“For years now, my sinuses have been really messed up,” I told this friendly stranger after the service at a church in New Hampshire. “I can barely taste, I have constant pressure headaches, and frequently get sinus infections.”
With a confident smile, he laid his hands on my shoulders, though over the course of the prayer, they would migrate across my cheeks and nose. He began, “God, you have given us authority over the sicknesses that infest our bodies. In Jesus’ name, I COMMAND this illness to get out of this man’s body!”
He pressed on my nose.
He declared some more healing at me and then told me that by the time I left the church doors, it would have started healing and all my nasal issues would be better. “The healing is beginning now,” he said as we departed. “It may take a few minutes but it’s healed now.”
That was in the spring of 2012, and my sinus issues wouldn’t be resolved until January 2017 when I had surgery to correct my deviated septum.
The sad thing is, that was not one isolated incident. I was with a hyper charismatic missions organization for two years from 2010-12, and over those two years, I cannot count how many times my sinuses were prayed over and “declared” to be healed, every time leaving me disappointed and questioning God’s healing power…or my own faith.
If I just had more faith, my sinuses would have been healed months ago!
Its worth noting here that I’d consider myself a charismatic believer. I believe God still works and heals and does crazy stuff. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I had a professor in college who once told me that any miracle I’d ever seen was just my imagination playing tricks on me and I was misremembering everything, because God doesn’t do that anymore.
That is not me.
I’m more akin to Tim Keller, who once said that he considers himself an 80% cessationist: That 80% of the time, people are being dramatic or being deceived by their own minds, but there is still that 20% of times that are truly unexplainable and supernatural. (I may be more like 60/40, but you get the point…)
I saw a herd of demons cast out of a man in Thailand and nothing can convince me that that’s not what I saw. I saw a man’s hand healed in Brazil while I held it. I helped run an organization in Nigeria which reported people born deaf or blind receiving their senses for the first time ever. These were evidences of God moving and transforming peoples’ lives in explicit, undeniable ways, unlike things I experiences stateside at the hands of overzealous pentecostals.
I remember one instance at a church in Boston (where I also received prayer for my sinuses after the service…maybe THIS time it’ll do the trick) when the pastor stood before his congregation and told them, “I’ve been in so many churches across America, and you know what the problem is? God isn’t there.” The audience cheered.
What he meant was, people didn’t dance around the aisles and go crazy and passionately declare healing over hopeful visitors. If that pastor were to attend the church where I currently work, he would probably have the same critique: God is not in the building.
It’s as if the zeal and passion of the worshippers indicate where the presence of God is and is not. Like, if you weren’t dancing crazy enough, you weren’t really worshiping. Nevermind stillness and waiting upon the Lord in contemplation and silence, like Christians have done for millennia.
There were a number of times I was in charismatic worship services and felt the pressure to dance around and smile a lot because that’s what everyone else was doing. And if I wasn’t [awkwardly] dancing, I was doing it wrong.
The pentecostal/charismatic subculture has a lot of great things to offer the church today. In a recent seminary class, we discussed the different emphases of various congregations, and Pentecostal churches focus on the Power and Presence of God. They are aware of these things in proportions the rest of the church can benefit from.
That pastor was right to a degree, in that many churches and pastors have neglected the power and active presence of God in our midst, and that is something we should work to recover. However, somewhere between doubting the active work of God and telling someone they’re healed when they’re not is a healthy balance.
The majority of Christianity is finding the healthy balance between two extremes.
In this case, I like to pull from John 4:24, where Jesus tells the woman at the well that true worshipers worship in spirit and truth. Many charismatics are heavy on the spirit, but light on truth (Yes, of course many tribes are heavy on truth while neglecting the Spirit, but that’s for another time). Both spirit and truth are necessary for a thriving faith and active growth.
Truth at the neglect of the Spirit dries up faith, creating an evaporated and crumbling Christianity.
But spirit (passion/zeal) at the neglect of truth to anchor it results in cults, unorthodox sects, and a lot of damage to outsiders (like me).
It took years for me to recover from thinking that my faith was lacking because no matter how many people prayed for me, my nasal passages were still screwed up. There were other times I was practically forced to speak in ‘tongues’ by babbling incoherently, but nothing ever emerged from it.
The F is wrong with me? Why is my faith so weak? I used to wonder.
Rather than seeking out what the Bible really says about these things, and developing a healthy, realistic and holistic theology of miracles and healing, I believed the culture I was submerged in at the time. (Paul explicitly says that not everyone can speak in tongues…so why is it forced in so many pentecostal gatherings?)
I was in one charismatic service where a guy went up to the microphone and announced that he had a dream about the Ninja Turtles, and somehow that was some indicator about the spiritual climate of the base. In other words, his fantastical amphibian dream held more weight than the words of Scripture.
The point I’m trying to make in all of this is, find balance. Know the truth of scripture as it is illuminated by the Holy Spirit. Pray often. Pray for one another often. But beware of the language you use and the beliefs you hold, as they may be damaging to others.
Watch out that you make things like healings and miracles the ultimate things, rather than subservient to the one most important thing: Knowing Christ. Without a doubt, we are to pray for the sick and injured. But there is a huge difference between asking for healing and demanding/declaring it. The words we use matter.
Watch out that we do not pressure one another to worship in one certain way. We are free to dance and go wild, but we are also free to sit and be still.
I hate the idea of someone in my shoes wandering into one of those pentecostal churches with some ailment, being declared healed, only to leave the church the same as they entered. I hate the idea of this earnest seeker rejecting Christianity as a whole and never coming to know Christ because of the misleading and destructive language used. Fortunately, that was not the case for me, though as you can see, damage was still done.
May we continue this conversation as people who seek to know truth and commune with the Spirit, neglecting neither and always growing in both. No church is perfect, but there is a time and place to call out unhealthy and toxic behaviors.