Category Archives: Subjects

Reason and Faith

Reason and faith

The title of this article is in fact taken straight from a book Reason and Faith by Roger Forster and Paul Marston; obviously this is a book I am recommending. First, though, some discussion.

Sometimes it can be a little surprising to me when I hear of people coming to faith through the application of reason since this is by no means the path I followed; the subject of ‘apologetics’ is treated with some scorn by evangelist TL Osborn; we are inclined to say that faith is of the heart, of the spirit, not of the mind . . . and then we come across people who find God by a process of reasoning and discussion of issues and through sound apologetics. Hugh Ross is one such discussed on this site, and his ministry is devoted to careful argument. In his books Richard Wurmbrand describes an artist couple, who began to reason that since they created art, they must themselves by created and since their art relied on the opposable thumb they decided to worship the God who made the thumb, and this sufficed until they heard a fuller account of this God by contact with Bible believers (as Paul says, “If perhaps they might seek after him. . .”). Here was a very nice piece of reasoning by the well known Indian preacher of the early 1900s, Sundar Singh, reasoning which turned him away from Indian religion and was a way station on the road to faith in Christ; the setting is a discussion with a Sadhu –

I [Sundar] do not see how this increase of knowledge will be able to do much, for it looks as if further knowledge will result in my needs and difficulties being still more clearly seen by me, and how will these new needs be met?

The Sadhu replied: “Not with imperfect, finite knowledge, but with perfect and final knowledge will your needs be met; for when you get perfect knowledge you will realize that this need, or want, is only an illusion, and that you yourself are Brahma (God) or a part of Him, and when you realize this, then what more will you need?” I persisted, “Excuse me, but I cannot believe this, for if I am a part of Brahma or am myself Brahma, then I should be incapable of having any more Maya (illusion). But if Maya is possible in Brahma then Brahma is no longer Brahma, for he has been subordinated to Maya. Hence Maya is stronger than Brahma himself, and Maya will then not be Maya (illusion) but will be a reality that has overcome Brahma, and we shall have to think of Brahma himself as Maya, and this is blasphemy. . . .  you are throwing me into a whirlpool. I shall be most thankful to you if from your experience and knowledge you can help me to know Him so that I may satisfy my spiritual hunger and thirst in Him. But please remember that I do not want to be absorbed in Him, but I do want to obtain salvation in Him.’

This is a clear sightedness of a high order!

Another useful story I refer to elsewhere is that of Charles Colson. His primary response to the Good News was emotional, a substantial experience of surrender and a flood of feeling. He then describes in Born Again how he then spent a little time apart to explore what this meant intellectually, an exploration undertaken with the help of CS Lewis and Mere Christianity (while I don’t understand the fascination there seems to be with Lewis and his works, I do think this is a good book – a record of a series of radio talks to the average but thinking man in post-war Britain). This was a vital step to Colson.

As we have said elsewhere on this site, it is good that someone does the intellectual spade work; of course we need our thinking to be properly undergirded. And of course, in most cases the reason is engaged first, through preaching or reading, this being the means by which the Logos (the reason) gains entry to our hearts; and of course, in the Hebrew conception it is not possible to make the distinction between mind and heart that we tend to. There must, then, surely be appropriate material to engage with people whose orientation is distinctly intellectual.

Having thus, apparently, concluded that good works on reason and faith are important I have to report that a visit to a Christian bookstore is unfortunately likely to find books in this area that are very disappointing. I have bought a number of books that promised to explore some aspect of philosophy or science in relation to faith, only to find them confused and confusing, woolly and muddled. It is not part of my purpose to say which books these are but to point to reliable sources, of which there are no doubt many. The Forster and Marston book is excellent.

As stated above, Roger Forster is a thoroughly reliable pastor/thinker/communicator, and it turns out in this book that Paul Marston is an expert in the area of the history of geology. The fundamental push of the book is to explore the faith/science relationship; the sub-title is Do modern science and Christian faith really conflict. It might be noted that it is a 1989 book and so there are ideas that are subsequent to it that might need exploring, but I can’t see that there is much change except to the names of those who propose particular ideas and the details of their arguments.

The tone of the book is very calm, very reasonable, so it is enjoyable. There is a nice look at philosophers’ search for meaning in life – and how in some cases their search leads to despair and then to faith. There is a look at religion in general, and then a series of chapters on the evidence around the person of Jesus, from archaeology to a look at the resurrection; because the discussions are undertaken so reasonably, they are both a very good introduction to these topics without becoming too weighty  and typically make good points I haven’t seen elsewhere; the notes give some nice bibliographical pointers; the discussions often make the most sensible and quotable statements about whatever the subject is, for example some statements about the study of history. We then move on to the issue of man as spiritual. What does this mean? Do miracles take place? In line with this there is a discussion of ‘mind’ and determinism. I have found Roger Penrose interesting in this area, though too long-winded for me; here we have all I feel I need. (Satinover The Quantum Mind is also a wonderful book in this area.) The second half of the book deals with Genesis, the history of science and supposed clashes with faith, creation/evolution . . . On this site Hugh Ross is also recommended on these issues, but the Reasons to Believe organization really has more to say about the science and is comparatively sketchy on the history of science; Forster and Marston is the best brief resource I know on the history of science and religion. In particular the discussion of the history of geology is the most detailed area of the book, it having been the subject of Marston’s PhD. I found the last chapter of great interest, “God, chance and design”: the discussion of chance was particularly valuable.

Conclusion: I would suggest this is a text book discussion of the issues.

Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy

 

Some of us grew up with a tradition of evangelical faith with a strong emphasis on gateway experiences, particularly being born again. There was a whole ethos into which we were born, and I for one tried hard to conform myself to this, but some elements of it have not proven to be very satisfactory, and we have needed to go searching for answers.  I must arise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares, I must seek him whom my soul loves. (Song of Songs 3.2) This can be  taken to mean searching among other viewpoints and spiritual ways. This has led me to look among other places at Orthodox traditions. Nowadays we have the eastern Orthodox churches, the Greek, the Russian etc., but perhaps we can extend the term to talk about eastern church views generally, going back to the Church Fathers.  There is a different take on spirituality; and this article will look briefly at some of the places (including some which clearly are not Orthodox) at which I have looked, as well as an effort to describe some of the distinctives of thought.

Firstly, what have I read that can be recommended? Well, first exposure was to the Russian Orthodox — I studied Russian at school, and this led to one or two contacts — specifically with a man known as John of Kronstadt, who exercised a beautiful and influential pastoral ministry. This made me open to the otherwise alien ways of clerical garments, long beards, Metropolitans, priests etc., but not very much to the thinking. Many years later, when I was really searching for input outside the confines of Pentecostal evangelicalism, I found my way to the excellent Orthodoxy by Kallistos Ware. This opened my eyes to a different way of thinking and led on to further reading. This included The Way of a Pilgrim, an account of the results of praying ‘the Jesus Prayer’, and I bought a copy of the Philokalia, the compendium of writings from the Church Fathers. There was a cross over from the Toronto, Catch a Fire ministry through the writings of Guy Chevreau with Theresa of Avila, so I looked at some of the ‘medieval’ writers, Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, Catherine of Sienna and Catherine of Genoa. It is worth mentioning too that years before I had read Madame Guyon, of whom there is an excellent biography by Phyllis Thompson. (I mention these writers, not as in a formal sense ‘orthodox’, but as part of a different tradition. I have always found the Protestant divines of 17th and 18th century England dry and difficult, more given to polemic than devotion — the devotional, more ‘mystical’ outlook is much more sympathetic. I have also found in similar vein to Jeanne Guyon, Gerhardt Tersteegen, who, like, Guyon, influenced John Wesley. A very good Catholic writer on prayer is Jean Grou.) But then, as chronicled elsewhere on this site, I found Bob Ekblad and he sent me on to Daniel Bourguet, who has engaged seriously with the orthodox/patristic tradition and with its monastic element. Through this I have looked again at some of the writings in the Philokalia; some of the theology is really devotional in nature. Bourguet quotes from a number of sources. I read material from Isaac the Syrian as well as Matthew the Poor, a modern day Egyptian Coptic monk and author. There was a very good biography of Seraphim of Sarov and other material on him, and recently I found another Russian of similar ilk, Theophan the Recluse, who was another influential figure in his country, particularly through his writings; he has a charming book titled Tales of a Magic Monastery.

In all these writings there is a solidity and gentleness that can certainly be lacking in modern day charismatic circles. The gentleness I note is something I generally find true of writers from a Catholic background when compared to (particularly American) evangelicalism. There is a lot in our modern churches which is not very appealing to more educated people, but it is not just a question of what is attractive — there are also what we might term truth issues. An interesting take on this may be found in the writings of Brad Jersak and on his website www.bradjersak.com/about/orthodoxy. Brad was decidedly ‘charismatic’ , but explains in this article why he has changed streams.

So, there are certain distinctives to orthodoxy which are very different to the evangelicalism with which I grew up, and I will endeavour to explore this a little, firstly the doctrinal elements, and then the very obvious issue of the contemplative life, with its particular expression in monasticism.

Doctrine

It will be understood, please, that this is a complete beginner’s guide, an introduction to one or two elements of patristic/orthodox thought. Sometimes there are simply issues to do with language, but more normally there are distinctives of thought that have a lot to say to modern evangelicalism.

A first thought is this: where evangelicalism focuses on salvation, on the need for conversion – on human need, the orthodox focuses on – God!

Walter Brueggemann

Brueggemann is a prominent Old Testament theologian. I don’t know about this academic prominence but I can say that he has some very pertinent things to say that directly affect the way we read the OT and then the application of it to today. As with a number of authors, I encountered his books through Bob Ekblad, who describes his outlook as ‘from the historical-critical perspective’; there is a broadness of outlook to his writing which is quite different from some rather narrow ways of reading the Bible. I have  reservations, in particular because of  Brueggemann’s apparent understanding when it comes to  the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ salvation from sin; to give a specific example he seems to think that, rather than being a sinful lifestyle from which Jesus offers salvation, homosexuality is an acceptable behaviour to be (perhaps even) embraced. To me this means he needs to be read with care.

Firstly, Brueggemann is a voluminous author as well as very scholarly. There are numerous books of the nature of commentaries; I have Genesis, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Isaiah as well as 1st and 2nd Samuel. There are also books in a series of preaching notes on 1 and 2 Kings. Then there are more thematic books, among them one on David called David’s Truth, of which more shortly. Finally there are heavy tomes on theology; I have Theology of the Old Testament. It is the thoughtful and very sensitive reading of the texts, particularly the narratives, which I have found helpful.

The response I am giving here is very limited; but the elements I have found profitable are useful. Firstly, to the theology. I tried reading the book just mentioned, but am not able to; it is a specialist book belonging to academia, but there are points I gleaned about the theological outlook which will become clear.

An example would be two alternative ways of looking at the calling of Jeremiah. In Daniel Bourguet, there is a lengthy investigation of Jer 1.9 –The Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth; Bourguet takes this very literally and talks about the great degree of intimacy that existed between Jeremiah and the Lord for this to have taken place; the interest is entirely in the ‘mystical’, ie lived, experience, what might be termed the spiritual aspect. Brueggemann takes a diametrically opposite view; he considers the account of Jeremiah’s calling to be a formalized traditional cultic initiation to the prophetic ministry. They can’t both be right, and clearly I find the Bourguet view of much greater interest, but neither is it possible to discount the Brueggemann view. (Perhaps the two can be reconciled.) The Brueggemann outlook is deeply informed by historical research, by 200 years of textual criticism investigating the sources…and he seems to approach the OT substantially not as revelation from God (which is an outlook I think he terms fideism) but rather as Israel’s account of it’s faith. Brueggemann therefore approaches the OT as Israel writing about, recording, discussing its history and faith. The reading is therefore very fluid; the great strength of the books that help me is a tremendous literary sensitivity, which seems to me, as a trained literary critic myself, to be because the author is unclouded by either excessive piety or unbelief; he takes it very much at face value. The immediate weakness one feels is that it discounts the accounts as God engaging inrevelation — one can suspect that God is not being taken as seriously as one might wish; but the whole point is that the OT is Israel investigating its faith in the real God and his actions – which remain mysterious, often being no more than grasped at. This outlook does not conform to the narrow evangelical protestant view with which I grew up, and I will try to detail how Brueggemann expresses this; the attraction is that he makes the OT very real and immediate as we too grapple with God’s activities in a confusing world.

