Do only Christ's ministers have...

Signs That Follow

Millions crowd healing meetings seeking relief from pain and distress. Are the reported healings a predicted sign the healers are God-appointed?

The soft tones of the organ swell to a crescendo. A massed choir bursts into thrilling song. The audience is expectantly hushed...

The intense excitement of a vast crowded stadium is often the backdrop for evangelists who claim healings as a fruit of their ministry. Most point to such healings - and tongues-speaking, visions and trance states - as evidence that their work follows in the footsteps of the apostles. They are, they claim. fulfilling the Scriptures.

Few western Christians can have missed seeing either in person or on TV the dedicated - often perspiring - evangelist call out to God to release someone from a crippling disease. You will see folk cast away crutches, dance on stage, smash eye-glasses or snap white sticks.

Are these genuine "healings"? Are those who achieve such miracles true men of God? Or are they charlatans and deceivers?

Jesus Christ Heals

In no way is it my design to question the genuine nature of some of these events. Unquestionably frauds abound - and have often been exposed. But healings do occur at these meetings. Why?

Opponents often claim that such miraculous events are "demonic" - inspired by Satan. And indeed since Satan can "bind" a person with an illness (Luke 13:16), it's not unlikely that a portion of reported on-stage healings could reflect the possibility of his "unbinding"! Further, we know enough about the human physiology to understand that God has built into our bodies magnificent self-healing mechanisms. Usually they act slowly. But occasionally a cure is triggered, suddenly by some external event.

Further, recall that Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry, never healed what we would consider to be "a converted person"! In response to human need, he made the lame to walk, the blind to see, the demonic to be free. Need we assume this doesn't continue today? Isn't Jesus "the same yesterday, today and forever"? Indeed, he is the same totally compassionate, loving and merciful being now as two thousand years ago! We can rejoice that he still heals in response to individual faith - even faith as a grain of mustard seed. Faith indeed moves mountains. But between the faith and the mountain is an earth-mover, for faith unaccompanied by works is useless!

"Follow Me"

However, our focus should not be on miraculous healings. Restoration to health can and does occur at the hands of stage evangelists - but therein lies danger!

What would you think of a man or woman who restored your sight?

Gratitude, certainly. Even if he said "It wasn't me - but the power of God", you would still invest the person with something of a halo. That's human nature Undoubtedly you also would support him as your resources permit. You would publish his praises. And if that same individual then directed you to take a certain action - even one contrary to clear Bible instruction -you are unlikely to question him too closely. After all, he healed you didn't he? Or God used him to heal you. A man of God, surely.

Not necessarily!

The "healer" may be totally sincere in what he is doing. But that is not how the Scriptures instruct us to judge. Sincerity is not the major factor. Sincerity can endow a charisma that triggers belief leading to healing. But any of us can be sincerely wrong! There are thousands, literally, of varieties of belief in our world - and the vast majority of adherents really believe in their own religion. They don't question it.

Sincerity is not necessarily a symptom of truth!

To repeat - danger lurks in the shadows of a healing mission. For our gratitude can cause us to drop our guard and blindly accept the whole package on offer by the evangelist. The apostle John urges us to "try every spirit" (I John 4:1). And the standard for our judgment is not external signs - but the Word of God.

Fate Of Wonder-workers

John echoed the same theme as earlier inspired writers. Back when Israel was about to enter the Land of Promise, the man who was a type of Jesus Christ - Moses - warned his people: "If a prophet arises among you, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign or a wonder [a healing, perhaps!], and the sign or wonder which he tells you come to pass, and if he says `Let us go after other gods' which you have not known, `and let us serve them' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams ["the Lord has told me to..."]; for the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him. and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and cleave to him. But that prophet or dreamer of dreams shall be put to death because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).

Could God be checking out your willingness to obey Him?

God is a jealous God! His truth is precious to Him, for it is the expression of His being. And He has warned those who teach the Scriptures to be equally jealous of it! In his New Testament letter James wrote: "Many of you, my brothers, should avoid becoming teachers, because you know that we teachers are going to be judged with stricter judgment than other people" (ch. 3:1).

Warning To The Church

Even in the mid-first century, the apostle Paul had to warn Christians to look out for false teachers: "...I know that after I have gone, violent wolves will break in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will appear who will try, by speaking perversions of the truth, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30). John, too: "Dearly beloved. stop believing every so-called spiritual utterance, but keep testing them to see if they come from God, because many false prophets [even in his time!] have gone out into the world" (I John 4:1). Recall that false prophets teach false doctrines which Paul tells us have demonic origin (I Timothy 4:1).

