view – how extensively held cannot be precisely indicated – of these matters. To the extent in which this ending truly reflects what is found elsewhere inside the covers of our Bible it can be described as a product, however indirectly, of divine inspiration. Since it would be very difficult – perhaps impossible – to defend the thesis that every word of this ending is without flaw, no sermon, doctrine, or practice should be based solely upon its contents” (1975:687).

God can and does heal in answer to the prayers of the humblest believer.

2. James 5:14-16. “The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.”

In most normal circumstances, God has directed Christians to be healed through the ministry of elders of the church. Compare Mark 6:12-13.

a. God deals with his people through church eldership ministry.

This is God’s usual way of healing. Anointing with oil is part of the regular pastoral ministry of church elders. Some might say,” What if I don’t have the gift of healing?” That is not the issue. If a person has been chosen (ordained?) as an elder, we know he or she has been divinely gifted to engage in a ministry of healing. The gift goes with the ministry of the elders. The Biblical teaching is straight forward: Elders are involved in the healing ministry.

Can God heal in answer to an individual’s prayer? Certainly! See Phil. 4:6-8; I Thess. 5:17.

b. What is the prayer of faith?

1) It does not refer to positive confession (blab it and grab it). This is forcing the hand of God and is grossly presumptuous, manipulative and has occult overtones. It ignores our need for humility and brokenness before God and, even worse, it also ignores the infinite, sovereignty of God.

2) It is not “claiming the promises.”

Many people think you can choose any Scriptural promise, take it to God in prayer, and claim the answer from God. i.e. He must answer our prayers and give us what we ask. Serious problems with this approach include:

  • Is the Scripture really a promise at all?
  • Have we met the conditions God places on it?

3) The prayer of faith is not “obeying the Word.”

It is extremely important to obey the Word of God, but such obedience is not the prayer of faith.

4) Mark 11:22-23 tells us what the prayer of faith is.

How can I have the faith of God? It seems as though it is only by God Himself bearing witness in your heart (inner spirit). If it is God’s faith, it must be God Himself thinking His thoughts through my mind with His own certainty. How does this happen?

I suggest that it happens when my will is in total submission to God and my spirit is open and sensitive to the Spirit of God. It happens in God’s own timing as the elder waits on the Lord. It may happen the first time I go to the Lord; other times it may take many times—persistence. It may happen as I search his word, wait in prayer, or go about my daily duties.

Sipley wrote:

“But when God knows all things are as He wants them, then `a word from Christ’ will be spoken in my heart. I will know what God wants me to do. I will know how God intends to fulfil His promise of divine life in me. I will experience the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, setting me free from the law of death (sickness) in my body. I will not need to try to make myself believe. I will have no doubt. I will be able to pray the prayer of faith for myself or others, and the life of Christ will triumph over sickness in the manner God sees as best” (1986:124).

c. This ministry is performed in connection with confession of sins (James 5:15-16).

It may be sickness because of sin, but not always. See I Cor. 11:30. The effects of unconfessed and unforgiven sin are pervasive throughout people’s lives. People need to confess their sins to the ministering elders and to those whom they have wronged.

God may grace the church with those who are especially gifted in praying for the sick and God uses them for healing. But such a ministry must be carried on within the structure of the local church, never in opposition to or in competition with the local church. There have been gross abuses because of the ministry of “lone ranger” healers or fraudulent healers.

David Chilton says “there is not a shred of evidence, either in the New Testament or Church history, for the independent professional miracle-worker” (1987:165). The freelance healer is not a biblical option. However, a believer may be given “gifts of healings” (I Cor. 12:9, note the two plurals), through gifts of the Spirit in the church. God’s supernatural ways of healing the sick are available today. They are just as relevant as the gift of “faith by the same Spirit,” “prophecy,” or “ability to distinguish between spirits,” etc.

I am reminded of Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV), “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

This is a clear indicator that there will be sham perpetrators of God’s gifts during the church age. However, the counterfeit should serve to point to the genuine, just as counterfeit money would not make sense if there were not the real to imitate.

C. Does God always heal?

God does not always answer our prayers by healing the sick. We must always remember that God is sovereign. “He does whatever he pleases (Ps. 115:3). He is not a genie who does as we tell him. He knows that is best for us. He is the Almighty Lord, the sovereign Creator and planner of all that is good. He is perfectly free to answer us in the way he chooses.

“One of the most important lessons of the Book of Job is that the world does not revolve around man and his perceived needs. The world revolves around God and His plans; the universe exists for God’s glory and pleasure. And God’s purposes transcend our lives, our problems, our hopes and dreams. It can be a bitter pill to swallow, but we haven’t gotten to first base yet if we fail to realize that people don’t come first. God comes first. . God’s ultimate answer to Job boils down to the simple fact that God is God, and Job is not (see Job 38-41)” (Chilton, 1987:168).

The fact that I suffer with sickness is no argument against the justice or mercy of God. If he denies my request for healing, I must rest in the knowledge that I am suffering according to His will. The very same Book of James that teaches on healing, also teaches on the benefits of suffering. See James 1:2-4:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (NASB).

