Four Marking Characteristics Of The “New Faith Movement” Part 2
Last week we started our discussion of how the “new faith movement” differs from several “faith movements” that people are familiar with from the past. We started by talking about how the focus is changing from “getting your healing” to ministering to others. As we discussed, if the focus of teaching on faith becomes self-centered we miss the best opportunities to exercise faith and become vulnerable to unbelief. The second and third point are closely related to the first one.
2. It’s Organic
The model in the past often tended to be getting people to come to a meeting, a church service, or a crusade and then creating an “atmosphere of faith.” Some ministries still focus on this. It’s not bad. It’s wonderful to see hundreds of people healed in a big meeting and hear testimonies that will make you weep.
The weakness is that this has sometimes centered on a “man of God” who was ministering to the sick. I recently visited a big church in Brazil that has many miracles happening. They have people share the testimonies on television of cancers falling off and being healed of various conditions. We celebrate that! However, they are always focusing heavily on getting people to go to their meetings. It also seems like most things happen when one guy in the front is praying.
When there is such an emphasis on a “man of God,” many Christians invite their friend to church to hear a famous minister rather than ministering to them right then and there. If we fail to personally put truth into practice, we are at risk of falling into the trap of unbelief which we describe in point number one last week.
What about people who don’t go to church? One strength of the new “faith movement” is that even in big meetings, everybody is ministering healing to each other. And they also minister in people’s houses, on the street, and in everyday life. We don’t feel like we need to bring people to a church meeting for them to be healed or touched by God. We see God show his glory on the spot in front of their families and friends! We still have the big healing meetings, but they are no longer focused on just one person doing the ministry.
3. It Emphasizes The Faith Of The Minister
Having an atmosphere of faith and seeing mass healings is great. But what are you going to do when you see a kid with a broken arm at the gas station and his friends mock you? Or a lady needs to be healed and she is about to cuss you out because you just said something about Jesus? (True stories!) If you think it’s all just about getting people to believe so they can “receive their healing,” you won’t have much to offer! You can’t rely on having an “atmosphere of faith” in these situations!
The new “faith movement” puts far more emphasis on the minister believing than on the person in need. Why? Jesus did encourage people to believe, but he never touched anybody and said “Sorry, it’s not working because you’re not believing enough.” When Jesus said in Matthew 17 “Nothing will be impossible for you if you believe,” he was speaking in the context of ministering healing. He didn’t say “Nothing will be impossible if the people you lay hands on believe.”
Some healing ministers in the past believed that if a person left their meeting and wasn’t healed, it was because that person didn’t have faith. I recently listened to the autobiography of the great evangelist Reinhard Bonkke. Bonnke told a story of how God stepped out of the box of his theology by healing a wheelchair-bound woman who was totally in unbelief. The body of Christ today is learning to believe God for people who don’t have faith.
A few healing evangelists of the past, such as Jack Coe, would flat-out tell a person who didn’t get out of a wheelchair “You don’t have enough faith.” Even if others didn’t say it, it was an assumption that many held in faith-healing circles. Yes, I have heard people gossiping about someone who “just didn’t have enough faith to get healed.” And I’ve met people who had been very hurt by that kind of attitude. Some got angry at me because they assumed that if I believed in healing I’d treat them the same way. Others were relieved that I didn’t ask them to try to believe, and they got healed!
Of course, not all the old-time faith teachers and healing evangelists promoted such an attitude. Even so, it is far too easy to adapt such an attitude if we fail to realize that Jesus emphasized his disciples believing when they ministered healing, rather than focusing on the faith of the people they would minister to. When I once placed much greater importance on the faith of the person receiving ministry, it was also hard for me to avoid falling into the attitude of blaming the person I laid hands on for not receiving healing.
I knew one older guy who was hardcore on “faith.” I heard him arrogantly talking down on other people who were having problems—not just health issues, but financial trouble and more. He also insisted that he was never going to die. But I never saw him reach out and minister healing to anybody. I’d probably seen more people healed through my hands in a week than he had ministered to in the last 20 years. This is how dogma about “faith” can become perverted when the focus is self-centered and we don’t actually practice it outside of the context of our own problems. I’ve met too many people who held fiercely to doctrine about faith and divine healing, yet I never saw them reach out to minister to anybody because they were putting all the responsibility on the person in need to “get their healing.”
When we understand that we can believe God to heal people who are in total unbelief, we have no reason to blame the person needing ministry for not having faith. An atmosphere of unbelief didn’t stop Jesus from healing people. If you understand that, how can you judgementally talk about another person’s “lack of faith” when you didn’t step in with faith to get them healed anyway?
In point number one, we discussed how a self-centered focus makes us miss the best opportunities to exercise faith and puts us in danger of falling into unbelief. This is closely connected to point number three. If we think the responsibility to believe God lies primarily on the person in need rather than on us as Christ’s ambassadors, it’s easy for our focus to become self-centered. We then have a cop-out when it comes to taking the best opportunities to exercise faith by ministering to others.
The “new faith movement” emphasizes the faith of the minister, whether the people we reach out to are receptive of hostile. It leaves no room for leaving a person sick and then suggesting “you didn’t get healed because of your unbelief.”
Next week we’ll go on to the fourth point about the trend in today’s “faith movements” is changing.