I. What Kind Of Power?
Kenneth Kantzer: Virtually all Christians accept the biblical notion of the power of the Holy Spirit. Just what sort of power are we talking about?
Russ Spittler: I have been helped to think about the power of the Holy Spirit in the sense of capacity—a kind of reservoir of potential energy. The power of the Spirit is a resource from God that might be tapped or might be utilized and applied in various ways.
James Packer: Whenever I hear it said that God gives us power “to use” or “to draw upon,” my hackles rise, because it seems so clear to me that the New Testament teaches us to think of the Spirit and his ministry in terms of a personal sovereignty whereby he uses us, not we him.
My frame of reference here is the Spirit’s personhood and mission. He is a person sent to us to glorify Jesus: to exhibit Christ, to make him known to people, and to bring them into fellowship with him. We can’t talk about the power of the Spirit to any purpose outside this frame of reference.
With this I would highlight the Holy Spirit as change agent. He changes us internally first by opening our eyes to reality—the reality of God, of Christ, of our sin and need, of the spiritual realm, of the demonic, and so on; and then, through uniting us to Christ, he changes us motivationally and dispositionally at the center of our being, so that the desires and attitudes of Christ in his incarnate life on earth are reproduced in us. This is the literal new creation that begins the process of character change called sanctification, whereby we are made more and more like the Lord.
Doxology, which means giving praise and glory to God, is central to this new life. The new person in Christ has a Spirit-given, Spirit-sustained instinct to love and trust and honor and praise God. The Spirit’s power is shown in Christians first and foremost by the inducing and energizing of this dominant drive to please and glorify God. The life of worship and service is always supernatural in reality. When there’s physical or personal weakness and yet doxology by word and deed continues, this supernaturalness becomes obvious in a way in which, under other circumstances, it might not be. When the outward man is perishing, the renewal of the inner man day by day can be a very remarkable thing.
Kantzer: Do you agree that the Holy Spirit’s power can be likened to the potential to do something beyond our abilities?
Packer: I don’t find the language of potentiality very helpful. The Spirit does what he does. His supernaturalizing of our lives enables Christians, as a matter of fact, to do much for the Lord that they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. That’s the whole doctrine of gifts and ministry. It’s my part to see what God calls me to do, to ask the Lord to enable me to do it, then to get up off my knees and go confidently into action, watching to see what help I shall be given, and finally to give thanks for what the Spirit did in and through me. It’s also my part to follow after holiness, for effective Spirit-empowered service ordinarily comes out of sanctity, and we shall go wrong if ever we forget that. “Potential” suggests to me something that in principle we can actualize, a reservoir of power on which we may draw, something, in other words, that we manage. I think that is the wrong idea. But I am anxious to stress that by the Spirit of God we are in fact enabled to serve the Lord in ways that would otherwise be impossible to us.
John Wimber: I generally endorse your teachings in this area, but I would emphasize the importance of the anointing of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit calls, claims, empowers, energizes, directs, guides, unctions—the whole work of developing converts. It’s also important to remember that the Trinity was involved in the Creation, and the Trinity will be involved in the culmination. It’s quite possible that in the summing up of things we will see a side of the Spirit’s work that we have yet to see. And it’s my view we are indeed in the last days.
Stuart Briscoe: When I think of the power of the Spirit, I think first of all of power in proclamation: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.… You shall be my witnesses.” If I didn’t believe there was some strange, supernatural way in which the words from man were going to be winged to the hearts of the people, then I wouldn’t be able to preach. And when I consider the variety of people who are sitting in the congregation—where they come from, their situations, the needs, the prejudices, the problems that they are facing—I realize it is absolutely ridiculous to stand before them and in my own power try to say anything of significance.
The second aspect of my understanding of the Spirit’s power is regeneration. I am totally overwhelmed with the thought of people being brought out of darkness into light—out of death into life—and I am frightened when I realize I am actually involved in something of that magnitude. Their eternal destiny is being changed. It’s a tremendous comfort to me to be reminded that no one can call Christ his Lord except by the Spirit.
The third aspect of power is sanctification. The remarkable thing of taking people like Zacchaeus and Levi—total social rejects—and making them into whole new people, something I see happening all the time, totally mystifies me. I see the evidence of the sheer power of the Spirit of God changing the disposition and motivation of people.
