Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Do They Do as They Did?

            In this post, I am not exegetically analyzing the argument against healings or speaking in tongues.  There are many important passages and theological concepts, which I do not address. These are just some of the inconsistencies I have seen in the Pentecostal movement, especially the healing movement, over the last few years. It is rather generic. So if you know Pentecostals who are biblically grounded then praise God. I am addressing excesses, but they are excesses, which are common enough to need to be addressed. I do mention speaking in tongues, but the focus is on healing.
Inconsistency in Application
            Pentecostals are usually inconsistent in their application of the Bible. For example, they claim that the Bible teaches we can still speak in tongues. However, I have rarely met a Pentecostal who uses an interpreter.  They like the verses in I Corinthians 14 or Acts that talk about speaking in tongues, but they do not like the verses in I Corinthians that demand an interpreter. (I Cor. 14:6-19)  You cannot have it both ways. If you take the Bible seriously and believe it still allows speaking in tongues then you must also have an interpreter. Otherwise you are simply cherry-picking the Bible for verses and forcing them into your mold, instead of letting the Bible mold you.
            Here is another example. Many Pentecostals use Mark 16:15-18 to prove that healings are still a valid part of Christian ministry. But this proves too much. If this passage teaches healings, it also teaches that we can drink deadly poison and not die. How many Pentecostals are willing to do that? What about picking up serpents? My point is not to mock, but to show that they cannot have it both ways. Either it teaches all of these things are valid for the Church today or it teaches something else.
            One more example will suffice. Often the various healings in Acts will be used to buttress their view that healings and miracles are still valid today. However, if one reads Acts he realizes quickly that what we see in Acts is nothing like what we see in the Pentecostal church. First, Pentecostals do not raise the dead. This occurs twice in Acts. (9:36-43 and 20:7-12) If the other gifts are valid why would raising the dead not still be valid? Second, Pentecostals have never healed in the same manner as the Apostles. In Acts 5:15 it says that even Peter’s shadow had healing powers. How many Pentecostals would claim this? Add to this the astounding statement in Acts 19:11-12 that even clothes taken from Paul would heal the sick and drive out demons. Are the Pentecostals willing to show us their handkerchiefs healing people? If the answer is that they do not believe this kind of power is still available, then I would ask why not?
            We see the same syndrome in the Pentecostal movement that we see in much of the Christian church today. They take the verses that fit their viewpoint and reject those verses that do not fit their view. 

The Public Nature of Miracles and Healings in the New Testament
            Most miracles done by Christ and the Apostles were public. This is one of the most problematic aspects of Pentecostal miracle working.  Their miracles are often done in a controlled, semi-private environment. When was the last time a Pentecostal went out in public and healed a Vietnam Vet who was in wheelchair? What about healing the blind man begging in downtown Pittsburgh or Chicago? These are the types of miracles the Apostles worked.  The first miracle in Acts is in chapter 3. It was a public healing of man lame since birth. Everyone in the community knew the man.  And they all knew he had been healed. (3:10) Paul also heals a man born crippled in Acts 14. This healing by Paul is public and causes the people of the city to worship him. Whether or not someone was healed was rarely, if ever, in question. The healings were beyond debate. They could argue about the power behind the healing as they did in John 9. But everyone knew the person had been healed. The private and controlled nature of most Pentecostal healings cast suspicion on their validity. Jesus and the Apostles did not have healing services. They went out into public and healed in such a way that there was no debate about the power of God.
            Also Paul blinds a man in Acts 13.  Is this still valid? If we can still heal like Paul, why can we not still blind like Paul?

Not a Part of Church Ministry
            If healings and other sign gifts were supposed to be a regular part of the ministry of the Church until Christ returns, one would expect to find the leaders of church exhorted to stir up these gifts and probably to even have these gifts. However, when we look at the New Testament data we find that elders/overseers/pastors are never exhorted to have these gifts or stir them up in the churches. Look at Acts 20:18-35, I Timothy 3:1-13, I Timothy 5:17-25, Titus 1:5-9 and I Peter 5:1-4. In these passages, Paul, Peter, and Luke are laying out the character traits of leaders of the Church. If one reads through I Timothy, II Timothy, and, Titus Paul goes into great lengths about what a minister is supposed to be doing. Healing others is not part of the job description. Paul does mention healing in I Corinthians 12. But outside of that Paul or Peter do not mention healing as a part of the leaders’ task.  The exclusion of this from addresses to and about the leaders is odd if these things were supposed to be a vital part of the Church’s ministry through the ages.
            James 5:14-16 talks about the elders coming and praying over someone who is sick. The passage is about sickness related to sinning. From 5:15-20 the focus is on a wayward brother. Healing is mentioned in the passage, but it is connected to confession of sins, not to some magic worked by a man up front. I have not thoroughly exegeted the passage, but it looks James is telling us that if we have a sickness directly connected to sin we can confess that sin and be healed. The passage does not teach that if we just pray with enough faith we will always be healed.
            Of course, God can heal miraculously, if he so pleases. And we should pray for healing. There is nothing wrong with lifting our voices to heaven for an ailing brother or sister. But we cannot pull God’s strings to get him to do what we want. Nor is he obligated to heal this side of Heaven. 

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Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8