The modern evangelical heresy that godly people are free from suffering was unknown to the Apostle Paul. Suffering, an evil in itself, can have beneficial, sanctifying effects under the providence of God.

Read Psalm 119:67-71; 2 Timothy 4:20 (“I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus,” didn’t embarrass Paul); Acts 9:16 (fulfilled in 2 Cor. 6:3-10; 11:23-33); 2 Tim. 2:9, 12; 3:12; and I Peter 4:19.

Prayer is nothing more than a request from children to their Father. The power belongs to the Father. The power is not in the request itself or in the person who makes the request.

We must remember the emphasis of Psalm 116:15 (ESV), “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” We will die unless Jesus returns before then.

At some point our prayers will not help because the time has come for our body and spirit to be separated to await resurrection on the last day. God’s ultimate will is not to keep everyone reasonably healthy in this life. Rather, it is to bring all of us, body and soul, into the fullness of the New Creation.

D. What about medicine?

Is it sinful to use “natural” or “human” means to restore health? Certainly not — as long as we do not fall into the same trap as Asa did in 2 Chron. 16:12: He “did not seek the Lord, but the physicians” and so died.

We must realise that all health is given through the work of the Holy Spirit. No doctor has the ability to heal. Dr. Luke is called “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14). Paul told Timothy to “use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities” (I Tim. 5:23). There is no hint here that Timothy was living in disobedience or lack of faith.

We need to use medicine prayerfully. It is Christianity that has brought the blessings of modern science and medicine. Modern medicine has its problems and limitations, but it is light years ahead of anything produced by witch doctors.

George Grant wrote:

“The advancement of modern medicine has a direct correspondence with the advancement of the Gospel. Christian nations are havens of medical mastery, guarding the sanctity of life” (in Chilton, 1987:167).

“Guarding the sanctity of life” is being flaunted today with the promotion of abortion and euthanasia.

For over a thousand years Christian churches and monastic communities were the only agencies involved in ministry to the sick. Christians built hospitals and staffed them. They did this while bathing the ministries in prayer. This is a dilemma for the rationalistic atheist. For Christians, it is just being faithful to God’s word. The godly farmer plants, waters, fertilises, prunes, fights off pests and predators – and prays for God to bring the harvest.

So, we can pray for healing (some may be gifted with a ministry of healings, I Cor. 12:9); the elders can pray and anoint with oil (James 5:14-15); we can take medicine. But it is God who proclaims, “I am the Lord, your healer” (Ex. 15:26). He heals according to His good and perfect will.

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(image courtesy ChristArt

References:

Chilton, D. (1987). Power in the Blood: A Christian Response to AIDS. Brentwood, Tennessee: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1987.

Gordon, A. J. (n.d.). The Ministry of Healing. Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, Inc.

Hendriksen, W. (1975). The Gospel of Mark (New Testament Commentary). Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.

McCrossan, T. J. (1982). Bodily Healing and the Atonement. Tulsa Oklahoma: Rhema Bible Church.

Murray, A. (1934). Divine healing. London: Victory Press.

Sipley, R. M. (1986). Understanding Divine Healing. England: Scripture Press Foundation (UK) Ltd.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 April 2016.

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The youth God squad and healing

Friday, April 27th, 2012

clip_image002Courtesy The Australian

By Spencer D Gear

The Australian newspaper (story from the Sunday Mail) reported on ‘Teen God squad Culture Shifters’ miracle cure claims’ (April 15, 2012). The account began:

CHILDREN as young as 13 claim they have instantly healed hundreds of people using the miracle powers of Jesus on Queensland streets.

The Pentecostal group Culture Shifters in Queensland says it has healed people suffering from cancer and multiple sclerosis and is developing a large youth following.

Children from the group have been approaching people at random on the street, prompting alarm from parents and warnings from doctors for the sick to seek medical attention.

“Anyone who has a medical condition should always seek advice from their doctor,” Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dr Richard Kidd said.

Leaders, aged in their teens and 20s, claim they have also healed an entire football team’s injuries, given hearing to a deaf woman and brought sight to a girl’s blind eye.

What is the verification for this kind of healing? Have the football team’s injuries been checked by a medical practitioner to confirm that the healings are legitimate? What about the healed deaf woman and healed blind eye? How do we know they are valid healings?

The story went on to say that this 160-member group of Culture Shifters is from Christian Outreach Centre, Bridgeman Downs (a northern Brisbane suburb) and is led by Grant Shaw, 27, and his wife, Emma, 23.

It claimed these Culture Shifters were even talking to teens in busy places like the Chermside Shopping Centre.

Some live action

If you want to see these people in action, live, see the report on Today Tonight, ‘Teenage God squad’ (Yahoo!7 News). Viewing these images caused me some concern. It is typical of some of the scenes I have seen in Pentecostal and charismatic churches with people falling and lying spread out on the floor after ‘falling under the Spirit’.