My first read was of Brueggemann’s account of David. He is not very keen on the sort of pietistic background from which I come – ‘yes, we know about David’s adultery but this was a severe slip up in this godly man’s life and we see the fruit of it in his repentance; Jesus is the Son of David, and here we find David’s true significance, as a type of Jesus’; and indeed the truth of this outlook is seen in the Messianic psalms. Brueggemann, however, is purely interested in the text,not the evangelical interpretation! There are at least 2 different accounts of David’s life blended together in the various scriptures; one of these is uncritical, and indeed somewhat hagiographic in the pietistic style; the other is much more nuanced, much more investigative of David and his motives. There are certainly these two strands, perhaps by different authors, perhaps different traditions. The literary teasing out greatly helps the reading; the confusion between the two serves to highlight what Brueggemann sees as Israel’s ‘endless fascination’ with the person, the figure of David; by contrast, there is, for example, little interest in the person of Solomon, though much interest in the consequences of his reign and policies. In David there meet so many currents of thought and action; there is his evident rather wonderful attitude towards/ relationship with God; there is his position at the crossroads of Israel’s political development; in him the prophetic and the kingly aspects meet for really the only time; then there is, simply, his character, deeply flawed and deeply attractive. As I say, B. looks at all this as it comes up in the text most sensitively; he has almost no interest in the typological ; very occasionally he refers forward to Jesus, but fundamentally he is just taking the text at face value. As commentary goes, he is as readable as the wonderful narratives themselves.

So this was my introduction to reading B., and I went ahead on the strength of that to order a number of his books. It is in the Introduction to the commentary on 1 and 2 Samuel that I found the best place to get hold of the general outlook.

First up, ‘the books of Samuel present the radical transformation that occurred in the life of ancient Israel when Israel ceased to be a marginal company of tribes and became a centralized state’. That is, I would point out, ‘salvation history’ is just not in view; however, I would also add that it is very hard to dispute that what Brueggemann says the book is about is in fact exactly what it is about. B. sees three ‘factors at work in this social transformation’; firstly there are the historical processes – social, economic, political, military, technological – these are all clearly present in the text; then there is the character of David, and ‘Israel can scarcely find words for David’; thirdly there is the central role in the transition of Yahweh. ‘The neglect of any one of these [3 factors] will diminish our reading…’ B. warns against two excesses in reading, the pietistic which overlooks the elements of brutality, seduction, ignobility, that this is ‘unlaundered history’; and ‘rational reductionism’, the ‘elimination of the “Yahweh factor”’.

He likes to return to the anti-pietistic view. ‘The transformation of Israel as understood in the Samuel narrative will not be properly rendered in an excessively ‘theological’ idiom, one preoccupied with religious questions. Such a theological portrayal would give disproportionate attention to the role of God, the faith of Israel, and the piety of David. It would preoccupy us with religious matters that lead us away from the intent of the text.’ I am inclined to respond that this is exactly right, but perhaps it is better to say cautiously that this to me is a breath of fresh air; it is a sort of incarnational view of things, God at work in human history, and in so far as we live in human history this is frankly of great concern to us! The text is therefore an ‘artistic idiom’ of investigation; again I find this a sympathetic point of view. He goes on ‘….an artistic rendering of life is now an urgent responsibility, not only because of the character of the text but because of our social-cultural-moral circumstance. The community gathered around this text…is one of the few places left in contemporary society where an artistic rendering of life may be pursued. Ours is a society beset by excessive certitude [the theological reading] and reductive truth [the historical]….an artistic reading is peculiarly required in our cultural situation of brute power and monopolistic certitude…. What strikes one …in the Samuel narratives… is the power of speech in these stories. People talk to one another and their talking matters…People listen and are changed by such speech, and God is drawn deeply into the conversation.’

I think this says most of what needs to be said about B.’s outlook. I note two things of great interest. Firstly, the concept of a community ‘gathered around [a]text’; this is something that seems to be lost from the churches I attend – it is many years since I heard expository preaching, and brings a sense of the centrality of the Bible in church life. Secondly, the cautious approach which amounts to something like realism which finds humanness an ever present and ‘holiness…strangely present’. However, being gathered around a text does not seem to leave much space for the Holy Spirit, for the actual Presence of God, and the element of ‘strangely present holiness’ is not pursued. The approach seems to fit better with what I would in an untutored way refer to as liberalism rather than the robust pentecostal faith of the book of Acts. In one place he refers almost scathingly to fideism which seems to mean a simplistic acceptance of the Bible as the ‘Word of God’; well, I am inclined to think that a simplistic acceptance may not be  right, but  B. goes  too far in seeing the Bible as man’s presentation of relationship with God; I think God has more to do with it than he says!

I think that is a fair introduction to the way Brueggemann proceeds. I would stress again that it provides a framework for a very sensitive and frequently surprising account of the texts.

Revival

Anointed for Burial

This article is a sort of opinion piece about the, to me, vexed subject of ‘revival’. Although revival is not a word that appears in the Bible, it is nevertheless a Biblical phenomenon; but, as I personally have heard the term used all my Christian life in our western churches, it seems to be a very unhelpful term and almost a badge of despair about the state of the church. “We need revival. God! Send revival.” The meaning being, “things are going from bad to worse; society is a mess; we don’t know what to do; we hope God intervenes!” I believe there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the idea of revival, one that needs doing away with.

A first point is this: many would say that the worldwide church has been in a state of revival for over a 100 years, and one idea might pin the beginning of this to Azusa Street, the ‘outpouring of the Holy Spirit’ which led to the worldwide Pentecostal movement. Smith Wigglesworth had a nice story to express his convictions. He tells of the early days of steam locomotion; George Stephenson wanted to take his sister on a maiden journey of his steam engine. She looked at it and shook her head, saying, “George, it’ll never go. It’ll never go!” But she got on, the engine started to move and she cried out, “George! George! It’ll never stop! It’ll never stop!” If we have eyes to see, we might not cry out for revival in quite the way that seems prevalent; it’s been running for a hundred years.

A second point would be that the worldwide revival has specific incidences. A wonderful example is events in Lewis, the Outer Hebrides, associated with the preaching of Duncan Campbell. The presence of God was so strong, it is said, that as ships approached the island, there was a particular range at which the ships would pass into that presence and sailors would fall to their knees! All that sounds very good; whatever one might think, the feature to note is that this was not an institutional revival, a change in the way the country operated, in social structure….no, it was a coming and sense of the presence of God. This is the point where so much of popular thought goes so wrong; that the church envisages itself, the church, changing society and thinks of this as revival. That is not an incidence of the worldwide revival.

I believe that as long as the church thinks like this it is fated to fail; in Australia, for example, as long as the church sees itself as part of society, a part of society trying to turn back the tide and return Australia to being a Christian country, whatever that means, it opens itself up to wave upon wave of condemnation and guilt.

Here is author Bob Ekblad on this issue:

“When followers of Jesus see themselves too much “according to the flesh” (as a citizen of their particular nation, member of a religious denomination, ethnic group,  sexual orientation, or political party), they can easily fall into either justifying  their ethnicity, nation or orientation, or agreeing with accusations against themselves and seeking to right the wrongs. The Accuser, rather than the Defender, ends up setting the agenda for people’s actions, unless we are continually remembering our identity as beloved son or daughter by adoption and living according to the Spirit. Whenever people live in agreement with their natural identity, they give the Accuser permission to harass them with their shortcomings according to their identity in the flesh. When our focus becomes righting the wrongs of our country or ethnic group, we step under the gaze of a judge whose demands for restitution are infinite. Voices of accusation will make sure we know that we are never doing enough. Finally, any headway we do make toward justice will end up serving the powers, magnifying the names of creatures rather than the Creator.

It seems to me that ‘righting the wrongs of our country’ is in fact exactly what we western Christians seem to have in mind when we talk about ‘revival’; we see society in decay, in a parlous state, and we want to see that put right, and the answer we propose is ‘revival’. And so, “we are never doing enough”; the result is part of the institutional despair that permeates church life (so my experience tells me) despite the wonderful things we see happening in the lives of individuals within the church. We reach a few individuals, but in society as a whole, we are simply off target.

Among possible outlooks, here is one which, I believe, can help move us towards being a place where an ‘incidence’ of the worldwide revival can take place – it helps me anyway; it has reference to the gospel passage in which Jesus is ‘anointed for burial’. We remember that he is in a certain house and a woman comes bearing an alabaster flask of perfume, ‘very precious’, and breaks it over him; we are told that ‘the fragrance filled the house’. The woman was of course accused of wastage, but Jesus said that it was a good thing she had done, she had ‘anointed [him] for burial’. (Of course, one also wonders what else can ever be done with perfume; how can it be a waste – it has to be used somewhere; where better than on Jesus?)

Jesus did not come to set up a worldly kingdom. He came to a cross, a burial and a resurrection and a kingdom ‘not of this world’. If we begin to see the Church as similarly bound for death, burial and resurrection, dead to the world, buried away from the world, resurrected into a life not of this world, and act in accordance, that is as ‘anointed for burial’ in our relation to society, then we might find a tremendous release of fragrance that fills the house. This means not agitating in the world’s forums; it means not being hand-wringingly concerned about what we see in the world. It means having an identity in Christ not as eg ‘Australian’ – ‘in Christ there is no Greek or Scythian or…Australian’. It doesn’t mean not being involved in the affairs of this world, but it does mean that if we are involved it is to be as ‘anointed for burial’, the body of Christ covered in perfume. Our place is not to set to rights the things we don’t like. As long as we do that there will be no fragrance, no presence; no, we will insist on selling the perfume on, and engaging in some relatively worthless act of charity. Fighting for justice, yes; seeing perfume being used as perfume on Jesus as a waste, and not being ourselves ‘anointed for burial’, no!

“The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God.” As long as churches and church people are fighting against society, trying to pull it back to moral ways, that is merely a moral reform movement, the wrath of man attempting to work the righteousness of God. There is no fragrance.

It is the fragrance that is beautiful; not morality, not safety in the streets, not economic assurance, not ‘Christian’ laws, but fragrance. The world crucified Jesus. Jesus said very plainly that it will do the same to the Church. We have to accept this, the crucified role of the Church in society! It is beautiful! Not being listened to – anointed for burial and then dead on a cross – is the good place to be, a place of freedom; actually void of responsibility! It is very nice not to be responsible! The world and many of the disciples call it a waste, (O, you have to be responsible – we are going to sort the nation out – actually we are going to be in charge), but Jesus says it is good, and the fragrance filled the house!

Reading:-

Frank Bartleman Azusa Street

A brief account by Duncan Campbell of the Lewis awakening may be found under the title of When the mountains flowed down – and a number of books on ‘revival’ tell the story in more detail.

Like a Mighty Wind  by Mel Tari tells some of the story of the incidence of revival in West Timor, as does The Gentle Breeze of Jesus.

 

The following is an excerpt from Richard Wurmbrand 100 Prison Meditations, on our lack of fitness to govern society:

 

 Why did Jesus not allow himself to be made a king?

 When Jesus perceived that the Jews would make him a king, he departed (Jn 6.15). Surely he would been a better king than Herod and He must have known it. Why, then, did he not accept?

We can only postulate his motives.

