Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Healing and the Kingdom of God

The following entry is a response to a request from a long-time friend who is encountering some "cognitive dissonance" as he and his family attend a Pentecostal/Charismatic church. I make the entry with a lot of humility, but I offer my opinion in hopes it will help people as they seek to "do the stuff" (a John Wimber-ism by which he meant actually doing the works of the Kingdom, rather than simply studying about them). Hopefully this is not so academic that it fails to be practical for you.

My friend's church has taught that "you never ask God for what he has already promised or purposed for you...instead, you are to make 'declarations.'" In other words, asking shows a lack of faith; declaration shows a confidence in God's promises.

This particular issue goes to the heart of what distinguishes the Vineyard movement from Pentecostal/Charismatics (and also what tends to confuse our Conservative Evangelical brethren). You could say that the Vineyard is defined by the dynamic tension that exists between these two streams of Evangelicalism.

The titles of two books summarize the Vineyard position between the two. Rich Nathan and Ken Wilson's book, Empowered Evangelicals, says it all. We are a movement that wants to take the best of Pentecostal experience (empowered), leaving behind what we view as its excesses; while we hold on to a solid Evangelical approach to biblical/theological scholarship (evangelicals), but leaving behind the tendency to minimize the present miraculous work of the Spirit.

The other book is Bill Jackson's Quest for the Radical Middle. Once again, the Vineyard has sought to live in a dynamic tension between the fresh work of the Spirit, and a solid commitment to biblical theology. In other words, holding both the Word and Spirit in balance.

This all flows from the influence of George Eldon Ladd, late Fuller Professor, whose Gospel of the Kingdom, and New Testament Theology are foundational for understanding John Wimber's teaching about healing. In Jesus, the Kingdom of God broke into the present evil age. His words and His works were evidence of the reality of the presence of the Kingdom. Jesus passed on to his disciples his Kingdom ministry. And they have passed it on to their disciples. And on and on...all the way to us.

One of the key aspects of the Kingdom is that it has "now come" and is still "yet to come." This"now-and-not-yet" quality of the Kingdom characterizes everything we experience in this present evil age.

Take, for instance, our salvation. We enter the Kingdom and are saved when we place our faith in the King (2 Tim. 1: 9). Yet, we are "being saved" as we go through a process of transformation in this life called sanctification (Php. 2: 12-13). And we "will be saved" when the future promised Kingdom arrives in its glory (1 Pet. 1: 5,9).

Pentecostal theology has tended to argue that physical healing is included in the atoning work of Christ based on Isaiah 53, Matt. 8: 16-17 and 1 Pet. 2: 24 and therefore, we must just claim what is rightfully ours and exhibit unwavering faith in the work of God. There is not enough time to do a thorough exegesis of these passages. Suffice it to say that you must make several hermeneutical leaps to conclude that healing is guaranteed in the atonement.

If we say that healing is guaranteed in the atonement and that faith is the only way to access that healing, we must conclude that people are not healed solely because they lack faith in some way.

Just a quick survey of the New Testament shows that healing did not always occur for Jesus or the apostles. Jesus could not do many miracles (Mark 6: 5). God refused to heal Paul's "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12: 7-10). Timothy's ailing stomach condition (1 Tim. 5: 23). The Pentecostal explanation is that they lacked faith. The Kingdom explanation is the now-and-not-yet of the Kingdom.

Yes, faith is necessary for healing. But if you analyze the healings in the New Testament, sometimes it is the faith of the pray-er (like Jesus healing the man at the pool Siloam) and sometimes it is the faith of the receiver (like the woman touching the hem of his garment.)

Does this exclude making declarative pronouncements? Not at all. When we are led by the Spirit to command healing, we do it. When we are led by the Spirit to lay hands on someone and pray for them, we do that. Every time that someone is healed, it is evidence of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God. Every time that someone is not healed, it is evidence that the Kingdom of God is not yet fully consummated. So...we pray again.

"Lord, may your Kingdom come, may your will be done, here on earth as it is being done in heaven (where your Kingdom is fully consummated)."

I welcome comments on this topic.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Center of It All

Above the town of Jasper in the Canadian Rockies is a gondola that lifts you far above the spectacular scenery of Jasper National Park.

After getting off the ride, you can continue hiking the steep trail above the upper gondola platform through the thin mountain air. If you persevere, you will reach a summit that gives you an even more spectacular vista.

