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Following Christ’s Example: A Biblical View of Discipleship

 

In Conclusion

In the book Ministry and the Miraculous, several Fuller Theological Seminary professors argue the traditional position that God grants miracles in order to authenticate his Word. David Hubbard, President of Fuller, writes in the foreword, “The theological conclusion to be drawn from the Bible’s own use of the miraculous seems clear; the primary motive for divine miracle is not compassion [in manifesting God’s kingdom] but revelation.”65 In other words, miracles credential Jesus and his apostles, they are evidences of divine authority and basically end with the Apostolic Age. Out of this study a vision for ministry at Fuller emerges: “The minister of the gospel should major in the power that enables ordinary people to bear the cross and accept the burdens of suffering for the sake of doing God’s will in a world that hungers for forgiveness, reconciliation, justice, peace, the feeding of the hungry, and the relief of the oppressed.”66 This seems to mean that we are to bear with Satan’s assaults rather than repulse them. We are to medicate the demonized rather than deliver them. We are to comfort the afflicted rather than heal their affliction.

The Fuller scholars argue their position, first of all, based upon the assumption that foremost among Jesus’ works was his “forgiving of people’s sins”67 rather than casting out demons and healing the sick. Forgiveness, however, is never included in the Gospel summaries of his ministry or in his commission to the Twelve and the seventy (Mat. 4:23, etc.). The Fuller position makes a theological judgment rather than an historical observation by placing forgiveness at the top of the list of Jesus’ works.68 Rather, as Mat. 9:6, Mk. 2:10-11, and Lk. 5:24 (also Jas. 5:15-16) show, healing of sickness and casting out demons are signs of God’s forgiveness of sin. Richardson notes this when he says “miracles of healing are, as it were, symbolic demonstrations of God’s forgiveness in action.”69

Second, the Fuller scholars warn that Christians should not expect too much worldly benefit (such as healings) since Jesus calls us to suffer.70 Granted that this is a part of our call, we also live in a kingdom come and coming where God’s reign is actually breaking in upon us. To stress suffering at the expense of healing is to deny the realized aspect of the kingdom in our midst (Mat. 10:7-8; Lk. 10:9; 17:21; I Cor. 4:20; Rom. 14:17).

Third, the Fuller position argues that miracles have a narrow function; they signal that the kingdom is drawing near in the “unique acts of God in Jesus.”71 But as we have seen, we should expect signs and wonders to continue because they not only reveal the kingdom, they realize the kingdom, especially in delivering people from demons as Jesus’ own words state in Mat. 12:28 and Lk. 11:20. As Acts and I Corinthians assert, it is the Risen Lord who continues his kingdom ministry in his Body, the Church. He cannot do less than he is.

Fourth, the Fuller scholars assert that Jesus’ mandate to the apostles to preach the kingdom and heal the sick was a “specific mission” with “limited objectives.”72 Their commission, however, was no more specific and limited than the ministry of Jesus itself. What he did personally and what he did with his disciples hang or fall together.

Fifth, the Fuller scholars claim that there is no healing mandate in the Great Commission. As we have seen, this can be challenged from the form of the Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 where Jesus’ disciples are to teach their converts to do everything which he commanded them. Must not this include announcing the kingdom, casting out demons and healing the sick?

The witness of the New Testament shows the answer is “yes.” First, in Acts 13:51 Paul and Barnabas obey the command to the Twelve and the seventy-two to “shake the dust off your feet” as a testimony against unbelieving towns (Mat. 10:14; Mk. 6:11; Lk. 9:5; 10:11), showing they still considered the pre-crucifixion commissions to be binding.73 Second, the apostles continued to proclaim the gospel with preaching and healing in the post-resurrection period just as they were commanded to do in the pre-crucifixion commissions to the Twelve and seventy-two (Acts 3:6, 12; 4:29-30; 5:12-16, 20-21, 28, 42; 9:34-35; 14:3, 8-10, 15ff.; 15:12, 36; 18:5, 11 [cf. II Cor. 12:12; I Cor. 2:4-5]; 19:8-12; Rom. 15:18-19; I Cor. 1:6-7 [cf. 12:9]; II Cor. 12:12; I Thes. 1:5-6; Heb. 2:3-4). Finally, the apostles not only proclaimed the gospel with preaching and healing, but they also taught the disciples they made to proclaim the gospel with preaching and healing–non-apostles like Stephen (Acts 6:8, 1; 0), Philip (Acts 8:4-7, 12); Ananias (Acts 9: 17-18; 22:12-16); congregations like the Corinthians (I Cor. 11:1; 12:9); the Galatians (Gal. 3:5), the Philippians (Phil. 4:9); the Thessalonians (I Thes. 1:5-6); and Jewish Christian congregations (Heb. 6:1-274; James 5:14-16).

Jesus has come to break the power of the enemy and he continues to do this today through his Church, just as he did in the early centuries. This will only become real for us as we see demons challenge us as they did Jesus, be silenced by Jesus through us, and then come out, often with physical convulsions or other manifestations just as they did when Jesus sent them packing in his earthly ministry (see Mk. 1:21-28).

To the above points, MacArthur would add that miracles ceased with the apostles and their companions because fresh revelation ceased as well. Apart from his theological position, what concrete evidence does he offer for this assertion? He answers, “The types of miracles claimed [today] … are nothing like New Testament miracles. Jesus and the apostles instantly and completely healed people. … New Testament miracles were immediate, thorough, and permanent. … By contrast, most modern miracles are nearly always partial, gradual, or temporary.”75 Such a statement seems completely unable to explain modern miracles that are exactly like New Testament miracles—immediate, thorough, and permanent.76 These miracles are delivering people afflicted with demons by the name of Jesus in the power of the Spirit. Having seen this happen numbers of times, I must simply say that I stand with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Jesus has come to break the power of the enemy and he continues to do this today through his Church, just as he did in the early centuries. This will only become real for us as we see demons challenge us as they did Jesus, be silenced by Jesus through us, and then come out, often with physical convulsions or other manifestations just as they did when Jesus sent them packing in his earthly ministry (see Mk. 1:21-28).

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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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