Dave Gilpin believes that the former healing revival in Lakeland, Florida could have been making people a little less well rather than making them better! In this controversial article he looks at the supersizing of the Christian faith and the health risks it poses.
We all live in a miracle obsessed Christian age! Every other generation believed in miracles, but ours really does! Almost every Christian channel on the television devotes almost every hour of transmission to promoting them. What I want to know is – do we see loads more miracles now because we believe ‘more’, or is our believing simply a ‘want to believe’? Has the real miracle count increased a lot or just increased? Is our believing a real belief or is it in essence a ‘belief in belief’? I realise that I’m in dangerous territory that is often occupied by cynics and mockers but I’m willing to risk it for a biscuit of healthy thinking!
With so much fascination in miracle hot spots over the earth, is our huge craving to see the super-natural driven by a healthy quest for more of God or is it being driven by an unhealthy deficiency in our understanding of how God really works? If you struggle with believing something, you can find yourself always looking for proof that that something is true. If you’re unsure about the love someone has for you, you can find yourself looking for and ever demanding proof of that love either through forced affection or through simply misdiagnosing the signals. And that applies to people’s walk with God as well. When you’re not sure about the favour and presence of God, you will always be looking for affirmative ‘signs’ wherever you go.
Creative miracles where God instantly joins bone to bone or instantly recreates a vital organ in someone’s body are still quite rare in our country. Even when prayer is pumping and expectation is high, the number of ‘creative’ miracles that occur over either the short term or long term remains on the lower side. Many would say that it is because people just don’t believe in God’s ability to heal and deliver. This is attributed to the fact that Jesus Himself could not perform to His usual ability in His home town because they refused to see Him as anything else but the carpenter’s son. For many, this is a real truth but the thing about believing, however, is that you can’t actually just turn it on like a tap whenever you want God to do something special. It’s not purely a decision and it’s not an emotion – it’s a gift that only heaven can give. Sure, a lot of people do harbour doubts and unbelief, but there are a lot of people gagging for God to speak specifically into their situation who have currently not heard from heaven.
Miracles, signs and wonders
Because of a need to visibly see the workings of God, little room is left for the huge side of God that actually sets up many of the outstanding and significant miracles of God in the Bible – His ability to put people in all the right places and at all the right times as well as His ability to transform the hearts and lives of stubborn people.
In Acts 2:22, Peter claims that Jesus was ‘accredited by God’ through ‘miracles, wonders and signs’. In describing the miraculous ministry of Jesus in three distinct categories we can note that not every ‘miracle’ is a creative miracle. A wonder or a sign could very much be a non creative miracle such as the finding of money in the mouth of a fish or the provision of a donkey for Jesus to ride upon.
In a quick review of the proliferation of the miraculous in our time, it appears that non creative miracles outnumber creative ones a thousand to one, even in a ‘faith filled’ environment.
Again, why doesn’t God do more in the way of pizzazzy miracles when He has the power to do what He likes and when He likes, especially when people are all believing and all expecting? I have personally prayed for finance hundreds of times and even though God has provided, He has never once, to my knowledge, created a money tree outside my back door. I cannot even verify that God has actually created new banknotes or reprinted banknotes that have gone out of circulation so as to produce ‘legal tender’. What He has done, though, is provided miraculously through people. Why doesn’t God simply use the power invested in Him and let loose upon the earth?
One explanation for the lack of financial ‘super’ miracles is that they involve less of God’s power that we would at first realise! The trickier miracles are the non creative ones that include both the transforming of a human heart by making it willing to part with its cash, and the repositioning of people so as to place all the right people in the all the right places at all the right times to provide the pipeline for financial transfer!
If I’m praying for a thousand pounds, God will need to work on someone’s heart in order that that money (or part thereof) can be released from their pocket to my need. He has to at some stage let them know of my need or my existence and give them a reason to pass it on. All of that takes as much miraculous power as it would do to create a crisp, new banknote out of thin air.
This can also, in some way, be applied to the provision of healing. I have heard of hundreds of testimonies where despite the mysterious absence of creative miracles, people have found themselves in the hands of a particular surgeon and placed with particular people who have made steps towards Christ. This new connection wouldn’t have occurred with a slam dunk miracle. It may not be our perfect scenario yet it is one that is played out over and over again by people of faith. They’re open and eager for the stupendous miracles of God, and they’re open to the vast army of mini miracles from God.
Each display of ‘non creative’ miracles (which include transformational, positional and providential miracles) is just as much a show of power as blind Bartemaeus’s eyes being restored. It’s just impossible for us to believe it without a faith in the invisible realms of the Holy Spirit. One of the real purposes of creative miracles has been to provide spasmodic and irregular portal holes into a world that ‘neither sleeps nor slumbers’ – a world on non-stop miracles. It’s just that so many are not so obvious.
For many years after starting a new church in the North of England, I was accosted by people who claimed to have received truck loads of prophecies from heaven. They received them in almost daily succession. I wondered on many occasions if I was a little backslidden because of my lack of daily or even weekly ‘thus saith the Lord’s’. How did they get so many prophecies and words so often? My conclusion was that they had become a little too imaginative – not in an evil sense or even in a conscious sense but more in desperation to having to hear from heaven. It’s another case of really ‘wanting to believe’ and in so doing, potentially manufacturing the evidence of God’s presence and power.
Super-spiritual people who grasp for the supernatural of God tend to be people who have not grasped the very real and very comforting words of faith that God offers to them, often because of underlying hurts and disappointments. Dramatic faith stories can, at times, mask a low faith level that usually teeters on the fence between holding onto God and falling away from God altogether. When confronted by their inner discrepancies and possible hurts, many either go back into the world they once rejected or head for a new church that won’t confront them on any real issues of the heart.
