The Folly of “Faith” Healing

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-2-30-01-pmTD Jakes and his false teaching of modalism is certainly a great threat to the church. Here in Africa, however, his followers are most influenced by another of his heresies: the Prosperity Gospel.

Stickers like that on the left is common in our villages. Notice the name of the church, the key words, and the swanky pose. Most of this is the cheap imitation of what they see Jakes do on TV and in his books. As the pastor of the Potter’s House, Jakes has crystalized in his doctrinal statement the false teaching that is rampant in so many African churches:

We believe that it is God’s will to heal and deliver His people today as He did in the days of the first Apostles. It is by the stripes of Jesus that we are healed, delivered and made whole. We have authority over sickness, disease, demons, curses, and every circumstance in life.

The Prosperity Gospel teaches that it is always God’s will to heal. If healing doesn’t come, it is because of the sick person’s lack of faith. But is this true? Was faith necessary for healing in the New Testament?   Continue reading

A Call for Biracial Banquets

thumb_image-10-20-16-at-5-25-pm_1024The wall of animosity between South African whites and blacks has shrunk since the formal fall of apartheid in 1994. Government has tried to mandate equality, but only the gospel of Christ can bring true unity.

My experience in Africa has taught me that among the last dominoes to fall in unifying Christians of different races is not church membership but table fellowship. In the pews, the votes may count the same, but around the dinner table, we are more like Joseph’s court:

They served him by himself…because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians”(Gn. 43:32).

For many white believers, it is a bridge too far to have blacks equally, joyfully, and freely join them at table. We coddle our conscience: “But the foods, manners, tastes are too different.” Maybe. Maybe not. But even if we grant the former, is not a change in menu or method but a small price for unity? As John Flavel said, “If you take away union, there can be no communion.” And if there is no communion outside the church walls, can we really argue for unity within them? Continue reading

Duped By Delayed Healing

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-2-30-57-pm“You are healed!” This was what one charismatic woman declared over me recently upon hearing of my flu-like symptoms. When I told her my illness was just the same as it was a minute ago, she implied it would pass in a couple of days. “Sickness has no power over you, man of God.” If only this were true.

This lady didn’t know it, but she was exhibiting one of two common marks of the Prosperity Crusades: (1) pre-arranged settings and (2) delayed healings.

The Prosperity crowd typically does their healings in sterile, pre-planned environments so they can control who comes and goes. Paraplegics? Downs Syndrome? Amputees? Not a chance. These wily hucksters are looking to heal heart failure and headaches. Bodyguards protect the stage in order to vet each person who wants healing. Everything is orchestrated perfectly.

Contrast this with Jesus, who didn’t need to touch or even see the official’s sick son. He healed him from 25 kms away (Jn. 4:50). Elsewhere, Jesus happened to be at Peter’s house when he healed his mother-in-law (Mt. 8:14-15). Humanly speaking, the healing was unplanned and impromptu. The same thing happened with Peter, who healed the cripple en route to the temple (Ac. 3:6-7).

There are times, however, when those thirsting for a cure don’t play along with the charlatan on stage. Their arm was lame and it’s still lame. What now? This is when the idea of postponed healings comes into play. Like the woman said earlier, sometimes healings take a couple of days to kick in.

But, again, this is not the case in Scripture. The nobleman’s son was healed the very hour Jesus said the word (Jn. 4:52-53). He healed the lepers (Mk. 1:42), the blind man (Mk. 10:32), and the paralytic (Ac. 3:8) instantly. There are a couple of examples in the Gospels where a miracle was delayed for a few minutes (e.g. Lk. 17:11-19) but there was a purpose for this small delay, and never was it for an extended amount of time.

For those church con men who claim to follow in the footsteps of Jesus by healing the sick, a good place to start would be with immediate and spontaneous healings. Anything short is fraud.

Africa’s Need for Noble Men

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-10-37-42-pmThomas Watson once said, “A father is a looking glass that the child often dresses himself by. Let the glass be clear and not spotted.”

When the nobleman in John’s Gospel believed in Christ, so did his whole household (Jn. 4:53). This would have included his wife, children, and workers. He did not give faith to his family, nor force them to believe, but was the positive and pervasive instrument God used to lead that home to saving trust.

This is why Paul encourages spouses in mixed marriages to remain and not divorce. Fathers and husbands have tremendous spiritual influence in their homes because they man the gospel rudder. “The unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband (1Co. 7:14).

Father Abraham was the appointed apparatus to teach his children the righteous way (Gn. 18:19). So was Joshua (Jos. 24:15).

