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Following Christ’s Example: A Biblical View of Discipleship

“Thus this self-giving ministry of Christ becomes the norm for the life of the Church, its pattern: the life of the Church is to be the continuation of that ministry, and, in so far as this is actually the case, the Church heals as He healed, and restores as He restored, the brokenness of men.”53

I Corinthians 12 makes it clear that this ministry includes the works of the kingdom. Paul describes various gifts of the Spirit such as prophecy, words of wisdom and knowledge, gifts of healings, discernment of spirits, and effecting miracles which will equip the Church to continue what Jesus did. In his attempt to make all of these gifts “sign gifts” (proving revelation rather than effecting ministry), MacArthur is forced to define prophecy in the gift list of Romans 12 as preaching, while admitting that prophecy in I Corinthians 12 is “revelatory prophecy.”54 We may rightly ask, by what special exegetical insight has one the right to take the same word in the same context of spiritual gifts and give it two separate meanings?

Are we to bear with Satan’s assaults rather than repulse them? Are we are to medicate the demonized rather than deliver them? Are we are to comfort the afflicted rather than heal their affliction?

The gifts in I Corinthians 12, then, are situationally given by the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12:11; cf. 11:18,33-34; 14:23, 26) for ministry in the moment (I Cor. 14:24-26, 30). They are also institutionalized in some who are appointed to exercise them regularly in leadership in the Church (I Cor. 12:28 appointments [tithēmi “make, appoint”] as opposed to incidental giftings). They are to be actively sought (I Cor. 14:1) and exercised in love (I Cor. 13). By giving the gifts of the Spirit, Jesus continues his ministry through his whole Church. Because of this gifting, every Christian has the potential to prophesy or heal the sick (I Cor. 12:7; I Cor. 14:1, 5, 12-13, 24, 31; Jn. 14:12; Mat. 7:7-11; Jas. 4:2b). Here, indeed, is the functional expression of the priesthood of all believers and the ministry of the laity.

The New Testament bears witness to the continuation of the kingdom ministry of Jesus far beyond the Twelve. His assaults upon Satan’s kingdom and the healing of God’s fallen creation extend into the next generation (see Hebrews 2:3-4 and Lk. 10:1; Jn. 6:60-70; I Cor. 15:6). But kingdom ministry did not stop there. Signs and wonders did not cease with the Apostolic Age or become marginal as in the case of the second century A.D. heretic Montanus and his prophetic followers. MacArthur’s attempt to make the charismatic movement “the spiritual heir” to Montanus55 fails on the evidence—the charismatic movement, at its best, instead is the heir of the orthodox Early Church Fathers. Consider their evidence: Justin Martyr writes in the middle of the second century A.D.,

This Word went out to all nations over which the demons rule, as David testifies, ‘The gods of the nations are demons.’ And so it happened that many, powerfully gripped by his Word abandoned the demons whom they served. Now through Jesus they have come to believe in the Almighty God.56

But how are these demons expelled? Justin continues, “For every demon is exorcised, conquered, and subdued in the very name of this Son of God.”57 He concludes,

After all, many of our people have healed a great number of possessed persons who did not receive healing from any other exorcist, sorcerer, or herb doctor. They did this throughout the whole world, and even in your own capital city, by driving out the demons in the name of Jesus Christ.58

Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, adds his second century witness to kingdom ministry as he writes:

Wherefore, also, those who are in truth, His disciples receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come; they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of gifts which the Church [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ. … [But] directing her prayers to the Lord, who made all things … and calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, she has been accustomed to work miracles for the advantage of mankind.59

From these Church Fathers, it is clear that the generations which followed the Apostolic Age experienced the Risen Lord continuing his kingdom ministry in the midst of his people, engaging in spiritual warfare against the devil and all his works. This was no diminishing after-glow from the time of the apostles. Fox shows that the battle against the demons, lurking behind the idols and working “wonders and visions,” continued for centuries.60 The church at Rome in 251 A.D. listed among its staff 154 ministers and 52 exorcists.61 According to Fox, Cyprian, the third century Bishop of Carthage, “pictures the action of the Spirit on a man’s inner demon in terms which are compounded of torture, burning and beating. Ejection, it seems involved a rough combat of powers, with few holds barred.”62 In the fourth century, Jerome reveals that Christians liked to remember their “holy men” having their ways “with demons and miracles.”63 About 420 A.D. Sozoman recounts that Hilarion exorcized a friend of his grandfather and turned the man’s family to Christ, “succeeding where Jewish and pagan exorcists had previously failed: Sozoman’s grandfather became a Christian too.”64 To identify such ministry as heretical or marginal, as MacArthur attempts to do, is to deny the witness of history in favor of a theological opinion.

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Category: Living the Faith, Summer 2007

About the Author: Donald M. Williams, Ph.D. (Columbia University), M.Div. (Princeton Seminary), retired in 2002 from the pastorate of Coast Vineyard in La Jolla, California that he planted in 1988. Previous pastoral experience included serving as College Pastor at the Hollywood Presbyterian Church for ten years and Mt. Soledad Presbyterian Church in La Jolla, CA. He has held teaching posts at Claremont MacKenna College and at Fuller Seminary. He is the author of thirteen books, including 12 Steps with Jesus (Regal/Chosen, 2004), Start Here: Kingdom Essentials for Christians (Regal/Chosen, 2006), and The Communicator's Commentary for Psalms 1-72 (Word, 1986) and Psalms 73-150 (Word, 1989).

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