It has been a while since I’ve written a post in my on-and-off series on ‘Charismatic Clarity’. These are posts which, as someone theologically convinced of a Charismatic understanding of Christianity, seek to explore misconceptions from within and without that label, as well as try and understand what we think we do when, as Christians, we engage in the ministry of the Kingdom of God.
Recently I’ve become somewhat frustrated by a number of articles popping up from different perspectives, where various people are claiming to ‘do miracles’ or raise people from the dead. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that God is doing miracles in and through his people today, but the emphasis on where this power comes from is vital. Literally. It is God that does the miracles, not us, and we get to join in with what he is doing. The minute we make any aspect of Christianity about us and not about the power of the Risen Christ, we end up relying on our own strength and gifts, which are not enough to sustain anything, let alone do anything truly miraculous.
This question of ‘Who Does What?’ is actually incredibly important. Regular readers will know – and first time readers should be warned – that I am a big fan of ‘theology’, the study of God, his Word and what that means for his world and his people. Sometimes, it is important to carefully critique the stated stance of Christian leaders and teachers, in order to understand some of the mistakes we can make in ministry. Critique, done in the right way (and I would ask the forgiveness of someone who felt wronged by my asking questions about their model or discussion) is actually a vital part of Christian discipleship, the process of discernment. My friend Robby McAlpine wrote a brilliant post over at thinktheology.org about judging and judgements as Christians. If you think I’m judging people then, yes, technically I am. And that is ok. Robby quotes the masterful evangelical Anglican preacher John Stott (check out this great piece from Ellie Mumford on why he’s great) from his book on the Sermon on the Mount, ‘Christian Counter Culture’;
“In all of our attitudes and behaviour towards others we are to play neither the judge (becoming harsh, censorious and condemning) nor the hypocrite (blaming others while excusing ourselves), but the brother, caring for others so much that we first blame and correct ourselves and then seek to be constructive in the help we give them”
I want to start the ‘critical’ part of this post with that quote, because my aim in critiquing an idea here today is to try to point towards the answer to the question of ‘Who Does What?’ in supernatural ministry and prayer.
I often get things wrong – I can easily be arrogant, bull-headed, and too-quick to come to a conclusion. I swing towards the ‘truth’ end of the challenging Christian paradigm of walking in grace and truth, and that can end badly with people who don’t know me well. I believe that this is because I was born a sinner, and by the Grace of Jesus Christ I am born again, and being slowly transformed into his likeness, which is both painful and joyful. But enough about me, and we move on.
One Charismatic leader/pastor/author/teacher who can get people to make a decision about him is the pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California, Bill Johnson. Johnson is a multi-published author, and speaks widely around the world. I also – and I don’t say this lightly – think that the kind of emphasis that Johnson places on things can often be unhelpful, and cause us to miss out on all that God has for us. Consider this passage from his popular book “When Heaven Invades Earth” (which I will probably review soon). Johnson is talking about Jesus:
“He performed miracles, wonders and signs, as a man in right relationship to God… not as God. If He performed miracles because He was God, then they would be unattainable for us. But if He did them as a man, I am responsible to pursue his lifestyle.” (pg. 29)
There are a number of things I could say about this perspective – that Jesus’ lifestyle is about more than just the miraculous, that we are not responsible but joyful in our pursuit of Jesus because he first found us, and so on – but I want to focus on one very problematic thing. Johnson writes “not as God… He did them as a man…“. This goes against Orthodox Christian teaching on who Jesus is (fully God and fully Man, the glorious mystery [hence it isn’t simple] of the Incarnation) and muddies the waters regarding what it means for present-day followers of Jesus to be engaged in the work of the Kingdom of God.
Johnson’s point is perfectly logical – if Jesus was a man, then we can ‘attain’ miracles. The problem is, and I think the New Testament testifies that Jesus was not just a man but also God, that Jesus is divine, and that miracles aren’t’ there to be attained, but to point people to Jesus that they might know the Father through the Spirit. The Doctrine of the Trinity helps us to explain how Jesus is God – and the point of the miraculous power that the Spirit bestows on and through the people of God, the Church. Orthodoxy, not sincerity or passion or (God forbid!) ‘results’, is what matters. For more on that, read this guest post.
This gives us a hint as to the answer to the question: that it is God who does the miracles, and we are witnesses to God. All we can do is show up, be present, love people, and ask Jesus to do things that bring his kingdom a little more into this world. We can do this confidently – because it is not us that do the ministry of Jesus but Jesus himself. John puts it perfectly, in 1 John 5:14-15:
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears in us whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him“
Healing, prayer, prophecy, whatever your favourite part of the Kingdom of God is, is not about us. It is about Jesus and the Father’s glory by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Because it is not about us. It is all about Jesus. We don’t do it, Jesus has done it, is doing it, and will continue to do it because of who he is.