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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Heal the sick, raise the dead, etc.

Been awhile. I haven't been to my church much in the last few weeks for various reasons. But today's sermon got me going; it confirmed all the things I hate about the charismatic movement. I've got some things in my personal life that will be resolved in the next few weeks, and after that, I'm leaving. No doubt.

The charismatic view of the Christian life is light years away from my understanding of it.

For churches like mine, in which tongues, healing, prophecy, and the other stuff are not simply things that are supposed to keep the services lively, the charisms are fundamental to how the Kingdom of God operates in our world. And for this I can forgive them, more than I can for those who request just "a little charismatic demonstration, on the side," because it's more like the Scriptural view of the purpose and use of signs and wonders: they were not just sideshow attractions, but important validation of the gospel being preached. If healing gifts and prophecy are still around, how can we just take a little dab here or there? The consistent charismatics are the ones who recognize the high importance of the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit.

One of the most popular passages in my church right now is Matthew 10:7-8. In it, Jesus tells the twelve, "As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give." Healing, raising the dead, and exorcism are central components of this commission, demonstrating the nearness of the Kingdom of Heaven. Charismatics get this, but overextend it past the first century, in which this sort of manifestation of the power of God was especially important. They think that - now more than ever - just being a "living witness" is underachievement: heal somebody, and then they'll listen!

The sermon today was centered around Matthew 10:7-8. It was laying out the preacher's vision of what the Christian life is supposed to consist of. Since I first heard this guy, he's talked about all these demonstrations that should happen, that once happened in his past experience, and although we're not seeing a whole lot of it now, they're on the rise again right now! Yet we never get beyond a backache that goes away, or someone who is reportedly recovering, not instantaneously, but -- well, faster than the doctors expected.

Tied in with this is always something like my pastor said today, "Where in the Bible does it say that the Holy Spirit would stop doing miracles? Where's the expiration date on the works of the Holy Spirit? He never changes." Ahem. The termination of at least some aspects of the charismatic is certainly the implication of 1 Cor 13, is it not? Tongues and prophecy are both explicitly mentioned to have an "expiration date". And besides - was it not a "change" in the Holy Spirit's ways (by their definition, anyway) for the apostles to begin performing miracles after Pentecost? Signs did not "follow those who believe" except by special dispensation: Jesus commissioned his followers who were already following him (had been following him for some time) to perform miracles.

Anyway, as an example of the awful exegesis that exceptionlessly pervades and perpetuates the charismatic movement, allow me to expose what's happening in Matthew 10:7-8 that will defeat these guys once and for all, if they'll listen to the words of Jesus in context (*gasp*! that's limiting the Holy Spirit!). When I finally "come out" to my friends and family about my cessationism, I'm going to do so this way.

Read the following and tell me when it stops applying to the modern church.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,b drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9 Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10 take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.

11 “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

17 “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Verse 8? Maybe verse 15 (verses 9 and 10 will mess with your prosperity message!). How about all the way through verse 20? How many synagogues are flogging Christians nowadays? But look at verse 23! Whatever "coming" of the Son of Man that Jesus referred to here had to have happened before the gospel even penetrated the entirety of the nation of Israel! Many scholars believe Jesus was referring to a judgment "coming", actualized in the real world by the Romans decimating Jerusalem and, as a result, punishing the Mosaic Covenant Jews for persecuting the Church.

Regardless, it's crystal clear that lifting verses 7 and 8 out of their context does great violence to Jesus' words, which had a very strictly defined audience: the twelve apostles of the first century. Something has changed since then, guys, or else not only are we supposed to perform the miracles Jesus mentioned, but we should do so as homeless wanderers under a vow of poverty, expecting to be brought in shackles before governors and kings.

Come on, folks. If you believe all that stuff is for today, at least do the Bible (and simple rationality) the courtesy of not ripping sentences out of context in order to support your belief.

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