While 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)
This 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.