Well, I know I said I'd be posting chapter #3 soon, but that will have to wait just a bit. There's another topic I've really been aching to talk about, especially with a lot of the interactions I've been experiencing while here in Bosnia. As you can see from the title, I thought I'd take this chance to give you my opinions on "the gift of healing." This opinion has been formed over the years after being exposed to several pentecostal churches as well as sermons from speakers such as Bill Johnson and Sam Storms (I'll bet that none of you reading this have heard of Storms... which is why I feel a post like this needs to be written).
First of all , let me say that there is a difference between uncertainty and humility. I am willing to have these opinions changed, however, they must be changed with scripture. I believe they are correct and if I didn't I would change them in a heartbeat.
Now, if the title hasn't stated it clearly enough, "I don't believe in the gift of healing." Shocked? good, now I can explain what I mean. For those of you who haven't heard of Sam Storms, he was the one who pointed out some very interesting details of 1 Corinthians 12 in a sermon I recently listened to. Many of you who read the title of this blog were, I'm sure, very eager to point out the words of 1 Corinthians 12:9 "to another faith by the same spirit, to another gifts of healing by the same spirit." However, let me point out something in the wording here. "to another gifts of healing by the same spirit." Before I explain what I'm hinting at, there is another detail I should mention. There is actually a slight difference in the Greek that is not brought out in any current English translation. Both the word "Gift," and the word "healing" are in the plural. So the verse should probably be translated "gifts of healings."
Now, many of you are probably wondering what on earth the difference is when we change something so small. Actually, the difference is incredibly important. When we see healing as "gifts of healings" it forces us to draw a distinction between two kinds of gifts outlined in 1 Corinthians 12. There are gifts that come and rest upon a person and define their role in the church. The gift of teaching would fall into this category. There are then those that are occasional or circumstantial in nature. The gifts of faith and healing would fall into this category. Now, don't panic, when I say occasional, I don't mean rare. I simply am pointing out that gifts like this are not dependent on the person they are operating through, but on the timing of the God giving the gift. I for example believe that I have the gift of teaching. It is a mindset and way of life that I can't escape from. I may not always teach well or correctly, but the gift, nevertheless, is always trying to force it's way out. It is not taught, however, that any one person operates in "the gift of healing" as a role in the church. What we do see, however, is a multitude of "gifts of healings" which are therefore potentially available to all believers under the sovereign will of God.
This leads us to the second half of my position. Is God always willing to heal? It seems to me that this is a much more pressing and controversial question among Christians today. According to all I've heard from Bill Johnson and those like him, the answer in their opinion, is yes. It seems to be that they believe our ability to heal is directly tied to our connection to the presence of Christ. The more we become like him, the more we heal. This may be an oversimplification and I may need correction in my stating of it, but I have yet to hear preachers like Bill Johnson say anything that would directly contradict it. Something I feel must be said, however, is that I have yet to see someone with this position do a complete and thorough exegesis of 1 Corinthians 12, as well as other scriptures that would seem to state another opinion.
To give a good explanation of my position, we must connect these "gifts of healings" to the "gift of faith" that is mentioned just before. Many might ask, isn't faith a gift that all Christian's are supposed to have? The answer is of course yes, which is why it would not make sense for Paul to be speaking of that particular kind of faith in this context. These are gifts that we see in different people and at different times. This gift of faith that Paul is mentioning in the same breath as healing is much more likely referring to something a bit different.
I heard an excellent definition of faith from Bill Johnson once and I think in bears repeating here. "Faith is simply acting on what God has said." Therefore the "gift of faith," as explained by Sam Storms, when coupled with a gift of healing is also "occasional" or "circumstantial" in nature. It is a word from God that it is his will to heal at a specific moment though it is not specifically promised to us in scripture. It is a gift that gives us confidence to command healing, knowing that it is God's will. The question that then arises is: is it therefore presumptuous to command a healing rather than to humbly ask for one when God has not given a gift of faith to accompany our request? Just to avoid any ambiguity on my part, my opinion is a resounding yes!
