Thoughts about “normal” Christianity

Aimee_AMA_approvalWhile we were in Los Angeles last week, I got a chance to tour the former parsonage of Aimee Semple McPherson, the founder of the denomination I belong to (Foursquare). As I was looking at some of the memorabilia of her prolific, larger than life ministry, I came upon the sign in the photo.

This sign is from a report by the San Francisco American Medical Association. Apparently, they sent representatives to Aimee’s meetings in San Jose, CA on the week of August 22, 1921, reporting later that the hundreds of healings witnessed were “genuine, beneficial and wonderful.” (from Sister Aimee, Epstein, p.233).

As Epstein also points out in his book,

“No one has ever been credited by secular witnesses with anywhere near the numbers of faith healings attributed to McPherson, especially during the years 1919 to 1922.” (p.185)

Astounded reporters verified many of these miraculous healings with medical records of those healed, along with people’s names and addresses, but there were so many healed in her meetings that they could not possibly keep up. Here’s a quote from Epstein’s book about her meetings in Dayton, Ohio.

“The newspapers give dozens of names and addresses of invalids cured, most of paralysis and deafness, but also of heart trouble, tuberculosis, and cateracts. The reporters, swamped, were unable to record most of the healings….” (p.187)

They often reported that the scenes at her meetings seemed surreal. Again, another quote from the Dayton revival….

“…a line of streetcars, automobiles, ambulances, and hearses. These were unloading paralytics in wheelchairs, sick men and women on cots and stretchers, children in arms and octogenarians on their grandchildren’s backs, unloading them all on the steps of the white-columned portico of Memorial Hall.” (P.187)

Aimee_HealingTestimonies2This is all amazing and wonderful about the ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson. She is revered in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement as a great healing evangelist. But as I was looking at this display case, I couldn’t help but think, “Why am I seeing this in a museum? What about us? What about the church today? Shouldn’t these types of miracles be part of the everyday life of a normal Christian?”

Am I being extreme or fanatical for thinking this way? I don’t think so. At least, not if we’re going to start actually believing what Jesus told us.

I’m convinced that Scripture clearly teaches us that Jesus’ earthly ministry is the standard for Christian ministry. And that would also mean that anything less than Jesus’ standard is sub-normal Christianity.

Am I saying that every Christian should be doing what Aimee Semple McPherson did? No. Actually, I’m not even saying she was a perfect example. Far from it. If anything, her life was a testament of God’s amazing grace working powerfully through a frail and imperfect vessel. The same would be true of us.

I am saying that everything Jesus did, and more, should not be seen as an extreme or unusual manifestation of God’s supernatural power for the gifted few, but the normal expectation of all believers.

The New Testament is pretty clear about this. Consider the following two points:

First, Jesus’ earthly ministry was in preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and this is what it looked like (all quotes NKJV – bold-type added):

“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” (Matt.9:35)

“how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38)

Secondly, Jesus told us we were sent to do the same thing…

 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” (John 14:12)

“And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17-18)

“So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” (John 20:21)

Notice that Jesus said that these signs will follow believers, not just the apostles or even the exceptionally gifted. In fact, the Bible doesn’t give us any other version of Christianity.

So doesn’t it bother us that we, as a whole, seem to have created something else in our sophisticated religious culture, something reduced to a human level that’s more “palatable” to our rational minds?

And just because most of the Church has followed this powerless humanistic version of Christianity for many centuries doesn’t necessarily make it biblical or normal.

Not to mention, the absolute irony of statements by those who say that miracles, signs and wonders today are of the devil. Oh, really? What Bible are you reading?

I can’t even count how many times I’ve had what should be considered strange reactions from fellow “believers” when I told them I believed God would heal them of a disease or some injury they were suffering from. I get an amen but a “Yeah, we’ll see” look on their face with almost no expectation of actually being supernaturally healed. I would expect this from an atheist but, come on, I’m talking about Bible-believing Christians. What’s wrong with this picture!

It would be different if there were no verified cases of divine healing or miracles in Church history since the apostles, but this is not the case. If we were honestly investigating this (and not just defending our doctrinal position), we would have to admit that there’s a preponderance of documented evidence that should convince even the most stubborn skeptic.

The only conclusion I can make, based on the evidence, is that the popular notion that healing and the supernatural power of God is not for today is a false doctrine. I realize that this a strong statement, but I think it appropriate considering the depth of our cultural unbelief and the damage it has done to the church at large.