I also think of power in congregation. Paul talks in Ephesians about the way in which Jew and Gentile have been brought together and made into one new man, and how as a result of that he’s praying that now the Spirit of God might strengthen them together. The emphasis is that together they may prove the extent of the love of Christ. And to be involved in a congregation and to actually see that happen, to me, is further evidence of the Spirit’s power.
And then fifth, there is power in authentication—the way that the Spirit worked through the Lord Jesus and did the things that clearly set him apart as being the Son of God. That same thing happened with the apostles, and, of course, the question becomes how far that extends into the present.
Finally, I see power in inspiration. How did the Spirit of God take ordinary men of old and move them so that through them eternal truth can be communicated?
Charles Ryrie: I find myself in agreement with what Drs. Packer and Briscoe said about the stupendous, miraculous things the Holy Spirit did in regeneration, sanctification, and inspiration. Another work that hasn’t been mentioned is the work of conviction in John 16. That passage also promises the Spirit will teach us.
What has been said about changing character, I subscribe to wholeheartedly. And out of character come conduct and activity, and once the Spirit is at work conforming us to the image of Christ, then we will do those things that please the Father as our Lord can do. I don’t want to lose sight of that basic framework, because these are absolutely astounding, miraculous things that the Spirit does in the world and the church.
I think our disagreements will be on the expressions of the Spirit’s power. But I don’t think we will disagree with the fact that he has power and that these basic things are some of the most important evidences of that power.
Ii. Can We Expect Miracles?
Kantzer: An area that often comes up in discussions of the Spirit’s power is miracles. To what extent can the Christian expect the Holy Spirit to perform miracles?
Wimber: Since I adhere to theologian George Eldon Ladd’s teaching concerning the kingdom of the “already” and the “not yet,” I believe we are already empowered to give sight to the blind, but we are not going to give sight to all the blind. We are not going to give sight to the bulk of the blind because we are still in the “not yet.”
Kantzer: When you talk about “giving sight to the blind,” are you speaking figuratively or literally—or both?
Wimber: Literally. I have laid hands on people who were blind, and they now see. I also have laid hands on a larger number of blind who do not see and who got no particular benefit, evidently, from my prayers. We’re not in heaven now. All sorrow, all sickness isn’t over. But if we don’t proclaim this activity now, we won’t see any blind healed. And we can see them healed by divine Providence, in my opinion.
Kantzer: Maybe we should back up and define our terms. What is a miracle?
Briscoe: A theological definition would be “an extraordinary intervention by the sovereign Lord into the affairs of his universe.”
Ryrie: That’s a definition I would use for miracle, except that Satan can perform miracles, too. So I would prefer to define a miracle as any extraordinary event by a supernatural power, whether it be God or whether it be Satan. But for our discussion, we’re probably talking about genuine, God-given miracles.
Packer: For two centuries now we have let philosophers define miracles for us. They have told us that a miracle is God suspending or overriding natural law. But that is a secular definition, reflecting a deistic world view—a view, that is, that sees God’s world as a closed box of forces from which the Creator is ordinarily standing at a distance, uninvolved. The Bible view is that God through the Son “upholds all things by his word of power,” so that the regularities of nature are the regularities of God, and the irregularities of nature are the irregularities of God—a very different idea. God is as directly involved in the events that we would not call miracles as he is in those that we would describe as miraculous.
When you describe miracles as signs and wonders, you go to the heart of the matter. They are wonders because they are events that strike people as extraordinary, making them stop and blink. They are signs, quite specifically, that God is alive and active, and carrying forward purposes of mercy and judgment that are meant to involve you, the observer. We should define miracles by their impact and effect on the observers rather than defining them in terms of a philosophical world system that may or may not be a valid account of reality under God. Some miracles in Scripture clearly involve the power of new creation; others would be called special providences—remarkable coincidences that occur in situations where desperate people have been praying. I have no problem in calling these coincidences “miracles,” nor in calling both types of miracles “signs and wonders.” I think the phrase is a very good one, as it is certainly a very scriptural one, to describe these extraordinary events.
