For mission leaders who are absolutely committed to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ, it is a painful question to address. While undoubtedly there may exist various reasons why, there is one single overriding factor which must be faced.
Now of course the teaching of cessationism has had its effect on missions. Cesssationism essentially teaches that the miracles recorded in Acts are simply a description of what took place at that time, and are therefore not a prescription for what we are to do today on the mission field. This teaching has for the most part been accepted by evangelical churches in the West.
Related to this is the teaching that with the canon of the New Testament complete as of the Fourth Century AD, miracles are no longer needed by the Church. The Word of God alone is sufficient for God’s people.
By what about the huge swathes of planet earth inhabited by over two billion souls where the Word of God is not available and the gospel has never been preached? So the miracles the Lord did through the early disciples in Acts are now not available for gospel-resistant Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, idol-worshipers, and those who put their faith in witchcraft to witness as irrefutable evidence that Jesus is the Messiah and the only way to the One True God who created the universe? So the miracles were available only to the “pagans” to bring them to the Lord in Acts, and no longer available for “pagans” today?
Where does Scripture teach that the Lord no longer uses His present-day disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons on the mission field to reach the lost for the gospel and to fulfill the Great Commission — as He did in the gospels and Acts?
Nowhere in Scripture is this taught or even strongly implied. It is rather the teaching of man. It is tradition.
But even for mission leaders who do not adhere to cessationism and who are open, there are serious obstacles. One of course is their personal experience when trying to minister to the sick in the name of Jesus. Very rarely, if at all, do they witness the miracles recorded in the gospels and Acts. Although they continue to believe the Lord’s promise in John 14:12 and that miracles are for missions today, they are faced with the harsh reality that the miracles simply don’t happen.
The primary obstacle—actually the reason for the first obstacle above—is the Church not teaching disciples how to heal the sick and cast out demons exactly as Jesus did and as He taught and commanded His disciples in the gospels. Instead the Church teaches us primarily to pray to God for the sick — and after that to leave the results entirely up to Him. Among others, there are reasons for the acceptance of this teaching which limited space keeps us from sharing here. But such reasons are related to the teaching of the Nicolaitans which Jesus hates (Revelation 2:6 & 15).
Jesus never taught his disciples to “pray for the sick” in such a way. It is rather the tradition of man, and sadly has been accepted as “gospel” by the Church. (The teaching in James 5:14 is actually “praying over” the sick—which is actually very different from “praying for” the sick.) In past decades some streams of the Church have mixed in with prayer to God the ingredient of prophesying to the sick through declarations, proclamations and affirmations when ministering to the sick. Jesus did not heal the sick in such a way, and neither did the early disciples in Acts.
When we closely scrutinize from the New Testament how Jesus healed the sick and how He taught his disciples to heal the sick — and how they continued to heal the sick in Acts — we gain very clear understanding of how to minister to the sick and demonized effectively and consistently when sharing the gospel with the lost. And when we train present-day disciples with this same clear and exact understanding, we see the miracles taking place today on the mission field, leading many gospel-resistant peoples to Jesus Christ as their only Lord and Savior. What is recorded in Acts is taking place today on harvest fields of the Third World — harvest fields where workers have been properly trained with Scripture.
The key is teaching and training disciples exactly as Jesus taught and trained his early disciples when he sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God.
But due to the millennia-old tradition of simply “praying to God for the sick” and after that waiting on God to do His will, teaching disciples the “new” way of healing the sick as Jesus did becomes for them a “new paradigm” which takes time and effort for disciples to accept and then to apply effectively for the sake of the gospel.
Having taught this very subject since 2000, we have seen that disciples and servants of God who persist in studying and applying what Scripture actually teaches about healing are now very fruitful for the gospel in the Third World.
There is now an acceleration taking place in India missions: the restoration of Acts through the ministry of well-trained local harvest workers.