In this series, we are attempting to discover a healthy theology of healing. With so many differing Christian viewpoints on healing, it is very difficult to summarise them into four groups without over-simplifying the spectrum of opinions. Even so, if we are aware that the four views actually represent a wider discussion, then it makes the task much more manageable. Read the rest of the posts by clicking here.
The Pentecostal view rests at almost the other end of the end of the spectrum to the cessationist position, and reads the same Bible to understand that “Jesus’ death on the cross was to bring healing and not just forgiveness, and therefore healing has already been bought for everyone through the cross and simply needs to be received through faith that ‘healing is in the blood.’ The Pentecostal view therefore rejects any view that ‘the apostolic age’ has ended, and teaches that the Kingdom of God is so present through the First Coming of Jesus that anyone can and should expect to experience full healing in this life, and not merely after the Second Coming.
Fig.3 – “The Classic Pentecostal Theology of Healing”
This viewpoint is one of the key tenets of faith of the largest Pentecostal denomination, the Assemblies of God. The twelfth section of their ‘Statement of Fundamental Truths’ teaches that “Divine healing is an integral part of the gospel. Deliverance from sickness is provided for in the atonement, and is the privilege of all believers.”
Nor can we dismiss this viewpoint lightly. Whether or not this is the theology of our own Christian tradition, we do need to face the fact that almost every great minister of healing in the 20th Century held something close to this view.
The great healing evangelist John G. Lake taught in his book ‘Adventures in God’ that “The Christian, the child of God, the Christ-man who has committed his body as well as his spirit and soul to God, ought not to be a subject for healing. He ought to be a subject of continuous, abiding health, because he is filled with the life of God.” 18 Another great healing evangelist, Oral Roberts, took a similar view. “If Jesus took our sicknesses we need not bear them any longer. Sickness is part of the curse and Jesus came to destroy the curse. He suffered in our stead because he did not want us to suffer disease. He took our specific diseases and infirmities upon his own sinless, perfect body in complete payment for the penalty of sin … I know it is God’s highest wish for you to be in health … Sickness is not part of God’s plan and not devised by God’s will … Some ministers are still praying ‘Father, if it be thy will, heal.’ I wonder if they could be sued for theological malpractice? Well, it’s a thought!” 19 Kenneth Hagin, one of the leading ‘word of faith’ teachers, continues this line of reasoning. “Like salvation, healing is a gift, already paid for at Calvary. All we need to do is accept it. All we need to do is possess the promise that is ours. As children of God, we need to realise that healing belongs to us.” 20 He adds that “It is unscriptural to pray,‘If it is the will of God.’ When you put an ‘if’ in your prayer, you are praying in doubt.” 21
It is difficult to deny that this theology of healing is yielding much fruit in terms of healing. However, before we rush after the pragmatism of success, we do need to note that despite the great strengths in the first two arguments which lie at the root of this theology of healing, there are also significant flaws in the third key argument which dramatically skew the Pentecostal application of those truths.
The first key argument is that healing must be in the atonement (ie definitively secured through Jesus’ death and resurrection) because sickness is part of the curse which came through Adam, and must therefore have been undone through the finished work of Jesus, the Last Adam (1Cor 15:45). This is, frankly, an extremely strong argument. Since both Moses and Paul tell us that sickness is part the curse of Adam’s Fall (Deut 28:2122&59-61, Rom 5:12), it must surely be the case that Jesus dealt completely and finally with the human problem of sickness when he “became a curse for us” on the cross (Gal 3:13) and declared from the cross “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30). If Jesus’ death on the cross did not remove the curse of sickness, then Paul tells us in Rom 3:26 that God would actually be unjust to lift a curse which deservedly rests upon us. Similarly, when Peter tells us that sickness is part of the arsenal of weapons which Satan secured through the Fall (Acts 10:38), it must surely follow that when Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities” on the cross (Col 2:15) that he removed this weapon from Satan’s arsenal along with all the rest. Perhaps the main reason that many struggle to accept this is that many Pentecostals apply this to mean that we can be as certain that God will heal us through faith in the blood of Jesus as we can that God will save us through faith in the blood of Jesus. We are right to be suspicious of this application because this is not how Scripture models the healing ministry – we do not, for example, find Paul urging Timothy that his stomach complaint would be healed if only he spent more time meditating with faith over the finished work of Jesus for him on the cross (1Ti 5:23)! – but our suspicion over the Pentecostal application of these verses should not prevent us from grasping what is taught in the verses themselves.
The second key argument is that healing must be in the atonement (ie definitively secured through Jesus’ death and resurrection), because Matthew tells us that this is a correct understanding of the teaching of Isaiah 53. This is also a very compelling argument, and one which is stronger than most of us realise simply because our English translations do not fully convey the flow of Isaiah’s argument in the original Hebrew. In fact, Isaiah prophesies about the death of Jesus in his 53rd chapter and tells us that
Note that when we look at the Hebrew words which Isaiah used as he wrote down his prophecy, we can see two clear themes which the Holy Spirit wants us to understand about the death of Jesus on the cross, but which are lost in most English translations of these verses. Firstly, he bore our sickness when he died on the cross – physical pain and sickness is the primary meaning of the Hebrew words mak’ob and holi. We are not at liberty to spiritualise these words because these Hebrew words deliberately prevent us from doing so. Secondly, Jesus bore our sickness on the cross in the same way in which he bore our sin – the same two Hebrew verbs nasa’ and sabal are deliberately used to describe both how Jesus bore our sin in v11-12 and how he bore our sickness in v4.
