Thoughts : Progressive Christianity (Poverty) : The Gospel, Healing and Social Action

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…You remember you told me about your blind friend and how people want to pray for him yet he doesn’t really want them to and all. And we talked about Joni…etc.

I believe God can use us in our sufferings and weakness and stories like Joni are wonderful. And even of your blind friend who seems to be able to do so much despite his weakness.

On the other hand, I think God wants to heal more than we think or more than even we want to be healed sometimes. But of course He’s not going to heal always. But if we don’t continue to seek for healing or ask of Him, then He may just not heal because we don’t ask – and there’s this passage in James about us not getting because we don’t ask right?

So when I hear of your friend not wanting people to pray for him (if that’s true, unless I’ve misheard/understood) then I think it may be that he’s missing out on his healing. Of course, I do NOT believe that everyone will be healed if they ask or have faith. But on the other hand, I have to say that if you don’t ask or believe for your healing, you may just miss out on it.

This is something I have trouble with a lot of conservative Reformed people. I talked to some of my previous Church friends from a very conservative Reformed background. One said he does not believe that faith has any relation to healing as God is sovereign. I think that is a bit extreme.

Sovereignty isn’t something that should affect our prayer life, as I heard MacArthur say last time. As in, yes, we need to know that God is sovereign so that God can answer our prayers, but if we let sovereignty affect us in the other way as to make us passive and just accept everything and be fatalistic and not believe that prayer can change things, then that’s the wrong application of the doctrine of sovereignty.

I believe one reason there are so many more healings in charismatic churches (though I don’t believe all are genuine) is coz they teach on it and believe God for mighty things. I know there’s a tendency to be on the demanding side and giving the impression that once we’ve asked, God is sure to have healed us and all. That’s of course wrong. And people do get disappointed when healing doesn’t come to pass after being told that healing is what God WILL do for them. But on the other hand, that kind of abuse shouldn’t scare us away from searching for a biblical doctrine of healing.

I think that’s the biggest fear conservatives have of charismatics and vice versa. They see a part that the other side abuses and thus throw the baby out with the bathwater. That’s sad.

I see abuses of healing and tongues, but I will still search for the truth and seek it out. It’s sad to see not many good models of healing and tongues, but I guess that shouldn’t prevent us from seeking the most biblical model we can find.

I believe in healing and believe God wants to heal, but my belief isn’t the extreme health and wealth view that if we have faith, God will definitely heal.

Vineyard has taken the “Kingdom now, Kingdom not yet” model which is a kind of eschatological model of things. The kingdom has come, yet the kingdom in its fullness will not come till Jesus comes again. The implication is many. For salvation, we are saved and justified the moment we believe. But we will only be glorified when Jesus comes – we’ll only be totally sinless in renewed bodies when Jesus comes and still remain in our sinless bodies now though we’re already justified.

For healing, God desires to heal us. And He does heal some. Not all. In the Gospels, the sign of the Kingdom having come with Jesus is that miracles and all have happened. Therefore, since the kingdom has come, healing does happen. We get a little taste of what’s in store for us fully in heaven. The Holy Spirit has come, as a deposit. Healing has come, as shown in Jesus’ ministry. But are all going to be healed? No, because the Kingdom has not come in its fullness and that awaits the 2nd coming.

The key is a balance. Conservatives tend to emphasize that only perfection and full healing will come in future. That’s true, ONLY FULL and COMPLETE healing will be there in future. Charismatics tend to emphasize that healing is available now. That is also true. Healing IS AVAILABLE now. More extreme charismatics will say healing is available now in all its fullness. But of course that’s just plain wrong.

A balance means that we preach healing in all its vigor – healing is available now as Jesus has come and the Kingdom has come with Him and the signs of the Kingdom is that a taste of heaven is available here and now – salvation (justification) and healing. But the full benefits of salvation and healing and miracles and even knowledge (1 Cor 13) is not available till Jesus comes. Perfection in everything, whether it be in your spiritual or physical self, is not available till Jesus comes again. So let’s seek healing coz it’s a sign of the kingdom having come (which is linked to the fact that salvation has come) but let all know that not all will be healed. But still it should be taught and preached as Jesus did. In fact, spiritual and physical healing is linked and very related in Jesus’ ministry – the physical pointing to the spiritual. That’s why I believe that it’s good that during crusades (evangelistic), miracles/healings ought to be done too as that tells unbelievers that God is a great and wonderful God and He can heal and He’s a supernatural God and ultimately this physical healing points to spiritual healing – though I have to admit I know no good model of combining healing with evangelism as the tendency is to overemphasise physical healing and not preach the gospel. This again is the sad thing in charismatic christianity and something that conservatives find fault with. They say the true gospel of forgiveness isn’t being emphasized during these miracle crusades and I totally agree with them. But I don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and therefore say that there cannot be a good model or better model. In fact, there’s a need to combine both a good understanding of the primacy of the gospel presentation with healing. The former comes first in message, but the latter is not to be thrown out. Both come together, even as the former is more important.

