This article is written primarily for believers from a charismatic background, and might not be meaningful or helpful to those from a conservative evangelical background.
John Wimber’s influential book Power Evangelism held that the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit were necessary for producing the signs and wonders that can be helpful in evangelism. Miraculous signs can indeed be a very powerful demonstration to the lost—especially to Musl__ms, Hindus, Buddhists, and those who put their faith in witchcraft—that the gospel is in fact true. The preaching of the gospel combined with such miracles performed in the name of Jesus Christ have brought otherwise gospel-resistant peoples to faith in Him. Without such demonstrations of power, it is highly questionable that the Church can in fact fulfill the Great Commission to gospel-resistant peoples and nations around the world.
Through the ministry of John Wimber some decades ago, many charismatic churches and believers were trained to operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit—especially the word of knowledge and the gift of healing through various kinds of prayer—in order to minister healing to the sick. Now the gifts of the Holy Spirit as taught in 1 Corinthians 12 are primarily for building up the body of Christ. This is clear from the context of that chapter. Moreover, the apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthian believers in chapter 14 “to excel in gifts that build up the church.” He was specifically referring to the difference between speaking in tongues and prophesying. Speaking in unknown tongues is for speaking to God and for edifying oneself individually, while prophesying is for speaking to the church to build her up.
1 Corinthians 14:12 So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.
Thus the spiritual gifts taught by Wimber, especially the word of knowledge, the word of wisdom, discernment, and the gift of healing, were designed primarily to minister to believers. Naturally the question arises: what do we do if we want to minister to the lost in the context of evangelism, and not simply to believers? Granted, the manifestation of a gifting can be used on occasion to bring an unbeliever to the Lord. We read later in that same chapter:
1 Corinthians 14:24 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
Nevertheless, however, the prophesying in these verses obviously takes place in a gathering of believers where the primary purpose is not evangelizing the lost, but rather worshipping the Lord and building up the body of Christ. The lost of course are not found in large numbers in most believers’ gatherings. It is clear then that the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit is primarily for the benefit of believers, and not for evangelism to the lost.
Thus the question still stands. How does Scripture teach us to minister in the supernatural for the specific purpose of thereby demonstrating to the lost that Jesus is in fact the only Savior and the only way to the Father? What does Scripture teach about performing the miraculous signs outside of gatherings of believers, outside the walls of our churches? That is where we find non-believers with whom the Lord has commanded us to share the gospel. We will seek to answer this question in this article.
Luke 7:20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’” 21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.
Although Jesus performed different kinds of miracles, the primary kinds were supernatural healing and the casting out of demons. These miraculous signs were the primary evidence to the lost—not for the body of Christ which did not yet exist at that time—that he was indeed the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world. Exactly how did Jesus heal the sick and cast out demons in this context of evangelizing the lost?
Even a cursory examination of his miraculous healings shows that many if not most of them were done by the exercise of authority over disease and demons that Jesus had received from the Father. He exercised this authority by giving commands to the diseases (and at times to the afflicted people) and to the demons that oppressed the people. Jesus in fact did not pray for the sick as we do today. The following are some examples of this.
Luke 4:31 Then He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths. 32 And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority. 33 Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon. And he cried out with a loud voice, 34 saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us?.… 35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him in their midst, it came out of him and did not hurt him. 36 Then they were all amazed and spoke among themselves, saying, “What a word this is! For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.”
Luke 4:38 Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. 39 So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her.
Luke 4:40 When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. 41 Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.
Luke 5:12 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
Matthew 12:9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there… 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.
We see that Jesus performed most of his miraculous healings by the use of authority and the laying on of his hands, and not by prayer. He gave direct commands to demons, infirmities, and at times infirm people. Because disease and demons were under his authority, they obeyed his commands and miracles ensued. And we should keep in mind that these miracles were done not in gatherings of believers to encourage them, but often publicly in the open before the lost sheep of Israel to prove his identity as the Messiah.
Scripture tells us that Jesus summoned the Twelve disciples and then the Seventy disciples.
Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
Matthew 10:1 And when He had called to Him His twelve disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. 7 And as you go, proclaim, saying, The kingdom of Heaven is at hand. 8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.
Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. …9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’
John 14:12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.
