Cessationism & Charismania: opposing poles of the Church spectrum
This question of whether or not the Lord heals miraculously today as He did in the New Testament has resulted in the rise of two opposing and mutually exclusive camps. Certain charismatic groups teach that today the Lord wills to heal every sick person who comes to Him, whether directly or indirectly through the ministry of believers on earth. By contrast, cessationists teach that it is not God’s will to heal every sick person who comes to Him. God may in fact choose to heal some. But whatever the case, God no longer uses disciples to heal the sick with power and authority as He did in the gospels and Acts.
Each bases their position on their interpretation of Scripture, although cessationists will cite church history following Acts as well to buttress their position. So we will not invoke Scripture in this article; each camp has their own irrefutable position based on Scripture.
Rather we would like to point out the basic context of this debate, which revolves around healing for infirm believers in the context of building up the Church. The context of this debate is therefore clearly not preaching the kingdom of God to the lost or the Great Commission, but rather on ministry to believers. Whether justifiable or not, ministry in the Church today is focused more often than not on believers and what God wants to do for them on earth. “Mission Sunday” on which we focus on the Great Commission is usually reserved for one “special” Sunday out of the entire year on most church calendars. (One wonders how “great” it really is to us if we teach about it on only one out of every fifty-two Sundays.)
Therefore we can re-phrase the title of this article to “Does God heal every sick believer, or none of them?” The issue of whether or not God still uses believers to minister healing with power and authority of course still applies.
This controversy has caused quite a bit of rancor in the body of Christ—animosity which we have personally experienced. We subscribe neither to the charismatic position nor to the cessationist one. (Later we will make our position clear.) Interestingly, however, the rancor has been directed at us from both poles of the Church, from both the charismatics and the cessationists. Some in the latter group have written us off as heretics, while some in the former group have rejected us entirely. On one occasion we wanted to visit the church where formerly we had been members in good standing for years. But some years ago after the leadership discovered that we do not teach that God heals everyone, we were essentially blacklisted. When the Senior Pastor was recently informed that we wanted to visit a Sunday School class to make an announcement on an event we were having, we were told not to show up.
Caught in the crossfire: “You should be ashamed of your behavior…”
So what is our position on miraculous healing?
The primary purpose of miraculous healing in the gospels and in Acts was to demonstrate to the lost that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and the only way to the Father. The context was clearly evangelism and the Great Commission. Healing in the New Testament is clearly not focused on healing for believers who were already saved, but rather on miraculous healing as evidence to the lost that Jesus was one with the Father. Only in 1 Corinthians 12 and James 5 do we see teaching specifically on healing for believers. Contrastingly, there are very many instances of miraculous healing in the gospels and Acts which took place in the context of preaching or confirming the gospel to the lost.
Which is ultimately more important in God’s sight?
Take a hypothetical situation in which the Lord must choose between healing a saved believer who is dying of a terminal disease and an unbeliever also suffering from a similar disease who has just heard the gospel for the first time. Which do you think might have greater priority for the Lord in light of all eternity? The answer should be clear to anyone who understands the truth.
And thus we have decided not to dwell on the debate of supernatural healing for believers, which is a temporal issue in light of eternity. We have chosen to focus our resources on winning the lost and the Great Commission, and so do not operate in the same context as those who reject us. Of course we understand that for those whose ministry is primarily directed to believers in the Church, the how and why regarding miraculous healing for believers should be addressed clearly. But we are called to minister in an area which we believe has greater priority in the eyes of the Lord.
John 4:35 …behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.
Shouldn’t the priority of those who teach and minister inside the four walls of the Church be equipping believers to be fruitful witnesses of Christ and to fulfill the Great Commission outside the box?
Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
If we look at the news today, we sense more and more that the end is near. But before the end can come, we must preach the gospel of the kingdom in the whole world as a testimony to all nations. From our perspective the Church has failed miserably in this. If we listen to the news today—especially about the Islamic State advancing toward their goal of establishing a Caliphate in the Middle East—we get the impression that the Church is in fact losing ground in terms of discipling all nations. That includes the many countries also where Hinduism, Buddhism, idol-worship, and witchcraft are still extremely strong.
Sadly, the emphasis in quite a few churches is on teaching Christians how to maximize God’s blessings during their time on earth. Yes, they do teach “blessed to be a blessing”, but more often than not “to be a blessing” is simply an afterthought and pretext, and not the driving force in seeking to be blessed.
If we focus instead on reaching the billions of gospel-resistant Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and idol-worshipers who have not yet heard, the debate on miraculous healing between charismatics and cessationists will largely disappear. Our desire to fulfill the Great Commission during these last days will override our petty disagreements and divisions over healing for believers.
If nothing is impossible for God, can He not use missionaries today to minister miraculous healing to gospel-resistant peoples as evidence of the truth of the gospel to them—just as He did in the gospels and Acts? During these last days can God not use His disciples to minister supernatural healing to Ebola virus victims as a visible demonstration that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father—the One True God who created the heavens and the earth? Why should we through our doctrines limit God in what He can do through present-day missionaries in preaching the gospel with great power and effectiveness to those who never heard—as did the early disciples?
Let us not allow pet doctrines which are not strongly supported by Scripture and which apply for ministry to believers only become a stumbling block to multitudes of resistant Gentiles coming into the kingdom of God in fulfillment of the Great Commission during these last days. At the Judgment seat of Christ we will have to account to the Lord for what we have taught His people with such self-assuredness, severely limiting their effectiveness for His glorious gospel.