This in turn makes sense of Matthew’s commentary on Isaiah 53 in chapter 8 of his gospel, and the fact that he deliberately chooses not to quote from the Septuagint which slightly spiritualises Jesus’ bearing of our sickness (rather like our English translations), and opts instead for an unknown translation which emphasises the physical nature of the sickness which Jesus bore. He writes in Mt 8:16-17 that “When evening came, many who were demonised were brought to Jesus, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.’” Note that if he were wanting to spiritualise Jesus’ work on the cross then he could easily have quoted from the Septuagint which reads outoj taj amartiaj hmwn ferei kai peri hmwn oduna tai/he bears our sins and is pained for us, but he chose instead to emphasise the physical healing won by Jesus at the cross by saying that autojtaj asqeneiaj hmwn el aben kai taj nosouj ebastasen / he himself took our sicknesses and carried our diseases.
So far so good, and if the phrase ‘healing in the atonement’ referred only to these two statements then there would be little need to bring correction. DA Carson writes that in his view Mt 8:16-17 does indeed “teach that there is healing in the atonement; but similarly there is the promise of a resurrection body in the atonement, even if believers do not inherit it until the Parousia. From the perspectives of the New Testament writers, the cross is the basis of all the benefits that accrue to believers, but this does not mean that all such benefits can be secured at this present time on demand.” 22 Wayne Grudem also adds helpfully (although perhaps a little optimistically given the scale of the disagreement on this issue!) in his ‘Systematic Theology’ that “All Christians would probably agree that in the atonement Christ has purchased for us not only complete freedom from sin but also complete freedom from physical weakness and infirmity in his work of redemption. And all Christians would also no doubt agree that our full and complete possession of all the benefits that Christ earned for us will not come until Christ returns … When people say that complete healing is ‘in the atonement’, the statement is true in an ultimate sense, but it really does not tell us anything about when we will receive ‘complete healing’.” 23 And it is the Pentecostal answer to when we receive this healing that is problematic.
Their third key argument is that every person has already been healed at the cross of Jesus, and needs simply to receive this heavenly reality by faith in order to experience it as an earthly reality. This treats healing in much the same way as sanctification, where the Bible tells us that we have already died positionally with Christ and therefore need to put to death evil deeds in order to walk free from sin (Col 3:3&5). It puts together the promise of Is 53:5 that “by his stripes we are healed” and the promise of Jesus in Mk 11:24 that “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours,” and it tells sick people on the basis of both verses they should receive prayer for healing and then ‘deny their symptoms’ and start thanking God for their (as yet unseen) healing. 24 The problem with this teaching should be obvious. Any sensible eye can see that many of these people have patently not been healed, and that their ‘denial of their symptoms’ is actually naïve unreality rather than genuine faith. Not only can this discredit the Gospel in the eyes of unbelievers, but it can also rob people of the genuine healing which could actually be theirs. Lex Loizides, one of the elders of Jubilee Church in Cape Town, tells of a time when he prayed for a prisoner in St Louis, Missouri, and the prisoner started rejoicing ‘in faith’ that his hand had been healed despite the fact that he was still in acute pain and barely able to hold a cup! It was only when Lex told him to face the fact that he had not yet been healed that he was willing to place his faith in God’s grace rather than in his own faith …with the result that he was miraculously healed! 25 At its worst, this teaching can encourage something which is more akin to secular ‘positive thinking’ than biblical faith, so that faith becomes a form of magic through which we hope to manipulate the spiritual world based on ‘spiritual laws’. Without intending to do so, many Pentecostals have found that their teaching causes sick people to place their faith in faith itself rather than in God the Healer. 26
Many who have seen this kind of healing ministry have been so offended by its pastoral insensitivity that they completely reject the idea that healing might be ‘in the atonement’. Some argue that since the events of Mt 8 took place before Jesus died on the cross, Matthew is actually talking about how Jesus’ exertions on behalf of the sick during his ministry channeled God’s healing towards them. Since Jesus also forgave a man for his sins only 24 verses later in Mt 9:2 – and very few of us would be foolish enough to try to argue that Jesus was able to forgive this man on the basis of the exertions of his busy ministry schedule rather than of his later work on the cross! – this is rather hard to swallow. Others argue more hopefully that Matthew’s quotation from Is 53 intends to link healing to the Messiah in general rather than to his cross in particular, but they offer no convincing explanation as to why Matthew chose the one chapter in the Old Testament which talks most clearly about the atoning death of the Messiah unless he actually wanted us to link healing not just to the Messiah but to his atoning death as well. Still others argue that Peter understands Isaiah to mean spiritual salvation when he quotes Is 53:5 in 1Pe 2:24 to teach that “by his wounds you have been i|aom a i/healed/cured,” but it is not at all clear from that passage that Peter is teaching us that the healing of Calvary is exclusively spiritual – in fact his own bold confidence that healing is “that which I have” to give away (Acts 3:6) is our biggest clue about what Peter understood from that verse, and it was certainly not a spiritualisation of the promises.
Others do not feel the need to reject entirely the link between divine healing and the cross of Jesus. John Wimber, one of the great fathers of the non-Pentecostal healing movement within the western Church in the 20th century, stated that he believed that healing was not ‘in the atonement’ but ‘through the atonement’. 27 Wimber’s concern was that if we teach that healing comes through the cross of Jesus in a similar fashion to salvation then, given that healing does not always happen as consistently as we hope, this will inevitably decrease people’s faith in the Gospel for their salvation. His writings have been enormously helpful in unpacking what ‘healing in the atonement’ should mean as opposed to what it has unfortunately come to mean, but we need to be very careful that our rejection the unhelpful Pentecostal interpretation of Is 53:5 and Mk 11:24 does not also lead us to downgrade the overall teaching of Isaiah 53 and Matthew 8 to something less than it actually is.
