[This is a long piece written by Bob and so it has been divided it into two sections – Ed]
1) My Own Background
- militates against belief in divine healing today.
i) Plymouth Brethren with their cessationist theology derived in most part from the teaching of J.N.Darby (1800 – 1882) For Darby the spiritual gifts and spiritual power belonged to the dispensation of the early church and died with the death of the last Apostle and the advent of the canon of New Testament Scripture. C.I. Scofield with his famous Scofield Bible propagated most the views of Darby on this and others matters and they became the inheritance of a great part of the evangelical church.
During his lifetime Darby observed the revival under Edward Irving a Scottish Presbyterian minister in London. He left the Presbyterian Church under great pressure and formed the Catholic Apostolic Church. Sadly what Darby and others saw of excess and imbalance confirmed them more deeply in their views with regard to the work of the Holy Spirit.
According to Darby’s view after the formation of the New Testament and after the death of the last apostle the sign gifts ceased to be of relevance and faded away.
Ronald E. Baxter(Gifts of the Spirit) – “They passed away as the need for authentication of both the message and the messengers of New Testament truth was swallowed up in the unspeakable power and grandeur of the perfect Word of God.”
Unfortunately such a views creates a great divide between the Word and the Spirit and limits the activity of the Holy Spirit very much with the boundaries of the written Word.
William DeArteaga (Quenching The Spirit) – “Perhaps second only to liberal demythologising the radical dispensationalism of the Darby-Scofield tradition has been one of the most misguided form of Biblical interpretation of modern times.”
ii) Reformed Church Ministry – Later in life I was ordained into what is now the United reformed Church. In such a denomination today the word “reformed” would need some redefinition. Nevertheless the roots of such a group go back to the Reformation and, in particular, to the work of John Calvin a brilliant and systematic theologian whose ministry was directed against the excesses which he saw within the then Roman Catholic Church.(1509 – 1964)
Calvin (Institutes iv) – “But that gift of healing, like the rest of the miracles, which the Lord willed to be brought forth for a time, has vanished away in order to make the new preaching of the gospel marvellous for ever. Therefore, even if we grant to the full tat anointing(for the sick)was a sacrament of those powers which were then administered by the hands of the apostles, it has nothing to do with us, to whom the administering of such powers has not been granted.”
Calvin’s reaction was against the extremes that he saw in the Catholic Church of his day and , in particular, the rite of Extreme Unction which he saw as a man-invented ritual without meaning and useless. There is no mention in all of Calvin’s writings of the gifts of the Spirit and he is clearly negative about such actions as the laying on of hands:
“If this ministry which the apostles then carried out still remained in the church the laying on of hands would also have to be kept. But since this grace has ceased to be given what purpose does the laying on of hands serve?”
DeArteaga – “These passages reflect both the truth and the tragedy of the Reformation. Calvin’s critical observations are true and today even Catholic theologians would agree with many of them.”
David Watson is on record as saying that the Reformation was the greatest tragedy to hit the Church. Many would view that as an extreme statement but in the light of this subject and the Reformer’s view of it we can appreciate something of what he meant.
Anyway these two streams form the background from which I come. They have left me with two strong inclinations:
a) An inclination towards the sovereignty of God. I have always felt, and nothing has happened to change this view, that the first emphasis should be on God and His sovereign purposes. The centre of Biblical theology is not man but God. Man is seen in relation or out of relation to a holy, living God.
As I look around me at the current state of affairs I become increasingly uneasy at those emphases of ministry which leave people more conscious of themselves than God and more conscious of the human agent than the divine minister.
b) An inclination towards the Biblical. Now I shall affirm in a moment that one great change that took place in my life when I experienced the coming on of the Holy Spirit was that my perspective on the Word of God altered. However, I always feel more comfortable when I can look to example, principle or inclination with the written word of the Scriptures. I believe that when any spiritual power movement draws away from the basis of Scripture it is on very dangerous ground.
Nevertheless, I no longer draw a direct equation between Scripture and the Word of God. Scripture is indeed the very Word of God and indeed the whole of Scripture is God’s Word. But a more important question is this: does Scripture provide the boundary for the Word of God? I believe the Spirit leads us to see the personal and prior nature of the Word as coming from God before Scripture was ever formed and continually proceeding from Him in a powerful and sustaining way that goes beyond the words of Holy Writ.
**The Analogy of Experience
It is here that such evidences as the ministry of healing are of such vital importance.
I was brought up to believe that the Bible and only the Bible was self-authenticating. For example, we believed that the miracles of which the Bible speaks took place because the Bible says so. Not because there was any reason within our experience to believe so. In fact, we never looked for authentication within our experience because we believed these things had died out as we saw already.
iii) The outcome of all this is that I no longer accept a cessationist theology. Like many others I have profound questions and I see that we are surrounded in mystery as we approach these questions. But a religion without mystery would make us gods and surely that is the very thing the Bible itself is so militant against?
St. Augustine – “The answer to abuse is not non-use, but proper use.”
This is where the battle will be won or lost. The battle is not new. It has raged whenever a fresh outbreak of the power of the Spirit has occurred and many of the objections we hear today are the same, indeed, they were then more ferocious.
B.B. Warfield:(1851 – 1921): Counterfeit Miracles
– described as the crown of cessationism. This was an attack not only on leading healing movements of the nineteenth century but also directed against the growing Pentecostal movement at the beginning of the twentieth.
At one point in his argument Warfield finds himself making a strange bedfellow in the person of a leading radical liberal theologian; von Harnack – “the whole world and the circumbient atmosphere were filled with devils, not merely idolatry – Christianity won and expelled the demons not only from the tortured individuals whose imagination was held captive by them, but from the life of the people and from the world.”
Now, even for someone like myself who has such difficulty with many of the current practices of deliverance I find such a view astonishing but that is what Warfield believed and through him whole generations of sincere evangelical believers.
iv) You have probably come to the conclusion by now that it is a miracle that ever I take the position I now do and that I am open to the working of the Spirit to any degree at all. Perhaps this just goes to show that after all the age of miracles is not yet dead!
I am comforted by the fact that it was another Gordon – A.J. Gordon (1836 – 1895) who became known in his day as the theologian of healing. Interestingly, Gordon fought a battle that still has relevance today. His battle was not only against the force of Calvinist cessationism but against alternative healing philosophies like that of Mrs Eddy with her Christian Science movement. In his book The Ministry of Healing and elsewhere Gordon worked to show that Christian healing was distinctive and not to be confused with spiritualist alternatives.