Thursday, March 1, 2012

Jesus Heals Cancer-Please Take It Down?

Is it wise for a church to put up a sign saying “Jesus heals cancer”? The Napier Equippers Church are all over the media for their controversial sign outside their church. This raises the question, is it a good idea?

Let me first say that I have great respect for my brothers and sisters in Christ in Napier, and do not question their good intentions and sincerity. I hope my words do not offend.

Secondly, let me add that I do believe that God heals and that he can, does and, has healed cancer. I know of acquaintances who have made extraordinary recoveries from seemingly hopeless situations. So, I am a believer in the power of God in the present to heal.

I can sort of sense where they are coming from. If the intention is to say that “Jesus sometimes heals cancer,” or “we believe that Jesus can heal cancer,” or “Jesus has healed some people of cancer,” or “Jesus and oncologists can sometimes heal cancer,” then I can sort of hear where they are coming from. If they are suggesting to people, why not give Jesus a try, he can do amazing things, I get it.

The problem with the sign though is it says none of those things and begs the question—are they saying “Jesus always heals cancer?” Are they saying “Jesus heals cancer if you believe in him?” or “if you come to our church.” The ambiguity is seen in the responses of many people.
I presume the purpose is to reach out to the lost and say something inviting and challenging. The problem is that where a person has lost a loved one to cancer, as so many New Zealanders have, then it potentially hurts and offends. It begs the question, “if Jesus heals cancer, why didn’t heal my loved one?” Take for example my wife Emma’s mum who died from cancer-related illness some years ago, despite our fervent prayers and faith. And then there was Philip, a young 16 year old who was an active young man of God who died of cancer when I was a young Christian—it was a tough lesson for a young zealot charismatic Christian as I was then. Or even sadder, was the death of one of my cricket mates young 8 year old from cancer—the depth of the pain that caused was monumental. So, an ambiguous sign like this is very very risky in that it may well cause great hurt, pain, and even anger toward the church and God. If the desire is provoke comment and interest, it has sure worked—but is that the sort of publicity a church wants. 

I also wonder about how the sign relates to the great work of the oncologists and others who work in the medical profession. Are they saying a person should go to Jesus and not the oncologists? I hope not. Are they saying that Jesus heals, not oncologists and the medical profession? The whole are of the relationship of God and the medical profession can get confusing, so some people refuse medical help relying on faith. Others like myself see God working in the work of the medical profession, as they discover the powers he has placed in the natural order to healing. But all this is way too complex and the sign simply opens up a can of worms in this area.

Paul says in Col 4:5 that believers need to be “wise in the way you act toward outsiders.” Is this being wise toward outsiders? Personally, I seriously question the wisdom of this sign, despite the good intentions and sincerity of those who have put it up. It lacks wisdom because it potentially and unnecessarily alienates people—at a time when many in western countries have already become alienated from the church and Christian faith for a wide range of reasons. The last thing we need is to give them another one. The media waits to pounce on anything we do that is potentially offensive—I suggest this is another one. Why doesn’t the church get someone to write a book with the testimonies of those healed and use it as a means of telling their story to the world? An ambiguous sign seems rather a strange way to do it.
Further, according to John 13:34–35 the greatest sign that should mark us out as followers of Jesus, it is “love”—“by this all people will know that you are my disciples.” Paul prays for the Thessalonians that their love may overflow to each other and “everyone else” in 1 Thess 3:10. Is this the best way to demonstrate the love of Jesus? I suggest not.

I also wonder at the implicit theology that this sign represents. While God does heal in the present, experience tells us often he doesn’t; choosing rather to be with and strengthen the believer in the midst of suffering. This is the mystery of healing—we can never force God’s hand. God is not a Being we can manipulate. We pray with trust in God, and we leave it to him. The best example is Jesus the Lord himself. In the garden on the eve of his death he was not praying for deliverance from cancer, but he was praying for release from the cross and death which he knew was coming. He prayed in a pool of sweat and pain three times, pleading for release, yet with complete trust in God. Each time God responded,  “no.” Why? He had a different plan—indeed he needed his son to go through the torment of crucifixion for his world. He went with his Son to the cross, and he came through the other side, saviour of a world.
Paul in 2 Cor 12 too prayed three times for deliverance from his thorn in the flesh, and God again said “no”, preferring to allow Paul to live in on-going suffering. Why? Paul came to terms with it seeing in it a messenger from God to keep him humble. It takes a mature believer who gets to understand the deeper work of God to understand the mystery of healing and non-healing. Putting a sign up amidst the plethora of understandings of the world that exists in Napier and everywhere will simply lead to confusion.

