Increasing millions of believers worldwide claim that God still works miraculously through His people today.1 They claim that Christians should expect to preach the gospel and minister the gospel’s power with all the gifts of the Spirit, including the miraculous gifts (prophecy, word of knowledge, word of wisdom, gifts of healing, working of miracles, distinguishing spirits, tongues, interpretation). The topics of the work of God’s Spirit, healing, and ministry with miraculous spiritual gifts and their relationship to the gospel and evangelism have been flash points of division among Christians in the twentieth century with the emergence of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements and the emergence of what has been called the “third wave” movement.
The often divisive rhetoric surrounding the controversy suggests the need for a careful reexamination of the biblical evidence related to these topics. This book intends to encourage the reader to reexamine the basic issues in Scripture and draw his or her own conclusions regarding the implications for evangelism and ministry in the Church today.
In books, magazines, conferences, cassette tapes, and videos, many pastors and lay leaders are finding themselves confronted over and over with questions like the following about healing ministry and ministry with all spiritual gifts, including the miraculous gifts. Can any church or liturgical tradition have a healing ministry and personal prayer ministry? Can any church or liturgical tradition help people find freedom in Christ from demonic oppression and related emotional and spiritual bondage? Can any church or liturgical tradition encourage lay ministry that utilizes all spiritual gifts? Is such ministry foreign to the gospel and the message of the Cross, or is it a natural, biblical extension of the power of the Cross to cleanse and redeem us from sin and sin’s consequences? What does Scripture have to say about such issues?
Is ministry with all spiritual gifts and healing a biblical idea? Was such ministry just for the Early Church, and if so, where does Scripture teach such a notion? Why did the Church preserve instructions for healing prayer ministry in the canon of Scripture (James 5:14-16)?
Do healing and gift-based ministry (meaning ministry with all spiritual gifts)2 have any role in Scripture’s view of preaching the gospel? Is the Church to follow the preaching and healing pattern of evangelism practiced by our Lord, the apostles, and the Early Church?
The Purpose of this Book
Much has been written recently on these issues. Many voices among evangelicals have offered conflicting answers to such questions. Some of the literature seems to answer these questions with a partially affirmative or a wholly affirmative response,3 and some of the literature seems to answer them with a partially negative or a wholly negative response.4
On one side of the controversy healing and spiritual gifts have no necessary role in the proclamation of the gospel and the Word of God. They are not to receive so much attention that they usurp a church’s focus on Christ and the gospel. Protestant cessationism represents the most extreme form of this viewpoint. Certain protestant theologians from the Reformation era onwards have popularized the view that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit mentioned in the New Testament ceased after the apostolic age, since they were neither necessary nor functional after the New Testament was completed.5
On the other side of the controversy, proponents point out that no scriptural passage clearly teaches that any gift of the Spirit should or would cease before the return of Christ.6 According to this view, healing ministry and ministry with all spiritual gifts are more than just a nice idea which may or may not be worthy of emphasis in a church’s ministry repertoire. Healing and spiritual gifts are signs of God’s Kingdom and rule in Christ—symbols of His grace and His redeeming work through the Cross—which are as non-negotiable now as they were in the Early Church.
Such questions as those articulated above have been raised in the recent literature and, in turn, gave rise to this book. The purpose of this book is to reexamine these questions in Scripture and their implications from a pastoral perspective. Scholars and church leaders from a broad range of evangelical liturgical and denominational backgrounds (including Covenant, Missionary Church, Southern Baptist, Anglican, Vineyard, Presbyterian, Christian and Missionary Alliance, United Methodist) have contributed fourteen chapters discussing the issues from an exegetical and pastoral point of view as well as from church-historical, psychiatric, sociological, and missiological points of view.
The first seven chapters of this book explore the issues exegetically. Jeffrey Niehaus’s chapter explores the relationship of signs, wonders, and miracles to the prophetic word in the Old Testament which is the foundation of the prophetic New Covenant ministry of word and deed in the New Testament Church. He also discusses the relationship of healing and spiritual gifts to the substitutionary atonement of Christ foretold in Isaiah 53. Wayne Grudem’s chapter addresses the question of whether we should expect the Holy Spirit to work in miraculous ways in connection with the preaching of the gospel and the life of the Church today.*
Peter David’s chapter explores the relationship of sin to forgiveness, healing, and wholeness in Scripture and surveys the biblical evidence concerning sin and the fruit of sin—sickness, demonization, death, and natural calamity. He also examines Scripture’s view of how, on the basis of the atoning power of the Cross, God works to reverse the fruit of sin. Gary Greig’s chapter explores the nature and purpose of signs and wonders in the New Testament, showing how they function to encourage faith in Christ, to illustrate God’s grace in the gospel, and to bring glory to Christ.