THE WORD-FAITH MOVEMENT
WOLVES IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING
By: Victor T. Stephens
"For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears." (Acts 20:29-31)
Confession and Health (Continued)
Analysis of Mark 16:17-18
The same reasoning applies to Mark 16:17-18. Jesus proposed this verse for the apostles and their close associates to whom He was addressing. These signs were for the intent of identifying the person of Christ, identifying the apostles, and authenticating the Gospel during that period of time. There is no clue that these miraculous signs and wonders would be granted to every believer today.
There were no apostolic signs and miracles carried out during the apostolic age by any person besides the apostles themselves and those who were appointed by them. If we examine the book of Acts, it was Paul, an apostle, who confronted a serpent. It was the apostles who laid hands on the sick. These miracles were never common events for everyone who was a believer. At the moment that Dorcas passed away, the believers did not raise her from the dead, but rather they summoned for Peter to raise her (Acts 9:36-42).
Analysis of John 14:12
The Word-Faith camp also alludes to John 14:12 as basis for divine power and healing for every believer who has enough faith. If Christ was referring to physical healing in this verse, then what "greater works" could feasibly be accomplished than those done by Jesus (raising the dead, for ex.)? In proper context, this verse does not mean "greater works" in divine power, but of the believers' Great Commission of becoming witnesses throughout the world; preaching the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). The Lord's disciples engaged in spreading the Gospel on a much larger scale than the amount of people to whom Jesus ministered during His earthly ministry. Thus, the theme of this verse is spiritual rather than physical miracles.
Analysis of Hebrews 3:1
Hebrews 3:1 is another verse which Word-Faith teachers refer to for their support of divine healing through positive confession. They contend that by speaking positive words of divine healing, Jesus is obligated to obey our confessions since He is the "Apostle and High Priest of our confession." Contrary to their teachings, however, this verse does not support the idea that Christ is required to obey our confessions. In this verse, "of our confession" means that Jesus is the center of our confession of faith in the gospel, both in personal belief and open attestation (2 Cor. 9:13; 1 Tim. 6:12-13; Heb. 4:14, 10:23).
Analysis of Hebrews 13:8
In reference to Hebrews 13:8: Since Jesus healed many people during His earthly ministry, Word-Faith advocates claim that Jesus will always act in the same way as He did during His time on earth. The truth is this verse is referring to Jesus' nature and character. It does not signify that He cannot change his mind or modify his laws (Genesis 6:6-7; Exodus 32:14; Jonah 3:10; Hebrews 7:12). Scripture plainly indicates that God did not always act in the same manner all through history. Similarly, God does not always heal everyone even though His capacity to heal is eternal. On account that God is sovereign, He has the prerogative to choose to heal some and not others without changing His nature.
Analysis of James 5:14-16
Now, some words on James 5:14-16.
This passage is one of the most misinterpreted and disputed sections of the Bible. Word-Faith advocates appeal to James 5:14-16 to prove that divine physical healing is guaranteed in today's church age. While on the surface that may appear to be an accurate opinion, such a rendition is not in harmony with the immediate context, the surrounding context, and related scriptures throughout the Bible.
Let's take a closer look by first examining some terminology of certain English and Greek words in the text. Our definitions will be taken from the "New Testament Greek Lexicon".
The word "sick" in verse 14 is translated from the word "astheneo". This word means, "to be weak, feeble, to be without strength, powerless, to be weak in means, needy, poor, to be feeble, sick."
The word "sick" in verse 15 is translated from the word "kamno". This word means "to grow weary, be weary, to be sick."
The phrase "raise them up" in verse 15 is translated from the word "egeiro". This word means "to arouse, cause to rise, to arouse from sleep, to awake, to arouse from the sleep of death, to recall the dead to life, to cause to rise from a seat or bed etc., to raise up, produce, cause to appear, to cause to appear, bring before the public to raise up, stir up, against one to raise up i.e., cause to be born of buildings, to raise up, construct, erect".
The word "healed" in verse 16 is translated from the word "iaomai". This word means "to cure, heal, to make whole, to free from errors and sins, to bring about (one's) salvation".
A contextual evaluation of these words used in James 5:14-16 will reflect language that references spiritual sickness or weakness, as well as prayer as it relates to spiritual restoration. Thus, in context of the entire chapter, James is writing to an assembly of Jewish believers where some had been spiritually weakened under oppression and threats of persecution.
In the Old Testament, Isaiah 40:29-31 says:
"He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:29-31)
In the New Testament, Hebrews 12:1-3 says:
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Heb. 12:1-3)
Matthew 26:41, 1 Corinthians 15:43, and 1 Corinthians 8:9-12 state:
"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matt. 26:41)
"It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power." (1 Cor. 15:43)
"Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol's temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ." (1 Cor. 8:9-12)
These passages as well as others found throughout the Bible illustrate that Christians can become spiritually weak and discouraged due to afflictions resulting from physical illness, temptations, persecution, depression, etc.
In James 5:14, on account that some believers were spiritually weak, they were to call for the elders who are the spiritually strong and mature leaders of the local church.
First Thessalonians 5:14 says:
“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.”
(1 Thess. 5:14, emphasis mine)
The elders comforted the spiritually weakened believers in the assembly by giving them spiritual counsel, prayer, and anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. On account that oil has some therapeutic value, it was used on those spiritual warriors who had suffered physical wounds from the persecutions (Luke 10:34).
Verse 15 says, "And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up." In other words, the Lord promises to "restore", "strengthen", and "raise…up" those who are spiritually sick (weak). Verse 15 also points out that if sins have been committed, they shall be forgiven. Perhaps these believers committed obvious sins while in their state of spiritual weakness. If anyone sinned, it hindered their relationship with God and possibly with others. But, God in His infinite love and mercy promised continuous forgiveness in Christ if they confess their sins.
James says in verse 16:
"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective."
The first Book of John 1:9 says:
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)
Confession of sins is a chief constituent of spiritual restitution. That is the type of healing which is guaranteed in this life. Thus once more, the context of James 5:14-16 is spiritual restoration, with the Greek word “astheneo” alluding to spiritual weakness, not physical sickness.
Asking for God's healing should always be our primary decision. However, we should now be able to clearly understand that John 5:14-16 does not support a church practice which obligates God to automatically admit requests for immediate and guaranteed physical healing for everyone.
Although at first glance James 5:14-16 may have the appearance to reference a promise of immediate physical healing outright, it is parked among other scriptures within the Bible which refute such an idea. Moreover, we should remember it is paramount that verses and passages in God's Word must be read in proper exegetical context of the surrounding text and in deliberation of the entire Bible before arriving at a conclusion. All Scripture should be taken into consideration when shaping our beliefs. It is inappropriate to rely on one verse or passage in isolation to build a doctrine.