by John Leitch
It is alarming to see so many people with health problems in congregations of God these days. In the New Testament they also had problems, but unlike today, there were many miraculous healings. Today there seem to be very few searching for the answers to the question, “Why are there few healings?” Either, as God’s people, we are not holding up our part or God has forgotten His promise. I think any reasonable person knows at what end the trouble lies.
I see four main reasons (there could be more) that govern healing in the Bible:
“Daughter your faith has made you well, go in peace and be healed of your affliction” (Mark 5:34).
Christ told a blind man “Go your way, your faith has made you well” (Mark 10:52).
The leper said “Lord if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Christ said, “I am willing” (Matt. 8:2-3).
Paul was made weak by the will of God. Whether it was a medical condition or a person tormenting Paul making him weak doesn’t matter. It was still the will of God.
“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).
Would it be reasonable to ask God to cure your lung cancer while you continue to smoke and have no intention of quitting?
Elders of the church can pray over the afflicted one and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:14). There would also be a need of faith on the part of the one asking for healing and the will of God for the healing to take place.
At this point I would like to focus on the elders who are mentioned so often in the New Testament. What makes an elder? An elder is a leader in a congregation in much the same manner as a father is in a human family.
Paul was an elder (1Pet 5:1), but also likened himself to a spiritual father (1Cor. 4:15). John was an apostle and elder, he also viewed himself as a father image (3Jn 4).
God permits and expects His people to choose people that are acceptable to the congregation (Acts 1:22-23; Acts 6:3) but only requires that these people meet certain criteria (1Tim 3; Titus 1). In this way the person is acceptable to God plus acceptable to the congregation. Both parties (God and the congregation) are in agreement.
When these people prayed to the Father, people expected with faith that God would come to their rescue or if they had committed sin, God would accept their repentance and grant the elder’s prayers for forgiveness (James 5:14-16).
Unfortunately, when most people think of elders, they think of a “church appointed” ministry. To whom is an elder subordinate? This is shown very clearly in Acts 15:1-3:
And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren.
It can be seen that the Church was not subordinate to the men from Judea nor were they subordinate to Paul and Barnabas. These people in this congregation took their responsibility seriously. Since they could not determine which path to follow, they sent Paul, Barnabas and certain others up to Jerusalem where there were others taught directly by Christ. Christ taught that “the one sent is not greater than He who sends Him” (John 13:16). Since the Antioch congregation was not subordinate to Paul and Barnabas and since the elders took their instructions from the congregation, then the elders were not subordinate to Paul and Barnabas, either.
Paul was sometimes very aggressive, an “in your face” type of person (1Cor 5, 6) and viewed by people as being highly intelligent and educated (Acts 26:5 and Acts 16:24). The elders at Antioch were not being intimidated by Paul at all, even though Paul was an apostle, an elder and had this awesome reputation backing him up.
The question is: “Should elders today let some high-ranking leader in a church organization intimidate them in making a proper decision for their own congregation?”
Are these organization leaders greater than Paul? I am not speaking here of consultation, but intimidation to force a person to say or do something against their conscience. This was not an easy question (Acts 15:7). It was the Antioch elders who would have to answer to Christ and the Father if they were negligent. Consequently, they were not intimidated by anyone. The Antioch elders moved carefully and wisely in their responsibilities.
Are the elders today of the same mind set as the Antioch elders? Today God’s people are divided up into many religious parties (let’s call a spade a spade) and not individual congregations as can be seen in Revelation 2 and 3. God’s word speaks against the destructive practice of sectarianism (1Cor 1:11-12). This system can also be seen to be starting to take root in 3 John 9-12:
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true.
It appears John is telling Gaius (v 1), that the congregation would be better served if they chose Demetrius to replace Diotrephes. Demetrius had the qualifications and John would also endorse him (v 12). But notice that even John, possibly the last remaining apostle, did not take it upon himself to remove Diotrephes and install Demetrius. He simply said that if he came, he would remind the congregation of the bad things he had done.
Today, most Christians are viewed as members of a particular sect or party, instead of belonging to Christ. They confuse the issue by calling their party a “church”, but there is only one Church and Christ is the head of it (Matt 16:18; Eph 5:23). In the New Testament, the church was divided up into congregations because the people were spread out geographically. Today, under the party system, almost every Elder who is responsible for the people is appointed by the party (not the congregation). To keep his position, he must follow the party line. This in no way, shape or form resembles the Antioch elders.
This party system was also in force 2,000 years ago (seems people never change) with the Sadducees, Pharisees, etc. But Christ never joined or instructed the Christians to join any of these religious parties.
As I see it, elders who give their allegiance to a particular party (or association, if you wish) are not elders in the true sense of the position, when compared to the New Testament examples. They have a serious “conflict of interest”, to use today’s terminology.
At the present, on the other side of the road, we have many independent congregations that are reluctant to appoint elders under a New Testament format. These congregations usually struggle and go through many trials to survive, in much the same way families with no father figure struggle to survive.
Do you think the miraculous healings would return if the Church followed the New Testament congregational system led by Antioch-type elders?