And by what standard do we test the preacher's words? By nothing but the words, the spirit, the sentiment of the Scriptures.

It's not the miracles or signs a preacher delivers that count. It's not his sincerity. It's not his warmth and caring nature. It's not his charisma, nor his enthusiasm, nor his eloquence. You will find such men and women in all religions! It's what he teaches that counts! Wrote Isaiah: "If they speak not according to this word [`the law and the testimony'] there is no light for the people" (Isaiah 8:20).

So - check out that teacher! Check that healer or miracle-worker. Check the teachings of those who administer the so-called "Toronto Blessing". Check, too, what you read in this publication. Look up your Bible. Study it. For your place in the soon-coming Kingdom of God may depend on it.

Why Miracles?

It's established fact that God heals - even in our day. But why not heal everyone? Why don't stage evangelists simply walk into every hospital ward in the land - and send home the sick and maimed totally restored to full vigor? Why didn't Jesus heal everyone who crowded the Pool of Bethesda "waiting for the waters to move" (John 5:4)?

Of course, faith has a role. And, as Jesus predicted, there isn't much of that around today (Luke 18:8). But there are surely enough committed - and ill - Christians with faith whose mass healing would stir the nation to belief. Indeed some are healed, as an act of mercy and as a personal blessing and for encouragement.

But the fact is, God also heals some in order to say "Hey, I'm still here!" despite unbelief, as with the healing of Naaman of leprosy (II Kings 5). On occasion He heals to demonstrate His works (read John 9). Divine show-biz, if you like!

When Jesus formed the Church he launched it with a massive fireworks display. You can read of it in Acts 2. Tremendous spiritual power propelled the infant Church into orbit, with multiple thousands of conversions in a few short weeks. To authenticate the new order the first forty years of the Church were marked by a display of healings and other astonishing miracles. New divine revelation, to be believed, had to be seen to be unequivocally backed by God's power.

Healings, new languages, exorcisms were among the means by which God authenticated the New Testament apostles and prophets. They were what Paul termed "signs of an apostle" (2 Corinthians 12:12). The writer of Hebrews wrote: "[Salvation] was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him [i.e., the Apostles and Prophets], while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his own will" (ch. 2:3-4). Such signs, for the writer, were history, as they were for Mark (ch. 16:20).

Since the death of the apostles, however, such "signs and wonders" have been sporadic. And never with the same power as at the beginning. Perhaps just to remind us of God's continuing existence and power and sovereignty.

God in His mercy still heals according to His sovereign will. He heals saints and sinners in response to faith. But not at the dictate of some error-ridden stage evangelist!

The End Time

Bible predictions for the end-time include powerful demonstrations of apparent miraculous events. Wrote Paul: "The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false" (2 Thessalonians 2:9-11). And John, in the Book of Revelation adds: "Then I saw another beast.... It works great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of men; and, by the signs it is allowed to work in the presence of the [first] beast, it deceives those who dwell on earth" (ch. 13:11-14).

Be prepared, then, for an outburst of deceptive wondrous events at the hands of men who are spiritual charlatans. As stated earlier, unless the great truths of the Bible are faithfully proclaimed then signs serve only Satan's perverted scheme to blind all of mankind to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ (11 Corinthians 4:3-4).

But it won't always be that way, as the prophet Joel forecast. The events on the first Christian Pentecost were a mere foretaste of what lies ahead! Joel's prophecy is clearly set at a time when God is "in the midst of Israel" and when "my people [of Israel] shall never again be put to shame" (ch. 2:27). It's a time when God will "pour out My spirit on all flesh". When "he will destroy in this mountain [Zion] the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations" (Isaiah 25:7). That's certainly not happening now, because vast swathes of mankind are blind to God's true message! And it is, too, a time of unprecedented heavenly signs (Joel 2:30).

At that time God will indeed again give visions and prophecies (v. 28-29). He will, wholesale, heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, make the deaf to hear, the lame to leap (Isaiah 35:5).

But not now.

[To get an insight into true Bible teachings, you are invited to write for the Statement Of Beliefs of the Churches of God]

James McBride

To comment on this article or request more information, please contact James McBride by e-mail at the comment form below.

For PDF or mailed copy, see CGOM. Excerpt from New Horizons Volume 1 Issue 4, July/August 1997. Edited by James McBride of the Churches of God, United Kingdom.

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