 One reason would be that the choice would not be His. Nations are fickle: today they elect a king; tomorrow they overthrow him. Christ does not accept the roles we choose for Him. The choices must be His. His decision was to be a Saviour for eternal life rather than a king in this life.

On the other hand, the fact that He was a good Saviour does not prove that he would have been a good king over Judaea, just as a good Sunday school teacher might not necessarily be a good prime-minister.

As man, He sometimes showed utter indifference toward human suffering, just as he could also show compassion. None of these attitudes dominated Him.

 He chose among them. He was told about innocent Galileans killed by Pilate. A kingly person in the earthly sense would have shown indignation and would have organized the tyrant’s overthrow. Jesus said simply: ‘Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish’ (Lk 13.2-3).

 He is told about a catastrophe, a tower which has collapsed killing eighteen people: Jesus does not give instructions about building more safely in the future, nor does he organize relief for families of the victims. He repeats the above words and makes this another occasion for teaching repentance. He acknowledges only one real motive for grief: that of not being a saint.

This is the correct attitude for a Saviour, but not for an earthly king.

When Jesus heals a man inhabited by demons, He causes a large herd of swine to drown (Lk 8.33). Jesus shows callousness towards this destruction of property. But it was acceptable for a Saviour to destroy a herd and leave someone impoverished in order to heal his fellow man, and therefore Jesus does not justify himself, nor do the evangelists defend his action.

He achieves the objective to be expected from a Saviour. For an earthly king such behaviour would not be right.

Jesus predicts a national tragedy: the destruction of the Jewish state. He does not call upon men to risk their lives in defence of their fatherland as a secular king would have to do. He tells his disciples, ‘At such a time, flee’ (Lk 21.21). The abandonment of their countrymen at such a time forced the final break between Christianity and Judaism.

The Saviour had entrusted the disciples with a deposit of eternal truth which had to be kept intact. This was more important than the defence of the land.

So thinks a Saviour. An earthly king has another calling. These two purposes do not mix.

Jesus could not be an earthly king, and those who try to make Him the Solver of earthly problems are mistaken.

 

Deliverance

This is a fairly lengthy article in which quite a number of books are mentioned. Personal experience leaves me questioning rather than particularly secure about what to think. I can point to some personal experience and one explicit event. Some years ago I was getting a certain amount of arthritic pain in my hands and it was worsening. In Perth, where I live, I have had a quite a lot to do with Margaret Court, former tennis champion; Margaret is a person of faith and considerable experience with healing; she had a prayer line, I stood in it, she asked me the problem, I told her, she told a spirit of arthritis to leave and my hands were instantly completely free. I turned round, went back to my seat and in that 15 seconds the pain came back; I might be slow but not so slow that I didn’t realize that if it left when addressed as a spirit it must be a spirit and that if I treated it that way it would have to obey me too; over a period of time I exerted my authority and the pain left for good.  When is a spirit more than an ambience, an influence, and when is it a spiritual personality? When is a personal problem to be addressed as demonic in origin and when is it a matter for repentance and discipline?

Speaking about deliverance is clearly a vexed subject and in many ways. The word is commonly used to denote deliverance from demons/evil spirits.., though biblically it is used more frequently as simply release from danger. Moses cites God as saying, ‘I will deliver him, I will set him on high’; David prays ‘deliver me from my enemies, whose mouths and hands are full of deceit’; Paul speaks about perils and dangers from which the Lord delivered him, ‘and will deliver’. It should be noted that even when it comes simply to danger, the demonic is often implied. Psalm 91 has as its context ‘the snare of the fowler’; Paul’s perils cannot be considered apart from ‘a messenger of Satan’. However, this article is more concerned specifically with release, deliverance from demonization ( the Greek word, the only word used in the NT, translates simply as demonized – there is no term for possession or oppression, just ‘demonized’); the article discusses some issues which arise from reading a number of recent authors.

In the Bible, demons/evil spirits/unclean spirits, the 3 words perhaps being cognates, only come clearly into focus in the NT, more specifically in the ministry of Jesus, where dealing with spirits, casting them out, is frequently mentioned as part of Jesus’ ministry practice, and as a central component of the ministry He delegated to his followers. In the book of Acts, however, it should be noted as not gaining as much attention, a comparative side issue for Luke, it seems; perhaps because, as in the case of Philip in Samaria, it was a commonplace, perhaps because it was not seen as very important to emphasize except in high profile cases such as the girl in Philipi, or perhaps because the Holy Spirit did not wish to draw particular attention to this aspect in a book which is basically about ‘missions’, how the church grew. The main point to be drawn is that casting out, expelling, dealing with demons is very prominent in Jesus’ ministry, is present in that which He gave directly to the disciples, and so also in that which he left to us – ‘these signs shall follow…in My Name they shall cast out demons.’

Thus much is clear; and there is no reason to suppose that in these days the importance of this type of ministry is in any way lessened. Certainly were it so, the Bible would be clear about it, and it isn’t – the ministry of casting out demons is for us. A difficulty that might arise however, and does arise for me, is that there is such a multitudinous literature on this subject and so much of it is in some ways contradictory, inconsistent, apparently at least. It was reading an article on a book by Charles Kraft, I give you authority which prompted me to write this and attempt to collate some of the material I have read, put it up against the Bible and compare it with my own experience. It should be noted that I regard the Bible as authoritative, and yet one should ask, ‘in what way authoritative – prescriptively or descriptively?’  I once heard someone say that the book of Acts is descriptive not prescriptive, and this is certainly correct in some respects – the drawing of lots as described in ch.1, for example, is not generally regarded as good practice; and yet surely there are guidelines and on occasion instructions, so we can certainly see if particular practices stemming from individual interpretation of experience are justifiable biblically.

The main references then to dealing with unclean/evil spirits/ demons are in the 4 gospels, and this is where I first encountered them. We find that Jesus specifically cast out spirits of infirmity – deaf and dumb spirits, blind spirits and a spirit in a woman bent double. Moreover there is a general statement in Acts that Jesus ‘went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil’. Being careful with this statement we see that certainly some of the people healed were ‘oppressed of the devil’ – as it stands the statement leaves open that some who were healed were not oppressed of the devil, though it is not clear what sense that makes; it doesn’t say that they were ‘demonized’, but rather ‘under the power’ of the devil, though this presumably would also include those who fit the category (if it exists as a category) of demonized. And in fact we see that in parallel instances of healing blindness, in one case, eg Matt 12.22, Jesus dealt with a spirit while in other cases he didn’t, or not explicitly, it certainly having been within the power of the Divine Inspirer of scripture to make it explicit had He wished. However, the majority of cases of demonization explicitly said to be such are not stated to be cases of physical infirmity. For example, the first instance in both Mark and Luke concern a man with ‘an unclean spirit’ who behaves in an unruly way in the synagogue. Repeatedly Jesus cast spirits out of large numbers of people without this being stated as having to do with physical sickness, though it  is commonly taking place alongside a healing ministry, for example in Matt 8.16. Thus the Syro-Phoenecian woman has a daughter who ‘has a devil’; Jesus seems to simply accept this testimony and in due course, at a distance, deals with it. It is clear that people can have more than one demon – Mary Magdalene, and the man in the Gadarene tombs; again, physical sickness is not mentioned in any of these cases.

Thus far, a brief review of Jesus’ ministry. Turning to the modern day, within my reading there is one ministry that outstandingly seems, as it is recorded, to duplicate or re-image the ministry of Jesus, that of Smith Wigglesworth. In some cases of healing he would deal with a devil, in others he wouldn’t; on a number of occasions he dealt with insane people in ways which seem very similar to Jesus. Wigglesworth’s default position seemed to be that illness came from the devil and was to be dealt with in that way. Perhaps the reason why Wigglesworth’s ministry seems to me so closely to parallel that of Jesus is the way he reports it; Wigglesworth apparently read very little, if at all, other than the Bible, and so he sounds very Biblical. Of all Pentecostal ministries, his in many ways seems to me the strongest, soundest, most devoted, simplest, so I take it as being a sort of conservative norm. Two other ministries which follow in a similar conservative Pentecostal mode are those of TL Osborn and Kenneth E Hagin. TL’s great book is Healing the Sick; the majority of the book is devoted to teaching about faith, but there are 3 or 4 chapters which deal with the topic of demons, and he makes very clear that much sickness is the result of demons. In practice, like Wigglesworth, TL’s ministry sounds like that of Jesus – the preaching of the Word of God to large crowds of people, demons becoming very agitated and then often crying out loudly, as in the account of Philip in Samaria, and leaving people when commanded to do so, deaf, blind, cancer spirits among many others, and also demons leaving people through individual ministry. Often TL would not be personally involved; he would simply preach the word of God, and just keep preaching and demons would come out. To me very telling is one story he recounts; a man with a deaf ear, with regard to whom TL says that he supposes he could just have cast the spirit out, but that he didn’t feel to do things that way; instead he sent the man home with a book to read so that faith would come, and of course it did and the man was healed. It is clear from the best practitioners that deliverance can take place quite equally through specifically casting the devil or by hearing the word of God; the devil does not like anything to do with the Holy Spirit and will often simple clear out when exposed to godly things. TL’s preaching practice was to stay until the devil quit. He preached  largely in the ‘3rd world’ and he could be somewhat scathing about religious practices in the USA; he says ‘we deal with real devils’ – there are a multiplicity of accounts of violently insane people, chained up, who came to their right mind during the preaching in Africa. TL says that he thinks in churches in the US people have pretend or pet devils; this is worth thinking about. To repeat: where TL reports the large meetings they held all over the world, the results sound very very similar to what is recorded of Jesus’ meetings in the gospels.

Kenneth Hagin records as a young pastor endeavouring to bring freedom, deliverance to his church members through attempting to get rid of what I suppose TL might call pretend devils, before reaching the conclusion that if it ever did any good he couldn’t see it and that what people needed was steady Biblical preaching and teaching. Like Wigglesworth and Osborn, however, Mr Hagin certainly dealt with demons, both with regard to physical healing including addictions and insanity – what I suppose TL calls real devils! Again, this would take place with no intervention beyond the teaching of the word of God. Mr Hagin makes very explicit reference however to the spiritual gift of the discerning of spirits, recounting how the Lord gave him this specific gift so that he would know when a person’s sickness was caused by a demon. Although Wigglesworth and Osborn clearly give reference to similar gifts, it is that point that Mr Hagin becomes less what I am terming conservative in so far that he recounts seeing things, seeing demons, seeing ’into the spiritual realm’ in a way that is not referenced in the Bible and so in a way not directly verifiable from the scriptures; which is not to say of course that Jesus did not see the same things, but certainly means that the Holy Spirit did not see fit to have such things recorded; and this should give one pause for thought. Hagin has one large book substantially dealing with demons titled The Triumphant Church and 4 shorter volumes called The Satan, Demons and Demon Possession Series; the subject arises from time to time in his other books. As is his usual practice, Hagin gives the doctrine and illustrates from experience, explaining how the Lord taught him about demons. When he comes to demonization, he deals with it in physical instances as well as mental cases; he does not see this as part of normal discipleship, though he speaks of the devil’s opposition to the gospel; this however is not demonization. Both doctrine and practice are well within biblical parameters, though some of what he describes as seeing does not have direct support. He makes a distinction between demonic oppression and possession which is not stated in the Bible but is the result of years of experience. Like TL Osborn, Hagin records demons leaving people when the person is exposed to godly teaching. If I was to recommend some one thing to read, it would be Hagin; there is such a wealth of experience and Bible knowledge. A friend of Hagin’s was Norvel Hayes, who also writes on this subject in his various books.

