Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Bill Johnson's Compassionate Theology?

The quote about sickness and the gospel made by Bill Johnson of Bethel Church is everywhere on the Internet.  He has his detractors and his proponents.  I am not here to analyze Bill's theology, for others have done so.  But I have served under a pastor who listened to Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn and who definitely believed in a gospel where sickness is not allowed or even acknowledged. 

Bill Johnson is quoted as saying, "I refuse to create a theology allows for sickness."  Is this a quote out of context?  In a longer clip where he says that, he then goes on to say that this gospel is the real one.  He implies the ones that disagree with his premise fall into the category of a "false gospel" as Paul declares in Galatians 1:6-10: 

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

"Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ."

The question here then is, what is the true gospel?  In other words, is the gospel we are preaching one that honors God or ourselves?  The one that honors God is what He has already revealed in His Son.  The one that honors ourselves makes us feel good and those who listen to us feel good.  We all bask in human approval. 

I believe Bill, like some false teachers, are not motivated by personal gain and deception.  He seems to want a more "compassionate" gospel, one that faces illness and says, "be gone."  He wants his listeners to feel good.  Sickness and death make us feel uncomfortable, and like Job's friends, we want to distant ourselves from that reality, lest it befall us. 

So, deeply hidden in this more "compassionate" gospel is fear.  Job's friends were trying to find out what Job did to avoid falling into his trap and ending up like him.  Their seemingly compassionate advice was predicated on a fear that said, "You must have done something Job.  'Fess up!"  Then once Job confessed his fault, his friends could say in their hearts, "Now that we know what he did, we won't fall into that same trap!"  Fear leads to pride. 

"Look at me!  I don't and I won't get sick!  I have figured out what causes believers to fall prey to illness, and I will avoid that (pardon the pun) like the plague!"  The focus is on me, my formula and my success.  I then enter a world filled with suffering and I go forth, banishing sickness by decreeing its removal.  All the while I am feeling good about myself and those who think as I do. 

This deep inner pride is pernicious.  This pastor I served under once said, "I never get sick," implying he was far more spiritual that anyone else.  He refused to comfort those in our church who became sick, and when one of our members died, he would not go and comfort the family. 

Why?  Those that are sick haven't found the kind of faith I have; I want to be compassionate, but my pride will take over when those I pray for do not become well.  I will begin to see them as spiritual losers.  I will shake the dust off my feet and move on, all the while my heart is hardening against those who don't fit my formula, and give me the approval I desire.  

Thus, a more "compassionate" gospel leads to disillusionment from the very ones we are called to serve.  Does service always mean healing?  Only if God says, "Heal them."  Our service can be meals, prayers, cards, and time spent crying with those who hurt.  But that's not very spiritually exciting.  Does God always say, Heal them!"  According to Bill and those who think like him, yes.  But is that the mandate from Jesus? 

Look at one of His parables about the sheep and the goats:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’" (Matt. 25:34-36) 

Look at what people call "The Great Commission":

"Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'” (Matt. 28:16-20)

I don't see healing as an essential part of serving Him.  Yes, it is part of our service to Him, but not each and every time. 

Bill leads off his teaching where the quote is, by saying that in Hebrews 1, the prophets were "for them" and the Son is for "now."  He suggests that yesterday's anointing is "not for today." 

That right off is problematic.  Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the prophets, not cast them out as an old anointing.  The only Bible Jesus had was the very Testament that Bill implies need not be heeded  today.  Today demands a new anointing appears to be Bill's message, which includes healing sickness.

Bill seems to want a gospel that is more humane, more compassionate.  Understandably--sickness and death are aberrations of God's original design.  Life in the Garden didn't have either of those horrors--Adam's sin brought them in and Jesus came to redeem us from the curse of sin and death. This more "compassionate" gospel and the gospel of Jesus seem to lose common ground when it comes to atonement.  Did Jesus' death on the cross redeem us from sin and death but also from illness? 

It sounds very spiritual to make that claim.  The key Scripture that my pastor and many others use is,  "By His stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5) But, wait a minute... wasn't that yesterday's anointing?    According to Bill, we need new manna, new anointing.   Peter was inspired to use the old anointing for his argument about how to endure suffering: 

"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

'He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.'

"When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 'He himself bore our sins' in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by his wounds you have been healed.' For 'you were like sheep going astray,' but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." (1 Peter 2:21-25) 

The immediate context here is not suffering for doing wrong--that should happen--but suffering for doing good.  Jesus did good and He suffered.  So will our lives.  The even larger context Peter was writing in was to those scattered in the pagan world and who were suffering.  He says their suffering is as fire to their faith--refining it and showing the beauty of Christ in their lives. 

How would Bill's more "compassionate" gospel play out in the third world, with the voice of the martyrs crying out in prisons as they are beaten and tortured?  It's fine to preach a gospel where sickness is not allowed with hospitals, ambulances, antibiotics and medical procedures are available and become Plan B.  

In the third world, there is no Plan B.  There is only Jesus and His compassion.  

Bill starts his talk by citing Hebrews 1.  Let's go a bit further in that book and see what is says about a gospel that includes suffering:  

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."  (Heb. 4:14-16) 

The King James Version translates the word for "weaknesses" as "infirmities."  Strong's Concordance gives this definition of the Greek: 

ἀσθένεια asthéneia, as-then'-i-ah; from G772; feebleness (of mind or body); by implication, malady; morally, frailty:—disease, infirmity, sickness, weakness.

Jesus suffered as we suffer, and that would imply all kinds of suffering.  

Our bodies were subject to the Fall and thus lost their pristine condition.  Our DNA miscodes, bacteria and viruses invade and we are subject to all kinds of maladies.

What was Jesus' response?  He was recapturing the creation from the Fall, one soul at a time.  Everything groans under the curse and He demonstrated that He was the D-Day invasion from heaven to this war-torn planet (thank you, C. S. Lewis for that analogy!).  

Wars and war zones are terrible.  We can stand in our safe streets and cry, "Peace Now!" and march against war's injustice.  Or we can acknowledge that this planet needs to be rescued from sin and death.  We can't do that.  Only Jesus can.  So, carrying Jesus into the streets and preaching the Good news of the Gospel won't make the war go away--but it will redeem those caught in its crossfire.  

We can bring Jesus.  The Kingdom will come only when the New Heavens and the New Earth are given by the Father's hand.  Until then, we pray and follow our Savior's example:  we will suffer but as we do, we proclaim the hope of Christ.  

Next time, let's discuss whether Jesus healed everyone in His ministry.  

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