August 28, 2014

Reconsider Jesus – The Sent Out

The following is an excerpt from Michael Spencer’s upcoming book: Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark.  This week we are looking at a part of Michael Spencer’s writing and speaking on Mark 6. I accidentally skipped ahead and will be returning to Mark 5 next week.  The material being covered today is on a subject that is important to both my co-editor, Scott Lencke,  and myself:  That is, Spiritual gifts, and their existence today.  In this passage Michael Spencer gives us a taste of some of his own thinking on the matter.  I am hoping that Scott will be able to join us for the discussion in the comments.  Are your views similar?  Quite different?  At Internet Monk a civil discussion is always welcome in the comments.  If you have been thinking at all that you would be interested in purchasing Michael Spencer’s book when it is available, please drop us a note at michaelspencersnewbook@gmail.com.  The more we get expressions of interest, the more attention we will get from publishers.

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Mark 6:7-13

Mark 6:7-13. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. 8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff–no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” 12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

…It is very significant for me that Jesus empowers his disciples with his own authority, and specifically gives them power over “unclean spirits.” Jesus’ first miracle, according to Mark, was an exorcism, and the battle with the forces of darkness is never far from Mark’s focus. But this passage must be considered in the subject of whether spiritual gifts and ministries continue today, or did they cease when the “apostolic age” came to an end? This issue is the source of a major split among evangelicals and has been a major issue in my own life and ministry. Without getting on a personal soapbox, I can say that issues such as “Are tongues for today?”, “Does God heal today?” and “Should Christians cast out demons today?” have occupied hours and days of my own study and consideration. Is the Bible actually that confusing on these issues? I really don’t think so. In fact, the cessationist position (that all these gifts and experiences ceased with the apostles) may be well intentioned, but it has robbed the church of what Jesus clearly intended to give to his followers.

In the simple words, “he gave them power,” Mark communicates that Jesus intended for his followers to walk in all the power he ministered in and he intended to share his authority with his followers for the purpose of compassionate Kingdom ministry to the oppressed. When cessationists make the apostles into a special group honored by Jesus above other Christians by giving them power and authority, they go well beyond what scripture teaches. It is true that the apostles are mentioned in passages such as Revelation 21:14 and Ephesians 2:20 -”…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone”- in a way that gives them importance within the body of Christ, but these scriptures point to the faithful testimony of the apostles as witnesses of Jesus and the conveyers of the Gospel. Certainly, the New Testament is “Apostolic” in the sense of being written within the circle of the apostles and upon their teaching. Paul mentions the “signs of an apostle” in 2 Corinthians 12:12, but where is the sense that these were exclusive to the apostles or would cease? Paul himself refutes such an idea in I Corinthians 12:4-11, where the manifestation of the Spirit is clearly given to all the body of Christ, as the Lord himself desires. In fact, how does the idea of supernatural ministry being the exclusive domain of the apostles square with I Corinthians 12:28, where miracles and healings are intentionally placed after the ministry of apostles?

Every cessationist I know is frightened by the excesses of the Charismatic/Pentecostal/Third Wave movements. Certainly we ought to be concerned with excess, for it is the work of the devil, discrediting the real. But we ought to be more concerned about a kind of theology that tells the church supernatural means are not available to encounter the powers of evil and the results of sin. Cessationism is the primary culprit in turning the church towards secular and worldly means of doing everything from church growth to pastoral counseling. In some seminaries, secular psychology is accepted with little question, despite its corrupt worldview and self-defining methodology. In many churches, laying on of hands for the sick, anointing with oil or praying against the demonic would get the pastor fired or the church split. Yet, here we have Jesus entrusting his own power and authority to twelve disciples who would hardly be impressive today for their spiritual maturity or wisdom. They simply have faith and are, therefore, empowered for ministry. May God quickly send the day when this will not need to be explained…

Comments

  1. This is an interesting point. Not so many years ago I had an auto-immune disease that went undiagnosed for many months, with several doctors assuming it was psychosomatic. I had left the LCMS and was going to a non-denom church at the time and out of desperation, asked to have elders pray for and anoint me. The pastor told me they had never done anything like this before but as it was biblical, he would surely bring the elders with him to the home group that I attended and they would do so out of obedience to the word of Christ. They did and not long after, my condition was diagnosed and life-saving medication was given. It was not instantaneous but a healing nonetheless. I believe it was a sign to the pastors and elders as well, who may not have, at the time, believed in the literal value of what they were doing but did it out of obedience to the word of Jesus.

    I once listened to a sermon tape (remember those?) by a pastor who likened the idea that these things are not for the present time to one who turns on the light switch and because the bulb doesn’t come on, does not believe in electricity.

  2. Mike -

    It’s great to read these thoughts of Michael Spencer. But I suppose I am somewhat biased. :)

    If anyone is interested, I and another colleague have a blog entitled, To Be Continued where we post various articles that present a biblical, theological and historical perspective for the continuation of all God’s gifts today. It can be found at http://continuationism.com.

  3. God does heal the sick and cast out demons.

    But He does so at His will. One (believer) is healed…and the other goes out the back in a body bag.

    And in the end, we all die. “The wages of sin are death.”

    But of course, that’s not the last word.

