Gifts of Healing
Recently I read the large two volume official biography of John Stott written by Timothy Dudley-Smith. The books are interesting because of the account they give of many events, organisations and people in the British evangelical scene during the second half of the twentieth century. There is no doubting the huge impact Stott made in the cause of the evangelical party in the Church of England and also in world-wide evangelism, especially among students. In the early 1940s when Stott studied at Cambridge there were very few evangelical students and even fewer evangelicals in the ministry, but over the years their number grew and Stott under God had a major part to play in that. He had a tremendous ministry in the universities. The downside of his work was his somewhat Arminian presentation of the gospel and his use of decisions. Especially in the early days he was fond of explaining the gospel using Holman Hunt’s picture of the soul as having a door with the lock on the inside and Jesus standing outside pleading for an entrance. The problem with the illustration is that as far as Scripture is concerned the person behind the door is lying in a heap dead and totally dependent on God for resurrection. Without God’s irresistible grace the door will never be opened.
Stott’s attachment to Anglicanism led to his notorious conflict with Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones at the National Assembly of Evangelicals in 1966. It is good to note how he visited Lloyd-Jones at the end of his life and sought reconciliation. It is disappointing to see his ecumenicity, his willingness to talk to the Roman Catholics as brothers in Christ. Also, his openness to the annihilation of the wicked undermined the doctrine of eternal hell. He played a major part in the Lausanne Covenant. Sadly its statement on the inspiration and authority of Scripture was not as strong as it should be and he is held responsible for that. His emphasis on social action along with the preaching of the Word opened the way to the social action replacing the preaching. One area however where he stood against the trend was with respect to the Charismatic movement. He rejected the teaching which was becoming very strong as the century passed that there is an experience of the ‘baptism of the Spirit’ which is subsequent to conversion and which they say is evidenced by tongue-speaking.
Meeting with John Wimber
On this subject it is interesting to note Stott’s meeting with John Wimber who was a leading Charismatic. Later he wrote down what Wimber had said with regard to miraculous healings. I found it fascinating, enlightening, and I believe well worth considering. Wimber said:
- All I am asking is that people be open for God to do unique things occasionally, in confirmation of his Word.
- An ever-increasing number of people in our church (the Vineyard Church in Anaheim, California) are not healed. I myself am sick in my own body (I am on daily medication). More than about 400 people have come to me saying that the Lord has told them that if they lay hands on me, I will be healed. I have said to them ‘OK, go ahead’, but I have not been healed.
- We both agreed [Stott and Wimber] that we have two difficulties, (a) in defining what a miracle is, and (b) in proving a healing in a documentable way. His summary was that about 30% are healed, 30% are blessed but not healed, and 30% receive nothing.
- He said that he has never seen major deformities of the body healed, although thousands say they have been cured of conditions which cannot be seen.
John Richard Wimber (1934-1997) was a musician who was converted in 1963. He became a pastor and one of the founding leaders of the Vineyard Movement; a Charismatic, Evangelical, Christian denomination which began in the USA and has now spread to many countries world-wide. What he said is helpful in assessing where most Charismatics stand and also in measuring the movement against Scripture. To me this is quite a confession on Wimber’s part.
Wimber asks us to be open to God doing unique things occasionally. With that we have no problem. Our God is mighty and we do believe in miracles. Our God is not limited and is able to answer prayer in amazing ways. Many of us have seen in our own lives God do wonderful things which we thought impossible. We were desperate and God answered our prayers. Furthermore this has encouraged our faith. However this should not be seen as God doing something to confirm his Word. The Word is confirmed by the Holy Spirit witnessing to its truth. ‘For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God’ (Rom. 8:15-16). Just as we experience assurance that we are God’s children through the witness of the Spirit, so we are assured of the truth of our heavenly Father’s Word through the Spirit’s testimony. When the New Testament revelation was being given, signs followed the word preached. ‘The Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following’ (Mark 16:20). These signs were mighty, visible and verifiable. The Bible having been given, the signs ceased.
