What areas were not discussed in The American Gospel: Christ Alone?

Last week, I watched this Netflix documentary. I was grateful to be reminded of the need to not allow myself to be blinded by the dominant thought of prospering financially and in my health. I have always believed that many people have become confused and have also become atheists because of how the gospel is presented to them. Many times there is teaching on the promises of God throughout scripture. These promises can often be interpreted and presented as absolute promises for all, “if He did it for me, He will do it for you!” So if he healed your loved ones, when my Christian loved ones suffer they should be healed right?

I went through this mental process when I lost my father and daughter within a few months of each other. Here I was in the hospital, gathering with 2 or 3 believers gathered in His name, asking the Lord for His mercy, but He did not heal them. It was a hard reality that I had to learn from these painful experiences, but I learned in that year that God is in control. I have learned to pray and not ask for much anymore besides His mercy. I have leaned on the example of how Jesus showed us how to pray: being grateful, to keep a kingdom perspective, to live a daily perspective, for forgiveness, to forgive others, to remove temptations of evil.

As I watched the documentary I wondered, are they saying that God does not heal anymore? The disciples were laying their hands on people in Acts and healing others because of the power of God, does this all of a sudden not exist anymore anywhere in the world? Just because He did not heal my father and daughter, am I supposed to not pray about healing others in hope that He will show His mercy?

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Hello David,

First of all, I am sorry for your loss of your father and daughter. I was surprised to read that as I had a similar experience many years ago. I lost my father to cancer, and only a few short months later I lost my daughter as well. I remember the same situation in which I prayed for healing along with my family, yet, it did not come. I struggled with this for a very long time, living my way through a very self destructive period of life, until I finally was drawn back to Christ through the grace of God.
That is a struggle that never goes away, but I agree that it is about realizing that God is sovereign over all things, and nothing happens outside of His control.

In regards to the documentary, I am a cessationist myself as they were discussing in regards to the Apostolic gifts we see in the New Testament. The belief of cessationists is that the Apostolic gifts are not in normative operation as we saw in the New Testament. That is what they are speaking to in the American Gospel documentary. That does not mean that I believe God does not work miracles anymore. He very rightly can, and I believe does, work miracles today. However, the kind of miraculous abilities that were given to the Apostles are not in operation anymore. The Holy Spirit still works within us and through us, but not give us the power to raise people from the dead, speak in tongues, heal people instantly by touching them, or otherwise.

Does God still heal today? Absolutely He does…but…He also does not sometimes as you and I, and many others, well know. That is where our faith really comes to bear is those situations in which God does not heal when we wish He would. It can be very difficult to understand why God heals some and not others. But this is where our trust in Him and His sovereignty over every situation is so important. He will do what is right as we are told in Genesis 18:25, even if that is sometimes hard to understand, He knows more than we do and does that which is right and that which brings Him glory.

Should we pray for healing for people who are suffering? Absolutely we should. As a cessationist, I do not believe that God grants the power to do these things to people as we saw in the book of Acts anymore, however, I believe that God works His power in miraculous things every day. The first miracle I come to every time is this…I’m saved. A complete and total wretch, dead in my sins against a Holy God, is not going to be cast into hell for eternity because of what Christ did. Thats a miracle of healing itself that any believer comes to faith in Christ. We have all been raised from our deadness in sin, who know Christ and put their faith in Him. I know for a fact that, although the Holy Spirit did the work in my heart, there were many who had prayed for me in those dark times, and I am eternally grateful to them for their prayers, as I am to my Savior for answering them.

Have people been healed of diseases? Yes they have. These kinds of things do happen, and I believe that prayer is a huge part of things like that. We most certainly should pray about these things and lift people up to God in prayer for healing. He will always answer our prayers. The problem is that we always assume that His answer will be what we want. Sometimes it is not. That can be very difficult, but He calls us to trust in Him in even the darkest times. As Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”

If we trust in Him, He will guide and direct us in all that we do. Sometimes we will face situations in our lives that may seem almost to be impossible, but nothing is impossible to Him. If we trust Him in all things, “with all our heart,” and do not try to simply go by our own skewed understanding of things, what He tells us is that He will direct us.

Should we pray for this world, ourselves, and those around us? Jesus Christ did, and we should absolutely follow His example. Will we always get the answer we hope for? No. But we will get the Savior that we hope for and long for, and in whom we can trust, even when it hurts. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “pray without ceasing.” We never know what effect our prayers will have upon a person or a situation, and we should always see it as our first reaction to bring such things up to God in prayer. He will hear us, and He will do what is right.

I hope that helps to answer your question David. If you have any other questions please do not hesitate to ask them. May God grant you wisdom and understanding as you grow in your relationship with Him, God bless you and thank you.

Matthew

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David, I am so very sorry for your loss. I can not imagine how hard that was.
I do not believe that miracles have ceased because I don’t see any indication of that in the Bible. However, I have also prayed very very earnestly for healing and not seen it. I do believe I have seen healing but find myself confused about why God heals something comparatively minor instead. And I think it isn’t
“instead” but both realities part of a plan only His big brain can comprehend. New Testament scholar, Craig Kenner, has a two volume set on miracles from Biblical times to now with documentation. They might be informative but I find that I must come back to trusting God.

