Why Healing Ministry is for Baptists Too
Greater Works: The need for the Church to continue the Lord's ministry of healing hearts
Acts 10:36-38, John 14:12
By Pastor Tremaine Combs
As we survey news outlets, social media, political pundits, cultural commentators, social scholars; as we survey the spiritual landscape, we have to come to the truth that our nation, our culture, our communities, and even our churches are in need of spiritual transformation. We can all agree to this point but the problem is we want spiritual transformation without spiritual healing. This is because often we regulate Spirit powered healing to an earlier period of history or a golden period in the past of the Church. The truth is we will trust everything and everyone else to heal us, but the Church. We will put our lives in everything else but the church, often with spiritually disastrous and physically fatal consequences. I wonder why? Perhaps because we have lost sight of the fact that healing is central to the ministry of the Body. The truth is that this issue is at the core of what the Church is, in that everything we do should have as a purpose introducing persons to the healing that comes from Christ. Some may question this, but we must be reminded that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was all about healing for the purpose of spiritual transformation. But before we talk about what the church is, we have to discuss what the church, what Christianity is not.
Christianity, the Church is not just one particular expression of human spirituality:
True Christianity is not at its core al la carte spirituality. True Christianity does not bode well with a consumer culture, because of the truth claims that the Body of Christ makes. That we are not simply one way of experiencing the divine or the eternal among others. Instead, because we are the Body of Christ, the Church is the ONLY AUTHORIZED way to experience the majestic power of God as the pillar and ground of truth revealed in Jesus Christ. This is why the Church never got along well with the paganism of the Roman Empire. Rome accepted other religious expressions or mystery cults because they did not claim to have a monopoly on both temporal and eternal truth. Jews were accepted begrudgingly. But the Church was not so lucky because the Church made claims to have a monopoly on the person of Truth, this in turn included the activity of the state and established the Church as not simply anti, but counter to the cultural, political, and religious framework of the Roman world. This still exists today. True Christianity will always be counter, because of our understanding of who Jesus is, Truth personified.
The Church, Christianity is not simply a way to maintain human social order:
Christianity is not simply a way to maintain human social order because it is not based upon human understandings of what a just world and society will look like. Even when the Church has been forced into bed with the state--the Justinian Symphony of Byzantium, Imperial Russia, the Soviet Republic, the Christendom of Medieval and early Modern Europe, and the Conservative Christian Right and Liberal Christianity a step above secularism-- the fit has never been quite right for anyone involved. This is because the teachings of The Lord preserved and promoted by the Body of Christ cannot be simply appropriated by any human society. Instead, they must change that society from the inside out, until the teachings of The Lord become the bedrock and foundation of a particular human expression of social connection and cohesion. Anything less cheapens the gospel (i.e.: I am Christian not because of Who I trust in, but because of the circumstances of my birth) or produces outright schism and heresy.
The Church, the Body of Christ, Christianity is not just another religious practice:
We forget that religion is that which we do that binds us to the object or subject of our affections. Religion is that which maintains relationship. Thus, Christianity cannot be simply one religious practice among many. Humanity has never been able to worship God the way they saw fit. To seek to do so is the height of idolatry, for what you tie yourself to is your own truncated idea of God and ultimately yourself.
But we cannot simply rest on what Christianity is not. Describing what the church is not gets us no closer to the healing that is necessary for spiritual transformation. We also have to discuss what the Church is. Why? Because functionality follows identity. But in order to get the identity we have to recognize that:
1) Christianity, the Church reflects a revealed lifestyle:
Christianity is a lifestyle that is revealed in the life, actions, and instruction of Jesus of Nazareth, taught by the Apostles and lived out in the life of the Body of Christ/Church which itself is a Divine/Human organism, not simply an institution. Paul enjoins us, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor 11:1), in that the whole of the Body of Christ should in fact be imitators and emulators of Who Jesus is. Jesus has provided us with a powerful example in all things, even in how to live through things, for Peter tells us,
"For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed." (2 Peter 2:19-24)
Through our obedience in following the example of Jesus Christ, we find ourselves living a lifestyle reflective of and revealed in the life of Jesus Christ.
