Christianity 201

December 28, 2019

A Post-Charismatic Looks at Miracles

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

NIV.John.4.23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

This is the second half of an article based partly on a news item from last week which continues to be the center of much discussion as I write this. I try to keep C201 articles somewhat timeless, using the other blog to discuss current events as they arise. But I thought this was well written and worthy of your consideration here. Click the title below to read the article in full. The author is Ethan Renoe who is now serving in Guatemala.

Dear Charismatic Sisters and Brothers

Subtitle: Strive for spirit AND truth; neglecting one will always be damaging

…Take, for instance, the recent tragic episode of a Bethel worship leader trying to raise her daughter from the dead: without going into the details of the story itself, a lot of Bible verses were thrown around out of context in order to prove one side’s point. This is obviously a detrimental way to build arguments and do hermeneutics no matter which side you’re on. This heart-wrenching event served to expose a lot of the beliefs of the charismatic church and the grounds upon which they build their theology.

Many people filled comment sections with Bible verses yanked out of context, not realizing that the other ‘side’ could just as easily yank a different verse to prove another point. Thus, it’s impossible to argue with someone who is throwing little pebbles of individual Bible verses in lieu of a larger structure on which to build their theological arguments.

Think of it like this: before I went to Moody, I had a string of small arguments strung together through various anecdotes or quotes from pastors’ sermons. I didn’t have much of a foundational theology on which I built the core of my beliefs. I had a series of small, adjacent city-states rather than a massive nation to draw resources from. And which is more sturdy—small clusters of thoughts, or massive, deep-rooted, well-established doctrine and belief?

That’s the impression I got reading a lot of comments on this event: People were pitching little verses like Matthew 10:8, where Jesus tells His disciples to raise the dead…all the while neglecting that in the same paragraph, He instructed them not to go among the gentiles. Clearly that imperative was meant for only that specific group at that time.

Others would talk about how, when Jesus died, many dead people got out of their graves, and use this as justification for why people can be raised no matter how long they’ve been dead. However, they left out the part that Jesus died when this happened. Clearly it wasn’t a regular thing. There’s a difference between prescriptive and descriptive passages of scripture and it’s important to delineate between the two.

Someone from the other side could just as easily have quoted Isaiah (“Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness”), or Ecclesiastes (“The dead know nothing; they have no further reward…never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.”)

My point is not to argue for one side or the other, but to show that this method of building an argument is fundamentally flawed and it actually proves a lack of larger biblical/theological understanding. If one’s theology is pieced together with scraps of scripture apropos to the situation, that structure cannot stand when stronger, more robust arguments are presented, arguments which are not as dependent on the current situation.

The issue with building your beliefs on the foundation of miracles and supernatural occurrences—as I did for years—is that when they don’t happen, you are left with some anemic view of God. A better view of miracles would be thinking of them as sprinkles on the cake: they are not the substance or the core of my belief, but if they happen, they are sweet and we get to rejoice and praise God together. 

Of course, no charismatic person would say that they’ve built their system on top of miracles, but to be honest, that really was the driving force of my faith for many years. And movies like Finger of God and Furious Love—favorites among pentecostals—only serve to reinforce this culture of ‘miracle hunters.’ It almost felt like my faith wasn’t good enough because I didn’t see healings left and right as people like Todd White claim to. Again, I don’t think their hearts are insidious, or that they’re intentionally trying to mislead people; but this pursuit of spirit needs to be balanced out by a pursuit of truth. 

Perhaps a deeper understanding of miracles and scripture would help round out the times God doesn’t heal the leg, or eradicate the cancer. A sound theology of suffering will help comfort us in times of suffering. After all, it’s tempting to bypass passages about ‘taking up our cross daily’ in favor of those promising God giving us what we ask for, building anemic theologies of ‘open heavens’ and other false hopes for salvation in this life. Much of this, I eventually realized, was flat-out denial of reality. I can’t count the number of times my sinuses were ‘declared’ healed before I actually had surgery on them.

Perhaps charismatic brothers and sisters need to balance out their doctrine of resurrection with a healthy cruciformity: seeing life through the lens of the cross. After all, we are still in the Golgotha phase of our existence. It hurts and we suffer and die. Resurrection has yet to happen to us.

