Wednesday, May 18, 2005

My grounding: The doctrine of suffering

I refuse to be called a Charismatic or Pentecostal since leaving the church of my youth, The Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.). I love those people and I can affirm their faith in the essential things of Christ, but I now consider myself an Evangelical -- an Empowered Evangelical.

It's not that I have tossed aside my acceptance of the charismata for today. Quite the opposite. I embrace it more than ever and am more comfortable with my understanding of it. But then, acceptance or denial of charismata has never defined Evangelicalism. It is probably one of the most misunderstood elements of Christianity today. What does separate some Charismatics from the mainstream is specific doctrines relating to the methodology of charismata, and I'm not talking about glossalia.

The greatest weakness of the categoric Charismatic churches I'm familiar with is the lack of emphasis on the doctrine of suffering. Simply put: When God does not heal or even offer a relief of pain the person they pray for, the temptation is to blame the person for whom they are praying as lacking in faith. Without discernment that is the case (and it does fall under a possibility - Matt 13:58), I find this an especially unloving practice. If the person was brave enough to seek prayer for that ailment in the first place, I have a hard time believing God would not accept that faith as sufficient in most cases. God's requirement for sufficient faith is not stringent. (Matt 17:20)

No Christian can always offer healing, but we can always offer love. If we have a proper understanding of the doctrine of suffering, we might also offer understanding to those who do not receive healing:
  1. Our flesh is condemened to pain, suffering and death the moment we are born. This is product of Original Sin and God's judgment. (Gen. 3:17-19)
  2. We may suffer because God loves us, and uses our suffering to conform us. (Heb. 12)
  3. We may put ourselves in harm's way because of our sin. (Gal. 6:7-12)
  4. In some cases, we may even be persecuted because of our faith. (Just read the New Testament from Matthew to Revelations).
To deny this doctrine is to put the greatest burden on those that are already afflicted, which is all of us (but some more than others). One would have to assume we possess the power of healing, that God has somehow surrendered his authority in this matter, which is stopping just short of saying that we are also gods. It denies the very purpose of our existence on earth which was defined for us the moment Adam and Even fell in the Garden of Eden.

Some Charismatics like to point out that Jesus had a perfect record when it came to healing, and so should we, we just need to "claim it." I see a much different model in Jesus' ministry. Jesus, as God in the flesh, also had perfect discernment. I believe God the Father was already doing the healing, and God as Man saw what God the Father was doing before He prayed for people.

In John 5, Jesus says:
19Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.
Jesus explaining this reveals several important elements on His view of healing:
  1. There are things which God is not doing.
  2. He appears to not be offering healing to everyone.
  3. There were people for who Jesus did not pray for healing, because God was not performing the healing.
  4. Discernment what God is doing is an essential tool for a healing ministry.
I would not expect perfect discernment from anyone who is not Jesus no more than I would expect a perfect record of healing. Lack of discernment would not stop me for praying for healing for anyone who asked me to do so (or where I see a need), but I would not put impossible expectations on my prayer, either. I have faith that God can heal someone of any affliction we ask Him to heal, but I know that God loves us whether He heals us or not. The latter is the only message I wish to convey to anyone I pray for, whether or not they receive healing.

Ultimately, Jesus did not come to heal our flesh. Jesus came to deliver us from the fate of our flesh, which begins the process of death at birth. Healing is a part of the ministry that reflects on God's dominion on earth. He is in control, and any display of His perfect power should point back to the Cross.

1 comment:

Broken Messenger said...

Nice post Matt, very encouraging.