Monday, 24 December 2007

One touch from the King

I recently posted about several books, including One Touch From the King by Mark Stibbe. I said it takes a position on miraculous healing which is more balanced and pastorally helpful than most charismatics I've read. Pondering this more, I thought I'd have another flick through it and point out more pros & cons - comparing him relative to others I've read isn't a very helpful indicator! So here are some points, in no particular order:

Stibbe differentiates between gifts of healing (which he describes as gradual and/or partial) and miraculous healing (instananeous, total). He claims this distinction is implied from the fact these are listed separately, and the book is written about miracles, not gifts of healing. I'm not sure how much this is merited, but it makes the book's focus more clear.

The author's aim was to encourage us to seek God in faith. The book does this, and avoids the pitfall of making people feel guilty for lack of faith if they don't see healing, by emphasising that God is King - King of kings & Lord of lords - and is therefore sovereign over whether or not someone is healed, and over the timing. He has a chapter encouraging perseverence and patience with hope, which is helpful pastorally. This whole emphasis is often lacking in books which seek to encourage faith in God to heal - as if mentioning God's sovereignty or the need for endurance will decrease faith.

Another potential pitfall is that we can get so caught up in pursuit of the blatantly miraculous that we miss the more 'mundane' - and difficult! - ministry with which God calls us to serve the sick and hurting: ministries of mercy and compassion. Mark Stibbe has a chapter encouraging us to reach out to the sick in their pain and minister with compassion: commendable. My Mother visits the many elderly ladies of my parent's church in a nursing home (and hospitals) several times every week, checks their houses are ok, does their laundry, and sits chatting or in silence with them. I must say that I believe that the evidence of the power of the Spirit at work in his people is far clearer in this, with the community of God's people caring for one another, than in most healing meetings I've heard of or been in. So, commendable to encourage serving one another in compassion, in the long haul, and not only seeking miraculous 'fixes'.

Stibbe also notes that it is not always right to pray for healing: better sometimes to pray that God will enable his people to die well. This certainly rings true as I think of friends whose only desire was to depart and be with Christ. This present world had become too much for their bodies. So the author points out that Jesus left plenty of people dead, as well as raising the son of the widow from Nain. He also notes that miracles don't bring a pleasant life: that if we seek to see the Spirit's power, we may also expect to "experience a new appreciation of the Cross - both the message of the Cross and the marks of the Cross".

Having said that, I think some of his use of Scripture isn't good. He misunderstands the double healing in Mark 8, and takes it as a case of perseverence needed. Our Lord did not have God refuse his prayer! No, the context in which Luke places it show us that Jesus used this miracle to illustrate to his disciples (and Peter particularly) their need to see fully, as they grasp that he is Messiah, yet refuse him on what kind of Messiah he must be.

He rather abuses Elisha, by suggesting that unlike our Lord, Elisha didn't take the risk to have physical contact in compassion for Naaman, the gentile leper. It doesn't seem to occur to him that Elisha might have had good reason to humble Naaman before the Lord rather than meeting his expectations in the manner of healing! The record does not encourage us to criticise Elisha for a lack of compassion, but to rejoice in Naaman being humbled before God, and healed by His mercy.

There's at best a large hole in his use of Acts 4 & 5 - the church meet to pray for the Lord (vv.29-30):

"And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus."
And Stibbe says this was answered in ch.5: "Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles." But what do we see inbetween? Immediately after they pray, we're told,

"And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness."
Is this not the answer? And if we're looking for miracles, then the answer in ch.5 doesn't actually give Stibbe what he claims: the miracles in ch.5 are done by the apostles - not by all the church who'd been praying. This is not a large point, but Mark generalises to encourage us all to seek miracles, like the NT church: yet if the answer to the NT church was found in the miracles of the apostles, then the answers we expect may be different from what Stibbe describes.

That leads into my next query. Stibbe doesn't show that the "signs of the apostles" are to apply to the whole church today. Now, I can't see any indication in the NT that certain signs are expected to cease at any time before the parousia. But it does seem that there were signs of the apostles - given to confirm their word as God's word - e.g. 2 Cor 12.12, Heb 2.1-4 - which are referred to in the past tense in Hebrews. It seems that these gifts focussed round the ministry of the apostles to bear witness to apostolic preaching. This is not to say that God does not chose to do these things otherwise: merely that this seems to be the focus. So when Stibbe encourages us to an 'apostolic Christianity', I think he needs to do more work to show why we should expect to each be like an apostle! Perhaps he attempts this in his book Healing Today.

Stibbe says of his summary aim, at the beginning:

God can radically transform your situation with just one royal touch. A
moment of divine contact can bring an invasion of heaven into your world.

Of course I am aware that there are many who are still waiting and we will not evade the tough questions on the way, questions like, 'What happens when the King's touch is not experienced?' 'What happens when people are not healed and transformed instantly?' But my overriding desire is to encourage you to a new level of faith in the King's life-changing touch. My aim is to help raise your level of faith in the ability of the King of kings to touch your life.

In this aim, he succeeds to a certain extent. He would do better if he addressed those concerns I raised above. But if I were to pick on one thing to summarise, that would improve this book on healing and miracles, it is an explanation of the incoming of the Kingdom in the now, while pointing to the hope of the not yet. It is Romans 8. It would answer the question left begging by Stibbe's book: If God is sovereign, and can intervene so powerfully to transform the lives of his children, to bring 'an invasion of heaven into your world', then why does he not always do so? The answer of Romans 8 would seem to be that the indwelling presence and work of the Holy Spirit does indeed bring an invasion of heaven into us, and in us, into the world. This is experienced partially now, and completely later - the King would have us not only seeking his 'touch' now, but moreover, longing for his return. Now we see in a dark reflection, and we groan in these mortal bodies; then we will be like him, for we shall see him face to face, receive the final redemption of our bodies and be clothed in immortality. We witness to the world of the King and his Kingdom now by the Spirit who dwells in us, transforming us to be like Him, but all the more we long for his appearing. Come, Lord Jesus!

I much appreciated Sam Storm's succinct statement:
I believe healing is in the atonement in the same way I believe all spiritual and physical blessings are in the atonement. Were it not for the death and resurrection of Christ we would have nothing but the eternal damnation that we deserve. But not all such blessings are experienced in their fullness until the consummation of all things in the New Heaven and New Earth. This would certainly be true of the healing of the body.

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