Tim Warner: I went to the mission field with a lot of good theology but very poor practice, and I’ve come to realize that in the West we have a better ability to describe our theology than to live it. One of my college professors used to say people may not live what they profess, but they will always live what they believe. And so, while I may say the Holy Spirit’s power is real power that operates on all levels of life, that power is something I theologize about, but not something that becomes functional in my everyday life.
Now our whole Western culture has basically told us that the world is constructed around the operation of neutral scientific law. The cause-and-effect relationships in our world can be explained scientifically, not spiritually. The effect is that the idea of spirit is not a functional concept to the average Westerner—and I would include many theologians in that category. We can believe that it is the Holy Spirit that effects conversion. We see changes in lives. But when you begin to talk about Satan and demons, healing, and other spiritual gifts, many Christians have a hard time accepting these concepts.
Kantzer: Do you believe the Holy Spirit ultimately controls the material as well as the spiritual world?
Warner: Yes. Missionary bishop Lesslie Newbigin states that evangelical missionaries have been one of the most secularizing forces in the world. For example, we go to the mission field and say, “It is not spirits that make your plants grow or not grow.” Even though we start by saying God created the world, we’ve become functional deists who say God went back to heaven and is sitting on his throne letting his creation run according to natural law. I think what we should have said to them is: “This is a God-created world. There is a law built into it that says if you do things God’s way, you get God’s results; if you do things your way, you get your results. And God has enabled us to understand that his creation was made so that if we put this and this together, then we get God’s results.”
It’s the same way with medicine. We tend to make this dichotomy between scientific medicine and healing as though there were no continuity between the work of God and my thanking him that I can take the antimalarials and not get malaria when I go to Africa. I would say you can’t understand life without a constant reference to the supernatural.
Wimber: The biggest difficulty I’ve had with miracles is that they do not fit in terms of our world view. We’re twentieth-century materialists, we’re rationalists, so we look for natural, materialistic clarifications of things. And I’m not any different from most people. So I’ve had to struggle with things that I’ve seen.
Let me give an illustration. I was in Melbourne, Australia, last year, and the Lord gave me an impression, what we call a “word of knowledge,” while I was ministering. So I said to the audience, “There’s a woman here with a cleft palate. You’ve had two surgeries on the palate to try to resolve it. They’ve taken your teeth. You now wear a bridge. And the name Emma will be very precious to you. This is a sign to you that God wants to heal your palate.” The woman came out of the audience, and a Christian surgeon became very concerned. He said, “Do you understand what you’ve promised that woman?” This is an area of concern that everyone has about healing. You don’t want to promise more than you can deliver.
So he explained rather ardently for ten minutes the nature of bones and how the cranium was a bone and that the inside of the mouth was a bone. “Do you understand what a mature bone is like?” he said. “You have to surgically break that bone in order for this palate to come together.”
And I said, “All I can tell you is what God told me, and I believe that if you’ll go join the prayer group you’ll watch this woman get healed.” He just looked at me as if I had six heads!
Three days later the woman’s palate closed. So the surgeon hurried her off to his offices and examined her, giving us one of those miracles that is authenticated by surgical medicine.
My point is that I don’t have any confidence in words of knowledge. All I have confidence in is God. If 100 people with cleft palates came up to me today, I probably wouldn’t have any confidence that they would be healed. The initiation has to be through God. I cannot promise it. But I knew in that moment that there was authorization to tell that woman if she came forward God would bless her.
Packer: The event John has described appears to be an act of creation in the strictest sense. But the difference between that and a significant coincidence is hardly important: both are “signs and wonders.” What entitles us to call them miracles—signs, wonders, works of power—is that they call our attention to God omnipotently at work before our eyes, with a purpose of involving us in what he is doing.
Warner: I do not view miracles as God temporarily suspending natural law, because that way of thinking tends to equate the world as God created it with the world under the effects of sin. It’s not that God sets aside natural law, because that would be having to set aside his own works. What he sets aside are the effects of sin in the world, demonstrating what the kingdom is about. So Jesus said, “If I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, that is the kingdom of God come upon you.” It’s not that I have the potential in me to use power, but I have the Holy Spirit in me. If he chooses to work through me, the only thing stopping him is my lack of faith or obedience.
Ryrie: Should we expect God to do a miracle for somebody who has little or no faith? Should we have expected that God would have healed that cleft palate if the woman hadn’t confessed her sin? What extent is faith, confession, and forgiving involved in seeing that in fact a miracle will be done? You seemed to say, John, that God would do it sovereignly regardless of the faith or lack of it in the person.