There is enough evidence in the New Testament that some Christians did not receive immediate healing and that the early Church did not preach a ‘deny your symptoms’ methodology of healing for us to reject the Pentecostal interpretation of Is 53:5 & Mk 11:24. However, there are very poor grounds for arguing that the death of Jesus on the cross brought about anything less than a decisive change in the place of sickness in the world. Arguments that the Lord only heals because of His compassionate character as revealed by His Name Jehovah Rophek/The-Lord-Who-Heals-You (Ex 15:26) are scuppered by the fact that the specific example of healing which accompanies it in the previous verse was administered through a piece of wood which the Lord provided, something that Christian theologians across the centuries have often seen as a type of the cross of Jesus. 28
If God’s commitment to heal is only revealed in His character, then we have reason to try to rebuke sickness and even reason to hope for healing, but no sure ground for confidence that sickness and demons will fly before our God-given authority or for genuine faith that healing will come in this situation, right here right now. This is tragic because the link between the work of Jesus on the cross and healing brings great confidence over Jesus’ authority and his victorious redemption of a broken universe. Isaiah 53 and Matthew 8 tell us that a decisive judicial act took place at Calvary which lifted the curse of sin from mankind (Rom 3:26) and emptied the devil’s arsenal of its every weapon (Col 2:15). Our authority to minister gifts of healing comes from the victorious King Jesus Christ, and he obtained this just authority by “binding the strongman” (Mt 12:29, Lk 11:21-22) and giving charismatic gifts to His People as He led the devil and his demons “captive in his train” (Eph 4:8). For too long has the disarmed devil been able to act like a general without any artillery who frightens the enemy into calling off their attack by the clever use of mock gun emplacements. In the area of sickness and healing, Scripture genuinely does teach us that through the cross he has become a toothless foe relying on guile alone to hold onto his crumbling kingdom. This, then, is the true meaning of Peter’s past tense that “by his stripes you have been healed” (1Pe 2:24), and we must not let this vital truth be lost because others misuse it. It is only when we settle in our minds and our hearts that healing has been won decisively through the cross and that sickness now has no authority before the name of Jesus Christ that we will begin to push forward in the spiritual battle to plunder Satan’s usurped territory.
The Pentecostal viewpoint misunderstands how the cross of Jesus has dealt a decisive death blow to sickness here and now, and we must make sure that we do not share in its failings. However, we must note with humility that for all of these failings, the Lord is choosing to heal many more people through flawed Pentecostal faith than He is through many well-reasoned but hesitant charismatic evangelicals. It seems that James really meant what he said when he wrote in the context of receiving charismatic gifts that we should “ask in faith, without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. That person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (Jas 1:6-7). We cannot fully embrace the Pentecostal viewpoint on healing, but as we move to examine our own, fourth viewpoint on healing, we must make sure that we mix it with the same kind of faith (Heb 4:2).
Unlike liberals, cessationists do not deny that God healed in Bible times or that He can heal today. What they do deny is that it is the purpose of God to heal through anointed men and women at this stage in history. Their view is best summarised as “God can heal today and may occasionally do so, but because we do not live in the ‘apostolic era’ God no longer grants people gifts of healing, and any human claim to possess modern-day gifts of healing are bogus.” As leading cessationist theologian Richard B Gaffin writes, “I do not deny that God heals today ... I do question, however, whether the gifts of healing and of working miracles as listed in 1 Corinthians 12:9-10 are given today.” 6 This view therefore draws an extra line on our timeline in Fig.2 which it calls the end of ‘the apostolic era’ in c.100AD, when after a brief period of supernatural miracles the Lord withdrew these gifts until they return at his Second Coming. 7
Fig.2 – “The Classic Cessationist Theology of Healing”
It is important that we understand that the cessationist view is not at its root a theology of healing. It is primarily an attempt to protect the bedrock Reformation belief of sola scriptura against the perceived rival authority of modern prophecy and apostleship if any of the charismatic gifts of 1 Cor 12:7-11 and Eph 4:11 are still functioning today. If miraculous healing is available today then logically so must be the other charismatic gifts, including prophecy and apostleship, and cessationists fear that this divine empowerment of modern-day individuals would compromise the supremacy of the 1st-Century apostles and the final authority of the Bible. 8 Although this viewpoint is held by sincere Christians who love and treasure the Bible as the inerrant word of God, a brief look at their three key arguments show that however sincere they are, their theology is not sound.
The first key argument is that healing miracles were given to authenticate the apostles until the New Testament was completed, and therefore ceased once the canon of scripture was complete. This argument was popularised by BB Warfield as an explanation of why the promised miracles of the New Testament were not common in his own day, but it is seriously flawed.
Firstly, there is no specific verse in Scripture which tells us that the charismatic gifts were in any way a temporary phenomenon – in fact, a straight reading of the New Testament encourages us to expect them to continue! If this were the genuine teaching of the New Testament then we would expect at least one clear verse in the Bible to warn generations of Christians to expect the charismatic promises of Scripture not to apply to them. But there is no such verse. 9
Secondly, there are several specific verses in Scripture which imply that charismatic gifts will last throughout AD history until Jesus returns. Paul tells the Corinthians that “You do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1Cor 1:7), and he tells them that charismatic gifts will continue until “perfection comes” and “we see face to face” (1Cor 13:9&11). 10
Thirdly, if the cessationist view is correct that gifts of miraculous healing were given to prove that certain men were real apostles and that their writings should therefore be regarded as Holy Scripture, then why is it that many of the key writers of the New Testament were not apostles (Mark, Luke, Jude) or were people who as far as Scripture tells us did not perform any miracles (Mark, Luke, James, Jude)? If the primary purpose of the healing gift was to authenticate the writings of a small group of miracle-working apostles then surely there was a massive misdirection of this gift to the wrong people! The Corinthian and Galatian churches which had stumbled into false doctrine (1Cor 15:12-14, Gal 1:6-7) performed more recorded miracles than the writers of the two of the Gospels (1Cor 1:7&12:9, Gal 3:5)!
