By Dr. Tissa Weerasingha
Many people today have great hunger for God and for the moving of the Holy Spirit. This is something about which we all rejoice. At the same time, there are many myths, fallacies and even devious doctrines that seem to confuse believers and cause havoc just as they did in the early days of the Church. The root cause of this is ignorance of what the Scripture says on these issues. I would like to offer some comments on some of the current phenomena prevalent worldwide from the perspective of the Word of God.
What Does the Work of the Spirit Not Look Like?
Falling on the floor, rolling on the ground, making animal sounds, hoots and shrieks are clearly not manifestations of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, it is when people are demonized, that such manifestations take place. Matthew 17:14-21 (and the parallel accounts of Mark 9:14-29 and Luke 9:37-45) details an instance where a demonic spirit threw a boy on the ground When he was brought to Jesus, He cast the demon out. When such things happen in meetings, leaders should identify them as demonic manifestations and exorcise them. To be silent about it, or promote such phenomena by various acts such as blowing on people, and other strange actions, is contrary to Scripture, and may even promote the intrusion of evil spirits.
Can All Believers Heal and Do Miracles?
There is a belief that if miracles happen, multitudes will come to Christ. This is only a half-truth. Our Lord did more miracles than any other person, and yet, they crucified Him. Most people deserted Him despite having experienced healings and miracles through His blessed hands. Were the miracles a failure? No. While miracles attest to the truth of the Word, it is not a guarantee of people responding to the Gospel call. In fact, as they did in Jesus’ day, on seeing miracles, some people may even get more hardened in their hearts.
Some sincere Christians overrate the power of miracles, beyond what is Biblically tenable. Their passion to see the lost come to Christ fuels this idea. A passion for the lost is commendable and that must increase more and more. The reality is, when miracles happen, some people do respond to Christ only if the Gospel is clearly explained to them afterwards. If not, they are still healed sinners on the way to a lost eternity and nothing more.
The idea that all believers can be healers and miracle workers is clearly contradicted by Paul’s rhetorical questions in 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 (NKJV). He says, “ … are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? …”
God has a master plan for His Body and for every local church. He invests each local body with gifts according to His sovereign will. We are called to respond to His will. We can choose not to, to the detriment of our own church.
The even more harmful effect of this unbiblical idea is the psychological and spiritual intimidation and false guilt that it imposes on those sincere believers who have not been given the gifts of healing and miracles. These people then become dissatisfied and feel that nothing they do in the work of the Lord is worth anything. They silently consider themselves subnormal Christians because they do not possess these powers. The end result is they hesitate to engage in any other ministry. Actually, this is just the way the devil would have it. They become immobilized believers with a false sense of guilt, false humility and an inferiority complex. This, in turn, keeps them from even witnessing for their Lord who has done the greatest miracle of all in saving them from sin! They feel unless they can demonstrate miracles they cannot even speak about the Lord Jesus. Consequently, they begin the endless trek from meeting to meeting, conference to conference, church to church, hoping for the day they can also become workers of miracles. They are obsessed with the supernatural rather than with redemption.
Have Signs And Wonders Ceased?
Absolutely not! In fact, Jesus promised that when the Gospel is preached it will be confirmed with signs and wonders. Many believers expect to see signs and wonders within the walls of churches where there are many believers; and when they do not see them, conclude that the “Spirit is not moving there.” They are ignorant of the basic Biblical fact that Jesus promised signs and wonders to confirm the preaching of the Gospel on “virgin soil.” Throughout the church age, this has happened and is still happening today. In fact, if you are sharing the Gospel with an unbeliever, there is a very high likelihood that, if he/she is sick, when you minister to this person, he/she will be healed or delivered, even if you do not possess the gifts of healings.
This is a gracious act of God to confirm the truth of the Gospel.
However, when believers are sick, they are supposed to call for the elders of the church who will pray over them, anointing them with oil. There is a difference between ministry to sick believers and signs and wonders to confirm the Gospel among unbelievers. Due to sloppy and shallow study of the Bible, some Christians are unaware of these basic truths. An excellent study of these matters can be found in The Elijah Challenge Training Manual. God doesn’t do signs and wonders to make us happy or to satisfy our senses. He wants the lost to come to Christ. Therefore, the power and authority Jesus gave to His disciples is available today to heal so that the Gospel would be confirmed. Even after Pentecost, the apostles used the power and authority given to them by Jesus ( Ac 4:3-8), in an evangelistic context, while at other times, especially in the midst of believers they were instrumental in healing and raising the dead through the gifts of healings and miracles( charismata). Those who are influenced by Warfield’s Cessationism and Charismatic/Pentecostals who are shoddy in their theology of the supernatural need to look at the Scriptures more diligently. It will help dispel some confusion and false ideas among sincere believers.
Are All Healing Testimonies Accurate?
Sometimes testimonies are given about healing which actually are just medical cures and good results of surgeries and other medical procedures. While in the broader sense God is the source of all healing, from the Scriptural perspective, healing through medical means does not constitute divine healing or the operation of the gifts of healings. Such testimonies that blur the distinction between medical cures, for which we are so thankful, and healing through the operations of the gifts of healings make a mockery of the work of God. There is no doubt those who testify thus are sincerely doing so, thinking that they are glorifying God. Such testimonies actually are more accurately testimonies of divine provision, guidance (to the right doctor) rather than testimonies of divine healing.
What are the Greater Works to Which Jesus Referred?
Jesus did say these wonderful, encouraging words:
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he
will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.
(John 14:12 NKJV)
This grand text is often quoted to explain that the various supernatural manifestations that are taking place at different meetings are the greater works about which Jesus spoke. In order to resolve this issue, the easiest way is to determine whether Jesus defined for us what He meant when He used the term greater works. Fortunately, we are left in no doubt as to what He meant.
One day, Jesus healed a man near the pool of Bethesda who had an infirmity for thirty-eight years (John 5). The Jews who objected to the healing, persecuted Jesus and wanted to kill Him. As I mentioned, sometimes miracles harden the hearts of people even more, because of their innate resistance to the Gospel. Part of Jesus’ response to these resistant people was as follows:
For the Father loves the Son … and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will (John 5:20-21 NKJV).
There is no clearer definition of greater works than the above from the lips of our Lord Himself. Here He compares the physical raising of the dead done by the Father with the “greater works” of the Son, who gives life—salvation—to “whom He will.” Even in comparison to the physical raising of the dead, Jesus said giving eternal life is the “greater work.”
At the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth, He had a handful of disciples. After His ascension there were one hundred and twenty disciples gathered in the Upper Room. In John 14:12, Jesus said His disciples would do greater works “because I go to my Father.” In so saying, He made it clear His disciples would do greater works only because He would be gone and the Holy Spirit would come in His place—not because His disciples were greater than Him! So, what happened on the day of Pentecost? Peter preached one sermon and three thousand were converted! This was a much greater number than had even gathered in the Upper Room. Jesus’ word was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. It is also being fulfilled ever since throughout the history of the Church, through those who lead people to Christ through a clear, uncompromising message of the Gospel.
As sincere disciples of Christ, we all hunger for a greater move of God, for an abundant harvest of souls, and for signs and wonders to follow the preaching of the Gospel. This cause and concern will not be served, however, by erroneous doctrines and practices. Unfortunately, instead of diligently searching the Scriptures, some well-meaning believers are chasing “rabbit trails” that will ultimately make them quite useless and ineffective. This is so distressing. We need committed disciples who stick with it and work for the Lord in fruitful ways, rather than wandering nomads who amount to little even after many years along the way. Furthermore, when the Gospel is blunted by various deviations that create “other gospels,” the real message only limps along.