Wimber: There are at least three dynamics involved in healing: the faith of the person being prayed for, the faith of friends or family, and the faith of the person praying. There’s a possibility that God sovereignly will initiate healing for his own reasons outside of the context of people. But I think that would be rare.
Packer: The person whose paradigm doesn’t include the possibility of miracles is sure in advance that every extraordinary event can be explained in natural terms, without reference to God. The resurrection of Jesus is the supreme example of this. Plenty of people down the centuries have been presented with the reasons for recognizing Jesus’ resurrection as fact and have seen the impossibility, on present knowledge, of producing an explanation in other terms of the actual evidence, yet they still have not been persuaded that God raised Jesus from the dead. It remains an article of their secular faith that the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and all experience of the living Christ from that day to this, can be explained somehow in non-Christian terms.
Kantzer: So when something extraordinary happens that could be explained in terms of God allowing natural laws to run their course, is this a miracle?
Packer: Yes, from my standpoint it may be so; but we shall be in danger if we maximize the concept of miracle to such an extent that everything that turns out strikingly well is classed as a miracle. If we follow that line too far, we’ll have cheapened the category to the point where “miracle” only means “something nice.” To be a miracle, an event must strike us as a special sign from God, showing us that he is here and active and has done this extraordinary thing to bless us by strengthening our faith right now.
Briscoe: In other words, the difference between what is a miracle to one person and what is a miracle to another is their frame of reference: Either they think it’s the natural world, or they think the kingdom is invading.
Packer: Yes, though I don’t like to speak of the kingdom “breaking in” and “invading,” for those words seem to me to suggest a deistic view of the created order as such. I would prefer to say that the kingdom is a present reality, and has been so since Christ’s first coming, and that the risen Lord, the Holy Spirit, and the “powers of the age to come” are realities of the kingdom. It seems to me biblically right that we should expect impressive things—“wonders”—to happen now, and keep happening: “wonders of grace,” as the old hymn put it. There will be something intrinsically miraculous about the acts of the kingdom.
Kantzer: I have generally tended to define the difference between a miracle and a special providence as in the way in which God does things in the natural world. Everything that happens, I think, the Spirit of God does. The question is in terms of means. In one case, God uses the natural laws of cause and effect. And in the other case, he breaks in with his immediate power. But in both cases he is breaking in, so to speak, and controlling the situation.
Packer: I am still unhappy about “breaking in,” but I continue to urge that miracles of coincidence (special providences that show God’s power and love) are just as truly miracles as are God’s works of creative power in which the happening cannot be explained in terms of what went before—like Jesus’ resurrection, and the raising of Lazarus, and the character-change involved in each Christian’s new birth. Here’s a story: Just after her conversion, my wife, standing at the bus stop to catch a bus to a meeting she needed to attend, realized she had no money for the fare. She prayed, felt it right to get on the bus anyway, took a seat, and found herself sitting next to her uncle, whom she had no reason to expect to see there, but who at once bought her ticket in the generous way that uncles do. For her, that was a miracle—a miracle of coincidence, certainly, but no less a miracle for that; it was a wonderful sign, bringing her powerful encouragement from God, and that was what made it a miracle.
Cause-and-effect language makes me anxious, for it can so easily lead to the deistic thinking about the world that we need to get away from. The Western world has been talking of cause and effect since the sixteenth century, using the words to describe the regular correlations in the created order that God upholds, and there is nothing wrong with that as long as we think of the correlations theistically, as regularities directly upheld by God every moment, and not deistically, as facets of a world order that God withdrew from after he had set it going. But what needs saying in these deistic days is that God is involved in everything, and sometimes he acts in a way that calls attention to his presence, power, and purpose—whether through coincidence or some working of a regularity (a “natural law”) of which the person at the receiving end has no understanding, or through genuinely new-creative exercise of his power. Every Christian’s new birth should be seen as miraculous: it is the biggest sign and wonder that ever occurs anywhere since the resurrection of Jesus.