And I, myself, must admit that while I’ve personally seen many people healed and miracles, signs and wonders over the course of my own ministry, I’m not even close to being a “normal” Christian—that is, if Jesus’ model is the standard. This discrepancy bothers me immensely and sometimes my own unbelief even shocks me. Nevertheless, I refuse to dumb down what the Bible says to my current experience. I’m contending to rise up to Jesus’ standard of normal Christianity, no matter how long it takes.

Beloved, this world that our heavenly Father so dearly loves is too broken and bound by the kingdom of darkness for us to be content to just have a nice life in the suburbs that doesn’t require faith (spelled “R-I-S-K”), or build trendy churches devoid of the demonstration of the power of the Spirit (See 1 Cor.2:4-5).

The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in you and me…and He wants out! He wants to show the world a tangible expression of His supernatural compassion and love that only He can give. And He means to show it through us.

Nothing has changed since Jesus walked the earth. The issue at hand is whether or not we will believe. Let’s contend for everything that Jesus paid for and not settle for the current Christian status quo. It’s time to rise up and believe again.

To quote Aimee Semple McPherson’s mantra and the Bible, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb.13:8). Amen.

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 36 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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9 Responses to Thoughts about “normal” Christianity

  1. paulfg says:

    Dearest Mel, what a gorgeous pin to be pricked by. Can’t resist wading in!

    Something I find a confusion is this: “healing” all gets a bit showbiz and weird – yet I always see Jesus just “getting the job done” – no fanfare or drama. And something else – the recipients (in the main) also wanted to “get the job done”. That one passage comes back: where Jesus did a “few bits” as there was too little faith to “get the job done” as usual.
    So you questions are valid: if we are indwelt, why is it not normal? And why do we think that is for Jesus and God – we never could?

    One thing I wonder in my quite private moments: is it when I stop thinking of “miracles”, when I act instinctively, when I see no “weird” – not even one atom of “wow” – is that necessary of me? And if so – is it only afterwards that I will even realise that others saw a “wow” where I only “got the job done”.

    I love this post – the questions cut through so much fluff – and I hope an honest conversation ensues!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Paul. Yes, I totally agree with your logic here. I would add that there’s nothing so dull and unnecessary as a church that’s no more than a sanctified pep club that entertains God’s beloved saints into distraction, never realizing our Kingdom identity and mandate. I think this is one of the reasons that recent studies have found that Western churches are losing ground in our culture. Our powerless gospel has nothing to offer that an atheist can’t do, or even do better.

      But this “normal” of God is also quite paradoxical. On the one hand, there should be a “normalcy” to healing and miracles. There shouldn’t be anything weird about them at all if we believe. As you pointed out, if Jesus did it, and He lives in us, we should be doing it too. And Jesus performed miracles as a matter of course. It’s only strange to us because our mindset is so far removed from this kind of Kingdom reality in our modern culture. On the other hand, we should never lose the awesome wonder of such an other-worldly experience.
      In other words, we need to keep our childlike fascination and just believe. 🙂

  2. Lance says:

    “The only conclusion I can make, based on the evidence, is that the popular notion that healing and the supernatural power of God is not for today is a false doctrine. I realize that this a strong statement, but I think it appropriate considering the depth of our cultural unbelief and the damage it has done to the church at large.”

    Makes you wonder a bit…penal substitution…separation from God…in the hands of an angry God…and much more. Maybe what is next we should call revolution. Revival plowed the soil with the supernatural. Now the seeds are planted and sprouting. Go and wait in the upper room…yeah that’s it. Good word Mel. Cool you got to wade around in the pool of nostalgia. Next is a leap off an airliner into the Pacific ocean of awesome!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Ah…you bring up some good points here, Lance. As C. Baxter Kruger said one time, the Western church needs to be hugged by God for about 30 years after what’s been done to it, with all the angry preachers with their angry God doctrinal views over the last several centuries. A lot of fear-mongering and manipulation has been done in the name of Jesus.

      Nevertheless, we are indeed in the middle of a revolution alright. I like your word-picture…going from the wading pool into the ocean of awesome. Yes! 🙂

  3. Chris Jordan says:

    Amen! I don’t want to visit a museum testimony to what happened in the past, I want to be a “normal” Christian today, doing what Jesus did!

    • Mel Wild says:

      You got that right, Chris. We can be inspired and honor those who’ve gone before us, but we should never be satisfied with history. In fact, those who went before us would be telling us to step out in faith and believe.