  4. David Cornwell says:

    It’s strange that we claim to believe in the risen Christ who ministers to us and through us in the person of the Holy Spirit, yet deny that these things can happen in our era. Michael Spencer speaks to need that has exhibited itself in plain view for many years. Church teachings tend to veer from one extreme or the other. Theology, whether conservative or liberal has backed itself into corners roped off by modernity cloaked in Enlightenment rationality. (Please don’t dissect that sentence closely, it’s early in the morning.) So– the Risen Christ has placed limits on what He can do that are described by modern theory? Not so sure about that.

    For one thing I’ve observed healings that have little explanation beyond the most obvious, which is that Jesus touched someone and that person was healed. We like to argue our way out of these things, and explain the healing in any other way we can think of. With so much “modern” teaching, be it liberal or conservative, we prefer to give every other explanation that comes to a rational mind, other than the fact that God can still work in our midst.

    From a personal point of view I could offer two at least two illustrations of healings that have been wrought through prayer and have no medical explanation. I’ve spoken of them previously here, so will not repeat. I’ve also observed excesses that in the end are carnival like events of showmanship, bringing glory to the healer rather than to God. If local churches would recover a true sense of what God’s power can mean to us, these events would probably lose some appeal.

    There are dignified and liturgical ways to have services of healing. And there are just the simple prayers of unlearned laity, effectual and fervent. Both can happen.

    There is always mystery when God heals someone. The mystery involves “why” and “why not” many times. Why is a person healed, when someone else is not? Mystery.

    Maybe I’ll have more to say as the day unwinds. Maybe not.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Church teachings tend to veer from one extreme or the other

      Agree, especially in the ‘younger’ churches.

      > For one thing I’ve observed healings that have little explanation beyond the most
      > obvious, which is that Jesus touched someone

      But why is that so obvious? It seems an extreme interpretation of events to me – “the Almighty intervened”. Lack of an explanation is not a license to insert an explanation of one’s own choosing.

      Sometimes sick people get better. It really does happen. Tumors vanish as mysteriously as they appeared. People get up and walk away, even from Ebola and Marburg.

      One story I know of is of an aggressive tumor in an inoperable location [hey, it was the 1980s]. It grew.. and then it shrivled up and within a week was nearly gone. Inexplicable. Then it was realized that the tumor grew in such a manner and direction that it ultimately pinched the primary artery that was supplying it with a life-[and-death]-giving supply of blood. A mechanically explicable miracle.

      • David Cornwell says:

        “But why is that so obvious? It seems an extreme interpretation of events to me – “the Almighty intervened”. Lack of an explanation is not a license to insert an explanation of one’s own choosing.”

        I agree. However unless one knows the total context of the healing, the possibility of divine intervention to one extent or another cannot be ruled out. If we want to explain away healings, then we could use the same arguments to apply to when Jesus was here ministering visibly in the presence of his disciples. Or to explain away the resurrection itself.

        However in the light of Jesus’ resurrection the Church functions in terms of new reality. And one of those, to me, is the possibility of healing.

        N. T. Wright in “Surprised by Hope” in talking about this new reality says:

        “The intellectual coup d’etat by which the Enlightenment convinced so many that “we now know that dead people don’t rise …. goes hand in hand with the Enlightenment’s other proposals, not least that we have now come of age, and that God can be kicked upstairs, that we can get on with running the world…”.

        He is speaking of the resurrection here, but this, to me, is just the point. If Jesus has been raised, a new reality is in place. And the power of the Risen Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is with us now and today.

  5. It is possible to believe that spiritual gifts such as tongues are still possible, without believing that the modern charismatic / pentecostal movement actually manifests them. Just as it is possible to believe in the Second Coming, without believing those who say that it will happen next Tuesday.

    In Orthodox and Catholic theology, the power and authority of the apostles is said to truly continue by means of the Church.There are many stories of miracles performed by saints throughout the ages, including today. But this should not be the focus, Christ is the focus. Everything should be done in order. Think of the liturgy with its two parts.

    • Best church service I ever went to was at an Anglican Church in Regina, SK. The church billed itself as “Charismatic, Evangelical, Liturgical, and Sacramental.” (I think those were the four.) The four in balance made for a wonderful spiritual balanced service.

    • Dragan -

      Some thoughts. It’s very true that all gifts of the Spirit are active outside the charismatic & Pentecostal expressions of the church. Because of what was known as the “Third Wave”, such started to become more recognised right across all kinds of church traditions and backgrounds. Also, miracles are always performed by saints, since these are active amongst the body of Christ. The people of God are the saints of God. Lastly, every church background has some sense of liturgy. I long for a bit more liturgy as in the the traditional sense that comes to our mind. But even in a very Pentecostal service, one will recognise a liturgy across the singing, exercising of spiritual gifts, preaching, etc. A very multi-faceted church that Christ has been building.

  6. In some seminaries, secular psychology is accepted with little question, despite its corrupt worldview and self-defining methodology.

    Any idea on what he speaks of here? What elements of psychology are accepted with little question (presumably in a way that messes with seminary training)?

    • You know, I almost edited that sentence out. And I might still in the final edition. Michael kind of threw that out with very little to support it. This particular section was written some time in the late 90s. So, about 15 or more years ago. I seem to recall when I was at 90′s when I was at seminary there was some considerable discussion about how secular psychology was replacing biblical counselling, but to be honest I didn’t have enough interest in the area to pay a lot of attention. Perhaps someone else can shed some further light on the topic. Chaplain Mike?

      • I think that sentence is pretty unwise, though I’ve known lots of people who would assert that it’s the truth.

        So many people with mental illnesses are told to go and read the bible and pray. That’s like telling someone with a gaping wound to put a Band-Aid on it and it will get better.