My concerns

Here are some of my concerns:

  1. It is rare for the mass media to report in an accurate and sympathetic manner in most ordinary circumstances with the church. Viewing something as extreme as this is hardly going to attract balanced journalism, in my view.
  2. The mass media can give Christianity a bashing on too many occasions. See ‘Gay rights protest outside Court’s church’; ‘Sometimes. love, even if a gift from Jesus, is not good enough’; ‘Sunday nights with John Cleary: Bishop Shelby Spong’. Therefore, with the Culture Shifters (Teen God squad) there could be a possibility that the media have taken a true event and given some media spin to make it sound like the deluded fanatics are involved in this event.
  3. From the news item and the TV program, there is no way to know if the media are reporting accurately. However,
  4. As a former Assemblies of God minister and Bible college teacher, I can say that I’ve seen some fruit-loopy things happen in the name of being ‘slain in the Spirit’. I have to admit that some of what I’ve seen could have involved another spirit.
  5. I have known a very few people associated with various Christian Outreach Centres and have found them to be reasonable, committed evangelical Christians who love the Lord and are available for the Lord’s ministry through the gifts of the Spirit. They are sane people whose relationship with Jesus is sound.
  6. By the very nature of Pentecostal-charismatic churches, we can expect to see some extreme behaviour – depending on the extent to which the pastors and elders maintain the biblical requirement, ‘But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way’ (1 Cor. 14:40 NIV). We have seen out-there behaviour associated with the alleged Toronto Blessing and the Brownsville Pensacola Outpouring.
  7. However, charismatic manifestations have extended to other churches. An example locally to me is Burpengary Baptist Church (northern Brisbane).

What we need

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ChristArt

Part of the problem, as I see it, is the need for verification of what they are doing in a very secular Australia. I do not find anywhere in Scripture where God promises physical healing to all who are prayed for. The secular media love to report failures. Is doing this on the streets risky and could it give false hope? Also, Today Tonight reported that it has not seen any certificates to verify the healings. This is a valid request.

I believe in the God who can heal, but we must never order him when to do this. He’s the sovereign Lord. What do secular people think when they are prayed for and nothing happens?

This raises another issue. It seems to me that the Scriptures teach that the ministry of healing is to be within the church and not taking it to the secular mainstream. The gifts of healing (1 Cor. 12:9, 28, 30) and praying for the sick, anointing with oil (James 5:14) are church ministries within the church. There are good reasons why the Lord has made it this way in a pastoral, caring environment where there also is further support.

Was healing ever an evangelistic tool after the Lord’s resurrection? I know some will turn to Mark 16:15-18 where proclaiming the Gospel is associated with ‘these signs will accompany those who believe’, including laying hands on the sick and they will recover (v. 18). However, Mark 16:9-20 is not in the earliest Greek manuscripts and some other early Greek NT witnesses that we have. It could have been an insertion that was not in the original documents. However, it does seem to indicate that this was an example of the continuing ministry of the church after the death of the apostles.

To address this textual issue, I commend, ‘Irony in the end: A textual and literary analysis of Mark 16:8’.

Conclusion

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ChristArt

The gifts of the Spirit do continue into the 21st century. See my articles,

We need to take seriously the exhortation of Scripture to ‘weigh carefully’ the content of the gifts of the Spirit. The ‘weigh carefully’ message was particularly related to the gift of prophecy. See my article, ‘1 Corinthians 14:29: Weigh carefully’.

There is no way to know if the healing ministry of the teen God squad of the Culture Shifters is genuine without verification of the reality of healings. There is a danger that a wrong emphasis can be given to secular people when there is prayer for healing and no healing takes place. God’s gift of healing is sovereign and according to his will. See my article, ‘Should God heal all Christians who pray for healing?

Care must be taken to avoid Pentecostal extremes. However, the mass media are not likely to deliver a balanced view of what is happening. Extreme behaviour will attract the media, but balanced treatment can’t be expected from the secular journalists. They have a different agenda. When God heals, it is designed to bring glory and attraction to the Lord.

‘But all things should be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor 14:40 ESV)

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

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St. Augustine: The leading Church Father who dared to change his mind about divine healing

Monday, April 16th, 2012
Augustinus 1.jpg
St Augustine of Hippo (image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD [1a]

She was “a woman of the highest social standing in her community,” but disaster had struck. She was dying from a disease that would not respond to any known medical treatment. Two choices were available to her: she could have surgery, or she could accept no treatment. Either way, death was inevitable.

On the advice of an eminent doctor who was a family friend, Innocentia chose to refuse treatment for her breast cancer. But that doctor didn’t realize this godly woman had access to resources he knew nothing of.

In a dream she was told by the Lord to “wait on the women’s side of the baptistry until the first of the newly baptized women would approach, and then ask her to make the sign of Christ on the affected breast.”  She was instantly healed.

The doctor was amazed. His previous examination showed clearly that the tumor was malignant. What special treatment had she received?  He was anxious to hear about the miracle medication.