Fourthly, Jesus and the New Testament writers exhibited none of the protective restriction on the use of gifts of healing that we would expect if it was as firmly linked to the question of apostolic authority as the cessationists suppose. Jesus was happy for an anonymous follower to perform miracles despite not being one of the Twelve (Mk 9:38-41), and for all the Seventy-Two to perform miracles (Lk 10:1&9). Luke writes about the miracles of the deacons Stephen (Acts 6:8) and Philip (Acts 8:6-7), and of the rank-and-file Christian Ananias (Acts 9:17-18) without hesitating in case he set unfair expectations for his readers.
Fifthly, Scripture actually tells us what the primary purpose of the charismatic gifts is, including gifts of healing. They are not given for the authentication of Scripture. They are given “for the common good” (1Cor 12:7) and “for the strengthening of the church” (1Cor 14:26), something which is surely just as important today as it was before the canon of Scripture was completed. 11
The second key argument is that since Jesus and the apostles healed all who came to them, the gulf between the quantity and quality of healings in the so-called ‘apostolic era’ and those claimed by modern charismatics indicates that modern healings are well-intentioned but bogus.
Although it is an argument from silence, it appears that Jesus did indeed heal all who came to him12, but there is at least some evidence that the apostles were not always able to heal all who came to them. Paul appears to have waited for faith to be present before he healed the sick (Acts 14:8-10), and we will need to return later in this paper to the question of why Epaphroditus and Trophimus were not immediately healed through Paul’s prayers (Phil 2:25-27 & 2Ti 4:20). There is at least some evidence that healing was not automatic even for the first-century apostles.
Nor is it at all clear that Jesus and the apostles only did what some cessationists call ‘high quality’ miracles and not the ‘low quality’ healings of which they are so dismissive. When Matthew tells us that Jesus “went through all the towns and villages…preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction” (Mt 9:35), he is specifically telling us that Jesus performed both ‘high quality’ and ‘low quality’ miracles (the fact that we are using such horrible terms to describe any of the Holy Spirit’s activity should give us a clue that this thinking is misguided!). Similarly, when Luke singles out the ‘high quality’ way in which Peter healed people with just his shadow in Acts 5:15, he does not appear to feel that he has in any way disqualified the ‘low quality’ healings performed only three verses earlier by the other apostles who had to lay their hands on people to see them healed (Acts 5:12 ESV). In fact, he deliberately shatters the myth that there was one single degree of healing gift in the early Church when he tells us that Paul performed “extraordinary miracles” in Ephesus (Acts 19:11-12) compared to the “ordinary miracles” performed by others. Clearly some received greater gifts of healing then, as now, and this should actually encourage us to fan our emerging healing gifting into flame more and more (1Ti 4:4, 2Ti 1:6), so that we might move from seeing one in ten healed to one in three healed, and from seeing minor ailments healed to seeing cancers and HIV healed. The fact that I see fewer than the apostle Peter’s 3000 saved each time that I preach the Gospel (Acts 2:41) is not proof that the gift of evangelism has ceased! It simply shows me that as yet my faith is still immature (Rom 12:6). The same is true of gifts of healing.
The third and final argument is that miraculous healings have not occurred throughout the whole of Church history, and therefore they cannot be an integral part of Christianity for every generation.
Although there are periods in Church history where there are few historical accounts of miraculous healing, the historical record is too incomplete to construct this argument from silence. The absence of healing has undoubtedly been exaggerated by cessationists because they have a tendency to dismiss all historical accounts of miracles as spurious -especially if they were performed by anyone who did not hold to the complete body of systematic theology that has been rubber stamped as acceptable to God by modern western reformed theologians! DA Carson observes that “there is enough evidence that some form of charismatic gifts continued sporadically across the centuries of church history that it is futile to insist on doctrinaire grounds that every report13 is spurious or the fruit of demonic activity or psychological aberration.”
John Calvin, not a man renowned for his wild charismatic claims and practice, did not see his lack of experience of miracles as a reason to doubt that God still wanted to perform them in his own day, and nor should we. He writes in his commentary on 1 Corinthians that “Today we see our own slender resources, our poverty in fact; but this is undoubtedly the punishment we deserve, as the reward for our ingratitude. For God’s riches are not exhausted, nor has His liberality grown less; but we are not worthy of His largess, or capable of receiving all that He generously gives.” 14 Furthermore, we find in the letters of none other than Martin Luther that his advice concerning a particular man’s sickness was that “I know of no worldly help to give…It must, rather, be an affliction which comes from the devil, and this must be counteracted with the prayer of faith. This is what we do, and what we have been accustomed to do, for a cabinet maker here was similarly afflicted with madness and we cured him by prayer in Christ’s name.” 15
John Wimber produces an outstanding overview of miraculous healing throughout Church history in his book ‘Power Evangelism’, and it is pure folly for us to accept the doctrinal teaching of great men like Luther and yet to refuse to believe their testimony about the healing miracles of their day.16 It would also be foolish to assume that the cessationists’ unbelief about the reality of modern healing gifts is not actually one of the reasons why they have not experienced the gifts in their own ministry!17 Our past experiences and disappointments hold far more sway over our theology than most of us like to admit, and the cessationist theology is based on experience (or rather a lack of it!), which directly contradicts the teaching of Peter on the day of Pentecost when he referred to the whole of AD history from Pentecost to Parousia as one integral period called “the last days” – not just a brief so-called ‘apostolic age’ – which would be marked by the widespread miraculous activity of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:14-21).
