Christians united against God’s power?
It is sad for me to report that there are millions of Christians today who deny that the power of God is available to heal and to do miracles. They deny that when we are sick, we can pray with confidence that God will deliver us and make us healthy again. These Bible-believing Christians assert that if healing does happen, it is the exception to the rule, and that for believers to be sick is normal and should be accepted with calm resignation.
What is worse, these Christians I am talking about are not extremist liberals who deny that Scripture is inspired by God. They are, in fact, some of the most ardent defenders of the inspiration of Scripture in the world today. These Christians are not sucked into a naturalist world view that denies the reality of anything that science cannot explain. In fact, these Christians are some of the strongest opponents of evolution and of the ungodly world view that evolutionary science brings. These people are evangelicals and fundamentalists, staunch defenders of the foundational truths of God’s word against a rising tide of worldly opposition to those truths. Unfortunately, these people are also Cessationists. A Cessationist is a Christian who believes that God’s power only worked in biblical times. Today the same power is not available for believers, except in rare cases.
Why are Cessationists opposed to the healing power of God? If you ask one of them, they will likely tell you that they simply believe that this is what the Bible teaches. But when you ask them for a Scripture that teaches that healing is not for today, their list of prooftexts is wanting. The most common places they turn to are Hebrews 1:1-2 and 2:3. There is much I can say about their exegesis of these texts, and perhaps I will in a later blog, but rather than focus on the interpretation of a few isolated texts, none of which were written to teach about healing and whether it is still available today, I would like to address this subject from a different perspective. Because so many of us (including my 14-year-old daughter) are being confronted by people who deny that healing is for today, and their arguments are blows against our faith, I am going to give a top ten list of why all Christians should believe that healing is for today, and why we shoud appropriate it by faith any time we are sick. These 10 reasons should serve as answers you can give Cessationists when they come knocking at your door.
Reason #10 – God heals the whole person. Cessationists commonly assert that healing of the body is not in the atonement. The healing that is mentioned in, say, Isa 53, pertains to spiritual, not physical healing. For any interpretation of Scripture to be correct, it has to be a possible meaning of the text for the people to whom it was written. For example, when Augustine interpreted the innkeeper in the parable of the Good Samaritan to be the Apostle Paul, we know he was incorrect, because the people who heard Jesus give this parable could not possibly have interpreted it this way. At that time Paul was Saul, an unknown aspiring Pharisee. Likewise, it is highly unlikely that the followers of Jesus could have interpreted the covenant that he was establishing to only pertain to the spirit, and not also to the body.
Unlike the Western world, which particularizes everything, breaking things down to its minutest parts, the Near Eastern mindset was holistic. That means they saw the whole as more important than the parts, and rarely bothered to separate wholes into parts. Ancient Israelites saw the human as a complete entity, and they would not have understood a concept that suggests God would deliver only part of the person. To suggest that God would deliver the soul from death, but not the body, would have been a foreign concept to the Israelite believer in Yahweh. It is the modern, Western mindset that allows for such a dichotomist interpretation of the atonement.
Reason #9 – Healing was a central feature of the old covenant. Some of the greatest healing promises in the Bible are found in the Old Testament: “I am the Lord who heals you” (Exod 15:26); “Praise the Lord…who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Ps 103:2-3); “I will take away sickness from among you” (Exod 23:25). God promised physical healing among the many benefits of the Mosaic covenant. The New Testament consistently testifies that the covenant established by Jesus is superior to the one established through Moses. It is ironic that the book of Hebrews, which was written to prove the complete superiority of the new covenant, is the home of two of the leading prooftexts Cessationists use to prove that the new covenant is inferior to the old when it comes to bodily healing.
Reason #8 – God does not want his people to be sick. God does what he pleases. He is not bound by any outside forces; no laws external to him restrict anything he does. His laws exist so he can freely do what pleases him and so he can teach us, his people, to do the same. If Cessationists think that bodily healing is not part of the atonement, then they are going to have to prove why God would want his new covenant people to be bound by sickness and disease for the duration of their earthly lives.
It is not enough to say the Bible teaches healing is not for today. Too many people believe the Bible teaches that healing is for today. The latter have no difficulty explaining that God wants his people to be healthy. But if God did not include bodily healing in the atonement, then the pink elephant standing in the middle of the room is asking, “Why?” Why would God choose not to include healing in the new covenant. The only answer is that God did not want to do it. But God wants his people healthy, so that is not an acceptable answer.
Reason #7 – Healing was central to the ministry of Jesus. The ministry of Jesus was a ministry of healing and deliverance. Luke provides a fitting summary of the life of Jesus in his recording of Peter’s words in Acts 10:38, declaring how Jesus, “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” If this is what Christ did during his ministry, what are we, who are in Christ, supposed to do in ours? Put another way, why would Jesus perform healings throughout his earthly ministry if he did not intend for his people to do the same in theirs? The fact is, he did intend for us to do the same. he said, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. he will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (Jn 14:12). To affirm the healing ministry of Jesus but deny the similar ministry of his followers is inconsistent.
Reason #6 – Compassion and faith are still for today. A common Cessationist response to the healings found in the Gospels and Acts is that these healings were restricted to the first century because they were sign gifts, provided to authenticate the gospel in places where it had never been heard before. In other words, it was a temporary manifestation to aid in the fulfilling of the Great Commission. The problems with this interpretation are many. First, the NT promises that all believers will also do these miracles. Not only is this evident in John 14:12, quoted above, but also in Mark 16:16-18, which pertains to “whoever believes and is baptized.” It is telling that when this passage is quoted to Cessationists, the first response is often a denial that these verses belong in the Bible. These promises were not just for the apostles. The healing ministry of Jesus was not just for the apostles. The Great Commission is still being fulfilled today, long after the apostles have died, and we evangelicals who are committed to seeing the gospel go to the nations, need the power of God in our lives and ministries.
A second problem with the Cessationist interpretation of NT miracles is that most of them do not fit under the category of sign gifts. Jesus often healed out of compassion (Mat 9:35-36; 14:14; 15:32-39; 20:34), and many healings were the direct result of faith (Mat 8:10; 9:2; 9:22; 9:29; 15:28). I believe compassion and faith are still for today, and a simple syllogism works out the implications of this fact. If A) compassion and faith consistently produced healing and miracles in the NT, and B) compassion and faith are still for today, then the natural conclusion is C) healing and miracles are still for today. To conclude that healing and miracles are not for today, one has to either contend that Jesus is not consistent in his response to compassion and faith (contra Heb 13:8), or that compassion and faith are not for today.
The last five points of this top ten list will appear next week. Feel free to comment on these points here or in the Revolutingnow Facebook group page. Raise any issues or counter-arguments that you see and I will be happy to respond to them.