It is also worth mentioning at this juncture the practice of Carlos Annacondia in Argentina; there are strong parallels with TL Osborn, in so far that both were engaging in large public meetings, similar one supposes to those of Jesus, and yet with diverse methods. Addressing demons, indeed for substantial portions of his services, is a prominent practice of Annacondia. Can one say other than that different people are led in different directions? His book is titled in English Listen to me, Satan. It is at least possible that with the huge growth of occultic practice in the western world – it was certainly very prevalent in Argentina – that this is the way to go. I would suggest this book as necessary reading.

Another prominent Pentecostal preacher who speaks at length in this area is Lester Sumrall; he has a book called Demons: the answer book. There is a well known account of a revival in the Philippines which was sparked by the deliverance of a girl which made national headlines. Sumrall was a great Pentecostal man.

There are other Pentecostal type ministers whom I have read, but particularly Wiggleswoth and TL Osborn seem to me very Biblical, by which I mean similar to Jesus. I become a bit more questioning when I turn to the writings of a group of men who are less of the traditional Pentecostal set, three men in particular, Derek Prince, Don Basham and Jim Croft, who were associated with each other. Derek Prince’s story is well known. He did become, from a highly intellectual background, a classical  Pentecostal minister with the Assemblies of God; he recounts his own experience of being set free, delivered, from spirits which had access to him through his family background and past in occultic practices; he describes repentance from these and the power of God setting him free. Book titles include They shall expel demons.  Can one doubt the reality of this experience? I think not. Prince proceeds to tell how he began to discover that many Christians were bound by these things and so to develop a ministry of deliverance, and it is about here that I begin to feel concerned because the emphasis seems to be moving away from repentance and experience with God to digging up the past, elaborately renouncing all occultic ties, generational curses being broken etc. Prince has a lot to say about Freemasonry. There is Biblical background to this, and of course Prince goes into what he sees as being the validation for it. I can’t say that I would wish to challenge his practice but I don’t see it as stated in the ministry of Jesus. However, I would suggest that his books are very important in this field. Don Basham’s account, Deliver us from Evil, is an extremely interesting book, chronicling his cautious change from a conservative pastor into full scale ‘deliverance’ ministry. It begins with instances where, as a pastor who believes in healing, he finds particular problems which don’t respond until he decides to experiment and see what happens if he deals with the matter ‘as if’ it were caused by a demon, and he finds that this works. Slowly, ministering that way expands, and like Prince it becomes something of a full time thing. An aspect that interests me very much is that after many many years in this type of ministry, often with great success, as he tells it, he finds that he himself needs deliverance from a spirit of fear which is deeply embedded in his life and, as he describes it, needing physical eviction. One cannot doubt, I think, the reality of what he describes. Jim Croft has a similar sort of story, as does the author of well-known book Pigs in the Parlour, Frank Hammond. This last gentleman describes many emotional type problems as requiring complex deliverance ministry and it is here that one may think that things have gone too far. The Biblical route seems to be that of Basham who says, in essence, that if problems, difficulties, sins, do not succumb to regular methods of spiritual discipline, crucifying the flesh, putting off the old man, putting on the new – then deliverance may be needed. Hammond’s position would be that he is dealing with just that sort of issue, but it is hard not to feel that the complexity of dealing with the demonic he describes is not what Jesus was doing. But, I like to try to be very fair and say that some people, according to the accounts one reads, seem to be very, very damaged in ways that I don’t appreciate, and those reporting their ministries with such people report some degree of success; so, while for the time being I may prefer to steer clear, to be highly critical seems a step too far. Jim Croft’s book is called Invisible Enemies. Another author worth looking at here, from the same period but a different background, is Francis MacNutt; he was Roman Catholic, and, as seems common to those of that background, his approach is thoughtful and sensitive.

With these authors arises the issue of communication with demons, and how it occurs. There is biblical precedent here of course, because Jesus had a dialogue with the demons in the Gadarene man, speaking initially it seems with the man but then directly with the demons, which were able to speak vocally through him; Jesus sought information and apparently believed what He was told. People who speak against communicating with demons point out that ‘the devil is a liar and the father of lies’; one could counter by saying that liars don’t always lie, in particular when found out. When Jesus commands demons to be quiet it seems to be to stop them making a scene. So, my not-learned-of- experience conclusion would be that limited communication might well be valuable; whether to take it as far Charles Kraft would be the issue, as discussed below, and Kenneth Hagin certainly says not to speak to demons in any way that goes beyond the account of Jesus with the man in the Gadarenes.

Then I come to a consideration of what they called the ‘Third Wave’ and people associated with John Wimber and the Vineyard churches, specifically, Peter Wagner and Charles Kraft. Wagner’s subject is Territorial Spirits developed in association with among others, I believe, Cindy Jacobs. These folks seemed and seem to have a very high view of themselves as prophets and apostles; well, ok, but my interest is in the practical value and biblical nature of what they say and teach, is it correct doctrine, regardless of how the practitioner might behave? I can’t see too much argument with the concept of territorial spirits, pretty much as described by Wagner; neither am I particularly inclined to want to dispute the reality of some of the experiences described; what I am concerned about is teaching a methodology of engaging with territorial spirits, since this is not in the Bible. It may happen in the Bible, but it is certainly not taught explicitly. In Ephesus, the believers plainly encountered the cult of Diana, but it is not said that they did anything specific about it (or that they didn’t!).Paul never did anything of that nature – or at least it is not recorded that he did, and he could he easily have told us how he engaged with territorial spirits had he wished to do so. In the main passage used to support the territorial spirit idea, that is, in Daniel, Daniel himself clearly does not engage in warfare against a spirit – he just worships God and prays. Going back to what, according to my reading, is perhaps the most outstanding evangelistic ministry since the time of Jesus, ie TL Osborn, he never spent time praying against the devil, his time was occupied worshiping God. A friend of mine, who reports having seen in India every miracle in the book of Acts and more besides, has no time for dealing with territorial spirits. On the other hand, one might like to read books by Alistair Petrie, including Releasing Heaven on Earth; accounts from Annacondia and the revival in Argentine provide further evidence of believers practicing prayer about territorial spirits; but the important point, I believe, is not what is termed ‘spiritual warfare’ , but repentance. The material by George Otis is similar to Petrie; he talks about the concept of spiritual mapping and specific repentance for past events which have brought defilement to an area. An interesting account is Anointed for Burial by Todd Burke, which tells of events in Phnom Penh prior to Pol Pot – many many conversions, but nothing of the warfare nature, except that they were led to deal with one particular case of demonization where the demon claimed to be very high ranking; in much the same way, Lester Sumrall was led to deal with the severely demonised girl in Manila, sparking a revival, just as Paul dealt with the girl in Philipi. In no case did these people ever set out to deal with a territorial spirit. Indeed, one instance I heard first hand from a seasoned WEC ‘missionary’ in what is now Burkina Faso concerned a man who took it on himself, as an ill-advised act of spiritual warfare, to cut down a village tree devoted to the local demons and the result was instant retribution, in fact death – so facing these things head on might not be wise. It is notable in the case of the Gadarene demoniac that Jesus went out of His way to go where he did and His sole purpose seems to have been to meet this man; we may assume that He was led by the Father to this action.

And so I come to what initiated writing this piece, a consideration of Charles Kraft. I read and enjoyed certain aspects of his book I Give you Authority. A particular thought that I carried away from the book and its emphasis on the authority Jesus gives us concerned a friend of mine who thought that authority with regard to his marriage means authority as it were to command, authority ‘over’, but I think that Kraft powerfully brings out that godly authority is authority to protect and bless. When it comes to deliverance, however, much of what is said goes out beyond what the Bible teaches and exemplifies. He talks, for example, about ‘putting demons in boxes’ prior to casting them out, and has extensive conversations with demons. What are we to make of things like this?

Firstly, spiritual things do not necessarily fit into our way of thinking and there are things going on that we don’t see and normally can only suppose or perhaps imagine. Imagination is something that is used a plenty, and the well known fictional works by Frank Peretti one supposes have had a big influence – he pictures demons as malevolent, ugly, vile, rather powerful beings that float around like hawks; that might be true of some of them, but other accounts describe quite different things, malevolent, yes, but often rather pitiful, ‘imps’; the fact is that we don’t even know from the Bible the exact origin of demons and whether perhaps there are classes of beings with different origins, we only know that some of them are fallen angels. I’m saying that we don’t altogether know what we are dealing with. Kraft describes his modus operandi as frequently being experimentation and since he, to my mind, writes in a characteristically sensible way, it doesn’t seem right to discount what he says.

Secondly, he does indeed write in a sensible way; what he describes seems to me much the most thoughtful of all the writers I have read who deal with demonization alongside what people in this area call inner healing. This is an entirely different emphasis from Wigglesworth, Osborn, Hagin, which I think I have made clear is to be regarded as having very strong Biblical precedent. The methodology Kraft describes is in endeavouring to help people from a pastoral stance to overcome significant problem areas which are not succumbing to normal disciplines. He describes facing opposition from people who say that the answer to all Christian problems is repentance from sin, that is, to place stress on individual responsibility. Kraft, correctly in my view; says that this is not the whole of the story – people are also sometimes – he says very frequently – victims of demonic forces. There are two sides to it – my responsibility, and victimhood. My first pastor used to liken the situation to this – if you place two or three strands of cotton thread around your fingers, you can break the bond, you can break it yourself, but should there be twenty or thirty strands you may well need a third party to come in from the outside and cut the thread with scissors; and that is what is happening with deliverance. Kraft’s constant analogy is to sin, unbelief etc  causing an accumulation of rubbish in our lives, rubbish to which demons are attracted like rats to garbage; his approach therefore is to deal with the rubbish ie sin and its effects before dealing with the rats, the demons; with nothing to ‘feed on’ they leave easily. To me, as I read, it sounds sensible, with the caveat that I don’t see this in the Bible, though it seems to rest on good Biblical principles. As usual in the deliverance area there are problems. Other authors will typically say that perhaps one in ten occasions of deliverance might see demons speaking through the vocal chords of the afflicted person, but Kraft describes extensive communication with demons. What to make of this? I don’t know, except to come back to this, that Jesus dealt with demons in large numbers of people, and we are not told exactly how, just generally that he cast them out by His Word and at times ‘by the finger of God’. There is no doubt that that is what is happening when TL Osborn preached to a multitude of people and ‘demons crying out with a loud voice came out of many’, but I don’t know that it is any less the case when rather than through preaching this takes place in the counselling room under a very different methodology.

Another area to consider has to do with the way demons were viewed by the Church Fathers, who broadly equated them with ‘passions’; this view is investigated or better, perhaps, pursued by Daniel Bourguet, particularly in Spiritual Maladies and Spiritual Discipline. Here, temptation is seen as coming very specifically from the devil, and, when yielded to, comes increasingly to result in a habit, and a demon being resident in a person’s life. However, the simple equation of a ‘passion’ such as anger with a demon does not seem to be the Biblical picture, and Daniel Bourguet evidently feels unable to go so far. Kenneth Hagin tells of a vision in which he was shown how a person becomes demonized. First a thought is suggested by a demon; it might at first be resisted, but then the person begins to entertain the thought; the person then increasingly becomes obsessed with the thought allowing greater and greater demonic access until finally the demon actually enters fully into the person. This is clearly similar to the patristic picture, but does not identify the passion with the demon; indeed James specifically tells us that we are ‘drawn away by our own lust and enticed’, so the ‘passion’ is our own, and therefore, in my view, not to be identified with the demon. I think we can see here the need both for demons to be cast out, and for repentance, according to the Kraft model. Personally, I would confirm the sudden and cruel entrance of a demonic force into a person after a period of time spent messing around on the edges of evil practices and ideas.