Even if we were to accept that many have failed to experience the charismatic gift of healing during large portions of Church history, this should not lead us to assume that God has therefore withdrawn His gift from the Church (Rom 11:29). If Luther had applied the same logic during the Reformation then we would all still be saying our ‘Hail Marys’! He rightly saw that centuries of doubt and resistance towards the work of God had grieved the work of the Holy Spirit to the impoverishment of the Church, and he led a wave of repentance which pleaded with Him to return and to restore what had been lost. We need a similar attitude of humility in our own day which accepts that the gulf between our Bibles and our experience is due to some change on our part rather than on God’s part. We should rejoice that many have already begun to repent of this sin, and that God is beginning to restore this aspect of the Gospel back into the heart of Church life. We should celebrate and give thanks to God, not marshal together reasons to cast out the gift as an unfamiliar and unwelcome stranger!
Therefore the cessationist view on healing is very sincere, but it is also very unhealthy and damaging. It performs so many exegetical contortions that it actually devalues the very Scriptures it aims to protect. In addition, since Paul writes that unless “signs and miracles” had been part of his preaching around the Roman Empire then he would not have “fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ” (Rom 15:18-19), we find that it actually dares to tamper with the Gospel which was given us by Jesus Christ.
We must reject this second unhealthy theology of healing, and press on towards one that is healthy.
// Originally posted on Theology Matters //
In this 2nd part of a series of posts, we look at the story of Mary anointing Jesus' feet with perfum in John 12:1 - 8. Something of this act of extravagant worship thrilled Jesus but at the same time had a provocative impact. Judas Iscariot, after witnessing this, went to the chief priest to plot his betrayal. So what can we discover from this extraordinary event?
What was the worship that she brought? Sometimes you can see a sign outside a church saying ‘Divine worship is conducted here at 9 am and 11:30 am’. But this is different. This is a very strange thing. Lets looks at this worship more closely.
This was exclusively between her and Jesus.
The disciples saw her as totally irresponsible. They would rather the money be spent on the poor. Then Jesus says this, ‘the poor you will always have with you. You won’t always have me.’ Edwards says, ‘Jesus puts Himself forward in scandalous prominence.’ The whole thing is shocking.
Paul says ‘we don’t preach ourselves’. Not so Jesus. He says ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, the Bread from heaven, the true Vine, the good Shepard. Come to me.’ He always preached himself. Jesus is not a little bit of religion you do at 11 am on a Sunday morning. Jesus can satisfy every need of life.
Often we find people who don’t understand what Church really is. Political voices think that they can tell the church what to say and do and think as though they know what the church is. They don’t understand the mystery of personal devotion to Jesus. They think the Church is some philanthropic institution that is here just for the poor and the needy - a bunch of do good-ers. Now we know that the Gospel has massive social implications. In the OT they were told to care for the poor. One of the things the prophets told the Jews was that God was angry that they were grinding the faces of the poor in the dust. We are supposed to have a social conscience. But if you think that that is all Christianity is about, then you have missed the point.
Jesus said He wanted this spoken about wherever the Gospel is preached. Why? Because at the centre, there’s something profound about personal devotion to Jesus.
What is your motivation? Is it doing good or is it Jesus?
Jesus had won Mary’s heart. She’s absolutely devoted to Him and her extraordinary devotion was totally acceptable to Him.
Down through the centuries, the advance of the church, in terms of global mission, has been accomplished by crazy people. Men and women like Jackie Pullinger, Gladys Elworth, CT Studd and Jim Elliot. Reckless abandonment is the high motivational drive of the gospel because you’ve just been blown away by the love of Jesus.
In the final part to follow, we shall look at why Jesus wanted everybody to know about this event.
In this series, we are attempting to discover a healthy theology of healing. With so many differing Christian viewpoints on healing, it is very difficult to summarise them into four groups without over-simplifying the spectrum of opinions. Even so, if we are aware that the four views actually represent a wider discussion, then it makes the task much more manageable.2
This viewpoint agrees with the other three views that the BC era was a time of waiting for the Kingdom of God, and that the era after the Second Coming will see the Kingdom in all its fullness (see fig.1 below). However, the liberal theologians in the last century and a half have been so affected by the seismic shift in the Western worldview which was ushered in by the ‘Enlightenment’ and by Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’ that they struggle to accept the idea of God ever intervening in the world to perform a healing miracle – either inside or outside of Scripture – and they therefore question whether He even healed miraculously through Jesus, let alone promises to do so through us.
Their position can be best summarised as “Although God has the power to heal and this is a sign of His coming Kingdom, He does not heal people miraculously today and has probably never done so because He respects the natural laws of the universe.” They would see the Kingdom largely as ‘not yet’, and have little expectation of any miraculous healing this side of the Second Coming of Jesus.
Fig.1 – “The Classic Liberal Theology of Healing”
The liberal writer Rudolph Bultmann writes in his book ‘Jesus Christ and Mythology’ that “Modern man acknowledges as reality only such phenomena or events as are comprehensible within the framework of the rational order of the universe. He does not acknowledge miracles because they do not fit into this lawful order.” 3 Langdon B. Gilkey describes the biblical accounts of the miracles in Exodus as “the acts Hebrews believed God might have done and the words he might have said had he done and said them – but of course we recognize that he did not.” 4 This tragic viewpoint owes far more to 20th-Century rationalism than it does to any of the contents of the Bible. In fact, it so denies the reliability of the gospel accounts that Bultmann eventually admits that when examining the Easter events he feels that “an historical fact which involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable.” 5 Such a desire to subject the words of Scripture to the arrogant claims of the modern Western worldview effectively presents Jesus as so bereft of kingly power that we are left wondering how they would even believe that the Second Coming and the full inauguration of the Kingdom of God would truly bring the kind of healing they dismiss as so fanciful.