When he heard her story, his lips and face expressed nothing but contempt, and she was afraid that he was going to begin blaspheming against Christ. The doctor controlled his anger, but sarcastically said, “I had hoped you might have told me something significant.”

Innocentia was shocked by the doctor’s attitude, but her reply was prompt and penetrating: “Well, for Christ to heal a cancer after He raised to life a man four days dead is not, I suppose, particularly significant.”

What makes this testimony of God’s healing power so remarkable is that Innocentia lived in the fifth century when medical science was in its infancy. Anesthetics had not been invented to give to patients before surgery.

Even more profound is the fact that the one who told this story was Augustine, the famous bishop of Hippo in northern Africa and he had believed miracles did not happen in the age in which he lived. This is one of the classic illustrations of the man who dared to change his mind about healing.

Augustine had a Madison Avenue flare. He was “positively angry” that such a great miracle had not been publicized across the city of Carthage. Innocentia had been so silent about the incident that even her closest friends “had heard nothing of the affair.”

Augustine made her tell her story in detail “while her friends, who were there, listened in immense amazement and, when she was done, glorified God.” [1b]  The important question is: What caused Augustine to change his mind about miracles?

A. The doubter becomes a believer

This famous bishop and theologian of the church was a man with a checkered career. Before his Christian conversion he was wild and reckless.  He  indulged  in  drinking, cheating, stealing, and all kinds of illicit sexual activities. To use his own words, he was “a slave to sex rather than a lover of marriage.” [2]

But he was a searcher for truth. At the age of 32 his life was dramatically transformed through an encounter with Jesus Christ.

Augustine became the most important  Christian  writer and preacher of his time. His teachings profoundly affected the church for about a thousand years. “Salvation by grace alone” was the foundation of his ministry, preparing the way for the Protestant reformers in the 1500s.

Like many people today, Augustine had a problem with the supernatural. He knew that the miracles of Jesus were real, but he had doubts about whether they could happen in the day in which he lived. He believed “miracles were not allowed to continue till our time, lest the mind should always seek visible things.” [3]

But about four years before his death he changed his mind: “What I said is not to be interpreted that no miracles are believed to be performed in the name of Christ at the present time. For when I wrote that book, I myself had recently learned that a blind man had been restored to sight in Milan . . . and I knew about some others, so numerous even in these times, that we cannot know about all of them nor enumerate those we know.” [4]

Augustine the doubter once questioned: “Why, you ask, do such miracles not occur now? Because they would not move people, unless they were miraculous; and if they were customary, they would not be miraculous.” [5]

Later he revised that statement: “I meant, however, that such great and numerous miracles no longer take place, not that no miracles occur in our times.” [6]

B.  Why the change?

At the close of one of his most influential writings, The City of God, Augustine tells of a man who was healed of gout; another was instantly cured of paralysis and hernia; evil spirits were driven out of others by prayer. [7] A youth whose eye had been dislocated from its socket and severely damaged, had his sight restored to perfect condition through the prayers of the believers. [8]

A child, dying after being crushed by an ox-drawn cart, was miraculously “returned to consciousness, but showed no sign of the crushing he had suffered.” [9]

The son of Augustine’s neighbor died, “The corpse was laid out; the funeral was arranged; everyone was grieving and sorrowing.” A friend of the family anointed the body with oil. “This was no sooner done than the boy came back to life.” [10]

In his latter years this prominent church leader was witness to, or heard about, demonstrations of God’s supernatural power that were reminiscent of the New Testament church. He had to admit: “If I kept merely to [telling of] miracles of healing and omitted all others. . . I should have to fill several volumes.” [11]

What caused the dramatic turn around in his beliefs? Augustine explains that it came about when “I realized how many miracles were occurring in our own day and which were so like the miracles of old, and how wrong it would be to allow the memory of these marvels of divine power to perish from among our people. It is only two years ago that the keeping of records was begun here in Hippo, and already, at this writing we have nearly seventy attested miracles.” [12]

In spite of initial skepticism, Augustine faced honestly what was happening in his parish. He had to admit that God was at work in the power of the Spirit because of what he saw. To other doubters he recommended: “At least, such people should investigate facts and, if they find them true, should accept them.” [13]

For Augustine, the transformation in his thinking was amazing. “It is a simple fact, then, that there is no lack of miracles even in our day. And the God who works the miracles we read of in the Scripture uses any means and manner He chooses.” [14]

But for Augustine, miracles were not sent primarily by God to relieve pain (although that was a benefit), or to create a spectacle that would attract crowds, or to provide stories that would make a national best-seller. “Miracles have no purpose but to help men believe that Christ is God.” [15] Miracles demonstrate that Jesus Christ is alive and well – they validate the resurrection. He said “the miracles were made known to help men’s faith.” [16]

The miracle that left the most lasting impression on Augustine and his congregation was one that took place in their church one Easter weekend. “It was no more remarkable than others . . . but it was so clear and obvious to everyone that no one who lives here could have failed to see it, or, at least, to hear about it, and certainly no one could ever forget it.”