Wimber recognises the fact that many people within Charismatic churches are not healed. Wimber himself was on daily medication. He died at the relatively young age of 63. More than four hundred people believed that God gave them the power to heal him; they tried and failed. God said in the Old Testament that if someone claimed to prophesy and if what he said did not come to pass he should be put to death because he had spoken lies in the name of the Lord (Deut.18:20-22). There are a lot of false prophets in Charismatic circles. Also Wimber here is acknowledging that individuals today do not have the power to heal all sicknesses.
Wimber states some interesting percentages. He reckons that around 30% received no benefit at all from the laying on of hands. Another 30% or so were spiritually blessed – encouraged through the experience although their physical health had not improved. So, of those who come for healing most do not receive it. We know of none who came to Christ for healing who did not receive it.
With regard to the 30% who claimed to be healed there is a problem. How is a miracle to be defined? Is it for example just some positive improvement? How could it be shown that a miracle actually took place? There could be healing without it being a miracle. Kindly hands, prayer made and concern shown could be of benefit without any special intervention of God. Generally what happened could not be documented by doctors or scientists.
This is the most significant of all. Wimber admits that he had never seen major deformities of the body healed, although thousands say they have been cured of conditions which cannot be seen. When Jesus healed the man with the withered hand everyone could see the miracle. When he healed the man blind from birth even the sceptical Pharisees could not deny it. When Lazarus was raised from the dead after being dead four days no one could deny that a miracle had taken place. Similarly when Peter healed the man lame from birth, a man who had never walked, it was clear that a miracle had taken place. The shape of the man’s body must have changed greatly as his muscles grew. He did not have to learn to walk, indeed he was ‘walking, and leaping’ immediately (Acts 3:8). The power of mind over matter is very strong. People given placebos often experience significant healing because of their faith in the drug. Many illnesses and symptoms disappear if the individual concerned is convinced that they are better. A positive attitude in illness is half the cure. Some years ago, following a school assembly which I took, a pupil from a Charismatic background came up to me and in all seriousness suggested that if I took along someone who was sick and healed them before the assembly the pupils would really pay attention. Certainly miracle-working is exciting. It does gather the crowds. Charismatic churches are often the fastest growing, though they are often the fastest dying too. It is important to remember the words of Christ in the parable, ‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead’ (Luke 16:31). How many miracles were performed by Jesus and yet how few believed in him!
Can miracles happen today? Certainly! Can God answer prayer in a dramatic way? Definitely! Do certain people have the gifts of healing? I, for one, have yet to be convinced. If such individuals really have the gift then why cannot it be scientifically verified? If such people have the gift of healing why cannot they give legs to those who have lost them (through amputation or accident), or eyes to those with no eyes? Would it be a problem for God to do that? Surely not! Jesus said, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father’ (John 14:12). If, as the Charismatics say, these greater works belong to the church today and refer to miracles, then why are the ‘healings’ of today so inferior to the ones in Christ’s day? Actually the greater works refer to conversions which are much more numerous today that they were in Jesus’ day. The crowds gathered to Jesus after the feeding of the five thousand. They wanted to make him king. He was not impressed: ‘Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed’ (John 6:26-27). Their whole attitude was worldly. He wished them to see the true significance of what he had done, recognize him as Messiah and his kingdom as a spiritual kingdom. Though he could perform miracles as none other could or did, yet his concern was to be a preacher and he saw himself anointed for that purpose: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor’ (Luke 4:18). Charismatic churches are often large and outwardly successful. People love the drama rather than the serious study of the Scriptures. The worship is designed to entertain and to please man. Our concern must be with the directions given in Scripture and with what pleases God. The purpose of worship is to glorify God and to edify man. Better to be faithful than successful.
Taken with permission from Free Church Witness, April 2013 issue.
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