Briscoe: Recently a dear friend of mine and an elder in the church was voted by his peers as the surgeon they would go to if they needed surgery. We were talking very late in the night after an elders meeting. He had to operate at 7:00 A.M. And he said he had a very, very complicated procedure. In that particular procedure, there was a critical 20-minute period in which he had to do a renal arterial graft, which, if it wasn’t done within 20 minutes, would cause the whole renal system to collapse.
By the time he was operating I had completely forgotten about it, but I had the strongest urge to pray for him. When I saw him a couple of days later, I asked him about the surgery. He said he had been in the middle of the critical 20-minute period when the patient went into cardiac arrest. It took him half an hour to resuscitate the patient, making it practically useless to continue with the procedure. But continue he did, and that patient has completely recovered. As soon as the procedure was over, he gathered everybody around the patient, looked at them one by one, and said, “Account for that.” He is totally comfortable with saying that God not only worked through the normal processes, but did something unusual.
Kantzer: But what brought on that miracle? Did the surgeon pray as he tried to revive the patient? Has God promised to work miracles if we meet the proper condition?
Spittler: I admit bafflement in the presence of clear texts in the Gospels where it sounds as if all I need to do is pray and the answer comes, not just for healing, but not excluding healing, either.
Kantzer: Every one of us knows about those verses. How do you interpret those texts?
Spittler: I see Scripture as full of models or metaphors. One is the relationship where God is the heavenly father and I’m a child of God. I don’t know any better way to understand prayer or to understand those words of Jesus than the model that is given to me as a parent of a child who will ask me to the full extent of that child’s ability. Being older and more experienced, I will respond from a different level of understanding. Therefore, when I pray in Jesus’ name, I will ask, I will trust, and I will believe; but I will also do it in the confidence that God is omniscient. As a parent, I know things the child doesn’t know, and it wouldn’t do any good for me to try to explain them to that child.
Kantzer: And no judgment on the child?
Spittler: No judgment on the child; and yet that trust is a marvel.
There are times when God does providential things that make me want to say, “I wish I had prayed for that.” It would make a great testimony, because then I could say, “See what God did as a result of my prayers!” We talk about unanswered prayer. But I have to talk about unprayed answers as well. The Father knows what will be appropriate and suitable for his child.
Briscoe: But there are two views on how to pray for miracles. If I pray “according to God’s will,” it seems as if I have no faith; but if I pray boldly for God to perform a miracle, it seems as if I’m trying to force God to do my will.
Spittler: I know too well about the excesses in the “name-it-and-claim-it” movement, but in my life there have been perhaps one or two gifted moments when it seemed appropriate to pray that way.
Briscoe: John, you spoke earlier about the “word of knowledge.” Does that sort of experience take you out of the realm of belief and unbelief and put you into a realm of tremendous certainty?
Wimber: Yes, and I find support for this concept in Ephesians 6. My perception of that text is that taking “the sword of the Spirit” does not necessarily mean memorizing the written Word of God. For me it speaks of listening for and living out the powerful voice of God that comes to us in the form of impressions.
Stuart, I believe God gave you an impression to pray for your surgeon friend. That urgency came by the Spirit, allowing you to participate in the miracle of surgery and divine healing.
Warner: Obviously, God knows perfectly things we do not know. And because of the deceptiveness of our minds, we may think we have met his conditions when, in fact, we haven’t. James says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3). So we may be asking for perfectly legitimate things, but for wrong motives. Sometimes miracles are withheld because God knows ultimately we will not give him the glory. If God knows that a miracle isn’t going to produce worship—that it’s simply man’s desire to see something sensational—he may withhold the miracle. And sometimes God will not heal because of unconfessed sin. The deceptiveness of the mind often interferes with what we think are prayers of faith when actually our faith is impeded by sin.
Kantzer: Would you want to broaden that to say that when God does not answer, it is always because there is sin in the life of the individual seeking a miracle?
Wimber: That’s important to point out. For instance, we read in Psalm 74:9–11, where the Israelites were given no miraculous signs, no prophets, and so on. This and several other texts would imply that the absence of the signs and wonders is a concern of Scripture and may be traced to sin.
Kantzer: We seem to agree that God has not promised to any individual that he will answer our prayers, even if we personally meet his conditions.Now the other side of the question is: Has God promised for the church as a whole that in every generation the church may expect miracles?