Sadly, in rural African culture, a child’s looking glass is often the family member or relation that happens to be around at the time. A bike rides best with two wheels—the family with two parents. The rural African home is learning this the hard way as it drags along slowly from one generation to the next.

In our village context, and a hundred others beside, the people wonder why their culture continues to be ravaged by crime, poverty, and bad education. Certainly AIDS, corruption, and distant jobs play a part, but ubuntu is the greatest culprit. Ubuntu is the African worldview that says I exist because of the whole. Or as Hillary has said, it takes a village. This supposed “togetherness” of Africa was meant to be a contrast with the individualism of the West. Instead, it has devastated the home because grandparents, uncles, aunts, and neighbors are all viewed as sufficient and often superior trainers of the children. Single moms are rampant. Women are encouraged to seek careers. What else are grandparents for?

Africa needs fathers and husbands who will lead their households to Christ. Africa needs men who act as mirrors, before which their children can see an accurate picture of themselves and the gospel. African men need to abandon the cloak of pseudo-humility used to cover their bad character and instead urge their wives and children to follow them (1Co. 11:1). What Africa needs is an army of noble men.


The Blessings of Sickness

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-9-45-13-pmWhile waiting in the doctor’s office last week, I sat next to a full-blown Prosperity campaigner. If Joseph Prince or Kenneth Copeland were Don Quixote, this man would have been Sancho Panza. “It’s never God’s will for Christians to be sick, “ he said, only to follow with the saddest line of all. “That’s why I just can’t understand why my wife is here.” A few minutes later, they rolled her out in a wheel chair.

There are many answers to the question of why. Why do Christians suffer? On several occasions we’ve taught our people in the village 30 reasons-it-is-good-for-christians-to-suffer. Most of these come from St. Paul, himself no stranger to affliction but just as anxious to share in Jesus’ suffering (Phil. 3:10).

A good place to start is the story of Jesus healing the nobleman’s son (Jn. 4:46-54). This man and his whole household came to Christ because of the boy’s sickness. The implication is that had the boy not been sick, the father would never have had a reason to believe. This should rectify our qualms with affliction, as so much good comes from it.

Suffering is the oft-used tonic in God’s medical bag. Indeed, strength and vitality bring special blessings, but broken bodies are even better if they draw us to Christ. As David said, “It is good for me that I was afflicted” (Ps. 119:71).

Review: The Power of Speaking God’s Word

Ellsworth, Christian Focus, 2000, 144 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-9-22-55-pmPaper is a poor conduit of heat. So are sermon manuscripts poor conduits for preaching. So says Ellsworth on this paperback about preaching memorable sermons.

Here is a book on the oral nature of preaching, an exploration of what spoken communication (orality) means for the proclamation of God’s Word. Continue reading

Review: Finally Alive

John Piper, Christian Focus, 2009, 203 pages, 4 of 5 stars

51B1pSVLWTL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Pastor, author, and theologian John Piper lucidly unpacks the doctrine of regeneration in Finally Alive. But after so many top-sellers, why pen a work on the new birth? He illustrates. The Christian research firm, Barna, suggests born-again Christians are just as likely to divorce as non-Christians. Piper finds the equation of church-going evangelicals with regenerated Christians a profound mistake and defamation to the term born again. The rest of the book is to show why.

Piper writes to illustrate the radical change rebirth makes in the life of a sinner (viz. 1 Jn. 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:4, 5:18). What brings the sinner is what will keep the sinner. Scriptural preaching? Yes. Miracles? No. “This is one of the great dangers of signs and wonders: You don’t need a new heart to be amazed at them. The old, fallen human nature is all that’s needed to be amazed….” (30).

“Whether the conversion experience is emotional (like Augustine) or sober (like C.S. Lewis), the born-again Christian (an acknowledged redundancy) will live differently.

Summary and Strengths

Though Finally Alive is divided into five sections, 90% of it is a commentary on John 3 and the book of First John. I appreciated his interpretation of the must disputed “born of water and the Spirit” passage in John 3:5. He gives four reasons why water is not referring to baptism but instead to one of two aspect of the new birth in Ezekiel 36: cleansing of the old (“water”) and creation of the new (“spirit”).

I wish he had delved a bit into the other views of water. I spoke to a pastor recently who believes adamantly “water” is referring to physical birth. The strength of this view appears to be the context, since Nicodemus had just spoken about physical birth in v. 4. It actually goes against the context, however, because Jesus in v. 5 is correcting Nicodemus, not building on his misunderstanding. He was a renowned teacher and he still missed it (v. 10). Piper didn’t touch on this but should have to strengthen his own argument. Continue reading