A brother and sister who were both suffering from convulsive seizures came to town. “Throughout the city they were a spectacle for all to see.”

On Easter morning before the service, the young man was in the crowded church when he fell down as if in a trance. Fear swept across the congregation. But in a moment the fellow stood to his feet and faced the congregation, perfectly normal and well.

The believers erupted in a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord. Many reported the events to Augustine, and there was a striking similarity in all of their stories: the Lord had performed a miracle before their eyes.

Three days later Augustine stood before the congregation with the brother and sister (he was well; she was still trembling with convulsions), and read the young man’s statement of healing.

The sermon that followed was interrupted by loud cries from the woman who was praying in desperation about her condition. God answered her prayer at that moment. She had the same experience as her brother, fell to the floor as if in a trance, but rose to her feet healed.

Augustine described the scene that followed: “Praise to God was shouted so loud that my ears could scarcely stand the din. But, of course, the main point was that, in the hearts of all this clamoring crowd, there burned that faith in Christ for which the martyr Stephen shed his blood.” [17]

C.  Implications

Why is Augustine’s change of mind about healing so significant? First, there are many fine Christians today who believe the biblical-style miracles ceased with the death of the original  twelve apostles. Augustine’s writings clearly disagree with that position.

Second, this famous church leader gives a clear example of what Christian maturity involves. He was flexible enough to change his views when presented with evidence that could not be disputed. Like the apostle Thomas (John 20), his doubt was turned to belief by what he saw.

Third, miracles multiplied in Augustine’s ministry and parish when he was open to such supernatural possibilities. There was little to report about physical healings in his writings when he took the position that miracles were not for his time. God requires people to trust Him for the impossible if the miraculous is to occur.

Christians need to stand firm on biblical principles that never change. But there comes a time when one has to be big enough to admit that a personal interpretation was wrong. Near the end of his life, Augustine revised 93 of his writings and changed “anything that offends me or might offend others.” [18] He had the mettle to admit his mistakes in public and make necessary changes. He dared to change his mind about divine healing.

Notes

[1] This article was originally published as, “The man who dared to change his mind about divine healing,” in the Pentecostal Evangel, September 11, 1983, pp. 18-20.

[1a]  I completed my dissertation-only PhD in New Testament at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, when I was aged 69 in 2015.

[1b] Saint Augustine, The City of God, translated by Gerald G. Waigh and Daniel J. Honan, volume 24 in the series, The Fathers of the Church (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1954), pp. 437, 488.
[2] Mildred Tengborn, “The Saint and His Saintly Mother,” Eternity (January 1983), pp. 46-47.
[3] John A. Mourant, lntroduction to the Philosophy of Saint Augustine: Selected Readings and Commentaries, (University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1964), pp. 64-65. Quoting from Augustine’s “On the True Religion,” chapter 25:47.
[4] Saint Augustine, The Retractions, translated by Sister Mary Inez Bogan, volume 60 in the series, The Fathers of the  Church (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1968), p. 55.
[5] Saint Augustine, “The Advantage of Believing,” in Writings of Saint Augustine, translated by Luaime Meagher, volume 2 in the series, The Fathers of the Church (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1947), p. 438.
[6] Retractions, pp. 61, 62.
[7] City of God, p. 439.
[8] Ibid., p. 441.
[9] Ibid., p. 444.
[10] Ibid., p. 445.
[11] Ibid., p. 445.
[12] Ibid., p. 445.
[13] Ibid., p. 447.
[14] Ibid., p. 447.
[15] Ibid., p. 456.
[16] Saint Augustine, The City of God, an abridged version from the translation by Gerald G. Walsh, Demetrius B. Zema, Grace Monahan, and Daniel J. Honan- Edited, with an introduction, by Vernon J. Bourke (Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1958), p. 513.
[17] City of God (as in endnote 1), pp. 448-450.
[18] Retractions, p. xiii.

 

Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 9 December 2017.

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Should God heal all Christians who pray for healing?

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Jesus calming the storm

(Jesus calming the storm, courtesy allthingsclipart)

 

By Spencer D Gear

Is it the will of God to always heal people when we pray for them?

A Christian friend wrote to me asking for recommendations concerning  a situation in which he was asked to pray for healing for a sick person. My friend was impressed in his heart that instead of praying for healing, that he should trust the Lord for what God was doing through the sickness. When this information was revealed to the person who asked for prayer for healing, my friend was accused of this giving an ‘almost heretical response’. Why? It was because my friend had an inner impression that God had a bigger issue in the sick person’s life than physical healing.

There are dangers with ‘impressions’ because they are subjective and I find it difficult to discern if my friend is hearing from God or if this is a personal view. We know that God gives the gifts of the Spirit that require ‘some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching’ (1 Cor. 14:6 ESV). The safety of the church gathering that enables discernment of the manifestation of gifts is much more suitable than to receive a private impression. However, we do read in passages such as First Chronicles 14:10, 14 where ‘David inquired of God’ (ESV) and received the answer that he should go against the Philistines and God would give them into his hands. On another occasion (1 Chron. 14:14), God’s answer from David’s inquiry was that he was not to attack the Philistines.