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Thank you very much for your response. I have been meditating on this concept of cessationism. It totally puts the context of the documentary into a different perspective for me. I heard John MacArthur’s explanation and I can see how he makes valid points. But then I immediately start to think about James 5:13-14 that says, “14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” Why would anyone sick need to have the Elders place oil on them and pray over them? Why can’t these sick people just pray for themselves at home? At the same time, I then see, in my opinion, strange activity like what Bethel Church teaches with prophetic schools and random convulsions, shaking and I can see the outside people just ridiculing Christianity as they see this.

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Thank you Susan. I think the hardest part was the fact that my dad was a pastor for over 40 years. He set the best example of what it meant to follow Jesus as best as he knew. He was always against exploiting people and focused on preaching the gospel. He helped so many people on a one to one basis. I knew it because it showed at his funeral. There was not enough room and not enough time for all the stories people wanted to share. But to see my father, who served God the way He did only suffer in his physical body for the last 3 years of his life was hard for me to watch. I am talking about insomnia times a 100. Barely sleeping, restless, but he NEVER complained. One of the last things he told me was out of Job 13:15. Then my daughter passes away a few months after him on Christmas Eve out of all days. I almost left the faith because of this pain. I believed that God used this program to keep me from doing that. It helped me make sense of the pain. Where would I go? What would I go back to? What would happen to my family? My other 2 children alive and my wife? I couldn’t do it and I am glad God intervened. Thank you for listening to me and providing feedback.

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Hello David,

Yes, I have seen a lot of controversy come up about that verse. From what I have been able to piece together, and I’m still studying into this matter, the Greek word used in the book of James is “aleipsantes,” which is, from what I understand, a different word for anointing than is used to indicate ritual anointing.

It would seem that this word has a more medicinal connotation to it, oil was seen as an effective way to treat injuries and illnesses in the Eastern culture of that time. So, this anointing that James is telling people to seek is not the anointing of ritual that is used in the temple. James is, in basic terms, telling those who are sick to seek the best possible medical means available for their healing, while also seeking the prayers of the church, as God is the true healer of all things.

I hope that helps to clarify that verse in James a bit. As I said, I’m still studying this myself, but this seems to be the explanation that matches up with the original language, and the context of the verses here in James. If you have any other questions please ask them. God bless you and thank you.

Matthew

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@mmingus36 is headed in the right direction on the Greek. I had to research this verse to find an explanation. I too have wondered about this verse’s relation to physical healing. Anyway, this is what I found from a commentary:

James asked a third question and then answered it fully. Is any one of you sick? A great deal of misunderstanding has resulted from these verses. Some seem to teach from this passage that full physical health is always just a prayer away. Others have found in this passage justification for “extreme unction” (a practice begun in the eighth century). Still others have tried to relate the process outlined by James to the modern practice of invoking God (“pray over him”) and using medicine (“anoint him with oil”)—prayer plus a physician.
The heart of the problem lies in just what James meant when he referred to the “sick.” Actually there is no reason to consider “sick” as referring exclusively to physical illness. The word asthenei literally means “to be weak.” Though it is used in the Gospels for physical maladies, it is generally used in Acts and the Epistles to refer to a weak faith or a weak conscience (cf. Acts 20:35; Rom. 6:19; 14:1; 1 Cor. 8:9–12). That it should be considered “weak” in this verse is clear in that another Greek word (kamnonta) in James 5:15, translated sick person, literally means “to be weary.” The only other use in the New Testament (Heb. 12:3) of that word clearly emphasizes this same meaning.
James was not referring to the bedfast, the diseased, or the ill. Instead he wrote to those who had grown weary, who had become weak both morally and spiritually in the midst of suffering. These are the ones who should call for the help of the elders of the church. The early church leaders were instructed (1 Thes. 5:14) to “encourage the timid” and “help the weak” (asthenōn).
James said that the elders should pray over him and anoint him with oil. It is significant that the word “anoint” is aleipsantes (“rub with oil”) not chriō (“ceremonially anoint”). The former is the “mundane” word and the latter is “the sacred and religious word” (Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, ninth ed. Reprint. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1950, pp. 136–37). “Therefore James is not suggesting a ceremonial or ritual anointing as a means of divine healing; instead, he is referring to the common practice of using oil as a means of bestowing honor, refreshment,…” (Daniel R. Hayden, “Calling the Elders to Pray,” Bibliotheca Sacra 138. July/September 1981: 264). The woman “poured” (aleiphō) perfume on Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:38). A host “put oil” (aleiphō) on the head of his guest (Luke 7:46). A person who is fasting should not be sad and ungroomed, but should “put oil” (aleiphō) on his head, and wash his face (Matt. 6:17). Thus James’ point is that the “weak” (asthenei) and “weary” (kamnonta) would be refreshed, encouraged, and uplifted by the elders who rubbed oil on the despondents’ heads and prayed for them.
For the fallen, discouraged, distressed weary believer, restoration is assured and the elders’ prayer offered in faith will make the sick person (lit., “weary one”) well (i.e., will restore him from discouragement and spiritual defeat), and the Lord will raise him up.
That the restoration is spiritual, not physical, is further clarified by the assurance, if he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Many physically ill Christians have called on elders to pray for them and to anoint them with oil, but a sizable percentage of them have remained sick. This fact suggests that the passage may have been mistakenly understood as physical restoration rather than spiritual restoration.

J. Ronald Blue, “James,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 834–835.

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