This liberal theology of healing extols western science and dismisses the historical facts of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It is decidedly unhealthy, so let’s try another. In our next post we will explore the classic cessationist viewpoint.
2: For example, even though it is helpful to refer to a ‘classic Pentecostal view’, it is over-simplifying the case to imply that all Pentecostals therefore hold to this view. Gordon Fee is a Pentecostal whose book ‘The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospel’ (USA, 1979) argues against the classic Pentecostal view that ‘healing is in the atonement’. Fee was very disenchanted by many Pentecostal preachers whom he felt abused this teaching with their man-centred and hedonistic messages of ‘health and wealth’ through the cross of Jesus.
3: Rudolph Bultmann ‘Jesus Christ and Mythology’, p37-38, (USA 1958)
4: Quoted from an article by Langon B Gilkey in ‘The Journal of Religion’ (Vol 41, No 3, July 1961, University of Chicago Press, p194-205) entitled ‘Cosmology, Ontology, and the Travail of Biblical Language’
5: Rudolph Bultmann ‘Jesus Christ and Mythology’, p84 (USA 1958)
In this series of posts, we look at the story of Mary anointing Jesus' feet with perfume in John 12:1 - 8. Something of this act of extravagant worship thrilled Jesus but at the same time had a provocative impact. Judas Iscariot, after witnessing this, went to the chief priest to plot his betrayal. So what can we discover from this extraordinary event?
What was it that provoked her to take this step? The secret is hidden in the text. ‘Lazarus was sitting there.’
Lazarus was Mary’s brother. Mary had lived through watching her brother become more and more seriously ill. Jesus was their friend but He wasn’t always there. ‘If only Jesus was here’ she must have thought. So they send someone to find Jesus and tell him that Lazarus is sick. They wait. Lazarus gets sicker. They wait more. Finally Lazarus dies. It’s a strange mystery that Jesus knew but did not come. They would have experienced Jesus healing first hand and heard his breath taking preaching on the ushering of the new Kingdom. Tragically, they thought, in the end death wins. In the end, life is vulnerable to the biggest crisis you face - loved ones die. It may be nice having Jesus around but death wins in the end. You can have your life enriched but you’re going to die. Death had invaded their experience of knowing Jesus.
Then of course, Jesus turns up. It had been 4 days since Lazarus had died. 4 agonizing days of knowing the finality of death. Never again would they hear their brother laugh. Never again would they feel his touch. Mary goes up to Him and says, ‘if only you had been here’. And then you have the marvelous story of Jesus going to where the body of Lazarus was laid. "Roll away the stone," Jesus says and then shouts out, ‘Lazarus come out!’ It must have been phenomenal seeing this dead man walk out.
So here they’re having a meal together celebrating their brother is alive again. The realized death did not win, he’s alive, he’s back, he’s with us. Often when Jesus did a remarkable miracle, he associated it with a revelation of who He was. He heals a man blind from birth and then He preaches, ‘I am the light of the world.’ He feeds 5,000 people from a few fish and loaves and then preaches, ‘I am the bread of life’. Having raised Lazarus from death, He says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.‘ Jesus is the answer to death. He conquered death. He beat our biggest enemy. He destroyed death’s ultimate power.
People may ask, so what is Christianity all about? Is it about doing good? Is it about going to church? Not getting in to trouble? No it’s a great message - death has been beaten. Eternal life has been ushered in.
Mary had lived through it. That’s the background - her dear brother was dead and now he’s alive again.
Check back next week for the next post in this series.
Originally posted on Terry's Blog
Have you ever looked at an old photograph of yourself and been struck by how much younger you look in the photo? Welcome to the club. It’s called the ageing process.
The apostle Paul talked about it in 2 Corinthians 4:16 when he told his readers that “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”
Ultimately this “wasting away” of our bodies reminds us that they are mortal and will not sustain our souls on this planet beyond a mere fraction of its history. Only God is immortal, or as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “Man is destined to die.” (Heb 9:27)
On the other hand, have you ever stopped to think about the way in which your body constantly replenishes itself, bringing healing and wholeness to itself wherever there is decay?
In the next hour alone your body will shed some 600,000 skin cells, but you won’t notice because simultaneously it will also produce 600,000 more.
This may sound like a busy hour’s work, but it’s nothing compared to what is happening in your blood vessels every second. Every single second of your life 2,000,000 red blood cells return to your bone marrow to die, and they are replaced every second by another 2,000,000 red blood cells which will make a quarter of a million round trips of your body before they also return to the bone marrow to die. No wonder you sometimes feel a bit tired!
We also see our bodies working even harder each time we are ill. Colds get better – with or without Lemsip and Lockets – if we simply give our body enough time to recover. Broken bones mend. Cut fingers heal. Although our bodies cannot deal with every sickness without medical intervention, it is obvious that our bodies have an inbuilt capacity, given them by their Designer, which works tirelessly to heal what is sick and mend what is broken. God has decreed that our bodies are mortal, but He is still very committed to promoting healing and wholeness in them as an expression of His character.