(There needs to be a balanced notion of “already but not yet” when thinking about the kingdom. Many preachers emphasize the “already” portion of the kingdom, leading them into over-realizing their eschatology which inevitably leads to health and wealth gospels contrary to the Bible. It needs to be balanced out with “not yet”: the kingdom is not here in its fullness and we live in a very broken world. But again, that’s a post for another day.)

After all, if we hope for miracles in this life, even if they come, we will ultimately be let down. One speaker at Moody once shifted my perspective when he said:

“You know what the greatest miracle of all is? Salvation. All other miracles are temporary. If your knee gets healed, it will eventually break down again. Even Lazarus died again.”

Neglecting this as the center of Christian faith and hope will always disappoint us. What good is rejoicing at a miracle if it will one day inevitably be undone? This is why the core of our faith must always continue to be unio Cristi, knowing Christ as He is and introducing others to Him. This means explaining that their life won’t get better just because they know Him. In many cases, it will get much worse, yet Jesus did not leave His followers unprepared for this. “In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Our hope is not that this world will bring healing, or that it will satisfy us. Our hope is that Christ is with us, that He has us in His mighty hand, and will not let us go. May we not get sidetracked by focusing on temporary miracles, but continually focus on the one that will not end: knowing Christ and Him crucified, joining Him in His suffering that we may one day, somehow, join Him in His resurrection.

March 12, 2014

Healing: Available But Not Promised

I like articles that really make me think. The problem is that sometimes we want to put people and ideas in a box. So if a person is not a cessationist, we think they believe in healing but sometimes that means we think they believe in our view of what that entails. That’s why I like this author’s middle-ground approach. This article was included here by permission of Jason Dulle at the blog Theo-sophical Ruminations, and I encourage you to click through to read, and then browse the rest of his writing. The article and link is: We Are Not Promised Healing.

As a continuationist, I believe God is still in the healing business.  I’ve known of several people who have experienced miraculous healings.  And yet, I can name more people who have died from diseases than those who were healed.  As a young Christian I was always confused by this.  I heard many messages in which it was proclaimed that God has promised us healing so long as we will believe.  Indeed, it’s often said that Christ’s atonement not only secured our salvation, but our healing as well.  An appeal is made to Isaiah 53:4-5 which reads:

But he lifted up our illnesses, he carried our pain; even though we thought he was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done. 5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed. (NET)

If Jesus’ atonement secured our healing just as it secured our salvation, and both can be received by faith, then why do so many who have received salvation by faith not receive healing?  Is it because they lack faith?  Is it because they have not prayed enough?  Perhaps in some instances, but clearly not all.

I eventually came to reject the idea that we are promised healing due to the Biblical data.  Consider the following:

  • In 2 Kings 13:14 we read that Elisha had a disease from which he ultimately died.  This is the man who had the double-portion anointing and was responsible for many miraculous events.  Surely he was not a man who lacked faith, and yet he contracted a disease that God never healed him of, and from which he died.
  • Paul instructed Timothy to drink wine to help him with his digestive issues and frequent illnesses (1 Timothy 5:23).
  • Paul noted that his fellow minister, Trophimus, was so sick that he could no longer travel with Paul, but had to be left behind in the city of Miletus.  Surely Paul prayed for him, and surely Paul had faith, and yet Trophimus was not healed.

So what about Isaiah 53:5?  Isn’t healing included in the atonement?  No.  The healing spoken of by the prophet is best understood as referring to Israel’s spiritual healing, not their physical healing.  Indeed, this is how Peter understood the passage. He refers to the passage in Isaiah, writing, “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed,” and then continues, “For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25, NASB). The clause preceded by “so that” tells us the purpose for the atonement, while the two clauses preceded by “for” provide supporting explanations for that purpose:

[purpose] so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness;
for by His wounds you were healed
for you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”

God HealingThe first “for” clause explains how our salvation is possible, while the second “for” clause explains why it was necessary.  For Peter, being healed is equivalent to dying to sin and living to righteousness.  The healing Peter has in mind is not physical healing, but healing for our sin.

We ought to pray for healing and believe God is able to do it, but we must keep in mind that we are not promised healing by God.  We need to put our trust in God, and not in any particular outcome.  Whether we are healed or not, we need to continue to trust in the God who is able to heal.