Christian leaders are quite familiar with Jesus’ prayer to His Father in John 17.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one– I in them and you in me–so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)
Unity within His Body had high priority for our Lord who will return perhaps someday soon to reign over His kingdom.
Unity among evangelicals today is certainly better than what it was a few decades ago. The rift between conservatives and charismatics was at one time severe, with each side criticizing the other for extrabiblical teachings and practices. Today for the sake of unity within the Church public disagreements have been mostly muted and are now likely brought up only internally, although there are certainly well-known exceptions to this.
Today evangelical and charismatic leaders do come together for prayer. Pastors and leaders of various persuasions do come together for fellowship, often on a monthly basis.
Another area for fostering unity within the Body
There is now another area where they can actually come together—the Great Commission. This involves preaching the gospel to the lost and discipling new believers. It does not focus on ministry to believers in the Body of Christ.
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. (Mark 16:15)
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:46-49)
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
At Pentecost the Lord’s promise in Luke 24 and Acts 1 above was fulfilled. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and they began to preach the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles with power—as we see recorded in various places in Acts. This power resulted in powerful miracles (often miraculous healings) which provided the evidence to both lost Jews and Gentiles that Jesus was the Messiah and the only way to eternal life in heaven with the Father.
But even before Pentecost…
We see that even prior to Pentecost in the gospels Jesus had already given a measure of this power and authority to his disciples when he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God to the Jews.
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. …So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere. (Luke 9:1, 2 & 6)
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. …Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ …The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” (Luke 10:1, 9, 17)
Later of course in Matthew 28 Jesus expanded this to include preaching the gospel and making disciples of all nations, and not only the Jews. This of course would include preaching the gospel with power and miraculous signs also to the Gentiles—as we clearly see the disciples doing again and again in Acts.
The PRIMARY PURPOSE of the power and the miracles
The significant point to recognize here is that the power and miracles accompanied the preaching of the gospel to the lost. The miracles were not for the benefit of believers or the Body of Christ, but rather as evidence to the lost that Jesus is the Son of God. This distinction can provide comfort to evangelicals. How so? Some evangelicals are not very familiar with the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit—which as we shall see below are clearly for the edification of believers in the Body and not for preaching the gospel to the lost. Some very conservative evangelicals even believe that the gifts have ceased altogether. And as a result teaching today on the baptism of the Holy Spirit and on the associated gifts of the Spirit for the building up of the Body of Christ is the area where conservatives and charismatics have agreed to disagree.
But if we instead focus on preaching the gospel to and making disciples of all nations, this disagreement can fade considerably. The power and authority which Jesus gave to his disciples in Luke 9 and Acts 1 are for being witnesses and preaching the gospel to the lost. It is absolutely crucial to distinguish this power and authority—to be used in preaching the gospel to the lost—from the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are primarily for building up the Body of Christ.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7)
The context of 1 Corinthians 12, of course, is ministry to the Body of Christ for its edification, and emphatically not for evangelism to the lost.
So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:12)
Therefore conservatives and charismatics can find common ground with regard to the miraculous when they focus on what is arguably of paramount importance to the Lord at this moment in history—preaching the gospel to all creation and fulfilling the Great Commission.
Most conservative evangelicals have no problem when hearing about miraculous healings taking place on the foreign mission field leading pagan Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims to Christ. But for reasons given earlier some might feel some discomfort when such things are taught to them or practiced back home for saved believers in their church.
Therefore for the sake of greater unity within the Body of Christ…
Let us instead focus on the gospel to those who never heard and the Great Commission. Both unity within the Body and the Great Commission are arguably of paramount importance to the Lord. And when we focus on the power and authority over disease and demons entrusted by the Lord to us for the sake of the gospel to the lost instead of on the gifts of the Spirit, there can be agreement between conservatives and charismatics. And at the same time the advance of the gospel to those who are resistant—and thus the advance of the Great Commission—will be accelerated. When gospel-resistant Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims witness powerful miracles their gods are simply unable to do, many more will believe in our Lord Jesus Christ than if they had not witnessed His mighty power.
When the Church focuses on what is most important to the Lord during these last days, unity within the larger Body of Christ will take another step forward—to the pleasure and delight of our Lord who gave Himself to make us one Body.
Indeed a “win-win” for His Church!
The Elijah Challenge trains both non-charismatic evangelicals as well charismatics believers to proclaim the kingdom of God fruitfully to the lost—especially to gospel-resistant people groups—by effectively applying the Lord’s authority and power over disease and demons as evidence that our God is the only true God and that Jesus is the only way to Him.