Wednesday, June 13, 2012
DO ALL HEAL?
If you listen to the wrong people, you'll come away believing that every Christian today should be healing the sick and raising the dead at will. It's simply not true.
First of all, when the New Testament mentions miraculous healing we see that it is only the Apostles who peform such signs and wonders. For example:
"...apostles prayed and laid hands on them..." (Acts 6:6)
"The apostles performed many signs and wonders..." (Acts 5:12)
"...wonders and signs peformed by the apostles..." (Acts 2:43)
"...with great power the apostles..." (Acts 4:33)
"...the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands..." (Acts 8:18)
Better yet, when Paul is appealing to his genuine apostleship in his second letter to the church in Corinth, he says, "The things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles - were done among you with great perserverance." (2 Cor 12:12)
So, if every Christian was expected to heal the sick and raise the dead, then what would Paul's ability to do so actually prove? Only that he was also a Christian like they were. Not that he was an apostle. However, since Paul uses the phrase "the things that mark an apostle" to refer to signs and wonders and miracles, we can safely assume that the apostles - and only the apostles - were the ones who worked genuine miracles in the early church.
But what does that mean for us today?
If you believe that God still works miracles today (and I do) then it can mean one of two things. First, that those who work miracles today are also apostles, or it means that in the absence of apostles we are all potentially capable of being filled with God's Holy Spirit for the purpose of healing those who are sick or working miracles as God gives us grace.
I tend to lean towards the second option.
I suppose this might beg several questions, such as "Are there no apostles today?" and I would say, "Yes and No."
An apostle is a "sent one" but who sends is the key. The New Testament seems to identify two sets of apostles; those who are "Apostles of Christ" and those who are "Apostles of the Church". As you might suspect, one group is sent by Jesus directly (that would be Peter, James, John, and even Paul), and the other apostles are sent out by the Church.
I would say that we have apostles of the Church today, but I'm not sure about whether or not we have apostles of Jesus. By that, I mean I'm not aware of anyone who has an annointing that is equal to Peter's or Paul's or the other original apostles who were sent out personally by Jesus. Maybe they are out there, but if so I'm not personally aware of them.
However, there are plenty of those who are gifted by the Holy Spirit and sent out by the Church to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, plant and establish new churches, and provide prophetic instruction to the Body of Christ. These are still apostles, of course, but these are much more common and the working of miracles may or may not accompany their ministry.
Still, as I said earlier, I do believe that the gifts of the Spirit are for today. They have not ceased.
I say this because I have experienced divine healing, and I have seen it in my own family members, and because I have had dreams from God and even - just once - an open vision from God. I also speak, or pray, in tongues, but that's another story.
However, even though I do believe that God heals today, I do not believe that every single follower of Christ should expect to heal the sick or raise the dead every single day of their lives. Why? Because the Bible says so.
Just read 1 Corinthians chapter 12. Go ahead. I'll wait.
Done? Ok, see? Paul is very, very clear that God has given each person in the Body of Christ a different and specific set of gifts. Not everyone has the same gift, and no one should look down on another person if they don't have the same gift that you have.
I've been in churches where the expectation was that everyone should be able to speak in tongues or to prophesy or to heal the sick, and those of us who didn't do those things were made to feel as if God didn't love us, or that we weren't really filled with the Holy Spirit. Those things are not true, of course, but we were made to feel that way nevertheless.
Paul is clear when he says, "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" (1 cor 12:29-30)
And the implied answer is "No."
So, it was normative in the early church for every christian to heal the sick and raise the dead. Nor is it normative today for every christian to heal the sick and raise the dead.
In the early church it was the apostles who healed the sick, raised the dead and worked miracles. In the church today it can potentially be anyone the Lord chooses, but it is not to be expected that we all have the same gifts of the Spirit.
In the church the pattern is that there are many members and there are many gifts and the Lord distributes them to each one of us just as He determines and wills.
Your gift might be teaching. It might be encouragement. It might be helps. It might be service. It might be healing. But whatever your gift might be, please do not expect everyone else to have the gift that you do. Enjoy the variety. Celebrate your uniqueness in the Body. Embrace all of the wonderful gifts of God's Spirit together.
Remember: The gifts are given for building up the church, not for building yourself up. The gifts are for the common good, not for your selfish good.
It's no coincidence that each time Paul speaks about spiritual gifts in the New Testament he follows up immediately by talking about love. That's because we are expected to use our gifts for the benefit of others - not for ourselves - and they only work as God designed them to if we use them in love to bless and strengthen our brothers and sisters in the Body.