10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves. 12 I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. 15 If you love me, you will obey my commandments. 16 Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever – 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.” (John 14.10-17)
I don’t know about you, my readers, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve never thought of myself in terms of doing even greater deeds than the miraculous deeds of Christ. I’ve never raised the dead, or walked on water, or anything that seems nearly as spectacular as all of that. How do we as the Body of Christ live up to this?! There seems to be only a few possible ways of dealing with this passage, and the totality of Christ’s teaching on the subject:
- Christ was mistaken, and we were never intended to do greater deeds than He did, either individually or collectively. (I think we can pretty safely toss this out if we take the words of Christ to be an important guide to Christian life.)
- Christ was referring only to His disciples, that is, those in the room with Him while He was talking.
- Christ was referring simply to the volume of our deeds, not to any one person doing greater things than he did. That is, if we were to total all of the miracles everywhere in the church, especially the miracles of rebirth through salvation and bringing people into relationship with Christ, the sum total would be greater than the impact Christ had during His short earthly ministry. This is especially true if we sum over all of Church history, rather than at any one time.
- Christ meant what He said literally, and intended for it to apply individually to each person. We should all be raising the dead, healing the sick, blind, deaf, mute and lame. The fact that most never do those things is a sign of weak faith, or no faith at all.
- Some combination of 3 and 4 might be intended. Christ was thinking collectively, at least to some extent, but even then we should be seeing all of these types of miracles (in addition to life change, not instead of) in the Body, even if individuals have their own unique gifts and calling within that Body.
I think that 5. is probably the closest to what I think Christ had in mind, but I would have to admit I have generally lived as if I expect that the truth is somewhere between 2. and 3. I rarely exhibit, or even attempt to believe for, the physical healing and clearly miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this respect, I do believe that I have something to learn from the Charismatic movement. Before you wonder how far off “the deep end” I’m heading, I do not believe that God has promised healing and wholeness physically in this life for all of the redeemed. It is possible that we might be miraculously saved, but this is not guaranteed. In fact, Christ’s miracles were most often used to draw in those seeking for more of God, not used particularly for those within the Body already! Most of the disciples died horrible deaths, and we have no record in Church history of a disciple being raised from the dead (at least that I am aware of). Peter’s mother is healed. A centurion’s servant is healed. Jairus’ daughter is raised.
Personally, I think a balanced view is appropriate. It is easy to hear the “health and wealth” or prosperity gospel and be turned off to the whole area and head for the opposite extreme. I don’t think, however, that this is healthy for the Church. We need the miraculous, not as a side-show, but as a manifestation of the power of God that is still at work today. Yes, the Spirit can transform our lives, but He can also work physical miracles. The key is that the Spirit will always point us back to Christ. If a miracle is performed that draws attention to the person working the miracle instead of the power of Christ, then we have gone off course. Even if that is not our initial intent, we must be honest about the reasons we want a miracle. If I want a miracle to glorify God, and it will also get me what I want that is unrelated to the Kingdom purposes, then I should be very wary of toying with the power of God.
Does this view make sense in light of the totality of Scripture? Does this mesh with what we see in Acts and the epistles? I claim that it does. There are times when someone in the Church is miraculously healed or saved (e.g. Peter saved from prison in Acts 12). While I am far from a NT scholar, such instances seem like the exception. Examples of the healing of those outside of the Church are more common. Peter and John in Acts 4 heal a blind man at the temple gates. Paul’s handkerchief is used to heal the sick in Acts 19. No indication is given that these individuals were within the Church family. When the young man named Eutychus falls asleep and falls out of a window while Paul is preaching through the night, Paul raises him back to life. I’m not sure whether he counts as a member of the Body, but he certainly is not a core apostle.
Paul’s letters also discuss at great length the gifts of the Spirit. Three things become clear to me through the myriad passages.
- Paul expects the gifts of the Spirit to be operating in the Body if it is to be healthy.
- Some gifts are vital for all to have, others are fine for some to have, but not needed in all members. The totality of the Body should include all of the gifts.
- The purpose of all of the gifts is to build up the Body of Christ, both by encouraging the growth of current disciples and by drawing those outside the Church into the Body. (e.g. Ephesians 4.11-13)
This seems perfectly consistent with the teachings and words of Jesus. The question that this causes me to ask is where are these gifts now? I don’t think that either Jesus or Paul would have envisioned a structure where some of the gifts of the Spirit would be “partitioned” off into one (or a few) denominations. In some ways this seems to be what is happening right now. There are charismatic denominations that use all of the gifts, but most denominations will only use those that seem less controversial.
As someone who now finds my theology most comfortably at home in Anabaptism, I am aware that this is an area of lack in much of what I’ve encountered of Anabaptist thought. A good friend who grew up in this type of church raised this issue with me while I was lauding the strengths of this stream of Christian thought. He rightly pointed out to me that this is an area where we could do better. Since he brought this up to me, I’ve been challenged to consider how Christ might want me to be more open to the moving of the Spirit.
Some closing thoughts:
- Is anyone in the Anabaptist tradition aware of streams within our tradition that are more open to the more miraculous workings of the Spirit?
- For those from other non-charismatic traditions, how has your tradition dealt with these issues?
- For those from charismatic traditions, are there ways to emphasize the gifts of the Spirit without losing focus on the other things I’ve discussed in this series, such as non-violence, allegiance only to Christ, etc.?
For the whole series, check out this page.