As Christians, we are not confused by this paradox. The atheist learns no spiritual lesson from the opposing principles of both healing and decline in his body. Without firm hope beyond the grave, he either laments or ignores his mortality whilst trying to halt the decline as long as possible before death inevitably comes. We know as Christians, however, that these two opposing forces of physical healing and decline are at the very heart of the Gospel. When God created the world He saw that it was “very good” (Gen 1:31), but when Adam disobeyed the Lord’s command that “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen 2:17) he brought about the Fall and its very bad consequences. Paul explains that “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin” (Rom 5:12), and Moses makes it clear that sickness was part of the curse which came through sin (Deut 28:21-22&59-61). This makes sense of Peter’s teaching that Jesus was undoing the work of the Fall in his earthly ministry when he came “healing all who were under the power of the devil” (Acts 10:38), and explains why Scripture teaches that it is often (but not always) linked to demonic activity (Mt 9:32-33, Lk 13:11&16).1 Sickness is not just a biological and medical phenomenon, but also a spiritual one related to the devil’s work in the world (Acts 10:38). Healing is therefore part of God’s work in the world, as personified in Jesus Christ, who became a human being with a mortal body in order to “destroy the devil’s work” (1Jn 3:8).
Given the clear biblical teaching about the two principles of human mortality and divine healing, no Christian seriously denies either one of them in their entirety. Even the most die-hard cessationist still expects to get better when he catches the ‘flu, and if necessary goes to the doctor to help his body in its work of recuperation. Even the most fiery Pentecostal faith-healer does not seriously expect his congregation to experience so much healing from God that they will never actually die.
The question is not whether the Bible and experience teach that there are two principles of mortality and healing at work in our bodies, but how much we can expect God to heal our mortal bodies right now. Since Jesus taught that healing was a primary sign that His Kingdom had come (Mt 10:7-8, Mk 1:15&27, Lk 9:2,9:11&10:9), the answer to this question is part of the bigger question of how much has the Kingdom of God already come? In this much bigger question lies a healthy theology of healing.
Most Christians agree that the Kingdom of God has come through the first coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus said “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Mt 12:28). He quietened John the Baptist’s doubts over whether he truly was the promised Messianic King by reminding him that through him “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised” (Mt 11:5).
Most Christians also agree that the Kingdom of God has not yet fully come and will not fully come until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Lk 19:11-12). The apostle John saw that it was only after the Second Coming that the angels would fully proclaim that “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev 11:15), and he also saw that it was only after the Second Coming that the old order of things would be ended and sickness would become a distant memory rather than a daily reality. He tells us that “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (Rev 21:1-5a). We do not yet possess the resurrection bodies which Jesus has won for us through his work of salvation, but we eagerly await them through the groans and trials of this life (1Cor 15:39-53, Phil 3:21, Rom 8:23, Acts 14:22), knowing that at the Second Coming of Jesus we will be raised to life to enjoy the complete fullness of the Kingdom of God.
Most Christians agree still further that we have a role to play as Christians in turning the now-but not-yet Kingdom of God into reality on earth today. Jesus, after all, told us to ask the Father “Let your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10).
Therefore since almost all Christians agree that, in Jesus Christ, the promised Kingdom has come (Gen 49:10, Jer 23:5-6, Eze 21:25-27), a healthy theology of healing answers the question of just how much the Kingdom of God came through his First Coming and how much we should resign ourselves to sickness in the here and now as part of our groaning for his speedy Second Coming. Put simply, we can say that if the Kingdom of God has come much then I can have much expectation of being healed, but if the Kingdom of God has come little then I can have little expectation of being healed (Lk 10:9).
This series will therefore examine each of the four main Christian answers to the question of how much the Kingdom of God has already come in Jesus Christ, and will conclude by showing how a biblical answer to this question provides us with the framework for a healthy theology of healing. This will then provide us with four crucial areas in which we need to grow in our own personal ministries if we are to bring the healing of God to our own generation as an expression of the Kingdom rule, here and now, of the Great King Jesus Christ.
Check back next week for the next installment in this series on healing.
Holy Spirit-inspired preaching brings about an encounter with God that demands a verdict and produces a changed life based on revelation, faith and love, not cold obedience to external rules.
God’s flock will intuitively hear His voice and respond as truth is fed to them by called and anointed pastor/teachers. Gradually a culture of God-centredness will emerge characterised by worship, faith, grace, mercy, respect, service and the awareness of being an alien people whose fundamental citizenship lies elsewhere (Phi. 3:20).
The shepherd’s ability to feed and be a channel of God’s grace will result in the gathering of a flock. The sheep gather to the gifted anointing of shepherding and thus a flock forms.
The responsibility of the shepherds is not simply to expound truth but to develop relationships of love and trust, and in some cases to ‘parent’ a flock often made up of those who have never been parented before. Paul says that he was among the Thessalonians ‘like a nursing mother tenderly caring for her own children’ (1 Thess. 2:7), adding that he also was ‘exhorting, encouraging and imploring each of you as a father would his own children’ (1 Thess. 2:11). Many in our modern world don’t have true fathers. No one has helped to shape their lives. Many modern city-dwellers are lost and lonely, like sheep without a shepherd, distressed and harassed (Matt. 9:36).
There has never been a greater need for true shepherds to be raised up to care for God’s flock, unafraid to use rod and staff when the need arises, and thereby keeping the flock safe and secure, at rest and able to lie down unafraid in green pastures.
Paul, when speaking to the Ephesian elders, urged them not only to take heed to the flock and shepherd them, he also reminded them ‘to take heed to themselves’ (Acts 20:28). If Jesus prayed, ‘For their sakes I sanctify myself’ (John 17:19) how much more must under-shepherds be on guard.
In John Piper’s words, ‘Brothers we are not professionals.’ Ultimately, we also are sheep. We need to stay very close to the great shepherd, enjoying His smile, drinking in His lavish grace and being diligent to embrace His disciplines and training and follow His guidance.
Moses came from encounters with the Lord with shining face. David made it his pre-eminent desire to spend days in the Lord’s tent, feasting at His table and delighting in His presence. No under-shepherd is an end in himself, or has intrinsic superior wisdom. If Jesus said, ‘The words I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative…’ (John 14:10), how much more must we be constantly receiving fresh grace and instruction.
