Miracles and the Christian
by Werner Peters
Although the circumstances surrounding the tragedy of my mother's death are vague in my memory, one detail I remember quite clearly. I will never forget my father's confusion about some remarks he heard from acquaintances of his. They were believers in Jesus Christ, and they told him that if his faith were stronger, the Lord would heal his wife of the dreaded cancer that was eating away at her body.
She died victoriously.
I was in Sunday School one morning, about a year after her death, and one of the Sunday School teachers approached me. I was a very shy lad, and would freeze whenever an adult spoke to me. The man leaned over and said, "You must have been a bad boy, because God took your Mother away from you!" That moment is frozen in time for me, and when I think of it, I want to explode with anger at this misguided attempt at teaching me the "ways of the Lord". Not because I am still hurting over the remark, but because of the demonic deception that leads to a system of false doctrine - doctrine that says the believer must only experience blessing and health and prosperity, and that sickness and death are always certain pointers to willful sin lurking somewhere in the believer's life. I suppose this man thought he was being consistent with good theology, but he left a young, curly-headed Sunday School lad very confused and hurt for awhile. I am angry because this deception has been greatly magnified, and thousands, if not millions of believers are still being hurt, confused and devastated by this approach to sickness.
The tragedy is that many Christians today have not grown past the maturity level of that Sunday School pupil, and are therefore very vulnerable to this kind of deception. Discernment wallows at record-low levels. And every time a new TV personality arises with diamonds on his fingers and dollar signs in his eyes, promising miracles for money, wallets and check books willingly fly open. When will we learn? What will it take?
Martin Luther, the German Reformer, once morbidly observed:
"If seduction and darkness were again to begin through the wrath and decree of God (as will happen after our days, it is to be feared), and the devil were to begin to perform signs through some false prophet and perhaps cure a sick person, you would no doubt see the mob press to espouse the cause in such a way that no preaching or warning would be of any avail."
Luther was predicting that once a real sign or miracle takes place, it will matter very little what doctrine is taught alongside of it. Because people will be so focused on their own individual concerns and needs, truth becomes a casualty.
What we are experiencing today, not only on the airwaves but in popular Christian movements is a lot of noise and activity, and confusion about what even constitutes a miracle. Claimed healings turn out in MOST cases to be half-healings, or relief from nebulous pain. If Christians are rushing pell-mell to the altar to embrace a questionable miracle which in most cases turns out to be no miracle at all, how are we going to stand when the Lord pulls out all the stops and allows the devil to deceive according to 2 Thessalonians 2:9? "The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders."
But first, let's answer some very important questions.
1. Does God promise healing every time I get sick? Are believers to expect miraculous healings to be the normal way of recovery from sickness and disease?
This is not the same as asking whether God has the ability to work miracles. Of course He does. He would not be God otherwise.
Here is a Biblical exercise that helps us to maintain balance whenever we face a question that is brought about by a popular movement. Ask yourself how this healing issue is emphasized in the epistles. The epistles are those portions of the New Testament that contain teaching. These letters were the instructions the churches received on how to conduct themselves, and what things they were to teach in their churches. As you read the epistles, one finds absolutely no concerted focus on miracles, nor do you find the apostles enticing people with promises of wealth and happiness and prosperity in this life.
The next question is: What do the teaching portions of our Scriptures say about sickness?
First of all, you will find that sickness happens to the best of them. Everyone has speculated on what Paul's thorn in the flesh might be. The hint we have that it may have been a physical affliction is that it was a thorn in the flesh. And God's answer to Paul's three-fold prayer was, "My grace is sufficient for you for My power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).
If our 20th century healers claim to have the gift of healing, then surely the Apostle Paul had it. But in 2 Timothy 4:20, we actually read that Paul, the great Apostle and missionary, left Trophimus sick in Miletus. He didn't heal him! He didn't "command a miracle" from God on Trophimus' behalf. What's worse, we read in Philippians 2:26-30 that Epaphroditus, a co-worker with Paul, was afflicted with a near fatal sickness. Did Paul claim to have experienced a miracle? If a miracle happened, it was due to the normal prayers of the saints involved in his life, not Paul's own ministry to Epahroditus. Paul goes so far as to say that he was spared sorrow upon sorrow. He was worried about him! There is no unrealistic attitude here, nor the arrogant posture that characterizes today's faith healers.
Thirdly, we would surely hear Paul exhorting Timothy to "lay hold of God" for a miracle of healing, if that were the normal approach that believers are to take when struck with sickness. If sickness were always the direct result of sin or a deficient faith, do you suppose Paul would have appointed a sickly man to appoint elders in the local churches; to be a pastor to the pastors, so to speak? Rather, Paul gives him the advice. "Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses" (1 Timothy 5:23). Surely our modern healers are not wiser than Paul, or have superior knowledge? Why didn't Paul exhort Timothy to pray for a miracle of healing? Obviously because miracles were not meant to be the normal experience at every occurrence of sickness.
And what about Paul's reference to his illness in Galatians 4:13-15?
"As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I was an angel."
2. Are Faith Healers consistent in what they teach? Are they applying the same principles themselves?
It never ceases to amaze me, that when those who have supposedly discovered "the secret of making money" go the infomercial route in order to sell their "secret" at exorbitant prices, there are thousands who buy the "secret". The same mystery intrigues me about health and prosperity preachers. "I know the secret.. send me your seed money, and watch God bless you with a miracle.."