Does the Bible teach that during the ministry of Jesus there was no person who wasn’t healed by Jesus? Let’s examine the Scriptures with a few examples, but they are enough to cause us to question the ‘almost heretical’ statement that a person does not believe that God always heals.

A few fundamentals are happening with the ‘almost heretical’ statement that are very different from when Jesus walked this earth and contrary to what we should expect from God when we ask for physical healing.

  • The Scriptures do say on occasions that Jesus did heal all who came to him in verses such as Matt. 8:16; 12:15; and Luke 6:19. But there’s another dimension.
  • On other occasions Jesus healed, not all, but “many” who came to him. See Mark 1:34; 3:10; 6:13.
  • BUT, there were circumstances in which Jesus did not heal people. I’m thinking of Mark 6:4-6:

‘Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith’ (NIV).

  • What about the events like that at the Pool of Bethesda according to John 5:1-9? Verse 3 says that at that pool ‘lay a multitude of invalids-blind, lame and paralyzed’ (ESV) but only one invalid who had been at that Pool for 38 year was healed. The facts are that Jesus did not heal all who were sick in Israel at the time of his life and he didn’t even heal all invalids at the Pool of Bethesda. It is false information to say that Jesus healed all. He clearly didn’t.

People may ask why Jesus didn’t heal all. My understanding is that healings are pointers/signs to God’s greater healing of the human soul through salvation and God’s ultimate healing of the universe that will happen with a new heaven and a new earth at the end of time.

However, I do need to say that I accept the gifts of the Spirit are available for today’s Christians and one of the gifts is the gift of healing (1 Cor. 12:28-29).  We must not overlook the biblical fact that God’s gifts to Christians function according to the “measure of faith” that God has given to believers:

‘For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you’ (Rom. 12:3 NIV).

According to James 5:14-15, the ministry of healing is available through the local church (and it is sadly neglected in most churches) in the anointing of oil by the elders of the church:

‘Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven’ (NIV).

Again, the emphasis is on “the prayer offered in faith” will cause the sick person to be raised up by the Lord.

I do not find any indications that Jesus healed all people. Nor do I find examples in the New Testament where all people were healed whenever there was a prayer for healing. I do find this in James 4:2b-3:

‘You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures’ (NIV).

There are many reasons why we do not receive physical healing when we pray and when others pray for us. The major reason is that God is sovereign and we are puny, fallible human beings who can have the wrong motives.

There is also the further biblical truth that most Christians find hard to bear as stated in James 1:2-4:

‘Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing’ (NASB).

God has a greater plan for our lives than physical healing. The trials of our lives are meant to be considered with an attitude of ‘all joy’ by the Christian because God knows what trials are instrumental in achieving. Difficulties in our lives are are designed for the testing of faith to produce endurance of the faith so that we will be “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” when we face Jesus. This is a hard dose to take for many Christians.

May I say personally that I would not have reached this point of growth in my Christian life if it were not for the many trials of sickness that God has put me through. This has included 3 bouts of rheumatic fever when I was a child, aged 6, 10 and 12, that left me with leaking mitral and aortic valves in my heart. This has resulted in five (5) open heart surgeries in my adulthood to replace (4 times) the valve with4 mechanical ones and one surgery was for a repair around the valve. The last surgery in 2013 was to replace both mitral and aortic valves.

As an adult, I have prayed on all five occasions for healing and the church has prayed for my healing, so that I would avoid the surgeries, but God has not chosen to heal me. God has a greater purpose in my life and that is Christian maturity and endurance in my faith.

My wife, Desley, has a debilitating physical disease, polycythemia rubra vera, that has the possibility of becoming leukemia. I am amazed at her godliness and trust in the Lord through severe headaches and lack of energy on a daily basis, and her venesections from time to time to drain blood from her.

It is not biblical to demand that God heal others or oneself when you and others pray. Jesus did not do it and there is ample evidence for God’s greater plan of development in Christian maturity.

May I also add, that the demand for God to heal all people, can come with a diminished view of what life in the presence of God is all about. For believers, to have a desire to continue to live in this present evil world has some irony about it. Why is not living in the presence of God at death, and living for Him through trials in this life, not the way God plans it for all believers?

See these related articles:

Turning trash into treasure (James 1:2-4). This is based on a sermon I preached.

Were miracles meant to be temporary?” (Jack Deere)

St. Augustine: The man who dared to change his mind about divine healing (Spencer Gear)

Are there apostles in the 21st century? (Spencer Gear)

Are miracles valuable? (Spencer Gear)

’Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer’ (Romans 12:12 NIV).

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 11 October 2015.

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Richard Harvey, Dr. Lee, a flask and supernatural prayer

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

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(image courtesy Open Clip Art Library)

By Spencer D Gear

Is prayer a necessary discipline of the Christian life? Does God answer prayer? Richard H. Harvey tells a true story of what happened in his life when at Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania, USA. This is how the story goes:

The Flask Story[1]

“… if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them by my Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:19).