Now, some things I've heard in response to this are things like, "Jesus healed everyone he came into contact with," "It shows a lack of faith to not command healing at every opportunity," "Stop focusing on what God's not doing and start focusing on what he is doing" and, well, you get the idea. Let me address these objections just to let you know I've at least thought about them.
Did Jesus heal everyone he came into contact with? Well, no he didn't. Bill Johnson's objection to me pointing out the pool of Bethesda notwithstanding, it is an very clear example of this. And if this wasn't clear enough, Jesus explicitly stated that he did "only what he saw the father doing." Second, does this position show a lack of faith? Well, if faith is acting on what God has said, and I begin acting on what God has not said, then it is not faith. I would go so far to say it is arrogance. Don't misunderstand me, we should always pray for healing when a need arises. However, we should only command healing when it is coupled with a "gift of faith." I've seen God heal through both types of prayer and we can find both types in scripture. Lastly, what do we say to the idea that we should "only focus on what God is doing?" Well, I don't think this is a fair objection. I believe God is always doing something. If he is not healing me physically, then there is something he is trying to teach me though the circumstances. I've seen many people scoff at this as an example of a lack of faith, however, I didn't come up with this theology as an excuse for what I see as God's silence or lack of activity. I believe it because it is explicitly taught in scripture.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul speaks of having a "thorn" in his flesh. Not only did it torment him, but God himself allowed Satan to put it there. It is not stated whether it is physical or spiritual, which I believe makes a case for God given affliction even stronger. Not only do we see affliction ordained by God in this verse, but we see a specific reason for it as well. Starting in verse 12 we see Paul state: "...So, to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited." Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
I can't help but ask, is there any way it could be stated more clearly than that? God's glory is most certainly shown in healing, but it is incredibly unbliblical to say that it is not shown in his lack of healing. One question I have for people who might disagree with me: At what age is it okay to die without being considered unspiritual? There really is no such thing as dying of old age. An organ will fail. A disease will come. An accident will happen. God will pick some method with which to bring us into his presence. Who are we to say that the devil had a victory every time an affliction befalls someone? Again, don't misunderstand me, I absolutely believe that there are times when the devil harasses someone and we must walk in a God given authority to rebuke him and walk in victory. I simply believe there is room for the gift of discernment of spirits as well. We must do our part, but God has a part to play as well. He is the one who is sovereign and not us.
The basic idea behind these objections seems to stem from an incorrect interpretation of two verses. The first is Isaiah 53:5 which states that by Christ's stripes we are healed. This however does not promise us healing whenever we ask for it. We know that we will be eternally healed in heaven because of Christ, however, "gifts of healings" among all the other gifts are simply a first fruits of the kingdom that is yet to come (Rom. 8:23). The second verse is the Lords prayer in which he asks that the father's will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. My objection to such an all encompassing interpretation of this verse is the same as that of the verse in Romans. Anyone with a decent understanding of the kingdom of God as it is taught in scripture should realize that there are aspects of the kingdom being revealed now and there are those to be revealed in eternity. As one great theologian said, "the kingdom is both now and not yet."
To close, I would simply like to point out the practical outcomes of these two positions. In the end I think that the actions we take based on these positions are incredibly similar, however I think the theology behind our actions is just as important. Many tend to think my position keeps people from praying for healing. I couldn't disagree more. We never have an excuse to avoid praying for healing. Fear is what holds someone with my theology back, not the theology itself. I would also like to say that when I mention what I see as flaws in a preacher such as Bill Johnson, I would never say that the healings in his ministry are not of God. I absolutely believe that God is doing great things in his ministry, and there is much greater faith in his circles than I have seen in the circles of people who believe as I do. I do not believe this means his theology is perfect, however. I simply believe God doesn't demand perfect theology in order to give a gift of healing. The fact of the matter is, his teachings have done a great deal in ridding his congregation of the fear of God not healing. Therefore, more has been asked for and more has been received. My position is simply that yes, the danger of asking too little of a God who loves to heal is indeed legitimate. However, we must always maintain a distinction between what God has said and what he has not as well as a distinction between asking and commanding.
Some books I recommend so you can see where I'm coming from: "A Beginners Guide to Spiritual Gifts" by Sam Storms as well as "Suffering Loss" by Stacy Cline