James and the Gift of Healing

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Recently, Tim Challies posted on Daniel Doriani’s commentary on James. I found it incredibly intriguing, and it was well worth the read. I wrestled with it for days. While I don’t want to dive into the deep end with regard to the continuationist vs. cessationist debate, I would like to examine further healing and the book of James.

In his post, Challies shares the following quote from Doriani’s commentary:

Sick men and women call the elders as a group. They do not call those with a gift for healing; rather they call all to pray for healing. James says the prayers of a righteous man are effective. Since the first qualification for an elder is holiness—not social standing or theological acumen—the prayers of elders are effective. The elders pray for healing, not for miracles. It doesn’t matter if a healing is quiet or splashy, True healings garner all the attention they need.

The reference from the book James is:

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:14-16)

I do believe that Doriani’s commentary has some great insight into the passage. It is particularly useful in understanding why the elders would be called to pray for the one who is sick. However, I believe Doriani’s implications against the gift of healing fail for a couple of reasons.

  1. Most likely, the Epistle of James was the earliest of the New Testament books written, well before Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Even cessationists would agree that the gift of healing would have been present at the time James wrote his letter. Thus, James could not be presenting an argument against the gift of healing grounded in the cessationist framework. Even if the gift of healing has ceased now, it had not yet ceased when James had written his letter.
  2. It is an argument from silence. James’ position on the gift of healing could hardly be determined from this passage for the simple reason that he did not even mention the gift. We do not know why he did not mention it. Doriani’s statements are speculative. He is reading the continuationist-cessationist debate into the text.
  3. Doriani appears to make some statements against a straw man continuationist. Why else would he say “The elders pray for healing, not for miracles” or “It doesn’t matter if a healing is quiet or splashy, True healings garner all the attention they need.”

Again, I still find this a profitable discourse. Doriani’s insight should not be shirked by the continuationist. Continuationists could be served from Doriani’s statements.

Follow-Up Questions:

  1. When was the last time you saw the elders called to pray for healing?
  2. Instead of placing James in opposition to the gift of healing, how would these work in tandem?
  3. What could the elder do in the situation that the one gifted in healing could not?

Grandiloquence and Application: John Owen, a Master of Both

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I am currently reading some of John Owen’s commentary on Hebrews.  I absolutely love John Owen.  He was a great theologian, but he was mindful of the every-day battles.

In one place, he writes:

FIRST, The illative, “wherefore,” as was first observed, denotes both the deduction of the ensuing exhortation from the preceding discourse, and the application of it unto the particular duty which he enters upon, verse 12.

WOW!  That is some academic stuff!  However, only a few sentences later, we read from his pen and his heart:

Divine knowledge is like a practical science; the end of all whose principles and theorems is in their practice; take that away and it is of no use. It is our wisdom and understanding how to live unto God; to that purpose are all the principles, truths, and doctrines of it to be improved.If this be not done in the teaching and learning of it, we fight uncertainly, as men beating the air.

That is a gem!!!  That is something you can take with you.  Teachers and learners of the Word must both work on the application of the divine truth they know!  If you want to get started in reading any of Owen’s work, here are some amazing ones that have been edited to be more readable:

Is the Lord Just a God of the Hills?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

One of the arguments used by some atheists is: 

Can God, an omnipotent being, create a stone so large that he cannot lift it?

They argue that if he is omnipotent, then he will be able to do it.  However, if he does create such a stone, then his omnipotence fails when he is unable to lift it.  Clever, eh? 

Well, there is a problem with this argument.  It is logically absurd.  Omnipotence is not thrown into question when we say that God cannot make a crayon so red that it is blue.  By definition, this is absurd.  In the end, the atheist is asking if, in God’s omnipotence, he can make himself not omnipotent.  What looked clever becomes absurd because “omnipotence” actually has a meaning.

Syrian king Ben-hadad made some demands of Ahab, the king of Israel (1 Kings 20).  When Ahab denied Ben-hadad his demands, the countries went to war.  We read,

“And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, ‘Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we.  But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” (1 Kings 20:23)

Syria lost.  Ben-hadad was captured.  But why?