We should also consider large scale demonization, of institutions and societies. The renunciation of old ways and ‘gods’ by people groups, or of the social mores of their people by new converts coming out of peoples explicitly engaged with demons, is a commonplace of missionary type activity. See Behind the Ranges, biography by Mrs Howard Taylor of Fraser of Lisuland, and HA Baker, Under his Wings. A friend was recently in East Timor; when the village headman specifically renounced allegiance to ancestral spirits, he was immediately healed. The religion of Islam would seem to be an obvious example of a movement of thought and practice with a powerful ‘supernatural’, spiritual force behind it of a most evil nature; the account of Mohammed’s original demonization is most explicit, and seems to confirm the process mentioned in the previous paragraph – here was a man with a serious problem and history of rejection, who was interested in God but wide open to the sudden entrance into his life of a powerful demon representing itself as the angel Gabriel. Events in Germany in the 1930’s would seem to be another example of individuals, and one in particular, powerfully impacted by occultic forces then being able to bring a whole country substantially under their sway. Some interesting, though at points questionable, books by Walter Wink, particularly Unmasking the Powers, make a case for institutional demonization; that an institution comes to have a life of its own, and that this is empowered by a ‘power’, that is a demon. The literature on territorial spirits would seem to link up well with this.

 

There are a couple more books to mention before a conclusion. These are, firstly, The Handbook of Spiritual Warfare by Ed Murphy; this is a large and comprehensive look at many aspects to do with demons. It could be described as compendious; and perhaps as essential reading. Interestingly he tells of his own ‘nervous breakdown’ which was a result of ‘burn-out’, itself a result of imbalance in his thinking and lifestyle. Contrary to the advice of friends who said it was demonic and needed direct action as such, he got better from purely medical treatment, rest and a new appreciation of Christ and His teaching. It troubles me a little that his bibliography, for example, contains no reference to Hagin or TL Osborn; there is some prejudice against “Faith” teaching, where really it is a very strong strand of Christian teaching; in Murphy’s case he might also just not know about such ministries. There is a close look at many scriptures and many aspects of ministry in this book. Secondly, we can mention Healing through Deliverance by Peter Horrobin, the founder of Ellel Ministries, an international ministry with a focus in this area. Again, this is an extensive book; it closely and persuasively examines some aspects of the Scriptures and then relates experience.

In the forward to this particular book, Derek Prince writes, “I have come to believe that deliverance from demons is, at this time, the most urgently needed ministry in the Body of Christ.” This may seem a rather strong statement; for myself, I am persuaded that people are frequently delivered from evil and from demons purely by association with the Word of God and without explicit deliverance; be that as it may, there is not much point quarrelling with those led to focus on deliverance; Annacondia may be the exemplar of such a view. Every Christian needs to know his or her personal authority over the devil; we also may need to be humble enough to seek help from those with more experience. So, authority in the Name of Jesus is our starting point, and all the books mentioned above and more besides will prove helpful to explore. We should not be ‘ignorant of the devil’s wiles’. Jesus’ victory over Satan and demons is a very prominent aspect of the New Testament in which we live.

Speaking in Tongues

Speaking in Tongues

There are three books to recommend which deal fairly exclusively with the gift of tongues. These are Tongues – beyond the upper Room by Kenneth E Hagin; The Walk of the Spirit, the Walk of Power by Dave Roberson , available as a free download from his website; Effective fervent Prayer by Mary Alice Isleib. There are other good sources to mention, but I will focus on these three.

Some background material is found in the article on The Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues is a gift of the Holy Spirit, as stated in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14; because it is a gift of the Holy Spirit, it is dependent on Him, we must receive the Holy Spirit. We do not receive ‘tongues’ or even the ‘gift of tongues’; we receive the Holy Spirit. In the book of Acts, when groups of people received the Holy Spirit, on each occasion they spoke in tongues; for this reason there is the teaching that says speaking in tongues is the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit.  However, I have recently come across a way of doing things that talks about ‘receiving tongues’/’activating tongues’. It is true that in some instances in Acts, people spoke in tongues when they were saved, suggesting that the received Christ and the Holy Spirit. However clearly the two events can be separate. We are not ‘receiving tongues’; we receive the person of the Holy Spirit. Whatever the case, Paul, writing to the Corinthians, indicated that he used tongues extensively, and wished that all the Corinthians also spoke in tongues. This implies that they didn’t all speak in tongues, but that they all might. Many people, including me, would attest that after receiving Christ, receiving the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues is the greatest and best thing that ever happened to them. The following statement from the Roberson book is a good one:

..many believers wrongly believe, for whatever reason, that God wants them to have the baptism in the Holy Spirit without speaking in tongues. Although this type of situation is possible, it is not the perfect will of God. People who think that way truly do not understand the great things God wants to accomplish in their lives through the simple but precious gift of speaking in tongues.(p 399)

We might add that the foolishness of God is stronger than man’s wisdom; speaking in tongues can certainly look like foolishness, but it is the foolishness of God.

Before going any further there is an important distinction to be made. Tongues, glossolalia, is spoken of in two settings. 1 Cor 12 speaks of the gift in the public setting, as a public gift; in this setting the tongues are to be interpreted and specific guidelines are given for the gift’s use. For a closer look at this see The Holy Spirit and His Gifts by Kenneth E Hagin. The focus of this article and the book recommendations is on the private use of tongues, in the personal devotional life, as mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament.

Tongues, beyond the upper room will be found referred to extensively in the article The Baptism in the Holy Spirit since the opening chapters cover this subject very well. The ‘baptism’ is an initial experience which has consequences to be pursued throughout the walk with God. To quote Hagin ‘the greatest things that ever happened to me in my walk with God came as a result of praying with other tongues’. Tongues are of great value in themselves and as a gateway into other gifts, so part 2 of the book investigates the value of speaking with tongues.

The first point is that tongues is primarily for a believer’s own personal spiritual edification. ‘He edifies himself’ (1 Cor 14.4). It is speaking mysteries to God and it is prayer apart from the understanding – in fact it is prayer ‘in the spirit’, so each biblical reference to praying in the spirit is a reference to tongues. It both builds up (edifies, charges up like a battery) and satisfies since there is a freedom of expression unlimited by the mind. Furthermore, where in Romans 8.26 we read that we don’t know what to pray for as we ought – tongues provide the means to do so; the Spirit helps us in our weakness as we speak in tongues. We can pray in the Holy Spirit any time we wish, and a protracted period of doing so, which the Holy Spirit may well initiate, will lead to being supercharged with readiness to minister to others. Indeed it ‘strengthens us with might…in the inner man’ (Eph 3.16). With regard to prayer, tongues can be a mighty means of intercession, many examples of which are sprinkled through the book. As we pray in the spirit we are necessarily not praying selfishly; our prayers can be selfish and quite wrong, but not if the words we speak are given by the Holy Spirit.

“..many more marvellous benefits await us as we yield ourselves to the Holy Ghost and allow Him to give us supernatural utterance.” Another benefit is ‘magnifying God’ (Acts 10.46); this would include magnifying, causing us to see God as bigger, in our own lives; speaking in tongues helps us stay conscious of the Holy Spirit’s presence; it is an aid to worship; it stimulates faith – it is not unusual to see people healed at the same time as they start speaking in tongues because there is a trusting involved, a letting go, which helps faith in every area; speaking in tongues is refreshing; it is a good way to give thanks (1 Cor 14.17); where James 3.8 so that ‘no man can tame the tongue…it is full of deadly poison’, speaking in tongues brings the tongue into subjection, and this flows out into all our conversation; it keeps us clean; it is the gateway to further spiritual gifts.

Hagin examines some misconceptions about tongues. Occasionally one might encounter church groups that tell you you’re not saved if you don’t speak in tongues – we have one in Australia; this is not true. Incidentally, there are demonic tongues too, apparently – so some kind of manifestation like this does not even necessarily mean you are saved! Secondly, we can pray in tongues at will – when we wish; some would deny this. However 1 Cor 14.15 says “I WILL pray with the spirit”, so it is a decision; it is right to speak in tongues, pray in the spirit when we wish, and indeed it can be done as a discipline. Thirdly, not all tongues are prayer; there are numerous accounts of speaking words of instruction to another person in a language unknown to the speaker; indeed there is reason to believe that tongues with interpretation is equivalent to prophecy, and prophecy is not prayer. (Note: tongues can be a foreign language; it is ‘tongues of men and angels’ (1 Cor 13.1). Hagin also warns against certain excesses; these include supposed ‘warring tongues’ against the enemy – remember, speaking in tongues is, basically, speaking mysteries to God, so one of its purposes is that the devil does not understand it! – and, relatedly, trying to work something up in the flesh by getting loud; people might also draw attention to themselves and their ‘spirituality’ by speaking in tongues – we are to be sensitive in the use of the gift to other people who might not understand. However, misuses must not detract from the real use; Paul talks about travailing in birth and praying in tongues and there can be a strong anointing come to pray in tongues. “As a result of yielding to the Holy Spirit to pray this way, I’ve seen many people born again and supernaturally healed, and I’ve witnessed countless needs miraculously met…”

The impact of the continual practice of speaking in tongues is very great and conducive to spiritual growth. Hagin mentions renewal and refreshing as well as increasing ability to hear God’s voice; another important impact is that in speaking in tongues we can often be setting out, speaking out God’s plan for our lives. Hagin does not say very much about interpretation of tongues in one’s private life, but I will quickly point out here that when Paul says “I will pray with my spirit and with my understanding also”, in context by ‘with the understanding’ he seems to be referring to interpretation. All these things are blessings, but the main thing Hagin focuses on is the benefit of praying for the unknown, and he gives a number of stories of deliverance of people thousands of miles away from another person praying in tongues.

Hagin closes his book with a plea to pray for future moves of God.

The Lord told me that there is depth of prayer and intercession in the Spirit that will be lost unless we who are experienced in prayer somehow get those truths over to this present generation of believers . . . .[God] must have more believers who know how to pray in that deeper realm . . . [who] say no to the flesh and spend time praying out divine mysteries to God. . . . as we continue to make ourselves available to God, praying in other tongues, He will lead us further into that deeper realm of prayer where miracles are wrought and divine revelation is granted.

We readily see that this is a fairly comprehensive book, and yet it is possible, while saying quite a lot of the same things, to also cover different ground, and Dave Roberson’s book does this. His emphasis is very much on personal edification, that it is through speaking in tongues (along with other disciplines, but focused on tongues) that we discover and enter into God’s plan for our lives. The Walk of the Spirit, the Walk of Power is very much based on the author’s personal experience. He had a kind of rough but hard-working background; when he was saved as a young man he was in a highly legalistic type of church, but somehow he found that God would baptize him in the Holy Spirit without his first having cleaned himself up; that is when change started, but it really accelerated when he finished his job and give himself full-time to ministry. He figured that if he had been working an eight hour day on the job, he should be doing an eight hour day praying in tongues. He set to to do this; it was very hard – very! But after about 3 months there was an explosion of power and a number of people were healed in a meeting without any preaching, simply by the power of the Holy Spirit. He understood from God that he had ‘uncovered a law’, a spiritual law, and this became the basis of subsequent ministry and the book – gaining increasing revelation on the place in the church of tongues and the importance of this gift.

His starting point is that God has a plan for our lives and we need to get on it. ‘His great reservoir of wisdom and counsel resides within our spirits just waiting to be released through tongues.’ As we pray in tongues there is ‘a transfer of language and authority…from the Person of the Holy Spirit to our human spirit’. He has a very nice picture – that as we pray, speak in tongues, there is a download from the Holy Spirit taking place into our spirit, and when a particular download is complete, suddenly it is installed and becomes fully functional; a lengthy period of prayer and then sudden internal change.

Together with an emphasis on the Person of the Holy Spirit – ‘the One to whom the Father turned us over for our instruction‘ – is a look at the role of tongues in God’s government, that is, the administration of the Holy Spirit. Tongues is said to be the foundational gift; there are apostles, prophets… and lastly, diversity of tongues, ‘the only operation you can step straight into‘ – tongues is the foundational gift, it is for everyone. He talks about 4 different uses of tongues and states that his focus is on tongues for personal edification, praying the mysteries of God – the mysteries that lie at the foundation of the church.