Wimber: I think what we’re really asking is: Does God give us a specific formula that will always get prayer answered? Personally, I don’t see anything in the Scripture that supports that idea. But when you take texts like the ask-and-you-shall-receive text in Matthew 7 and Luke 11, or the prayer-and-anointing-for-healing text in James 5, there is an inclusive suggestion that God has committed himself to be responsive to the church. So when a church comes and prays, God hears, God acts. But what he may do may not be what we ask for.
Perhaps more than all of you I have a continually expanding group of disgruntled people who have come for healing and don’t get it. Some are healed, but there are always some who aren’t. So I have to deal with this problem all the time, and one of the things that has helped me is to explain that God is more than father—he is also judge. We can come to him as a father and expect him to hear, but he may not always respond in the way that we would like. But we can trust his response because it is ultimately right. The reason for his response will be revealed to us, either on earth or in heaven.
Ryrie: I think that’s important to point out. God always answers prayer. I like your word respond. God may not respond the way I want him to, but that doesn’t mean his ear is not open to the cries of his children, because it is.
Packer: Prayer for a miracle is no more, just as it is no less, than asking God to meet the need that you are praying about in a way that will impress those who know as a sign and a wonder. There cannot be anything wrong with inviting God to show his hand in that way. But it would be wrong either to insist he do things in a spectacular way, or to take the position that God never does anything in a spectacular way anymore, and we mustn’t look for him to do that.
Kantzer: Charles, I would expect you as a dispensationalist to disagree with that. At least, I have read other dispensationalists who have directly opposed the idea of miracles being the norm for this age.
Ryrie: I do not think dispensationalism as a system of theology requires the cessation of gifts. Some dispensationalists believe some gifts have ceased, and that they can support this exegetically and historically. But I don’t think the system requires that.
Ultradispensationalism—a more extreme system—does require and teach that the sign gifts are no longer available to man. But I think most dispensationalists have been wrongly accused of not believing in miracles. Most of us believe what Dr. Packer has just said—that the miracles are given to authenticate the Lord and the apostles. That’s what Hebrews 2:4 is saying. God did that for a purpose in that day. Whether he’s doing it today is another question. Many people who believe that the gifts of tongues and healings are operative today would not believe that the gift of apostleship is. So, in some sense, they are cessationists, too. I don’t think there is any question God can and may do anything he wishes, intervening at any time, in any way. And I don’t think anything precludes that in the exegesis of the Scriptures. Just because I don’t think God is normally giving a particular gift does not mean that God can’t or wouldn’t do it.
Kantzer: Are you saying God chooses not to perform supernatural miracles now, or that he may perform miracles today but it’s not the normal thing?
Ryrie: I don’t want to lessen God’s power in any fashion. Normally, I don’t think he is giving some of those so-called sign gifts today. In tribulation days, he’s going to give the gift of prophecy again. But I don’t personally put much faith in so-called modern prophets.
Kantzer: The question many nondispensationalists have is: Why would God not normally do miraculous things today?
Ryrie: I don’t know the full answer, but at least part of an answer is found in 2 Corinthians, where in chapter 12, Paul said he performed sign miracles, but where in the third chapter, he called believers “letters of reference” and “epistles of commendation.” So maybe part of the reason God does not always heal is to prevent us from focusing more on signs than on the miracle of the New Birth.
But even if one believes the gift of healing is not being given to people today as a way of authenticating our ministry, that does not necessarily mean God does not heal miraculously. In James 5 we do have a command to pray for healing, and a promise that the Lord will raise the sick one up. But it may be a specialized reason that wouldn’t apply to every case.
Briscoe:James 5 seems so pertinent to what we’re talking about. To me, it’s the clearest teaching in the Epistles on miraculous healing. For instance, James talks about the elders being the ones who are involved in this ministry. How does that correspond with the Vineyard’s emphasis on equipping people generally? Also, does that passage refer basically to someone who sinned? The promise in this passage is that you will be “raised up.” What does that mean?
Ryrie: I do not relegate this passage to weakness as some do, but I think it refers to actual sickness. The best that I can come up with is that sin is somehow in the situation. It is a difficult passage, but you are right—it is the clearest passage in the Epistles that says something about healing.