We need take care not to make excessive claims as Christians. Evidence since Jesus ascended 2000 years ago is that, aside from this living generation, every believer without exception has died since that day, including the greatest people of faith like Paul, Martin Luther and Mother Teresa. Many of them have died of cancer, like the great Anglican leader and evangelist David Watson—and this despite John Wimber and others from all over the world interceding for him. The truth is that unless Jesus returns (and he hasn’t yet!), we will all die of our bodies failing—cancer or otherwise. 
With all that said, it is clear that an ambiguous statement “Jesus heals cancer” is terribly easy to misunderstand. Sadly, the people it will hurt and offend most are those suffering from cancer. What was intended as a good message inadvertently becomes a vehicle of pain! As Christians we should not be offending them with signs open to be read as over-statements or full of ambiguity, but we should be getting alongside them, and loving them, supporting them, praying for them, and where the physical healing doesn’t come, walking with them in their pain and helping them to realise that despite their suffering, God loves them and is with them.

The great news of the gospel is that God does heal, as he wills. Even greater is the truth, that he transforms the human heart. Our hope is the day of ultimate healing, where there is no more pain, no cancer, no suffering. The problem is, is that day is not here yet. We live in a world still under death’s dominion, a world which is groaning for release from its bondage to decay, death is the last enemy to be defeated. But, the miracle of the gospel is that God is with us in our suffering. The greatest thing is that Jesus has entered our humanity and our suffering, in the fullest sense. He has experienced the torment and terror of life ebbing away, through the horrors of crucifixion. That is why he is such a glorious and worthy saviour—he became one of us, he knows our pain. So, when we come to know him and realise his love for us and believe, he sends his Spirit into us. One of the primary works of the Spirit is that Jesus is with us in our pain, he will strengthen us, he will show his glory in us, whether he heals us or not. True faith doesn’t say “Jesus heals cancer” but to say “Jesus is with us through all our struggles and suffering and he will get us through, and a day is coming where our tears will be washed away forever.”
So, I humbly suggest to my beloved brothers and sisters in Napier to think about the message they are giving. There are more important dimensions of the gospel to share to the world, most especially love, not through signs outside a church but through living signs of people who walk with those in pain in the real world.

That said, perhaps it is time to quietly and humbly take it down. Wisdom would suggest that would be the sensible thing. Perhaps a carefully crafted press release explaining that they have realised that it was a sign put up with the best intentions but now realise that it can potentially and inadvertently offend. They could humbly apologise for any offence given, and take it down. They could also invite people to come and experience Jesus’ love, it is for all.
Then, like all churches, they can learn from the experience and get on with the work of the gospel, “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15), “with conversation full of grace and seasoned with salt” (Col 4:5-6). 

18 comments:

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

I would suggest Mark that you talk with the people that have put it up. Unfortunately it would appear that you have not heard the part in or seen the interview of the Pastor in question. He said that until the doctor says stop the treatment and has confirmed the heal they should keep following their instructions.

I am worried that you would also have the church as a whole not be bold and speak the truth at all times. Jesus over turned tables in the temple, insulted and offended the pharisees. Not a very PC Jesus at all.

The church itself is also trying to think of a way to minister to this offended individual other than being silenced about the truth.

They didn't say "Jesus Heals all Cancer" like you have mentioned. Just the facts that they have seen in their church. Jesus has healed at least 6 people in their church. Jesus heals Cancer is a fact for these people, their families and church.

Some people still don't recover like two individuals in our church this year. The reason for them not being healed will be reveled in the fullness of time. I having watched this year a close friend loose his 5 year old daughter while mine lives, I God's plan will always come before our desires.

But God's word is always true
Mark 16:18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

Leave it up. It might just bring someone into a relationship with God or some Hope to a family that has nothing in this world to hold onto.

Tim said...

Thanks Mark, I think you captured the sentiment of most of the NZ Church.

We know God heals and does so in the lives of some and not others and we never know why he seems to assert his sovereignty in only some cases while many continue to suffer.