2) Christianity, the Church reflects a revealed ethos:
Christianity is an ethos. Ethos describes the character, the guiding beliefs or deals that characterize persons, communities, cultures, and nations. Thus, as an ethos, Christianity is a way of seeing the world that often clashes with the cultural world-views that we inherit (even if that worldview is a psuedo-christian one). The Christian ethos is encapsulated by the Apostolic Tradition and enshrined in the lifestyle of the Body of Christ, for the church of the Living God is, "...the pillar and ground of truth" (1 Tim 3:15) because we are built upon the foundation of Jesus, "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 3:11). It is the lifestyle that reveals the ethos. To live a Christian lifestyle is to submit to the revealed ethos of Jesus Christ, as taught by the Apostles and lived in the life of the Church. This is a community ethos; you cannot be a solo Christian. One Christian is not a Christian. To truly be Christian we must live in and be a part of the Community of Faith/Trust rooted and grounded in God's ultimate Revelation of Jesus Christ.
3) Christianity, the Church reflects a revealed faith:
Christianity is a revealed faith. This is an indication that people didn't just think up the underlying concept of Christianity. Instead, it is a process of trust that, as we are reminded in the very opening of Hebrews (Hebrews 1:1-14) is revealed
1) By God,
2) In human history,
3) For the salvation of our souls,
4) Restoration of the creative order and,
5) For the healing and restoration of humanity. This means that the tenets of Christianity are not in the prevue of human thought, we are recipients and active participants, but even with that we do not take the lead. Thus, Christianity is not ours to do with what we want, and the minute we do this- we do damage to what Christianity was intended to be, a revealed faith for the healing of the world. It is a revealed faith, because it is a system of deepening trust and relationship that is grounded in the work of God through and in The Lord Jesus Christ, which is applied through the working of the Holy Spirit. It reveals that the Father saves through The Lord Jesus, The Lord Jesus redeems by His works (including but not limited to the shedding of blood) and the Holy Spirit applies the work of The Lord to the life of the Disciple and then heals that person through indwelling, molding and empowering them to follow the authentic human patten of The Lord Jesus Christ.
4) Christianity, the Church is a revealed therapeutic method for the healing of the human soul:
The point of the Church is not just to save our souls from hell, but to restore us
1) to the proper relationship with the Father (and ourselves both personally and collectively), and
2) to our proper design (how we are), and
3) our proper purpose.
In fact, in his work Classical Pastoral Care, Dr. Thomas Oden expresses this point when he expresses the fact that our word minister (from the Latin ministerium) is descended from the Greek word of therapon- one who helps, and serves. But Oden makes the point that therapon comes from the Greek therapeia which carries the weight of having and developing a helping, serving relationship that has as its end result healing (Oden, Classical Pastoral Care, vol. 3, p.7). So true therapy is a healing relationship that is rooted in helpful service. Is this not what the Lord Jesus does? John reminds us of this truth when he is inspired to record, "...For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil."(1 John 3:8). Is this not what we are called to do? This point is also biblical in every way. (See Matthew 10, Luke 9:1-2, and Mark 16:17-20.) In Matthew and Luke, the healing of disease and releasing from spiritual oppression is the byproduct of preaching the Kingdom of God, for in taking Luke as our reference, we read, "Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick." This can especially be seen when we look at Luke 9:1-2 as a parallelism. In Hebrew and Semitic prose and poetry parallelism is used to express ideas of deep significance and import. In Luke 9:1-2, v.2 repeats and intensifies the truth that healing, both physical and spiritual (since we are composite beings of spirit, soul, and body) follow in the wake of the presentation of the Kingdom if God through preaching Christ. In fact, preaching itself is appropriated by the human brain and heart for healing.