The college experience I am about to tell now has left the most lasting impression upon me of any. I have told it over the world for more than forty years. Suddenly it began to appear in print in many magazines, in different languages and under various titles, sometimes under my name, sometimes not.

Probably the most popular class at the college was the first-year chemistry class. It was definitely the largest. Most every student took the class sometime during his four years regardless of his major. But since it was a first-year subject, most took it their freshman year.

Dr. Lee[2] was the most noted and honoured professor in the college. He had had many honors bestowed on him from numerous scientific societies around the world. His influence carried more weight than that of any of the other teachers. He insisted that he believed in God as the creator of an original mass that was thrown into space and that God had set a group of laws to govern it. He also believed that God no longer paid any special attention to the earth as far as man was concerned. He believed it was useless for man to try to get God’s attention, much less His intervention.[3]

Among many involved themes in his lectures, Dr. Lee chose the subject of prayer—a series of three lectures given annually the week before the Thanksgiving recess. The second lecture emphasized the thought that there was no such thing as a miracle. After that class when some of the students were gathered around him I asked, “Dr. Lee, I have proof of a miracle. I know a man named Jerry Sproul whose vocal cords were destroyed by gas in World War I. He was declared incurable by three army hospitals and thus given an irrevocable pension. He is well known by all the officials of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania City Hall and reporters of that city. After he was prayed for, he received new vocal cords. His medical records are obtainable and I will be glad to obtain them for you.”

Dr. Lee’s answer was, “I don’t believe in any such thing. If there is such an unusual circumstance as you describe, it must have some scientific explanation.” And he turned aside.

Dr. Lee’s third lecture was on the subject of the impossibility of an objective answer to prayer. He said he would prove his contention. At the end of his lecture he announced that he would step down from his platform onto the concrete floor. Then he would challenge, “Is there anybody here who still believes in prayer?” And he would say, “Before you answer, let me tell you what I am going to do and what I am going to ask you to do. I will turn around, take a glass flask and hold it at arm’s length.” Then he would continue, “If you believe that God answers prayer, I want you to stand and pray that when I drop this flask, it won’t break. I want you to know that your prayers and the prayers of your parents and Sunday School teachers, and even the prayers of your own pastor cannot prevent this flask from breaking. If you wish to have them here, we will put this off until you return after the Thanksgiving recess.”

No one had ever accepted Dr. Lee’s challenge.

But one year a certain freshman learned about Dr. Lee’s dare. And decided prayerfully that he would accept the challenge. He believed that God had given him the promise, “… if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them by my Father, who is in heaven.” Then the young man sought out another Christian to stand with him in prayer for courage and faith and they believed together that God would keep the flask from breaking.

The day came. At the end of the final lecture on prayer, the annual challenge was put forth as it had been for twelve years. As soon as Dr. Lee asked, “Is there anyone here who believes God answers prayer?” the young man stepped into the aisle and raised his hand and said, “Dr. Lee, I do.”

“Well, this is most interesting. But young man, you had better let me explain what I am going to do and then we’ll see if you still desire to pray. I wouldn’t want you to be embarrassed before this class.”

The professor then took the glass flask and held it out in front of him over the cement floor. “Now I ask you to pray—if you still want to do it—that this flask won’t break. After you pray, I’ll drop it and I can assure you that it will hit the cement floor and break into hundreds of pieces, and that no prayer can prevent it. Do you still want to pray?”

“Yes, Dr. Lee, I do.”

“Well,” said the professor, “this is most interesting.” And turning to the class he said sarcastically, “Now we will be most reverent while this young man prays.” Then he turned to the young man, “Now you may pray.”

The freshman just lifted his countenance toward heaven and prayed, “God, I know that you hear me. Please honor the name of your son, Jesus Christ, and honor me, your servant. Don’t let the flask break. Amen.”

Dr. Lee stretched his arm out as far as he could, opened his hand and let the flask fall. It fell in an arc, hit the toe of Dr. Lee’s shoe, rolled over and did not break. There was no movement of air and there were no open windows. The class whistled, clapped and shouted. And Dr. Lee ceased his annual lectures against prayer.

Just a few years ago at a Bible conference in Ontario, Canada, I related this story briefly. After the service, a woman said to me, “Dr. Harvey, I too was a freshman in Dr. Lee’s class and heard him make that challenge. What you say is all true.”

What have been some of the responses to this story on the Internet?

When this type of story makes it to the Internet, there are some positive and some cynical responses. This is but a sample of the sceptical, blasphemous nature of antagonism to the supernatural of this true event as told by Richard Harvey:

1. “I’m thinking there has to be a gullibility gene. Maybe it helps the species propagate”.[4]

2. This story made it under the headline, “There is no such thing as miracles. Do you agree”.[5]

3. It is incorporated under the heading, “If you don’t believe in god, watch this”.[6]

4. A comment about Harvey’s story of Dr Lee: “What a pile of steaming shit!?”[7]

5. It was placed under the heading, “Atheism in Academia” in Conservapedia.[8]

God’s view is radically different: And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive if you have faith (Matt. 21:22 ESV)

Prayer Shield

This does require a committed, supernatural faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. The God revealed in Scripture is supernatural by nature and not naturalistic as with deism.