Briscoe: We have made a genuine effort to follow this teaching in our church, and I can testify that we have seen without exception that when people have asked the elders to come and we’ve ministered to them in this way, we have seen God raise them up in one way or another. Sometimes there has been physical healing, but always there has been a tremendous sense of uplift and encouragement.
Ryrie: Whatever James 5 means, it has not ceased to apply to today. I want to affirm that.
Kantzer: And it could include miraculous healings, though not necessarily limited to that?
Warner: We’ve been talking about healing almost entirely in a physical sense, but the church has every bit as much need for spiritual and emotional healing. I’m afraid the church has sold out to secular psychology for this kind of healing. I feel strongly about this, because I work with the castoffs of the psychological system. When victims of satanic abuse come to us, they are beyond what anybody can do for them aside from the healing power of the Spirit. I contend that the church accepts physical healing almost more readily than emotional or spiritual healing.
Packer: But if James 5:14–15 is interpreted as a magic spell that enables us to command and control the power of God in healing the body, we are falling from faith in God’s faithfulness into superstition, which will certainly lead to frustration and disappointment. Prayers for healing, like other petitions, must have as their bottom line “thy will be done,” not “mine if it is against yours, Lord.” But I suspect that many Christians today, seeing this, and knowing that James 5 is not a magic spell for bodily healing, have expectations in this area that are too low, to a point that is really unbelieving and ungodly. One thing that the charismatic movement has been sent to do, I believe, is to alert us all to the fact that God, when trusted, will show his hand in many thrilling ways, and we should be expecting him to do that, though without dictating to him what he must do in particular situations.
Kantzer: I don’t know a single dispensationalist who doesn’t say special providences continue. And since some of us consider special providences miracles, where do we differ?
Spittler: We differ in our expectations. John’s ministry at the Vineyard is teaching the church to be more expectant of the supernatural. Generally, the mainstream of evangelicalism has not, in the past, really expected a lot of miraculous healings. In my own Pentecostal background, we’ve become much more evangelical since World War II. But in recent years, evangelicalism has borrowed from Pentecostalism so that it is not at all uncommon to find a standard evangelical church conducting a seminar on healing and other spiritual gifts. Our concept of what is normal is expanding.
Packer: John, in your ministry you have felt free to upbraid the church for not expecting miracles. At least, that is how you have been perceived.
Wimber: That’s not exactly accurate.
Packer: But surely you have emphasized that the church has neglected healing and not regularly prayed for the sick, and urged that we should jolly well start this ministry right now.
Wimber: What I’ve been urging and admonishing the church about is equipping the saints. That’s the bottom line for the work of service, which includes healing. And the only reason I’ve talked so often on healing is that there is a dearth of good evangelical teaching in this arena.
Iii. Where Can We Agree?
Kantzer: We have pretty much agreed that the Holy Spirit provides power enabling the believer to serve God in ways that otherwise might be impossible. Now how does the believer apply this to everyday living?
Ryrie: That’s an excellent question, because for most people, this is what really matters. They work 40 hours a week, they get two or three weeks’ vacation, they don’t have much spectacular going on in their lives, but they want to think they are just as pleasing to God as John Wimber, who stands up in front of thousands of people.
The answer lies in bearing fruit. Some of the specific things we can do is to win people to Christ, produce good works, praise God with our lips, and give freely. I would also encourage people to use their gifts, and one of those gifts is helping others. That’s a great gift. We should not minimize those less spectacular, ordinary activities of the exercise of gifts. I think this would encourage people that they are becoming instruments of the Spirit’s power through the ordinary routine. How do you do it? Romans 8:13 gives us a wonderful model: If I, through the Spirit, put to death deeds of the body, I shall live.
Kantzer: We often forget that the purpose of the gifts is to minister, to meet needs that God sees in the church. Our concentration is too often on getting a gift rather than on meeting a need.
Warner: One of the things that contributes to our difficulty with the whole idea of the Holy Spirit is the tendency to subjectivism. If you would look through the average evangelical hymnbook in the last several generations, you would have a hard time finding half a dozen hymns that are really addressed to God in objective worship. If worship isn’t an encounter with Deity, it isn’t really worship—no matter how much we manipulate emotions. Because of that, the whole supernatural world lacks reality. So I would recommend more objective kinds of worship.
We can only live to God’s glory when we are living with the power of God in our lives. We can only do that when we know God. If Satan can keep us from worship, our religious activity doesn’t worry him. We’ve worked ourselves to death, but without power.
