I should be doing homework. I should also finish my second post on pluralism. But Tony’s (the other Tony) posts have brought up many of my own rememberences of growing up Pentecostal and I wanted to chime in.
It will become obvious that I largely agree with Tony. Although we do await at least another post on this topic.
It would not be an overexageration to say that Pentecostals are most united around the absolutely foundational and strong assertion that the “spiritual gifts” (ala-I Cor 12-14) are meant to be available today. Not only this, but they should be the normative mode of Christian operation. There are some common eschatological readings of scripture and a common vocabulary, but they only serve to underscore the intensely held belief stated above.
And so all of lifes experiences are filtered through this foundational belief. In this way everything becomes miraculous. Got a great parking space? God did it. Cantaloupe on sale? God did it. Cold went away? God did it
It seems to me that is how, in spite of contrary evidence, a Pentecostal still holds tightly to a miraculous-as-normative outlook. “Sure, we haven’t seen limbs regrown, but my fever was healed.”
Enter the Missionary. The Missionary is like the rock-star of the Pentecostal world. They are the givers of hope to a hopeless West, they are the ones with real faith, the paragon of holy-ghost power. We could be like them, we just needed more faith. Because miraculous things always seemed to happen elsewhere (as Tony pointed out)
Like Tony, I slowly began to become skeptical. I became increasingly upset when there was a lady in a wheelchair who attended our church for some years. She was sort of a watershed for me. Because I believed it so strongly I couldn’t understand for the life of me why she was still in a wheelchair. I just wanted to scream at my elders “Heal her dammit!” This healing thing is real right? We just need more faith. Put some oil on her and she should be running across the stage and we should testify at work and “revival” is gonna come to this town. Cause these are the “last days” and Barack Obama is going to rebuild the temple and stand in the midst of it and proclaim himself god! So we better get healing.
The problem only became exasterbated with the “revivals” going on around the country. In my time is was Brownsville, just recently it was Lake-something in Florida. So people would go to these revivals to recieve “the annointing” and come back expecting to give that same annointing back and we too could experience a revival. . . But those revivals never came. We just needed more faith. And the other ones all fell down in disaster. Moral and economic failures seem to hover like scavenger birds over these pentecostal hotbeds.
Over time it all built up. Revivals, healings, miracles; they all happen elsewhere. And the reason we don’t have them here is because we don’t have enough faith. One day I finally said: This is bullcrap! I can assure you, I at least had the faith of a mustard seed as a kid and teenager, and Jesus said that it should be enough, but obviously it isn’t, so something has got to give. And it was the pentecostal hermeneutic which gave.
I still have faith in the power and desire of God to heal. But when and why it seems to happen, and why it is shrouded in mystery is not something I am willing to speculate on anymore. I don’t worry about how much faith I have. I just pray, like the father in Mark “I believe, help my unbelief!” I know that my brother who was massively hit by a car experienced a miraculous recovery, of that I have no doubt at all. I know that some peoples cancers are healed, but not all are.
In the New Testament, healing on Jesus’ part seemed to entail a recovery of the social outcast back into the people of God as part of the coming Kingdom and eschatological renewal. That is how I frame my prayers for healing theologically. Frankly, until the advent of modern medicine, death and suffering were a much larger part of our society, and the “life in victory” ideas behind much pentecostal preaching fails to comprehend what life under the Cross might mean. Indeed, the worlds poor and suffering are dying of treatable diseases! Bono put it this way –
“You speak of signs and wonders, but I need something other, I would believe if I was able, but I’m waiting for the crumbs from your table” – Crumbs from Your Table – How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
Rather than a miracle, they just need a pill, or a clean well, or national debt relief and fair trade. That’s a miracle we can give.