It is clear that even before the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, the disciples had been given the authority to heal the sick and cast out demons much as Jesus himself did. He commanded them to use this power and authority to heal the sick as he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God to the lost. It is not recorded in any of the four gospels that he commanded them to pray for the sick as he sent them out. And they were sent out to do what he himself had done: to heal the sick and preach the gospel not in gatherings of believers as is usually done today in church venues, but rather publicly and in the open before the lost.
It is clear that this authority was most certainly not equivalent to the gift of healing inasmuch as none of the gifts was available until the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit came. This makes eminent sense because the gifts were not needed until the body of Christ came into existence on earth. It is generally acknowledged that the Church was born on the Day of Pentecost. Before that Day, the sole ministry of the disciples was proclaiming the kingdom of God: evangelizing the lost. The miracles of healing and deliverance they performed were for the specific purpose of demonstrating to the lost that Jesus was in fact the promised Messiah.
After the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost, moreover, there was no radical and abrupt change in the way that the apostles ministered healing. Acts tells us that both Peter and Paul continued to use authority (with the coming of the Spirit, perhaps increased authority) to heal the sick and cast out demons for the purpose of bringing lost souls into the kingdom of God. One major difference, along with great boldness to witness for Christ, was the addition of the gifts for ministering to and building up the growing church. For example, God used Peter’s shadow to bringing supernatural healing to the sick.
We conclude, scripturally speaking, that Wimber’s approach to signs and wonders utilizing the gifts of the Spirit and prayer was more appropriate to ministering to believers for the building up of the body of Christ. In contrast, the approach of using authority and issuing commands to disease and demons is more appropriate when supernatural demonstrations are needed in the context of evangelism to the lost.
As an example, The Elijah Challenge gathers gospel-resistant unbelievers and infirm people together in an open-air or public venue for the purpose of proclaiming the kingdom of God to them. During the meeting trained believers and servants of God use authority to minister to the infirm by issuing authoritative commands to the diseases and demons in the name of Jesus Christ. They obey our commands quickly. In this way many people can be healed simultaneously. Their subsequent public testimonies are the demonstration to the lost that the kingdom of God is near and that Jesus Christ is the only way into that kingdom. Thus evangelistic signs and wonders consist of explosive shows of brute power to overwhelm enemy forces. They are designed for the lost to see with their own eyes.
The gifts of the Spirit, by contrast, are not designed for such occasions. Instead, time is often set aside during the ministry for different kinds of prayer and for patient waiting on the Lord as a prerequisite for the successful operation of the gifts. Whereas the use of authority results in sudden and public displays of “shock and awe” from the God of Elijah for the lost to see, the gifts of the Spirit might at times be likened to a very fine and accurate laser beam that gently and lovingly probes the hurting child of God in a private setting to bring restoration from his Heavenly Father. This is what can take place in church “Healing Rooms.” Such venues are frequented most often not by the lost but instead by believers who need healing.
Thus it can be argued that what John Wimber really taught—according to Scripture—was not power evangelism, but rather power healing for believers. (Indeed, Wimber came out with a later volume entitled Power Healing.) Scripturally, power evangelism should primarily utilize the power and authority over disease and demons that Jesus Christ has given to his disciples for proclaiming the kingdom of God to the lost.
Decades ago John Wimber taught the charismatic arm of the Church about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Since that time some charismatic believers have come to depend exclusively on the operation of the gifts in order to minister in the supernatural. There is exclusive dependence on receiving a rhema from the Spirit before any ministry is performed. (Thus in some circles we have the saying, “no zoé, no goey.”) But since the gifts are primarily for building up the Church, the evangelistic efforts of the Church toward the lost are left deplorably weak. For gospel-resistant people groups from a non-christian pagan background, open demonstrations of power in evangelism are especially needed. But when we compare the Church of today with the Church in Acts, we see a marked disparity in the frequency and magnitude of miraculous healings in evangelism by the Church as a whole. At this time the Lord is restoring the understanding of authority to His Church—the huge army of nameless and faceless ones—for the sake of evangelizing the lost and completing the Great Commission to the billions of gospel-resistant Musl__ms, Hindus, Buddhists, and adherents of witchcraft around the world.
When they witness the unmatched power of the name of Jesus, they are forced to acknowledge that our God is the only true God and that Jesus Christ is the only way to Him. They become more open to following Him as Lord and Savior.