God has promised ‘shepherds after his own heart’. May we be the fulfilment of that promise.
// Originally posted on Terry's Blog //
If we believe in the restoration of the apostolic ministry today then we need to draw our pattern for how apostles should function from what we know of the apostles in the New Testament. However we have to acknowledge that the twelve (and Paul) had roles that were unique in both their calling and function, and also in their measure of anointing and wisdom.
In particular there was a unique and unrepeatable nature about Peter and Paul’s respective ‘apostleships’ to Jews and Gentiles. Despite this we find that we have to use them as the main examples on which we base our understanding of apostolic ministry, simply because we know so much about them than we do about the rest of the twelve, or some of the other apostles. So in the next few posts I will focus on Peter and Paul, and follow their ways and methods, while always humbly acknowledging the uniqueness of their role.
Let us first consider the selection of the twelve which was obviously a very serious undertaking. Jesus had spent all night in prayer and then chose from among his many disciples twelve whom he designated to be apostles, that is, those who would be sent with a special commission. In Mark’s account, their responsibilities are described as threefold:
Paul was very conscious of his divine commissioning, as he writes to the churches in Galatia: ‘Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father.’1 Apostles are not self-appointed (in fact, self-appointment is the mark of a false prophet) or merely appointed by other people; theirs is a charismatic ministry given by the Holy Spirit, and not a hierarchical appointment: ‘in the church God has appointed first of all apostles…’2
Although not all apostles are part of the twelve, there must nevertheless be an awareness of having been called, authorized, gifted and commissioned.
1 Gal. 1:1 2 1 Cor. 12:28
Originally posted on the Catalyst Network.
Paul encouraged leaders to respond to prophetic words. He suggested that it should be done after 2 or 3 words/contributions. We don’t want to be legalistic about this, but it is helpful to summarize what we believe God is saying in a meeting after a few prophetic words have been given, otherwise we can lose track and their effect can be lost. I see our job to anchor a meeting not just there to test, but to give weight to the word that has come. Sometimes that means asking the congregation to respond and to be bold in doing so. We see this with Peter in Acts 2. He stood up in the middle of Holy Spirit activity, preached an average message, but boldly asked people to respond and the result – 3000 added.
I like to think that leading a meeting is like riding a wave. There are two extremes to avoid: One is where people try to work up everything in their own strength not realizing the power of the Holy Spirit’s wave and he other is where people don’t paddle when the wave comes and miss the momentum the wave can give your church. The only thing you got out of it was, “Wow, that was a great wave or wow that was a great meeting!”
Like Paul, do not let people walk out of your meetings saying, “They are out of their mind.” To help prevent this, our anchors always ask the question, “Would a new person understand what’s happening.” So we are always thinking, “How can I connect what is happening to the truth with Scripture?” How can I connect this to another experience that would be common to them? Sometimes it’s just a language barrier. Tim Keller, “If you want the neighborhood to show up at your meetings speak as though they are already there.”
The art of “Bridging” is the ability to link up potentially disjointed segments of the service, so that the actual experience is a smooth one. The helps people follow along and is conducive to the flow of the Holy Spirit. Meetings that start and stop and go off on tangents are seldom great meetings. God is a God of order and is not the author of confusion.
We need to let people down gently from the heights of heaven to the more mundane matters of notices. This requires that the leader recap through a statement (i.e. Isn’t God’s presence wonderful? We are going to continue to enjoy God’s presence through the teaching of Scripture.) or a prayer. Don’t rush this part and be gentle with people.
While sometimes singing a good song is a sufficient blessing, it can also be the launching pad for something more explosive for prophecy, prayer or ministry. For example, we were singing the song, “Savior, He can move the mountains…” And I popped up and said, “Everyone in this room has a savior. We are all looking to someone or something to save us. Can your Savior move mountains? Jesus can move mountains. Let’s continue to sing this song with the understanding that no matter the situation, Jesus has the power to move mountains in our life.”
Pragmatically, there is an evident need for the continuation of many of the functions of the original apostles. This would include church planting, laying good foundations in churches, continuing to oversee those churches, appointing the leaders, giving on going fatherly care to leaders, and handling difficult questions that may arise from those churches. There are really only three ways for churches to carry out these functions:
1. Each church is free to act totally independently and to seek God’s mind for its own government and pastoral wisdom, without any help from outside, unless the church may choose to seek it at any particular time.
2. Churches operate under some sort of structured and formal oversight, as in many denominations today where local church leaders and appointed by and accountable to regional leadership, whether ‘bishops’, ‘superintendents’ or ‘overseers’. It is hard to justify this model from the New Testament, though we recognise that it developed very early in church history.
3. We aim to imitate the New Testament practice of travelling ministries of apostles and prophets, with apostles having their own spheres of responsibility as a result of having planted and laid foundations in the churches they oversee. Such ministries continue the connection with local churches as a result of fatherly relationships and not denominational election or appointment, recognizing that there will need to be new charismatically gifted and friendship based relationship continuing into later generations.
My hope is that both this, and the previous two blog posts, have shown that a strong case can be made for apostolic ministry continuing today, while also recognising the unique role of the original apostles who witnessed the resurrection, and while thoroughly submitting to the truth revealed in the pages of the New Testament and seeing that truth as God’s final revelation.
There is surely more support in the pages of the New Testament for relational oversight of churches than for denominational structures, and it seems to me preferable to use the Ephesians 4 terminology of the fivefold ministries equipping the churches, rather than to resort to Episcopal designations or their equivalents in other denominations.
If, however, you have not yet been convinced of the validity of the apostolic today I would urge you to continue to read this series as I outline the principles for the planting and oversight of churches which I believe are very important for the future of the church and of world mission.
This blog was originally published on the Catalyst Network.
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