At least half the book is concerned with the way edification works with a big emphasis on ‘purging’, cleansing, mortification of the flesh. We have to be built up if we are to handle pressure; this means having sin, the works of the flesh taken out – it is ‘through the Spirit that we mortify the deeds of the body’. Indeed when we look at Rom 8 13-14, we see that there is a strong connection between mortifying the deeds of the flesh and being led by the Spirit, being led out of defeat. Answers to prayer are received primarily in the spirit, not in terms of outward manifestation, that is in the flesh. It is inward change leading to peace, and the more this takes place the more strongholds are pulled down, the more prayer impasses are overcome, the more we fall in love with prayer; we must therefore not be put off by negative emotions that arise – sometimes very negative – as we persist in prayer, believing that it is doing good, and as the works of the flesh (the origin of the negative feelings) come to the surface. As we persist we will find ourselves moving out of edification and into intercession, bringing major change to others. Intercession fueled by tongues brings things to birth.

The book closes with chapters on fasting and then on love as the goal of the Christian walk. While it focuses heavily on tongues there are sufficient references to faith, study of the word of God, walking in love to make it clear that a balanced life is in view. The two things I take away from repeated readings of this 400 page book are 1. The value of tongues in mortifying the deeds of the flesh and so leading us into victory. 2. The importance to God in his economy of the church of tongues. Again, this is a very powerful, strong book, but it is worth adding an important point: if you search online you can find a testimony by a man who was involved in Roberson’s ministry for years, ‘faithfully’, sincerely, following the prescription to speak in tongues, but only when he quit doing this did he find peace through repentance and an intimate relationship with God. Clearly this is the goal! However, in this testimony, the man draw  false conclusions (I believe) about speaking in tongues, and tells how he discounted and discarded it as a practice. So — let us be careful about over-preaching tongues, and also about not valuing this wonderful gift properly!

Depression

Depression

 

This is a complex and difficult subject to discuss; what, apart from anything else, is meant by the term? It could be anything from feeling rather down in the dumps to feeling so awful that a person is almost completely incapacitated; anything from sadness to complete physical debilitation. Its causes could be emotional, spiritual or purely physical; it can be temporary, for a period of a few days or weeks, to the battle of a lifetime; it can be treated by disregarding it and pressing on with hard work or, more commonly, by regarding it as a call to stop the work, rest, seek God and, in our modern age, a variety of medical means may be appropriate. In this article the intention is to talk about some aspects of depression, relating them to a number of different books I have read.

 

Personally, I have had to deal with issues of depression over a 40 year period, at one point in my early twenties having been very ill, so I will talk about some things that have been good for me as well as some general reflections. By contrast, a friend of our family, normally a strong, very hard-working person, in her mid-fifties suffered a shock of sorts at work which precipitated her into a three month horrible depression. Apparently what happened is that she stayed at home, took drugs, got better, completely back to ‘normal’, whatever that means. In fact the story was rather different from a Christian perspective. She was working in an aged-care centre where there was a lot of unpleasantness going on; out of the blue, she was accused of stealing; when this happened, she very suddenly became ill, something fell on her; clearly from the Christian perspective she was suddenly vulnerable to an evil spirit, it attacked her and proceeded to squash her for a period of months. She was really sick, thoroughly incapacitated, but under medical care, and with a number of people praying for her….and then suddenly, as suddenly as it came, one day the oppression lifted and was gone. The diagnosis here would seem to be straightforward. (A very interesting personal account of depression and the demonic will be found in Derek Prince’s book They shall expel demons; he tells how he was healed.)

 

Now a quite different account. This is taken from The handbook of Spiritual Warfare, by Dr. Ed Murphy. The author was very active in Christian ministry with a particularly strong activity in the area of dealing with demonization; however his lifestyle was not well measured; he found it hard to say no to requests for ministry, and simply overworked. He was travelling internationally, found himself in some highly stressed situations and suddenly found himself unable to do anything, having a complete breakdown; he felt that God was rejecting him. For a considerable period of time he tried to overcome this by his own efforts, but simply got worse. He read a book by a famous Bible teacher who said that depression resulted from sin, unbelief…and that medical treatment was simply wrong. Certain friends told him it was spiritual in nature; they supposedly broke demonic powers and told him he was healed; he got worse. Finally, he gave in, followed advice, and went to a psychiatrist; he had to be sedated on his way there! This man told him that he knew exactly what was wrong and that it was definitely not demonic. He gave him antidepressants, ECT and counselling. The drugs and ECT soon had him beginning to feel better; the counselling told him he was performance orientated, legalistic and angry. 25 years of breaking God’s law of Sabbath rest had caught up with him. Murphy does not say quite what the outworking of all this was, but evidently he now learned to rest.

 

So, on to another case. Margaret Court was world champion tennis player and is still way out front as the leading winner of grand-slam titles. Margaret started a church in Perth, which I attended for a good while; she is a truly lovely person (which does not however mean that I go to the church now – this for a number of reasons.) At the height of her tennis career, a Catholic girl, she met Jesus, was born again. As she left the tennis career behind she sought to draw closer to God and fell in with a charismatic type crowd who engaged in all kinds of supposed inner healing activities when there was nothing much really to heal, and the resultant introspection in a very sensitive person caused great distress and a breakdown of health both mentally and physically. (She does not ascribe this to the demonic, but from all that I have heard, solely to the teaching. I should have said that there is a good biography A Winning Faith by Barbara Oldfield, and a nice book on faith, which I don’t have to hand). During the day she longed for the night, and during the night she longed for the day! Then the faith teaching came to town; she enrolled in Bible studies. ‘The entrance of thy word brings light’; she began to meditate the Word of God, and people were praying…. there was hope…and then, one fine day, there took place what she refers to as The Great Exchange – there came an understanding that Christ was her life, and from that moment she was free. Free – substantially; no longer depressed but fully functional and growing. In her church and people associated with her, such stories are not unusual; American preacher Mark Hankins tells of his mother’s deliverance from horrid depression in much the same way – meditation in the Word. All this is great….but it is not the whole story, and unfortunately, constantly talking about faith, and making it a person’s responsibility to have faith, can actually be the very worst thing for a depressed person because faith is the one thing they ‘know’ they don’t have. It is very true that ‘faith comes by hearing’; but quite the form the ‘hearing’ is to have is not always that simple; hammering away on this one point alone, which many faith people are apt to do, did not help me. For myself, I actually needed to get away from that teaching.

 

So now I turn briefly to Viktor Frankl and the so-called third school of Viennese psychiatry. His easily accessible and very well known book is Man’s Search for Meaning. It’s a must read; Frankl was not Christian but was a strongly theistic Jew, sent to Auschwitz. The book recounts his experience there, and the formation of his thinking; the key for people to survive is to have meaning. It’s a wonderful book; the reason for mentioning it here is one story he tells. A man came to him in his professional capacity; this man hated his work for the American government and had spent years of psychiatric care on the basis that he had a problem with authority, with ‘father’. Frankl counselled him to quit his job and do something he liked instead. The man was quite well within days. The point here is simply that the correction of circumstances can be crucial. Personally I have found it very helpful not to be striving away to conform to charismatic churches full of non-educated people; I found my way to a group of people with similar backgrounds with whom it was easy to be friendly; I got away from upsetting noisy rock style music with drums; I found friends in the beautiful American north-west; I found books that talked gently about God’s love and humility….I found more amenable work…We can also bring out factors like diet and physical work – for me, hard work in a gym has been very beneficial. I might add that the importance of speaking in tongues must not be underestimated….

 

Then we have to consider the idea that some people are ‘temperamentally’ set up for melancholy and depression (I would be one). In a moment I am going to quote from HA Baker; first a little background. This is the grandfather of Rolland Baker of Iris Global renown; he grew up a poor farm boy in Ohio; was very very hardworking. Encountered God; got an education; started a church; went to China…everywhere he was followed by miracles and wonderful activities of the Holy Spirit, some of these chronicled in Visions from beyond the Veil. Here is what he says about ‘despondency’ in his autobiography Under his Wings.

 

One of my greatest and most persistent difficulties in my work in Ka Do Land was my despondency. My despondent disposition goes back almost to childhood, as I have said.

During the eight years Josephine was in America I was always lonesome and plagued by the spirit of depression. I do not mean that this discouragement had the victory, for I sometimes lived on mountain peaks, as my writing shows. Neither does it mean that I could never pray until the clouds of darkness rolled away, leaving a sunny sky. Yet this fight with depression has been life long and the fight is still on. It brings a sense of being absolutely worthless.

 I suppose this is due in part to my natural disposition and probably due in no small measure to needless anxiety, but due mostly to devil power in our wrestling with the powers of the devil enthroned in the heavenly places. At the present time, I believe the Holy Spirit on some occasions has a part in causing us to see and feel that, as Paul says, there naturally dwells in us no good thing. We need to feel and know that we are naturally useless. We need humiliation.

The sense of being ‘worthless’ would absolutely accord with the notion of depression, and would be identified with immediately by a sufferer! An interesting little item in Baker’s life is ornithology; watching birds helped take him through some tough periods!

Yet another outlook on depression can be found in the inner healing type environment – please see the article ‘Emotional Healing’. A highly recommended author here is Agnes Sandford. Her books include her autobiography, Sealed Orders. A remarkable woman, very sensitive, thoughtful and artistic, she recounts childhood in China, marriage, return to New England and endeavour to conform to the role of pastor’s wife – she couldn’t do it and became very ill. In the depths of her pain, she finally saw someone pray for the sick and recovery ensue; she began to believe she could do this…and as she did, and her heart began to reach out to the healing God, so she recovered. In her case, confession of a sacramental nature proved a key to healing, as did writing, and yet she could relapse….and did, needing the help of the prayers of others to climb back out of the pit.

So, what can we say by way of conclusion? Firstly, we might suggest that life is not all sunshine and roses! False expectations can be ruinous; ‘we must through many tribulations enter into the kingdom of heaven’. There is a godly sorrow and a worldly sorrow. (see 2 Cor 7.10) Godly sorrow does not necessarily mean repentance over sin, though it can mean that and does so in Paul’s context, but may just be acceptance of self and the world we live in as fallen. Repentance is pretty much a gift of God and cannot be forced out of depressed people. “Be reconciled to God…” is a rather key statement here – it includes being reconciled to the whole biblical set up that life here is not as it should be. Secondly, there are no hard and fast rules with depressed people; one person might in fact need a kick in the backside – administered of course in the power of the Holy Spirit and in great love!! – another might need great patience. Some of us need years to recover; for others there might be one little key. I’m sorry to say that there are casualities, but failing does not mean God loves us any less. I don’t think it quite washes to say that Jesus was a failure, but the cross is not exactly a picture of success; ‘he loved not his life unto the death’, might well be another key. I’m not sure that we should press too hard the idea that ‘before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept thy word’; but if Jesus had to learn obedience, we should not repine (worldly sorrow) too much if things don’t work like we want.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The book of Revelation

Revelation (the Book of)

Somewhat to my surprise, the objective here is to recommend a commentary, Revelation by GK Beale. There are two versions, a full length one and ‘A Shorter Commentary’; it is the latter that I can recommend, the full length book being 500 pages longer and, evidently, a complete scholarly work. The shorter version is still 500 pages itself, but readable and one of the more impactful books I have read. First, a little background.

In common with many people, my initial exposure to things connected with Revelation, broadly, the whole issue of Eschatology, the ‘end times’ or ‘last days’, came in popular books which related the book of Revelation as referring mainly to future events, things that very immediately precede the Second Coming of Christ. Such books enjoyed a great vogue 30 years ago and I suppose that in renewed forms they still do; there has been a series called ‘Left Behind’ that pursued the same line. (Very, very poor books.) I read books by Hal Lindsay and by a NZ evangelist type man named Barry Smith. A good man, Barry, no doubt, but history has not proven his idea that Henry Kissinger was the Antichrist.