In our attempt to maximise the more overt activities of God in our lives, we have also stepped into the area of deflecting not only certain Bible passages from their original intent but also deflecting from the general tone and spirit of the New Testament.
The direct association of sickness with the demonic is something that the New Testament rarely does. Over enthusiasm has called everything from possessing autism to addiction to nicotine a demonic manifestation. There is one big problem with this – it’s rarely true. It is true that the demonic is often accompanied by disability, but to claim all sickness and disease is demonic is overegging the pie – its residue is to create a backlash of fear and depression amongst the world you’ve tried to help.
The Christian media
This overegging of the super-miraculous has been exacerbated by the huge expansion of Christian television. In a medium that wants to both inform and entertain, the Christian broadcasters often find themselves generally swayed by an over injection of prosperity ministries that deal primarily in the two subjects of healing and money. In doing so, they attract and create a type of Christianity that feeds off the dramatic and the unusual, creating a dissatisfaction of the viewer within the context of their own local church. I so believe in prosperity yet because their local church is dealing with a set of wider spiritual spectacles that encompass patience, winning the lost, holiness and faithfulness (without taking their eyes off abundance and the creative power of God), it finds it hard to compete with the sensational message and methods incorporated by many of the television evangelists and teachers.
Once you start a ‘miracle’ bandwagon, it’s hard to stop it. It creates its own pressure to continue to sensationalise the Christian faith. This has led to a whole array of traits including –
1.The Overegging of Manifestations!
There is no doubt that falling under the power is a legitimate manifestation of the Holy Spirit. A loss of balance and an ‘overcoming’ are experienced by many a sincere Christian. But along with both the authentic manifestations as well as the auto suggestive manifestations (when falling becomes the thing you do) comes the nudging of people to get them to fall! It’s a silly habit by some that masks the pressure of having to look like something is really happening, whether it is or whether it’s not! Faking the effects of the Holy Spirit can have a detrimental effect upon both the minister doing it as well as the more authentic local church that can’t keep up with it. (I do understand, however, that in sincerity some do push a little simply out of their passion to impart something into the person’s spirit.)
2.The Overplaying of Special Numbers!
There is no doubt that numbers in the Bible signify things of importance. From the number 3, 7, 12 and 40, each represent an eternal truth! The problem comes when someone gets a number planted in their head and proceeds to tell the viewer that there is an anointing on that number. It’s usually associated with the act of getting people to give their money over to the ministry. Even if the specific number like 38 has some limited anointing by being applicable to a very narrow situation, it is wrong to give that number out to a wider audience. It eventually creates superstition which is what the Bible sets itself apart from. 38 becomes my lucky number and I believe that God will bless me on that basis. It’s all a product of trying to be dramatic and drum up dramatic results. It’s all at variance with a New Testament culture.
3.The Overstating of Paraphernalia!
Everyone can be made to have an unhealthy interest in angels, gold dust, gold teeth and strange behavioural patterns! It’s right to observe them, but it is wrong to be sidetracked by them and to create a franchising ministry out of them. The Epistles never once talk about the ‘Spit’ ministry begun by Jesus or the ‘Shadow’ ministry begun by Peter. It never refers to ‘Sling’ ministries launched by David. Yet, each of these was a unique method used at a unique time by the creative God. They weren’t franchised, only observed.
Immaturity often hankers after such things as a compensation mechanism for not knowing enough of God. The book of Hebrews is all to do with a refocusing from angelic ministry to the real ministry of Jesus. It may not get the hairs on your neck up, but it holds the key to the real knowledge of God.
4.The Over-emphasising of Certain Doctrine
Some Christians hold an incredibly keen interest in subjects such as the nation of Israel, the second coming, the rapture, the anti Christ, Bible prophecy and the gifts of the Spirit. In each one of those subject areas, God has raised up men and women anointed by God to herald their validity and place in scripture, but for many their doctrine has become such an exclusive and prized doctrine that they are permanently distracted from keeping the main thing the main thing – knowing Christ and making Him known. Majoring on minors often produces an arrogance that has no place in the Kingdom. The proof of maturity is that someone readily lays aside their speciality subject for the main themes of grace, salvation, growth, maturity, the Church, ministry, leadership and eternity. Hebrews also lists repentance, faith, baptisms, impartation, resurrection and judgement as its foundational platform. If this is the foundational thrust of the Bible, it must be ours as well.
Recently, out of curiosity and frivolity my teenage son rang up for some ‘Miracle spring water’ from a well known television ministry. In return he received a letter which included ‘personal’ prophecy and a ‘personal’ word of knowledge that were obviously not personal at all. It appears that God is confused about the masculine nature of my son as the prophecy began, ‘Fear not, my daughter’. Since that letter he has received miracle seeds, miracle oil, miracle beads and other paraphernalia, as well as requests for huge sums of money. All of the giving was directed by ‘magic’ numbers and it all played into the hands of fear rather than real faith. It’s obviously a time for many Christian stations to review their ‘content’ in line with real New Testament truth and emphasis rather than budgets and ratings.
In a faith-filled culture, the rare specialness of dramatic miracles as well as the general spasmodic nature of the super miracles is a conundrum that is definitely held by the wisdom of God. Why some get healed and some do not (or not yet) is a mystery. What each healing does do, though, is provide a unique glance into a God who never stops working on our behalf. Whether it be super miracles or non creative miracles, God’s hand is at work constantly exercising His faithfulness and power towards our lives. More power to those who believe it!