Here is what I would love to hear these teachers say, "I have enough money and abound.. I have learned in whatever circumstance I am in, to be content.. and I want you to find a bag lady in your town, and press a fifty dollar bill in her hand the next time you see her ... and then watch God bless your heart ..." You see, THAT kind of teaching would be more in line with the heart of God.
In most cases, these teachers want you to be generous in THEIR direction. Greed feeding greed.
In the area of health, the same call for integrity needs to go out. Two experiences come to mind. As a pastor who had just recently graduated from Bible College, I was working in the office of our new church building when a knock came at the door. There stood a lady and her husband. She introduced herself as a licensed preacher with a well-known denomination in the USA. They were camping in the area and were looking for a good church to attend that weekend. They asked if I could show them around in our new church building.
The church still smelled new. The glass in the windows sparkled and the pews looked inviting. "I see you have padded pews," the lady said. "Yes," I replied. "We have a lot of hard working men in our church, and some of them have bad backs, so we wanted to put in padded pews." Her eyes suddenly focused in on mine like an eagle that had just spotted the prey. Aggressively now she asked, "Don't you ever pray for your men?" Aggressive lady preachers intimidate me at the best of times, so I started mumbling an answer, kind of wishing she would just go away. I noticed her husband, cupping his left ear, straining hard to hear what I had to say. "You'll have to speak up," she said. My husband's hard of hearing." Bad backs, hearing loss, headaches, colds ... faith healers had better experience none of these conditions if they want to be consistent with what they are preaching.
Another time, I had written an article in the paper. The topic was over the issue of healing and miracles. I took the position that miracles are not on demand, and that healing is not guaranteed, and that when healing does not take place, it is not the fault of the victim.
The following week, there was a blistering letter to the editor, accusing me of selling our town short with a half-baked gospel. The authors of the letter believed in a "miracle-working God" and they exhorted our townspeople not to listen to my "drivel". The preacher who was primarily responsible for the letter was at the time of writing, on permanent disability from an injury apparently received on the job.
The point is, that every "miracle-working faith healer" will experience sickness himself at some point or another. And the failure by thousands of professing believers to see this glaring inconsistency is what worries me the most! Discernment is in a very sorry state.
3. What's the big deal? Why do I risk hurting people? Sometimes, I feel like I am ruining someone's "fun", or spoiling their spiritual experience when I teach a Biblically balanced view of faith and miracles. Why should I risk doing further damage to relationships in the Body of Christ by stirring up this issue?
The answer is crucial, but simple. Most immature Christians are being led to believe that miracles can be taken as proof positive that an individual speaks the truth. That he or she can be trusted.
Let us apply that thesis to history and the Scriptures, and see what we come up with. Is a miracle the ultimate proof that somebody speaks the truth?
History points to all sorts of weird groups to whom miracles of healing and signs occurred. And particularly in North America, we are prone to deception because of the pragmatism that rules our thoughts. "If it works, it must be right."
William Branham became well-known just after the Second World War for his Healing Revivals. He received supernatural knowledge about those to whom he was "ministering". McConnell, author of "A Different Gospel" claims that the miracles that he did "remain unparalleled, even among modern faith healing evangelists." Despite all his "giftedness" Branham's teaching became heretical. He developed doctrines that were foreign to Scripture. He denied the Trinity and believed that he was the prophet Elijah. Some of his followers ended up believing he was Jesus Himself. Miracles and healing do not always guarantee Biblical integrity.
Christian Science claim miracles for themselves. Cults who deny the doctrine of Christ claim miracles. Spiritists and occultists do the same.
If Christians are so vulnerable to believe God is working supernaturally in these meetings where a carnival like atmosphere reigns, and where the spotlight is on the faith-healer, then how will they stand when strong deception comes?
Doesn't the Bible say in 2 Thessalonians 2, that the single greatest means by which the Antichrist is going to deceive mankind is by the use of signs and wonders?
Couple that thought with the fact that at the Judgment day, Jesus said, "Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.'"
My biggest concern though , is the damage that is being done to the credibility of Jesus Christ Himself. Negative testimonies abound of those who had "received a healing" at a rally, only to discover that their condition had not changed. Dr. C. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General in the United States writes of investigating one particular case in which an elderly man went forward to receive healing for his failing sight. The healer took off the old man's glasses, threw them on the ground and stomped on them. He handed the man a large print Bible, and under the bright lights needed for the television show, the man read John 3:16. The healer praised God, along with the old man for the "miracle". When the old man got home, he couldn't find his Bible, because he didn't have his glasses! Upon going back to the healer, he was told that he didn't have enough faith to make the healing "stick."
God, in reality, doesn't need a perfect faith with which to work! And the character in which most of this stuff is being done does NOT reflect the character of Christ. Jesus NEVER pranced around publically, showing off His mighty power. Never did he use hypnotic or mesmerizing techniques. Let's wake up, people, and rise up and say, This is wrong, and we are causing Christ to be ashamed of His church if we continue to gullibly behave like this.
The quickest and most effective way to deal with TV faith-healers is simply to turn off the money taps. That usually screens out the genuine from the false. Better yet, turn off the TV, and go read your Bible. And ask the Lord to give you understanding of His Word.