This story that Richard Harvey relates has grown wings and flourished on the www. Let’s check out one of the sites that checks out possible hoaxes, “TruthOrFiction“, to find the truth vs fiction of whether this is a hoax. Here it is:

Appendix A

The Atheist Professor At USC Who Encountered God Through a Piece of Chalk-Fiction![9]

clip_image001 Summary of Rumor
A notorious atheist professor at the University of Southern California [USC] is known for challenging students about their faith.  He dramatically drops a piece of chalk to the floor saying that if God existed, he could prevent the chalk from breaking.  This happens year after year until a particular Christian student becomes a part of the class.  This time, when the professor drops the chalk, it bounces off his clothing and ends up harmlessly on the floor.  The stunned professor runs from the room in shame and the student preaches the Gospel to the remaining class members.
clip_image001[1] The Truth
This has been one of the most commonly circulated inspirational stories on the Internet and one of the most commonly asked-about at TruthOrFiction.com.We’ve never found any evidence that an incident of this nature has taken place involving a piece of chalk, but there is a first-hand source of a similar, older story, which the chalk tale may be based upon.
First, the University of Southern California has officially denied that this ever happened there.  Dr. Dallas Willard, a philosophy professor at USC, has told TruthOrFiction.com that he’s never heard of it happening in his more than 30 years at the school.

There is a related story, however, told by author Richard H. Harvey in his book 70 YEARS OF MIRACLES.  It’s a first-hand account of his experience in a Chemistry class at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania in the 1920’s.  Harvey says the professor, a Dr. Lee, was a deist who annually lectured against prayer.   In one of the class sessions, Dr. Lee said he was going to drop a glass flask on the floor and asked if anyone would like to pray first that the flask would not break, therefore demonstrating the reality of prayer.  Richard Harvey volunteered and prayed.  The professor dropped the flask and it rolled off his shoe to the floor without damage.  The class cheered and the professor stopped his annual lectures against prayer.  TruthOrFiction.com has confirmed with Allegheny college that Richard Harvey was a student there and that Dr. Lee was a professor.  Richard Harvey’s son, Rev. John Harvey, a minister in Toccoa, Georgia, says this all happened before he was born, but confirms that the story was told by his father.

Updated 18 February 2001

Notes:

[1] “The Flask  Story” is a copy of the entire chapter by Richard H. Harvey 1977. 70 Years of Miracles. Beaverlodge, Alberta, Canada: Horizon House Publishers, chapter 11, pp. 63-66. Horizon House Publishers is no longer in existence, so I could not obtain permission to publish.

[2] His obituary, “Dr Richard Lee, Local Man’s Son, Passes in North”, was in the Independent, St. Petersburg, Florida, Friday, January 31, 1936, and stated that his full name was Richard Edwin Lee, late head of the department of chemistry, Allegheny College. He was aged 59 at his death. Available at: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=950&dat=19360131&id=tONPAAAAIBAJ&sjid=W1UDAAAAIBAJ&pg=3543,5184628 (Accessed 20 December 2011). A Richard Edwin Lee scholarship is offered at Allegheny College to a deserving student who is majoring in chemistry. See: http://www.schoolsoup.com/scholarship-directory/college/allegheny-college/Richard-Edwin-Lee-Scholarship-195663/ (Accessed 20 December 2011).

[3] I note that this is a deist view of God. What is deism? Matt Slick of CARM in, “What is deism?”, has defined deism as “the teaching that God exists, that he created the universe and everything in it, but that he stopped being involved in the universe and in people’s lives after he made the universe. Another way of looking at it is to say that God created the universe with everything in it and is letting everything go its natural course without any further intervention on his part. Deism teaches that there are no more miracles, and that the Bible is not inspired of God”. Available at: http://carm.org/questions-deism (Accessed 20 December 2011).

[4] “Is there a gullibility gene that gets activated by religion?” available at: http://biblioblography.blogspot.com/2009/08/is-there-gullibility-gene-that-gets.html (Accessed 20 December 2011).

[5] See: http://in.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20091007133249AAlDsVW (Accessed 20 December 2011).

[6] Available at: http://www.youtube.com/all_comments?v=GJ0MsMp9S18 (Accessed 20 December 2011).

[7] YouTube, available at: http://www.youtube.com/all_comments?v=m989v49WNsw (Accessed 20 December 2011).

[8] The article was titled, “Conservapedia:Atheism/torfute”, available at: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Conservapedia:Atheism/torefute (Accessed 20 December 2011).

[9] “The Atheist and the chalk”, TruthOrFiction, available at: http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/c/chalk.htm (Accessed 20 December 2011).

 

Copyright © 2011 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 September 2016.

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