Christians are being robbed of their faith
There is a teaching in the church of Jesus Christ which is both misleading and debilitating for believers in their Christian walk. Cessationism robs Jesus’ disciples of a fully-orbed faith and can result in Christians turning towards dangerous ‘remedies’ on health issues.
first published 25/06/2010
Call for the elders
At the time of the birth of Pentecostalism in the early 20th century, and later in the 1960/70s Charismatic Movement there were unfortunately many excesses which conspired to support false teaching in conservative evangelical circles. That false teaching has been dubbed Cessationism: it is the view that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are no longer available to believers today. What is taught is that many of the facets of early church life and faith were for the first apostles only, and have since been removed by God – including the Holy Spirit's power to heal miraculously.
The antecedent was the 16th-century Reformers’ efforts to counter the unbiblical and unscrupulous church practices in their day. However, the necessary efforts to restore the church to biblical doctrines and practices unfortunately saw Reformed theology throw out some babies with the bath water.
Indeed if Martin Luther had had his way at one stage, our Bibles would not include the book of James or the Revelation given to John on Patmos. Regarding the latter, Luther affirmed that he could "in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it."
Meanwhile, in railing against what he saw as the works-based teaching of James, he deemed the book an ‘Epistle of Straw’ and questioned its canonicity.
However the letter by James teaches what is in effect a ‘sacrament’; and one which has been largely ignored and most often abandoned in many churches and by many church leaders.
James wrote: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:14-16).
Some 20th-century teachers – including those of international standing – scorned ‘things charismatic’ as being “a theology based on experience”, without themselves realising that their teachings could be accused of being ‘a theology based on (their) non-experience’. It is not unlikely that as some of the gifts of the Spirit were beyond their personal experience, they read into the Bible from that perspective and declaimed these gifts as obsolete – even though both the Bible (cf 1 Cor. 14) and the testimony of countless Christians – around the world and through the ages – contradicts the cessationist view.
Unfortunately however, these false teachings have had an impact, producing at least three highly-unfortunate and even dangerous situations.
An attack on faith
First of all, the faith and aspiriations of latter-day believers has been severely diminished. Who knows the damaging effect of reduced expectation? “You do not have because you do not ask (James 4:2b; cf Matt 18:19; John 16:24)”. Our faith is enfeebled because we do not today believe that God can and does act in the amazing ways that we read of in our Bibles.
Looking for healing in unhealthy places
Secondly, and very dangerously, believers who are chronically ill and can find no cure in orthodox medicine are ‘trying anything’. Rather than following James’ instruction to ‘call the elders of the church’ to pray over them with oil they are turning to Alternative Medicine and so-called Complimentary Medicine. Some of these remedies and practices – often very expensive – are valid, while some are ineffective. Others however are – from spiritual, physical and psychological standpoints – highly dangerous.
Meanwhile even if a believer does approach the elders (mature male leaders) there is the good chance that the latter will either reject the request (on theological grounds) or – experientally — not know quite what to do with it.
Confession is biblical
And then there is the question about confessing sins. The practice of ‘going to Confessional’ was indeed being abused by the churches in the middle ages and even through to today, however the practice – as outlined by James – is biblical. We need to keep a clean sheet with God and with each other. And there will be occasions where, and with those that we trust, we need to own to our weakness. James wrote: “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” That’s what the Word says. And it seems that it is linked to the healing process.
A prayer for recovery
Pray that the section of the 21st-century church which has truncated some doctrines, will reclaim those Biblical truths and practices that have been neglected, distorted and maligned; and that the effects of wrong teaching will be eradicated from the church of Jesus Christ to the building up of the body, the saving of souls and to the glory of God.
Pray also that those who do believe in all of the gifts will exercise these gifts in a way that is faithful to the Bible and the Holy Spirit; sensitive in outworking; edifying to the body, and bringing glory to God.
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