To briefly summarize, we are said to be living in the days immediately prior to Christ’s return, as indicated by the restoration of the state of Israel. When in Revelation, John is told, “Come up hither, and see the things that must be revealed shortly hereafter”, this is taken in the popular reading as meaning the end of the Church age, the Church being raptured (“come up hither”) and the inauguration of a 7 year period prior to Jesus’ return; the book of Revelation is therefore seen to be mostly concerned with these future events. Further, a huge range of prophetic type scriptures are then seconded to provide details of events; Russians, Chinese, the British are found to be in view in the Bible.

There are some reasons to support some aspects of this outlook, though not when it comes to a close reading of Revelation. I have myself taught this stuff, basing what was said on the chronology of Daniel; given that there are perhaps more people alive today than in the rest of human history put together, the Bible might well be more concerned with our generation than any other. However, the big problem to me has always been the lack of spirituality in the outlook fed by this understanding; it fails to feed personal faith in Christ, reducing ‘prophecy’ to prediction. A witty take on this was a cartoon called ‘Armageddon Bingo’. The idea was that you went to church with a sort of bingo card and when the preacher said ‘antichrist’ or ‘Gog, Magog’ or… you crossed out that square on your card, and when your card was full you called out “Armaggedon”, “Ah’m a’ geddin out o’ here”. The teaching was and is commonly found in conservative charismatic churches; when I encountered it from a supposed expert from Texas, I experienced it as distinctly unspiritual and, in its effects on the church I attended, divisive.

Given the lack of much apparent spiritual input, ie help in getting closer to Christ, I largely ignored eschatology and Revelation in particular until I came firstly to The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology by Adrio Konig and then to the commentary by Beale.

Konig brought home to me that when the Bible talks about ‘the last days’, it is talking about the church age, starting with the life of Jesus. The scriptures are so obvious when you get started looking at them. Heb 1.2 – God has ‘in these last days spoken to us by his Son’. A major aspect to ‘these last days’ is that they are the days in which Satan has been defeated and we are now participants in Jesus’ kingdom. Here, we are talking about spiritual things; this builds faith. When we read that Jesus is the ‘First and the Last’, ‘the Last’ is in fact the eschaton; Jesus is the eschaton, we might say the embodiment of eschatology – eschatology has to do with the present ministry of Jesus, for us, in us and with us. As with Beale, this book is deeply informed by the Bible and a godly spirit, so throughout it is uplifting, though it should be said that it is not a light read but theological in nature.

Reading the commentary by GK Beale is uplifting too, comforting, pointing to God, so there is an a priori assumption for me that what is said is likely to be correct. In short, Revelation is seen as being concerned far less with the end times immediately prior to Jesus’ Second Coming than with the end times as beginning with the resurrection of Jesus and continuing until the present day and how the Church is to experience persecution and hardship; Revelation is seen as full, replete with Old Testament allusions and therefore much of what is interpreted somewhat literally elsewhere is seen as symbolic. An example here would be the view taken of Rev. 9.13-21. The literal futuristic reading might go so far as to see the ‘200 million’ horsemen as a vast Chinese army sweeping into the Middle-East, and the plagues as physical. Beale sees the 200 million as myriads of myriads, ie an indeterminate number; he sees the fire etc coming out of the horses’ mouths as deceptive words, providing in the shorter commentary some documentation from the OT, and the Judaism current to John’s time, of the serpents and scorpions as again indicative of teaching, false ideas propagated by false teachers or just, generally, ideas that deny God. Again, when Jesus is depicted as having a sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth, clearly this is setting the whole combative side of Revelation as being to do with words, teaching etc, rather than the physical. This is so much more relevant than the futuristic viewpoint.

Throughout the book the stress is on the reality of suffering for the Church. (In many ways the populist, futurist reading seems to be an attempt to escape from this.) This is an absolute constant; as such, the commentary consistently has the devotional appeal to ‘love not our lives unto the death’, but to follow Jesus. The fact that the book has this devotional aspect is actually explicit as well because the author concludes his discussion of each section with ‘Suggestions for reflection’; the devotional aspect means the book does not pall. (I am reading it very slowly, over a period of months.) Another very important area which helps maintain interest is the constant pointing up of references to the Old Testament; this is highly illuminating as to what is going on in John’s mind, and I certainly find that Revelation has become of absorbing interest whereas previously it had seemed a phantasmagoria – ‘a fantastic sequence of haphazardly associative imagery…’ (American Heritage dict.)That is not what it is ; it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave to him . . .’ . .

 

 

 

faith

What does the word ‘faith’ mean? How is it used in the Bible?

To my mind the questions are in many ways more or less the same; the Bible is not a theological textbook, and just as we use the word faith in a variety of ways in everyday life, so it is used in the Bible. Obviously, for Christian believers, our understanding is substantially formed by Biblical thinking, but this does not or should not produce technical meanings aside from everyday life.

We use the word faith in at least the following ways.

  1. We talk about the ‘faith of Israel’; Peter tells us to be ‘steadfast in the faith’; in England the Queen is the ‘defender of the faith’; the world speaks of the Catholic ‘faith’ and denominations as different ‘faiths’. Close to this might even be ‘keeping the faith’ in terms of continuing to support your favourite football team and not defecting to the opposition, though of course this does not bring out the meaning of the ‘faith of Israel’ etc., which includes seeing a faith as a fairly objectively defined corpus of belief; ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’. The theologically minded might ask, ‘delivered by whom?’ To this we would presumably have to reply, ‘by God’, in the form of revelation. In this limited way we might say that faith is a gift of God. Where Paul writes, ‘of this he has given us assurance by the resurrection of Jesus Christ’, I understand that in some languages this can be read as ‘he has given us faith by…..’ Faith here is a body of belief which I choose, to which I belong and which results in action; faith without action is nothing, it is something we do.
  2. In the most everyday sense of the word, faith means that we trust something, usually based on a thorough examination of the evidence. Thus, when I go to a café, I do not usually upturn the chair I plan to sit on to inspect the legs; there is an assumption based on previous experience that the chair will be ok; I have faith in it. In the Christian sense, I start, for example, to examine evidence; I look at the Bible, I look at the crazy world in which we live, I begin to see something in the lives of people who say they follow Jesus, I think about the dreams I have…there is, in this case, a slowly accumulating body of evidence as ‘haply I seek after him’; it is changing the way I think and feel. The evidence is not faith; the thoughts and the feelings are not faith; but as I go on I decide to try an experiment or two and I act on what I am learning. This is faith; and I find that ‘it works’, God answers prayer and my faith grows. I discover that ‘faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God’. Faith is not something that is given me by God, except as it is a natural capacity – no, God gives me his Word, he gives me good people, he sends a brilliant macaw flashing across my path, the most delicious fruit to eat, he gives me dreams……and, on the basis of all he gives, I start to act; this is my faith. Faith is my part in living out God’s provision of salvation. In the world, I have faith in my football coach; what he says, delivers; the more I do what he says, the better we do as a team. I love my coach! The words mean the same in both spheres. (Note – I think this particular analogy of the coach is a very good one, and not one that I have ever seen anywhere else; for someone who has not experienced the attachment that can be felt towards a coach within a team, one can simply say that it a strong feeling of loyalty and admiration that is aptly termed ‘love’.) Faith here is an action; something we do.
  3. Closely connected with this is the important idea of ‘walking by faith and not by sight’. Faith, here, can mean acting contrary to natural indications. My friends says, ‘come out and get drunk with us’; I say, ‘no, the Bible says…so I can’t and won’t come.’ The doctor says I am sick; the Bible prescription is not the same as the doctor’s – it says that ‘by his stripes I am healed’; I act in accordance with God’s Word and this is faith. There are questions that start to arise here because my ‘faith’ needs to be ‘real faith’, not foolish presumption; ‘heart’ faith and not ‘head’ faith, faith, in fact, in Jesus; this perhaps leads us towards the next usage of faith. First, however, what does this kind of faith mean in the world? It means the evidence starts to stack up that I can be an Olympic swimmer, and I want this, so I defy my feelings at 5.00 am and go training. The word means the same in both spheres. This is part of what James is talking about when he says that faith without works is dead; if I don’t get up at 5 it either means that I don’t really believe or that I am lazy, in which case my belief, my faith, goes nowhere and is dead. If we have faith, there is action; faith is something that we do.
  4. A fourth use of ‘faith’ is when biblically we are talking about the ‘gift of faith’ as recorded in 1 Cor 12; this would be a strong inner conviction at a given moment of something rather unusual, and tends to constitute an empowerment to do something out of the ordinary. As is normal, there is a comparable experience in the world – a hunch, an intuition; a football team somehow develops a feeling that they are destined to win the cup, and this faith impels them forward, they begin to feel and become so confident and then behave in a way that means they are in fact invincible. Biblically, the gift of faith clearly is a gift from God. It must be noted, however, that the feeling is not the faith, though it is tricky to divide the two. I have a growing sense of confidence (faith), but I can still decline to act on it; however, if I allow this confidence/faith to take possession of me such that I follow its dictates, it grows and issues into action. Again, faith is something that we do.
  5. A final usage of the word faith I will mention is when the Bible talks about the ‘faith of God’, where it seems to equate to the faithfulness of God; He doesn’t give up, He is faithful to His covenant, to His promises, to Israel, to the Church and even to me. Perhaps in the end this is the most important meaning because on this hang all the rest. We might also say that all faith, even of the most worldly nature is a derivative, however poor, of this Faith. In the world too we have the idea of faithfulness in numerous contexts, and this fact of faithfulness as a natural human emotion and action suggests to me not that faith or faithfulness is a gift but rather a natural faculty of beings created in the image of God. Once again, faith means action; it is something we do.

 

Apart from the reference to the spiritual gift of the gift of faith, there is nothing anywhere in the Bible that suggests the word ‘faith’, in the sense of inner conviction and confidence, is used to refer to something God gives. There is of course one mistranslation which might lead in that direction, but when Paul writes that we are ‘saved by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves’, the word ‘that’ cannot grammatically in the Greek refer to faith (it would need to be feminine but in fact is neuter); it refers to the whole package, ‘being saved by grace through faith’. Faith is our part in the process. Faith is what we do.

The Bible is not a theological textbook and normally uses words poetically and allusively; nevertheless it is consistent in its use of faith in two basic meanings. 1. In reference to a corpus of belief. 2. An action on our part – believing, trusting, acting. Thus we are told, instructed, to ‘have faith’; this is just the same as, for example, the children of Israel being told that they must go up to the temple in Jerusalem once a year – so we are instructed to have faith. The idea that faith is a gift from God is far from this, indeed the idea that this faith could be a gift is a complete semantic confusion, they don’t belong in the same sentence; even in the case of the one connection between faith and gift, the particular 1 Cor 12 spiritual gift, ‘the gift of faith’, it is precisely to cause action and there must follow the exercise of faith; if there is no action it is not faith. Faith is an action on our part in response to God’s grace. (If someone really wants to insist that our faith is dependent on God and therefore a gift, well, so be it, but the whole tendency of this line of thinking is to obscure the simple fact that faith is our part and requires our action.)