I can understand the pain of many. I lost a wife to Heart related illness. Why did He choose to take her? My dad suggested she was a beautiful flower that Jesus, the Gardner wanted for His Garden.

What worries me about our brothers and sisters in Napier is the false hope that this creates. I also worry that this has become the gospel message for those people and they overlook the mercy of a forgiveness that has eternal significance and is not just a patch up job that lasts a human lifetime.

We know there intentions are good. I'd love to heal everyone I come into contact with because we all have ailments. I would ask them to please heal souls. That means whole lives of broken people in a broken world. In light of this "Jesus heals" Seems pale by comparison to "Jesus Saves".

Shalom

Janine said...

Totally understand their intentions and fervour, it's the sort of thing I might have done! :) - maybe they felt truly lead to do it? With my more recent maturity I can see the lack of wisdom in it - but I also think God would have used their good intentions for good - I bet something amazing has come out of it! Some beautiful miracles we don't know about yet ...

Mark Keown said...

Cheers Janine. Yes, there was a time that I would have done so too, as you know!

Mike, your comment proves my point. I shouldn't have to talk to them to "get it". The fact that I do demonstrates the problem of the sign's ambiguity. If we put signs up, we need to be clever, but not offensive.

The church should be bold, but wise. Courage can lead to stupidity unless it is tempered by wisdom and love. That is the point in Col 4:5-6. Paul says be "wise" in the way you act toward outsiders." Full of grace, seasoned with salt. When Jesus said we are the "salt of the earth" it was in the Sermon on the Mount. We are to be flavoursome. We are to be courageous yes, but show the ethics of the Sermon in which that saying stands.

So, be bold! Amen! But be wise. As Peter says, "with gentleness and respect." The NZ people need to see the gospel as well as hear it, and we need to be very thoughtful.

Jesus' attacks in the Temple were not against unbelievers, but Jewish leaders. He never ever did anything to offend the Greeks; he was mates with taxcollectors and sinners. It is a misunderstanding to apply the clearing to this.

One more thing. Be careful using Mark 16:15-20, it is not a part of the original text of Mark. It is an interpolation. Be careful applying it literally too, there are people who drink poison and handle snakes and even die.

I stand by what I have written, it is unwise and causes unnecessary offense.
Cheers
Mark

Anonymous said...

Hay Mark, Here is an old mate Dr Jared Noel,who has cancer,on Rhema talking about this subject. Blessings bro. TJ

Anonymous said...

http://rhema.co.nz/index.php?option=com_k2&view=itemlist&task=tag&tag=Dr.+Jared+Noel&Itemid=15

;o)

Kate said...

Personally, I'm okay with the billboard. I can totally get where Equippers is coming from... although it has been interesting reading some of the online debates on the NZ Herald and Stuff websites concerning whether this counts as false advertising...

However, I also recognise the limitations that advertising and signs like this - 'absolute claims' if you will - have. It's a declaration of experienced reality in the lives of people at Equippers. The problem comes where people driving by only encounter the statement, not the lived reality - when the Church doesn't actually meet people relationally, in the midst of real, daily life. In that context, for example, people driving by, the claims of the Church are unrooted and probably less likely to have the impact that is hoped for. Yes - Jesus heals cancer, but despite my absolute confidence in the goodness of God and the reality that his Spirit is still at work within human existence today, I still wrestle with the tension of the already-but-not-yet. God can heal, but doesn't always. This is a hard tension for me to work out myself, let alone try to explain to people who don't believe in God...

I will be honest though and admit I'm not sure what the best course of action now would be - taking it down seen as defeat? taking it down is really humility and good? Hard to make those calls when you're not in the immediate situation...

couragetotremble said...

Excellent post. I agree completely.
Blessings

Scott Mackay said...

Thanks for pointing us to the message of the Cross Mark.

Howard Carter said...

In the end according the The Herald (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/religion-and-beliefs/news/article.cfm?c_id=301&objectid=10788846)the issue could end up being a case of false advertising decided by the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority)... which I'm not sure they would want to make a judgement on.

Anonymous said...

I suspect most Christians would be happy with a billboard which says "God Loves You". If someone were to complain (e.g. a person who believes they have been hurt by the church in some way), or possibly even mobilise a number of complaints, should the church take it down?

Mark Keown said...

No they wouldn't need to cause it is always true and unambiguous. As long as the church lives it.

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