Therefore, how can we claim that the gospel of the great Physician is being preached and we are not intentional about the healing ministry that Christ has given the Church? Perhaps this is because when we think of healing ministry the image of slicksters and snake oil salesmen come to mind. Or the idea of sensationalized healings used by preachers to make a name for themselves, but leave false hope in their wake? Or perhaps it is from the often unbiblical notion that with the advent of modern medicine, God's people no longer require the healing touch of the Father through the Holy Spirit. All of these and other reasons are understandable, but dangerous for the Church to assume as normative. Because they rob the Kingdom of its potential because it ties the hands of the King! When we do this, we lose sight of the fact that we should be about healing the hearts and minds of the people that we encounter. This is also seen in Mark 16:15-18, where The Lord says, "...Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." In Mark 16 the signs that follow those who believe are signs that prove the veracity of the Kingdom that they believe in. This is why healing must be central to all that we do as we focus on Jesus. The truth is our fallen world produces fractured souls. We need to be put back together. Christ puts us back together through the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Body of Christ. Once we are put back together, we are obligated to be used by The Lord to put others back together as well.
Mark 16 and Acts 1 are foundational to understanding what our ministry of healing will look like and where the power of the healing comes from. In Mark 16, Jesus gives a brief description of the signs that follow those who believe. The point of these signs is to establish the power of the kingdom of God over the usurpation of the enemy. These signs show the complete victory of the Kingdom of God over the usurping kingdom of Satan. Each sign is proof that the believer, the disciple, the kingdom citizen is in the process of being recapitulated by Christ to a pre-fall condition. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, makes this very point when he writes in his work Against Heresies,
"Into this paradise the Lord has introduced those who obey His call, “summing up in Himself all things which are in heaven, and which are on earth;” (Eph 1:10) but the things in heaven are spiritual, while those on earth constitute the dispensation in human nature (secundum hominem est dispositio). These things, therefore, He recapitulated in Himself: by uniting man to the Spirit, and causing the Spirit to dwell in man, He is Himself made the head of the Spirit, and gives the Spirit to be the head of man: for through Him (the Spirit) we see, and hear, and speak...He has therefore, in His work of recapitulation, summed up all things, both waging war against our enemy, and crushing him who had at the beginning led us away captives in Adam, and trampled upon his head..." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5,XX,2; 5, XXI,1).
Jesus, as our Archetype/ Ultimate Example, because He is the ultimate Revelation of Who God is and what God wants, shows us what the image should be doing, And Jesus went about healing. We are reminded of this in Acts 10:36-38, where Peter declares, "The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ:(he is Lord of all:) That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him." He healed us by His incarnation, His life, His death on the Cross of Calvary, and by His resurrection. If we believe/trust/ have an active faith in the King and the Kingdom, something should follow us! If we are to be in solidarity with Jesus we must also be in solidarity with His works. In fact, we should desire to do greater works, because of where He is and who we are.
This brings us to the point of power. By whose power and authority do we continue the work of Jesus in the therapeutic healing of human souls? The answer is 1) Because of the truth that Jesus is with the Father and 2) because the Father's Holy Spirit is within us. Acts 1:1-8 express that the power by which we continue the ministry of Jesus is through the overshadowing and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But we can also tease out some criteria for the context of the healing that will come into the hearts of ourselves and others when we are used by the Holy Spirit. 1) We cannot use the power to build our own kingdoms (self-love), 2) we must use the power to establish and expand the kingdom of God in the hearts of people, 3) We must be obedient to the words of the Savior and the movement of the Holy Spirit. Should we be healing is not the issue. The Scriptures are clear in that regard. The question is will we allow the power of the Holy Spirit to use us as conduits for the healing of ourselves and others as He sees fit, as we strive to preach the Kingdom of God, establishing it in our hearts and expanding it where-ever we go. How do we do this, by preaching and proclaiming Christ in the very lives we live.
Live like He is who He says He is.
Live like He is the Word, in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God- and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Live like He is water in dry place, a rock on a weary lane, bread in a starving land, mother for the motherless, father for the fatherless.
Live like He died on an old rugged cross.
Live like He got up with all power in His hands.
Tremaine Combs is pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Lincoln, NE, and has a MDiv from Eden Theological Seminary.