“And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “Yahweh is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Yahweh.’ ” (1 Kings 20:28)

The Syrians said minimizing things about Yahweh.  They called into question his sovereignty.  He is sovereign in the hills, but he is not sovereign in the plains.  For such a statement, they lost.

For many Christians, they would say that the Syrians had it coming.  How dare they call into question the absoluteness of Yahweh’s power and authority!  However, there are many Christians who do this very same thing.  They speak of such things as the Sovereignty of God.  “Oh, yes God is in control of all things.”  However, ask if God is in control of a person’s salvation.  “Well, no!  God gives us free will.”  This brings us back to the atheist at the beginning of the post.  For this Christian, God has sovereignly chosen not to be sovereign over something – an individual’s salvation.  Salvation is the stone that God created that is so heavy that he can’t lift it. 

This post is not meant merely to illustrate the logical absurdity of these Christians.  I want it to serve as a warning of saying or believing belittling things about God.  Is Yahweh just a god of the hills?

The Lord’s Supper (part 4)

Friday, March 05, 2010

A few points about the Lord’s supper:

  1. The problem at Corinth with regard to the Lord’s supper was probably that one group ate before the other group (cf. 1 Cor. 11:21-22). However, the root problem was that of division. Moreover, Paul was not a moralist. In approaching the solution, he did not want people merely to change their behavior. He wanted the divisions to dissolve because of a deeper understanding of the work of Christ.

  2. Communing with each other is not about getting a full belly. You can do that on your own (1 Cor. 11:34).

  3. In communion, we are to serve each other as Christ has served us. (1 Cor. 11:33, cf. John 13)

  4. In communion, we remember who we are in relation to each other. (1 Cor. 11:28-29)

  5. The Lord’s supper is not about the bread and wine. The bread and wine serve as a vivid
    reminder, an object lesson, directing our affections to God and to each other because of what Christ has accomplished. Thus, the Lord’s supper is the whole meal with the bread and wine as objects of reference.

  6. In communion, we remember who we, as a gathered body, are in Christ. Christ is present in the Lord’s supper, not in the bread and wine, but in His church.

  7. In communion, we look back to what Christ has done on the cross. (1 Cor. 11:24-25)

  8. In communion, we look forward to drinking the wine new with Christ when we sit at the marriage supper of the Lamb (the church with her bridegroom). For this reason, the Lord’s supper cannot be divorced from Christ’s resurrection and ours. Nor can it be divorced from the judgment of unbelievers. (1 Cor. 11:26, Rev. 19)

  9. The Lord’s supper is a Trinitarian experience. For example: We thank the Father for his giving of the Son. We thank the Son for his obedience. We thank the Holy Spirit for applying it to our lives. Without the work of the Trinity, we would be unable to communion with God or his people.

The Lord’s Supper (part 3)

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

In part 1 and part 2 of this series, we saw that the church at Corinth was divided when it came together to observe the Lord’s supper. The very nature of the Lord’s supper as a remembrance of the sacrificial work of Christ is opposed to such division. In this post, we examine Paul’s warning for the church:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another-- if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home--so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. (1Co 11:27-34)

This warning should neither be overlooked nor misunderstood. Let’s line up some key verses in this passage:

Whoever…eats…or drinks…in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. (v. 27)

[A]nyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (v. 29)

What does it mean to eat and drink in an unworthy manner? It means to eat and drink without discerning the body. Well, what does that mean? As we saw in part 2, the Corinthian church was making a mockery of the work of Christ by being divided in their observance of the Lord’s supper. It makes sense to see that the “unworthy manner” of not “discerning the body” is coming together in a duplicitous manner, i.e. having a divided body. After all, Paul had established that Christ is not divided (1 Cor. 1:13). Indeed, he has even declared

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor. 10:16-17, emphasis mine)

It cannot be any clearer. Participating in the blood of Christ while being divided around the cup of blessing and participating in the body of Christ while being divided around the one bread make a mockery of the blood of Christ and the body of Christ. We can now see why Paul says that the one who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner is guilty concerning the body and the blood of the Lord, eating and drinking judgment on himself (1 Cor. 11:27, 29).

