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Saturday, October 24, 2020

An open letter to Francis Chan about healing

Dear Brother Francis, 

I don't know if you remember me, but we had some seminary classes together. I recently reached out to you via email for some input after reading your very good book on marriage and listening to some of your thought-provoking discussions about church ministry. (I couldn't find anything but an old and possibly defunct email address, so if you didn't get it and happen to read this, I'd still love to ask your advice on some things.) I admire and appreciate many things about you. But shortly after I wrote my email to you, I happened upon this video and was concerned enough to write this open letter, hoping that you and/or others might somehow benefit by reading it.

First of all, let me recount a few things you said in your "Last Message to America"...

You said that you were taught and believed for years that supernatural healing doesn't happen anymore.

You said you've been thinking for a few years that the "sign gifts" like healing are still operative today, but didn't experience them yourself until a recent trip to a village in Asia, where you said things like "Be healed" and everyone you touched was healed.

You said the village was a difficult place where the people had never heard the gospel before and when you were preaching it, you said to yourself, "I have no power, I'm speaking through a translator. You need to do something" like signs and wonders in order to convince them to believe (the full quote is below in the comments).

You said, "This is no different than if Jesus walked through this village...I am Jesus right now." 

Here are some thoughts for you about each of those...

Don't misconstrue or misrepresent the "cessationist" perspective. Cessationists (at least myself and the ones I respect) are not saying that God no longer heals supernaturally today--we believe he does. We're just saying that there are no apostles anymore and therefore God doesn't do it in the same way. You are not an apostle, so you shouldn't expect the exact same things to happen with you as happened with them, and you shouldn't describe it in the same terms (that has scary potential for misleading people about your role, by the way, especially in cultures like that). Was there prayer for healing being offered by you or others at the village? I believe that people are healed through prayer, "if the Lord wills," so certainly God may have chosen to heal people in response to those prayers (even when they're offered in the midst of some errors). But do you think he will heal "on command" or always answer "yes" to such prayers if people have enough faith? If so, that is unbiblical and dangerous teaching, which has been refuted so often and conclusively that I don't need to address it here.

Don't allow your experience to have more authority than the sound interpretation of Scripture. This is not safe nor wise, to borrow Luther's phrase, and it's led to most of the heresies and cults throughout church history. We have to view our experiences through the more objective lens of Scripture and not the other way around, and we need to recognize and guard against the ever-present tendency to get that backwards. We should ask ourselves, "What would my beliefs and terminology be if I based them entirely on the Bible, without factoring in my experiences (because experience can be so misleading)?" I know you're probably thinking that you are basing everything on the Bible, but I just wanted to challenge you as a brother that I got the vibe while listening to you that you might be putting experience too high on the authority scale. For example, you seem to think and imply that what happened in the village proves your recent thoughts about signs and wonders to be true. But nothing could be further from the truth, for many reasons (some of which I will discuss below). I remember driving a Prime Time shuttle to and from the airport when I was a seminary student (Did you ever do that? Many of us did) and talking to a number of Mormons who gave me their testimony about how someone had showed them a verse in the book of Mormon that says that God will reveal the truth of that book if we pray and ask him to. They prayed and then had a supernatural experience that was so profound "it could only be from God," so they knew that the Book of Mormon was true. But as I lovingly told them, I wouldn't deny their experience, but it proves absolutely nothing except that they had an experience. That leads me to...

Don't forget that Satan can do miracles too. In fact, you've probably never considered this (I had never heard it before), but it seems to me that the only future signs and wonders predicted in the New Testament (to happen after its writing) are ones done by Satan and demons. The New Testament never clearly says that God will do signs and wonders after the initial stage of the church, but it does say that the forces of evil will do them in order to deceive people. (Read more about this here.) I know you quote John 14:12, like everyone does, but you can't base a whole theology on a verse like that, considering the way Jesus regularly spoke in irony and hyperbole and there are a number of different ways to understand that passage. At the very least, I think we can safely say that Jesus did not mean that our works would be more amazing signs and wonders than he performed: he raised several people (including himself) from the dead and fed 5000, for example, and no one after him has outdone those miracles, let alone every believer. Given that, it's much more likely that he was speaking ironically and meant that even the typical ministry of his people in the New Testament age would be greater than what he did, which leads me to...