I would also recommend memorizing Scripture. In spiritual warfare, nothing is more powerful than quoting Scripture. If we start talking about the gifts of power and the Holy Spirit before we refurbish worship and our attention to the Word, we are going to be especially susceptible to impotence.
Packer: We need to keep reminding ourselves that without the Lord we can do nothing. It needs to become a habit of mind with us to tell the Lord as we tackle each task, “I can’t do this without your help, please help me,” and then to expect to be helped because we have admitted our helplessness, given up self-reliance, and are now looking to him. Self-reliance is a great evil, producing what used to be called “the energy of the flesh.” But when we rely on the Lord, the Spirit will empower us to do what otherwise we couldn’t do.
Kantzer: How important is it that believers totally agree on this subject of the Holy Spirit and power? Should one’s view of miracles, for example, be a condition for church membership or ordination to the ministry? Is unity within evangelicalism threatened by diversity on this subject within the framework of sound doctrine?
Packer: None of the varieties of view that we have shared today should disqualify anyone from membership or ministry in any church; they are variations within a common evangelical theology, and it would be sectarian to make acceptance of a brother Christian depend on him or her agreeing with one of us rather than another on the matters we have discussed.
Briscoe: One of the hallmarks of the church should be its ability to experience unity in the face of diversity. In fact, unity is a product of the Spirit’s work in producing patience, love, generosity, and care. I would be reluctant to see one’s view of the Spirit’s power lead to a tightening up of the requirements for ordination to the ministry in our church.
Spittler: We need to allow different traditions to work out their understanding of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we can do opposite actions in the name of the Lord, but that’s a splinter of our fallenness. All of us are called toward God, and some of the things we’ve talked about are ways in which we can advance toward God. Just what that means for us individually we have to find out.
As far as I know, Jesus didn’t speak in tongues, but on the other hand, he probably couldn’t be ordained in some of your churches because he never graduated from seminary. So we all have ways of fixing the shapes of our traditions, our local churches. We need to recognize that in a global, historical sense these differences are not very important.
Warner: Initially it’s much easier to agree on a theological level than a practical level. While we have agreed at many points, when it comes to practicing the supernatural gifts, such as healing and the casting out of demons, I suspect we would have more disagreement. What do we do about it? Just what we’re doing today—meeting each other face to face and honestly examining our differences in a spirit of Christian love. That kind of interaction is bound to show us we have more in common than we think. And it certainly pleases the Spirit more than our fighting.
Wimber: When I first accepted this invitation I had some reservations. I have been misrepresented many times, and I was not about to enter a situation that might have contributed to that. But the Lord clearly said he wanted me here, and now I understand why. We’ve gone a long way toward clearing up misunderstandings, and that, I think, will be a major contribution to the body of Christ.
Kantzer: And yet, we cannot minimize the differences among us. For example, would you encourage a person in your congregation to become an elder who had the view that God really doesn’t give miracles in our day?
Wimber: No. That person would have great difficulty pastoring a flock that’s being taught to expect miracles. But I have a man on my staff who doesn’t speak in tongues, which is something else our church believes in. When I interviewed him, I said I didn’t care if he ever agreed with us about tongues, as long as he didn’t sow dissension. And he hasn’t.
Packer: For years I’ve been saying that people who worship God through the use of a liturgy ought to visit those who don’t and vice versa. I would add that those who practice a ministry of gifts in the style that’s been described by John or Tim ought to visit those of us who do it a different way and vice versa. It’s not enough just to read about each other’s styles. We need to have personal experience as visitors. Our own appreciation for each other requires this.
Clearly, the spirit of God is leading us out nowadays into a plurality of styles, in worship, devotion, and church activity. The idea that one pattern of worship and congregational life could fit the whole Christian world is really sillier today than it ever was.
Ryrie: Each of us thinks we’re right, and I don’t see anything wrong with feeling it’s our responsibility to promote our particular interpretation of truth. I would be a little more restrictive about qualifications for ministry. You are right, John, not to want an elder who didn’t believe in healing. Some of my friends wouldn’t want one that did. And God blesses us both. We shouldn’t fight each other, because there really isn’t any contradiction between having different preferences and loving each other.
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