Again, throwing the baby out with the bathwater is such a common thing. Now I find it so sad that the churches here I go to refuse to do much about social work and social action as they want to concentrate on the gospel. Whenever I say, “Where’s our social work/action and our compassion for the poor that Jesus showed?” their response is always, “Well, that’s good stuff but let’s see what’s more important. The gospel right? So let’s focus on that”.

I totally agree the gospel is more important – more important than healing, more important than social work/action. But why do we have to adopt an “either-or” tactic? We can focus on the gospel, yet we can also make healing/miracles and social action/work an important ministry of the church. It certainly was for Jesus and God. Nobody is doubting that the gospel is foremost (Ok, some do but those are just extreme liberals and it’ll be sad to react to them by throwing the baby out with the bathwater again). Nobody is doubting that spiritual salvation is the most important need – greater than physical healing or physical survival – though I have to say that if one can’t even survive physically like that thousands and millions who die from war, how can we think about getting them to heaven, so in many ways, there are lots of social action/work needs that need to be met that are prerequisite to the attaining of salvation/spiritual needs. Eventhough the latter is more important, you can’t even meet the latter need if the former is not met and people don’t live long enough to hear the gospel!

…I guess since you know my stand on possessions and wealth of Christians and all, you’d know that I am very disappointed and sad (and no doubt angry) with the kind of materialism and health and wealth prosperity that is being preached. I am totally surprised to see how Christians can accept all this, when lives are dying everywhere and so many live in dire poverty. Two things I’d like to say, both of which balance each other out somehow I think, though I’m not sure how.

Firstly, think my disappointment extend to many normal Christians. You don’t have to preach that “Jesus was rich” or to preach that “Driving BMWs or Mercedes is a blessing from God” or be a zealous audience of such corrupt gospels to, in my opinion, live a life that is less than what God wants us to live – i.e. to fall short of that compassionate, gracious, selfess lifestyle that Jesus calls us to when He asks us to deny ourselves and take up the cross. I think the comfortableness of Christians in many a Reformed or conservative church, if not most, is already something that God is not pleased with.

My conviction is increasingly such that it makes little difference whether one is a “prosperity” gospel advocate who lives a wealthy lifestyle or a church goer in a normal, good conservative Church who lives a less wealthy and materialistic lifestyle. It’s no difference to those dying out there who could benefit from more selfless sacrifice from both these kind of Christians in first world countries. The typical comfortable Christian in the first world doesn’t fit well with the biblical image of a “self-denying” Christian who takes up the cross – in my opinion, of course. Whether you’re living in a big house with a big car, or whether you’re living with a smaller house with a smaller car matters very little. Both can do with much more sacrifice than that. One good thing can be said for the former who would be a prosperity gospel advocate: At least he/she admits that being rich and living materialistically is a blessing and the proper Christian way to live life. That’s his opinion and his conviction and he lives it out unashamedly. But for the latter person who comes from a good biblical church and probably abhors the prosperity gospel, he isn’t doing much better but in fact worse because of his hypocrisy: he’s on one hand denouncing that the prosperity gospel and instead pointing out how we’re called to sacrifice and share, yet on the other hand, though relative to the prosperity gospel advocate he can be considered sacrificial, in view of the poverty and oppression in the world, relatively speaking, he’s not living a sacrificial life at all but instead is a hypocrite.

Secondly, on the other hand, I think God blessings are a very important part of Christianity. Again, because the Kingdom has already come, we have a taste of heaven – that’s the blessing of being in heaven invading this life here and now and already since Jesus has come. Health and Wealth gospel advocates tend to emphasize this. And they are not wrong in that God desires to bless us and He is a wonderfully gracious God who is willing and able to do above and beyond all that we can think or imagine.

Of course, that’s not the only aspect of the Christian life or of God. He demands too. Balancing grace (blessings) and law (calls to live a sacrificial life) in a biblical way is not easy. It’s a delicate and fine line and I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m in good company coz I think this is one of the things that has been debated for centuries!

For those who generally bash the prosperity gospel, I usually agree but I don’t want to overdo it coz I know that there’s some truth in it. And it’s usually some truth brought to extreme measures that characterizes and aberrant movement or any plain movements in general. So I don’t want to throw out everything again.

But I think it’s clear that I lean more towards the law/sacrifice side of Christianity and my disappointment is that Christians aren’t doing enough for the poor and oppressed in this world and aren’t showing more compassion. Maybe I’m wrong in that I am not acknowledging the blessing of God in the lives of Christians and am criticizing those who live such blessed lives without sacrificing much (which includes myself of course) when in actual fact, it’s not such a bad thing after all but a blessing from God. Well, I don’t know.

But I still feel that Christians ought to do more. Sure, blessings come and I shouldn’t be against blessings, but the higher calling is always to love and that involves selflessness and considering others before oneself: Love is not self-seeking. I’ve always loved that definition of love somehow…

And somehow, no matter how Christians who live a relatively rich lifestyle (compared to the brothers and sisters in the third world) justify their lifestyle by appealing to “God has blessed me”, I still don’t buy it. I can’t. It is not possible to see the Christian living the life he lives in the first world, and then seeing all the poverty and oppression of others around the world and still say that it’s ok for the Christian to live that kind of lifestyle.

With much blessing comes much responsibility.

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