Don't underestimate or understate the power of the gospel. What caused me the most concern was when you said "I have no power" when you were preaching the gospel (full quote in the comments below). With all you know of the Scriptures, I can't believe you would say that--unless something is clouding your mind like a desire for "more" and/or some false teaching that you've opened your mind to. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16)! I know you know that verse (and many others that say the same thing), so again, why would you even say something like "I didn't have any power"? If you no longer believe that the gospel's power is sufficient to save people without "signs and wonders," I suggest you definitely have been led astray by a desire for "more" and/or some kind of false teaching. Furthermore, as I'm sure you also know, people can be converted to Christianity because they see signs and wonders without even understanding the gospel, let alone embracing it truly in their hearts. I know you know this because you've preached about false conversion, and I also know you know about the reality of demonic power because you've preached about that too. So don't you realize that demons might heal people (or even use the amazing power of the mind that is behind many healings) to get people to focus more on supernatural experiences than on the real, lasting power of gospel discipleship?

Why couldn't you just pray for the sick, encourage them to pray themselves, make sure they know that God does not promise to heal every sickness at all times, and teach them how to trust and thank God even if he does not take away their suffering (like Jesus did in the Garden, etc.)? Why couldn't you take that clearly biblical approach rather than using questionable terminology like "I healed them" or "everyone I touched" or "the gift of healing" etc. That terminology had a specific purpose and application for special people like Christ and the apostles in validating their credentials to deliver God's written revelation, which is contained and completed in the New Testament (Heb. 1:1-2, 2:3-4, Jude 3, etc.). Do you think your prayers will have less real power if you simply ask for healing and then trust God to do what is best for the spiritual health of people (which is sometimes allowing sickness to continue)?

Don't say "I am Jesus." I understand our union with Christ and that we are his "hands and feet" in the world, and I even agree with you (as I explained above) that, in a sense, we are doing works like he did on his behalf and in his place in the world today. But though the Bible says (over and over again) that we are "in Christ" and other similar phrases, it never says we are Christ. That very important distinction must be upheld in our terminology, to maintain both the ontological uniqueness of Christ and also the historical uniqueness of his life and ministry. The fact that you would use those words makes me wonder again if you are being negatively influenced by false teaching, since it echoes the way some heretical Word/Faith teachers talk. 

I hope you believe that I'm only writing this out of love and concern for a brother who has been used greatly of God (much more than I have). I am not a "company man" and have also progressed beyond the teaching of our seminary background in various ways. But I don't want to see someone with so much past fruit and future opportunity deviate from what the Scripture itself teaches (2 John 8-11).

In Christ,

Dave

1 comment:

  1. A friend who read my original letter was concerned that I may have been misrepresenting Chan because I quoted only part of his comments about having no power while preaching the gospel. So I'm going to reproduce the entire quote below.

    My friend said that Chan said, "I'm speaking through a translator," so that was why he said "I have no power." He may have meant that, but even so, my point stands, because every gospel text we read or quote is a translation and it still is "the power of God unto salvation." The gospel presented even through a translator is still sufficient to save without accompanying signs and wonders, so it's still not true (not to mention ill-advised) to say he had no power.

    Here is the full quote by Chan from the video, which, as I say further below, is actually more concerning than my brief one:

    "How am I supposed to convince them that this message that contradicts everything they've ever believed is true? God you have to do something. There's little children here. I have no power. I'm speaking through a translator. You need to do something. Please visit, show them one night of power like nothing they've ever seen before."

    Here is part of my text exchange with my friend:

    Me: I listened to the whole video again and the rest of it is great (both before and after the healing story). That's why I think it's worth the time to challenge and warn what he said about healing...I am concerned that a gifted man with a great past and potential future in ministry may be misled mad mislead others into some errors that are dangerous. If the rest of what he said wasn't so great I wouldn't be so concerned about it. I will edit my letter when I can to include the translator part (thank you again for pointing that out), but I will also include more of his quote, which makes it even worse actually, I hate to say. He says twice that God needed to "do something" to convince the people that the gospel is true. That is precisely one of the errors that has been taught by the various signs and wonders movements that I believe have had a deleterious effect on the worldwide church in recent decades.

    My friend: Do you think he is lying about what actually happened? The deaf children hearing?

    Me: No I don't think he is lying about what he saw and heard and I wouldn't think that unless there was some evidence that he is a deceitful person (which I have not seen). But as I said in my letter, there are other possible explanations for what happened other than the apostolic gift of healing. What happened doesn't prove that we today can or should do exactly what Jesus and the apostles did. James 5:14-16 (below) is more normative for us than the signs and wonders in the gospels and Acts... Notice the transition that happened from apostles to elders.

    Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
    James 5:14‭-‬16

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