Amazingly, some people think that if faith is something that we do — and that is what it is from one end of the Bible to the other — then we are saying that we are saved by works, because if we are saved by faith and faith is something we do, then it is a work. The action we give to faith can only possibly be viewed as a work in the sense that any action is a work; thus Jesus, when asked what must be done to work the works of God, replied, in keeping with the question, which is not about earning a reward from God but rather how to act in concert with Him, that the work of God is to believe, an action, ie it is to respond in faith to God ; what is in view here is an action, a ‘work’, but not work in terms of earning a reward. This is the same as Paul’s argument that salvation is by faith and not by works – he too views faith as a response – except that he is explicitly referring to and ruling out work in the sense of work for reward, to gain favour. A man may kiss his spouse in the evening after toiling all day in the garden to produce food; in so far as both toil and kiss are actions they might both be called works, but who in their right mind would call a kiss ‘work’? Neither could faith, in the sense of our response to God, possibly be called a work in this, the normal, sense.

Having said all this, a rider needs to be added. The author of one beautiful book I read recently, In the land of the blue burquas, states many times that faith is God’s gift to us, and she says this as she calls her muslim listeners to deeper faith in God. Many people would say this, and I think we have to accept it! Nevertheless, fundamentally, faith is something we do, and to emphasize that it is a gift can lead to passivity, and is not the biblical emphasis. Perhaps we should say that God gives us the capacity for faith, he gives us reasons for faith and in the end his Holy Spirit is at work in us as we practice faith. We do faith with Him.

Healing

Healing;  an introduction to books

The purpose of this article is firstly, to recommend books that deal with the subject of physical healing and secondly, given that there are different approaches, to help distinguish between these.

Everything to do with ‘salvation’ has, broadly speaking, to do with healing; the Greek word for save, sozo, quite equally means heal. Healing and prayer for healing have always been present in the Church, but over the last 150 years or so have returned to the degree of prominence they clearly had in the ministry of Jesus; this has occurred particularly within the Pentecostal movement and more latterly with the charismatic renewal, both centred within the USA; most of the material available is drawn from there; it is hard to know what is being taught, for example, in China where the gospel has been having such a huge impact, and the healing component is well known..

Particular recommendations here are for books by Kenneth E Hagin, TL Osborn, Charles and Frances Hunter, and by two Australian evangelists, Stuart Gramenz and John Mellor. The tendency is for writers like Hagin and Osborn to teach healing, which is to say teaching faith for healing; but there is another whole trend of healing which gives much less place to teaching and this is represented in the books by John Mellor and his ministry; Stuart Gramenz provides a very clear resolution of the two trends.

My bookshelf is stocked with books on healing. Before turning to the particular recommendations, there follows a run through of some of these, with brief comments. Anything to do primarily with emotional healing is not included here.

First of all, some older books; the first two are available to download free. These are AJ Gordon,The Ministry of Healing and AB Simpson,The Gospel of Healing. The former is substantially a defence of healing as a legitimate practice at a time when this was a far from universally held view; a lot of the approach is historical. The book by Simpson is very worthwhile, an early statement of healing by Christ through our faith; Simpson himself was marvellously healed of severe heart problems solely by faith, acting contrary to his feelings on the basis of believing the Bible. In similar vein is Healing Secrets by Andrew Murray. It is hoped to have a full post on Murray, a voluminous and profound teacher of a spiritual walk; much of what he says about faith for healing in its many aspects could be seen as a template for later teachers of faith such as Hagin; every topic he covers is taken up by the later teachers and he says it all very well. These three men were not Pentecostal in the sense of speaking in tongues, so there are some things they are less knowledgeable about, but they make up for this with great clarity of expression. All wrote towards the end of the 19th century

We turn next to another group of three writers, all just a little later, Maria Woodworth-Etter, Lilian B Yeomans, and FF Bosworth. The Woodworth-Etter  book is A Diary of Signs and Wonders; it is more an autobiographical record of her evangelistic and healing ministry across the US than a teaching  volume, but there is material there that lets us know what she preached. This was an amazing woman. Her ministry is marked by remarkable healings and a multitude of spiritual gifts and visions. Her memorable phrase to describe some healings is that “the blood struck in”; the book is inspirational and a must read. One of her close associates and an important figure in the early Pentecostal movement was FF Bosworth; his book is Christ the Healer; again this is essential reading. The style is not modern; the book is seminal. There are only so many things you can say about faith and healing; Bosworth, like Simpson, covers most of them. His influence on TL Osborn, the most important world Christian leader of the 20th century, was enormous, and TL covers much of the same ground in Healing the Sick. Christ the Healer is a prescribed text book in Pentecostal type Bible schools everywhere. I open at random and read this:-

Jesus said to the man with the withered hand, “Stretch forth thy hand.” Christ first gives faith, then calls it to its wondrous exercise. The man stretched forth his hand in reliance upon Divine strength, and it was made whole. As we put forth effort in reliance upon God, to do what without Him is impossible, God meets us with Divine power, and the thing is done independent of nature.

The third person here is Lilian Yeomans. She has four books, but they are gathered together by Harrison House in one volume, Healing Treasury. Yeomans was a doctor who became addicted to drugs.  Christ delivered her and she devoted the rest of her life to divine healing. The books treat of healing from many different angles; Kenneth Hagin said they are the best books on healing.

Chronologically, we should also mention another book as well as an important person from the same period. The book is Bodily Healing and the Atonement by TJ McCrossan; it was re-issued by Harrison House at Kenneth Hagin’s behest; it is a learned but accessible demonstration of the healing power of the atonement. The person is Smith Wigglesworth, for whom triple size capital letters are required. There is no one who breathes love of God and faith like this man – but he was not an author; however the collections of recorded excerpts from his ministry into books and the accounts of his life are beyond parallel inspiring. Please see the article.

We then come to a third triumvirate, all from the same Texas/Oklahama area and the same period, coming to prominence in the ’50s and continuing on for the next 40 years or more. There are several articles on Kenneth Hagin and TL Osborn to be viewed elsewhere, so a brief look at them here, and then Oral Roberts. I have just one book by Roberts, A Daily Guide to Miracles, though I believe there are many others. I heard him preach and he struck me as Billy Graham plus; a great evangelistic strength but with the Pentecostal element and strong emphasis on healing. There is an interesting biography, which to my mind shows a man going off track; he thought that God wanted him to build a university; the biography does not suggest to me that that was the case, though I hope I am wrong. We will return to the theme of ‘going off track’ in a moment.  The two books on healing to read are Healing the Sick by TL Osborn and Bible Healing Study Course by Kenneth E Hagin. The latter covers most of what Hagin teaches directly concerned with healing; healing is a constant throughout his books, but there is not much need to go outside this one to know what he says. Healing the Sick was written early in Osborn’s ministry in ‘World Evangelism’ and is almost a statement of faith. Where Hagin teaches, Osborn proclaims. Some of TL’s later books are variations on the theme of healing, in particular Receive Miracle Healing. It might be nice for women to read Daisy Osborn’s books; these assume the reader to be a woman, which is ‘nice’; they are equally strong. All over the world there are thousands and thousands of miracle babies named Daisy; some of them don’t know why they are called that. I met one such in Costa Rica, so I said, ‘you were born in 195_’; she asked how I knew this so I explained that that was the year TL and Daisy were in San José.

I feel I should mention in this increasingly lengthy article two men who rather lost the plot. Both are the subjects of biographies by Gordon Lindsay, an associate of the three men just mentioned and founder of Christ for all Nations. He writes about Alexander Dowie and William Branham, both of whom had wonderful healing ministries, but both lost their ministries and lives through an identical severe error. Dowie was an Australian minister who discovered healing during a flu epidemic and then moved to the US. He founded Zion City, Illinois and for a while continued to enjoy a dramatic and hugely influential preaching and healing ministry, before begin to entertain grandiose ideas of himself; this combined with overwork led to something of a breakdown; he began to believe that he was Elijah, and died not long after. Branham had a very remarkable ministry; he has been severely traduced since, but at the outset was a man who demonstrated the ministry of Jesus in the most humble of ways; TL Osborn was influenced by him to start preaching healing; TL says that he saw in Branham the most beautiful and perfect gifts of knowledge and of healings he ever saw. However, Branham wanted to teach, which was simply not his gifting; like Dowie he began to entertain strange ideas and exactly like Dowie proclaimed himself to be Elijah; he died soon after in a car crash. There were a number of men at the same period, the ’50s and ’60s, who had marvellously anointed ministries, who knew nothing  or little about teaching and faith; we will return to this shortly. The point is that healing does not credential anyone!

Before turning to the distinction between faith and anointing, I would like to mention three more important healing ministries, among the many. I am not going discuss the Vineyard movement, or the allied Toronto movement, though they are well worth investigating, and I should mention books by Randy Clarke. Instead two further recommendations are of Norvel Hayes  and Francis MacNutt. Hayes was a close friend of Kenneth Hagin; he writes a lot about spiritual gifts, his book on healing being The Healing Handbook. He is very forthright and direct; his style is most challenging; he is very strong and inspiring. The book I have by MacNutt is called simply Healing; it is well worth looking at, in part as coming from a man with a Roman Catholic background, which I have found tends to suggest a thoughtful and sensitive approach. NacNutt is wide-ranging in his thinking; there are most useful discussions on misunderstandings of the faith teaching of Kenneth Hagin and on inner healing, for example. The healing revival of the previous decade hit all denominations including the more sacramental ones in the ’60s and onwards, and you would have to say that, for people with that kind of background, the more overtly Pentecostal styles might not initially be very easy; there is a whole range of people operating outside that sphere and MacNutt would seem to be a good example. The final American based ministry to mention is that of Charles and Francis Hunter. Here we go back to the more Pentecostal style. The Hunters have a lot of very nice books with a great range of ideas and practices; one title is How to heal the Sick and there is a lot in it from the Bible and their experience. One reason for recommending this book is the excellent translation into Spanish, Como Sanar a los Enfermos. Daughter, Joan also now conducts a nice healing ministry.

Nearly all the above mentioned ministries would have a big focus on the preaching and teaching of healing. One Hagin book is called Hear and be Healed; “faith comes by hearing”. TL would stand and preach, proclaiming the gospel of salvation, which includes healing, and the people would start being healed everywhere. His outlook was that “if I can just get the people to listen long enough, the word will get inside them, and they will hatch off and get well”. But there is a whole other strand to healing, what Hagin calls ‘healing by the anointing’, healing by spiritual gifts, apart from any teaching. This way of ministering is well exemplified by, for example, Australian evangelist John Mellor. His books are very nice: Miracles from the Dust, Releasing Healing, and Keys to Healing. The first two are somewhat autobiographical; we learn how John started lay hands on and to pray for the aboriginal people where he was pastoring and to his surprise they started to get well; he moved to Scotland and there a healing ministry began in earnest, but it was mostly praying for people, with little teaching. The third book does provide some teaching, but, having been in his meetings, I can say that it really isn’t a major element; he urges people to forgive; he prays for people, again and again, and major miracles result.

A very nice resolution of the distinction between healing by faith and by the anointing is found in How to heal the Sick by Stuart Gramenz, another excellent Australian. He suggests a gradient from 100% healing by faith, just through hearing the word and believing, through 50% faith where people can be helped by the laying on of hands and a flow of the Holy Spirit where the faith of healer and sick person combine, to 0% faith in the raising the dead, where obviously the dead person does not contribute. He covers a range of ‘methods’ or, better, ways God works, across this gradient. A very good book; there are so many ways of healing, he says, because God so wants to heal.

There are two more books to mention in closing, partly to show that, yes, there is life outside the US, though before going there we should mention John G Lake, early in the 20th century and the Copelands, Kenneth and Gloria and their associates; Gloria is very clear. The two last books I wished to mention are The Forgotten Talent by Cameron J Peddie, a Scottish minister who began to seek a healing ministry mid-century; this is a lovely story; Peddie prayed and prayed  and began to notice that people around him were getting better and so devoted himself to this ministry; he has something very interesting to say about anointing with oil. Then there is God’s Gift of Healing by Fred Smith, an English policeman who began to find he saw results preaching and praying; the loveliest and humblest of men and a great account. There must be so many wonderful stories and ministries; this has been a short sample, focusing on those who have influenced me.