  4. Cindy Powell says:

    “I’m not even close to being a “normal” Christian—that is, if Jesus’ model is the standard. This discrepancy bothers me immensely and sometimes my own unbelief even shocks me. Nevertheless, I refuse to dumb down what the Bible says to my current experience. I’m contending to rise up to Jesus’ standard of normal Christianity, no matter how long it takes.” Amen. I’m not anywhere near “normal” yet either but believing I’ll get there. Believing WE (the collective we) will get there–we must. I’ve been to that museum too and had the same thoughts. We so need to have our thoughts (translation: our theology) transformed and aligned with His on an ongoing basis. Read this at just the right time — caused me to rethink how I had begun to pray in a particular situation. You are so right, it is “time to rise up and believe again.” Good stuff!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Cindy. I love it when the Holy Spirit gives us a “rethink.” 🙂
      And, yes, there needs a major shift in our theology, from centuries of “angry god” powerless, unrenewed human-based thinking, to kingdom thinking and actually believing and walking out what the Bible says about us. I also believe we’re getting there. I’m praying that we will get to the place where, as His body, we are believing like Jesus, loving others like Jesus, understanding our identity in the Father’s embrace as sons and daughters like Jesus and doing what He did and more. That all of this will just be the new normal for Christianity. It may take a 100 years or more, but may it begin with us! Blessings.

  5. daniel says:

    Reblogged this on Daniel Lovett and commented:
    So I read Mel’s post (the reblogged post) and this was soon followed by a few Facebook posts by Kris Vallotton (also below) about “normal Christianity including the miraculous. This is hotly debated topic in our house that gets discussed on a daily basis.

    The truth is, we don’t live here. This is not our experience. I guess I’m aware of people who see miracles and God answering prayers like crazy (one of whom is Francis Chan who wrote “Crazy Love” – others include Bill Johnson and Kris Vallotton of Bethel Church).

    So why don’t I experience what they do? Why don’t I feel like I have much clout with God? He doesn’t answer my prayers for healing… or does he?

    Last Fall I was dreading the allergy season. I basically have a really bad stuffy head sinus cold for a month and a half. I felt the symptoms coming on and prayed real hard and the symptoms went away. I was fine. But, as I told someone just the other day, that the ragweed or “whatever” must not have been bad last year. I said it could be the prayers but I don’t know.

    So why is this where my spirituality is at? Because I don’t experience what Kris Vallotton or Mel Wild talks about… but I want to. I think.

    The Bible tells us to earnestly desire spiritual gifts. Just like learning to play guitar, you have to want it… and then you gotta practice.

    So instead of actually applying myself to this end, I apply myself to finishing the Breaking Bad episodes on Netflix (or any dynamic equivalent of what amounts to a detrimental use of my most precious commodity – my time!)

    Here is a story of my one bonafide without-a-doubt experience of being used by God to heal someone:

    My mom had just come home from oral surgery. It was a particularly painful operation and the dentist had told my mom that patients have left him for good because of the pain of this operation. She came home expressed her concern and asked me to pray for her. In that moment I felt the powerful presence of God. His compassion. His decision to heal. His “unction” (kind of an old word but it came to mind). So I prayed, or rather cooperated with his prayer flowing through me.

    My mom experienced no pain much to the astonishment of the dentist. He questioned me about it next time I was in to see him myself and it became obviously apparent to him that it wasn’t because I was anything special. As I have said a hundred times in this blog. I never was a very good Christian (though I appeared so to many)… But, as Rick Warren states in the first chapter of his book, “Purpose Driven Life”: It’s Not About You!

    So, based on Scripture and the encouragement of these dear brothers I am encouraged that I “can” pursue spiritual gifts and experiences of God and begin to experience them. Anybody else want to join me?

    Now for those Kris Valloton quotes:

    If someone teaches that there are no longer gifts of the Spirit…prophecy, healing, deliverance are not for today…all spiritual experiences and/or supernatural encounters have passed; Are not these people false teachers? Is it not just as dangerous to remove the power of God from the people of God, as it is to be deceived? In fact, isn’t this deception?

    Paul warned Timothy about these people when he said, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come…people will “hold to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 5)

    You must demonstrate the power of a superior kingdom with signs and wonders, to fully preach the the gospel.

    “In the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.” (Romans 15:19)

    There is two ways to read the scriptures, I can reduce the bible down to my own experience. For example, I read Mark 16:17-18, where Jesus says miracles follow those who BELIEVE. Then I say, “Well I believe and I don’t see miracles, therefore that verse must only apply to 1st century believers.

    Or the other way to read the scriptures is to change my experience to meet the standards and expectations of bible. Of course this requires a high level of courage and it is much easier to be complacent, and reduce the scriptures to soothe my conscience.

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