On my recent visit, I continued a few hundred feet beyond that point, crossing a small slushy ice field until I reached the highest point above the gondola. The panorama was a full 360 degrees. Perhaps the most dramatic spot I've ever visited--with stunning peaks, glaciers and river valleys all around.

In fact, I began to have the illusion that I was sitting on the axel of a giant wheel. The rest of the world was mounted on this one point and was spinning around it. I'll never forget that moment.

It reminded me of something Jesus said. "But I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all [people] to myself" (John 12 :32).

The cross was lifted up from the earth on the mount called Calvary, with the Savior of the world upon it. All of the physical world, all of the history of the world, all of humanity--is suspended in some way upon that mountain, like the axle of a wheel, because the cross is the focal point of all history.

Luke's account of the crucifixion brings this into focus. The two thieves who were crucified on Jesus' right and left represent the world, justly condemned but with a chance of redemption because of the Savior between them. One rejected him and the other placed his faith in him.

Jesus says to Nicodemus, in John 3:14-15, that He will be like the bronze snake that Moses lifted up on a pole in the wilderness, described in Num. 21: 8-9. Whoever was bitten by the real snake, would just need to look to the bronze snake to live.

The choice could not be presented more clearly: look to Jesus on the cross and live, or reject Jesus on the cross and remain doomed.

Human history and human destiny are all about Jesus. At the cross, he was lifted up and now stands at the center of it all. So for each of us comes the most important question we must answer: "Do you believe?"

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Problem of Pain

Pain is a reality of life. Scott Peck opens his best-seller, The Road Less Traveled, "Life is difficult." Or, as Eliphaz says to Job, "Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward" (Job 5: 7).

So, if God is good, why does he allow pain, especially for his children? When we come to Christ, shouldn't that end all of the pain and begin a life of blissful happiness?

In his classic book, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world" (pp. 90-91).

Pain is a tool in the hands of our Master, by which he shapes and matures us. But we must cooperate in the process, or we will not enjoy the benefits from it that He intends.

To quote Scott Peck again, "The avoidance of pain is the root of all mental illness." Or to put it in simpler terms, when we try to avoid pain in our lives, we can really screw things up.

Addictions, relational conflicts, procrastination, etc. They all flow from avoidance of pain.

But it is through pain that God gets our attention so that we can learn and grow.

Consider this astonishing scripture:
"During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" (Heb. 5: 7-9).

How could Jesus learn anything or be made perfect? Made perfect means something more like, was completed or made fully mature. Before the incarnation, the Son had no opportunity to walk in submissive obedience. Although he was potentially obedient, He became and learned obedience by the experience of enduring suffering.

This is why, if we are to truly follow Jesus as His disciples and grow into maturity like He did, we must "pick up our crosses daily and follow him" (see Luke 9: 23).

What are you doing with the pain in your life? Pick it up as the cross God has given to you and follow in Jesus' footsteps of reverent submission so that you can mature into all you are called to be in Him.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

E Pluribus Unum

On every coin minted in the United States is a Latin phrase, "E Pluribus Unum." The motto means "out of many, one."

Originally, this referred to the joining of 13 colonies into one nation. But in our modern democratically minded country, it has come to be associated with the way that many ethnicities, cultures and people-groups have melded into a greater identity--a melting pot.

Paul, describing the church in 1 Corinthians 12, makes a similar observation. "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body" (1 Cor. 12: 12). In fact, this is perhaps the most pervasive metaphor for the church--we are the body of Christ.

This brings together two realities that seem contradictory, but are held in tension by the metaphor: 1) as individuals, we are all different in gifting and functioning; and 2) as a group, we function together to serve a unified purpose. Unity through diversity. In other words, when we learn to embrace and nurture our individual and unique gifts and callings, then the overall unified body works as one.

In Ephesians, Paul uses the same metaphor to describe the church. But instead of focusing on the individual gifts, he shows how the "joints and ligaments" bring us all together under the direction of "the head" who is Christ. And the cement that brings us all together is love.

So, this is the vision: Jesus is the Head; we are all members; if we all value each other and listen to the Head, we will grow into the unity that He intends for us. "Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him, who is the Head, that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work" (Eph. 4: 15-16).

What's keeping you from loving all the parts of the body? What's keeping you from faithfully doing your part?