Senior Associate Pastor at Second Baptist Church, Houston
Adapted from The Christian Post (our name has been altered to protect our identity)
John MacArthur-style cessationism is like telling Johnny Football (Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M’s dazzling quarterback) he can only execute running plays because the passing game ended with Knute Rockne and football’s golden age.
But frenzy-style charismania orders Mr. Football to throw with abandon on every play, ignoring rules, boundaries, the health of his throwing arm, and the game plan. Pass even if it means an interception by a constantly scrambling opponent like, say, Simon the Sorcerer. (Acts 8)
Somewhere between the wary and the reckless, Form and Frenzy, there is solid truth on which to run the game of life and ministry.
Perhaps Brother Bill of The Elijah Challenge and many others like him have found it. They might be disdained by John MacArthur on one extreme and Benny Hinn on the other, but they quietly circle the world in the balance of Word and Spirit, bringing multitudes to Christ and leaving biblical churches in their wake.
Brother Bill met Christ decades ago while doing graduate studies in psychology in Southern California. His wife joined him in that commitment. Later they would go to Indonesia as missionaries, working nearly nine years as church planters in jungle towns.
It didn’t take long for Brother Bill and his wife to discover that Western Rationalism and cessationism did not bring healing to people who sometimes, unwittingly, had made pacts with demons.
As they stepped out in a ministry of healing, they saw many receive Christ. They realized that Jesus’ empowerment of His disciples to heal the sick was given primarily to proclaim the Gospel to the lost. All those Jesus sent out were given a measure of that authority to confirm the message.
With Pentecost came the spiritual gift of healing, distributed to some primarily for believers’ benefit. While not all will have the gift of healing, as Paul shows, the authority to heal the sick remains for those sent out to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14), says Brother Bill.
Sadly, thinks Brother Bill, in today’s celebrity environment, healing ministry “is not seen or meant primarily to bring the lost to Jesus Christ.” His aim is to help change that attitude. Brother Bill and his wife girdle the globe constantly teaching congregations how to minister to the sick through the power of the Holy Spirit. Their approach is so balanced that many evangelical non-charismatic churches have embraced their work.
“The supernatural healings that occur are not merely a blessing for the infirm, but primarily to bring the lost to repentance,” says Brother Bill. “Evangelicals and charismatics could agree this has priority in the eyes of the Lord,” he adds.
The fruit of Brother Bill’s ministry in The Elijah Challenge could present a quandary to staunch cessationists like John MacArthur. Healing, Brother Bill and his wife discovered in front-line ministry in Indonesia, is not limited to the human body. Sometimes, they found, people must be freed from demonic control, in New Testament style. So if sign gifts, miracles and healing ended with the Apostles, what is the explanation for what happens through the ministry of Brother Bill and tens of thousands of others like them? Would MacArthur term their work “strange fire”?
Cessationists stress authority of the Scripture, and Pentecostals and charismatics need to heed their example. But strangely, people who believe certain gifts ended with the Apostolic period must rely more on historical experience than the Bible itself.
Cessationists argue that after the apostolic era miraculous gifts no longer appear in the church. But Eusebius, in the 4th century, spoke of miracles still occurring through the church. Even if the gifts had ceased, is this necessarily a sign of health? By the 4th century the church had lost vital truths and fallen into other doctrines many evangelicals would regard as not sound – like sacramentalism and the papacy. If the post-apostolic church’s practices are authoritative, then why don’t cessationists embrace these ideas? And how does the cessationist argument based on the authority of historic experience (tradition) differ from that of the Catholic view of authority?
To find balance between Form and Frenzy, Jesus’ contemporary followers must not focus on the post-apostolic church, but go all the way back to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.
Balance is found, first, in the Person of Jesus Christ. “The Christ” means He is the anointed One of God, who has the Spirit “without measure”. (John 3:34) Yet Jesus also honors the Scripture, citing what we call the Old Testament, and acknowledging its divine inspiration. He has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, not replace them. To honor Christ, then, is to honor the Word of God, and not ignore it.
Second, balance is found in the ministry of Jesus. If the church is the body of Christ, it ought to do what Jesus did in His body. If He said in Matthew 28:18-20 that the apostolic-era church is to go into all the world and make disciples, and teach those new followers of Jesus to observe everything He commanded the original disciples to do, with what generation does that end? Where is the biblical countermand that invalidates that command for future generations?
Third, spiritual gifts and ministries are equipment for Kingdom advance. Jesus commanded His early followers to heal the sick “and say to them, ‘the Kingdom of God has come near to you.'” (Luke 10:9) When the gifts and empowerments become playthings for the self-indulgent they are taken out of their primary context. Jesus says the whole purpose of history is the advance of the Gospel of the Kingdom. (Matthew 24:14) Balance is application of the gifts and ministries in the context of mission.
Right now, that task is at a critical point as Western Christianity limps to the bench because of apostasy or frivolity. Thankfully, the non-Western church has run onto the field to play quarterback.
MacArthur and the cessationists must not rewrite the playbook to eliminate the passing game. But the “missional church” (to use a newly fashionable term) must not throw the ball indiscriminately, ignoring the playbook altogether.
No one knows if we are on history’s 50-yard line, or just inches from the goal. Whatever the case, the challenge calls for a team that can play the whole game, well-balanced on biblical authority and spiritual power.