The Lord’s Supper (part 2)

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

In the last post, we saw that the Corinthian church was coming together to eat the Lord’s upper with divisions among them. Because of this, they’re not actually partaking of the Lord’s supper. Their eating of the Lord’s supper is actually mocking Christ’s work. The work of Christ on the on the cross is about reconciliation. Think of it this way: How great is the divide between Jew and Gentile or a math nerd and police officer? Then how vast is the chasm between the sinner and God? If Christ cannot bring the Jew and Gentile together or the math nerd and police officer together, he cannot bridge the greater trench between the sinner and God. For there to be a division in the church of God slanders the work of Christ. He has bridged the smaller gaps and the largest chasm! Paul writes to them:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1Co 11:23-26)

Therefore, the Corinthian church was in grievous error. We are not heralding the good news of Christ when the church is divided. We must come together to eat. The Lord’s supper is about communion with each other in Christ.

The Lord’s Supper (part 1)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Whatever was going on in Corinth during the Lord’s supper deserved a harsh apostolic rebuke. Paul begins his analysis of this specific situation with a stern reality check:

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1Co 11:17-22)

Paul will not commend them. He won’t even consider commending them. For Paul, just saying you were having the Lord’s supper didn’t mean anything. What did Paul see as the problem? Just listen to his indictment:

…when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. (v. 17)

…when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. (v. 18)

…when you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. (v. 20)

There is the problem. When the church gathers together, there is supposed to be something great happening. The people of God are always better together than apart. The Christian is not a hermit. The monastic life is severely unchristian. As Paul states later, we are one body. As he tells the Romans, we belong to one another (Rom 12:5). It is through the church (not the individual) that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:10). What was occurring in Corinth happens too often in modern churches. Paul is arguing his case against the Corinthians on the basis that the Lord’s supper is not about the individual but rather the whole group. The statement in verse 18 displays the tension. That there are divisions among them means that there is something divisive, something keeping them apart. Thus, the paraphrase will show the tension:

…when you come together as a church, I hear that you don’t come together.

To highlight this heinous fact, Paul highlights that they are a church. The very fact that they are a church means that the work of Christ on the cross has brought them together. He has made those who were strangers and aliens,

fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him, [they] also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Eph 2:19-22, emphasis mine)

God is Good...a Cliche?

Friday, January 29, 2010

I have often heard the following said:

Pastor: God is good...
Congregation: ...All of the time!
Pastor: And all of the time...
Congregation: ...God is good!
While, I agree with that, it would behoove many of us to remember that because God is good, we must remember what we are. We are creatures made in the image of God who bring dishonor to that very image. It is sad. It is evil. It is the truth. God is good. We are not. Recall God's assessment of humanity:
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5, cf. 8:21)
So we should not keep ourselves from praising God with such refrains as seen above, but we should marry our praise with repentance. How different would our response to God be if we would say such things as:
Pastor: God is holy...
Congregation: ...All of the time!
Pastor: And all of the time...
Congregation: ...God is holy!

Pastor: Man is evil...
Congregation: ...All of the time!
Pastor: And all of the time...
Congregation: ...Man is evil!
Then the fact that God chooses to save sinners through the sacrifice of his Son would be a worshipful thing and not a cliche!

Job's True Friend

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

I'm currently reading through the book of Job. One thing that stands out is that Job's friends always are speaking to Job whereas Job addresses both his friends and God. Here, there was no need for someone to speak on behalf of God, prosecuting Job. A wise man of God wouldn't speak of Job's alleged sin in general terms. In fact, Job's friends cannot speak about his sin because Job is blamelesss (at least at the beginning of the book). What Job really needed was someone to come alongside of him, praying with him. Job's friends shouldn't have spoken on behalf of God to Job. They should have spoken to God on behalf of Job (cf. Job 9:33). Praise God for Christ Jesus who is the true friend who will speak to God for us in our trials:

Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who is interceding for us. (Romans 8:33-34).