A few weeks ago, a major denomination lifted their ban on speaking in tongues for their missionaries. For those who read this blog who aren’t Christians, just bear with me for a minute. Speaking in tongues may be viewed as one of the weirder things with Christianity to many people, but it was a big part of the early church, and is still quite common in many areas of the world. It is one of the spiritual gifts the apostle Paul speaks of, along with words of knowledge, faith, healing, distinguishing between spirits, and a number of other gifts. I’m glad they finally lifted the ban for missionaries, but that’s not the main focus of why I’m writing today. Beside the fact that the bible specifically says, “do not forbid speaking in tongues”, (not sure how they missed that one), it speaks to a larger issue that is the real reason that I’m writing this blog today.
The issue I’m writing about today is unbelief. In the book of Mark, Jesus disciples came to him after they were unsuccessful driving a demon out of a boy. Jesus drives out the demon, but also rebukes the crowd and his disciples as an “unbelieving generation”. He actually comes across as a bit irritated with his disciples and the crowd. He also goes on to say that with faith as small as a small seed, you can tell a mountain to go throw itself in the sea and it will do it. People often read this as one issue, but I believe it is two. One is the issue of faith, the other is the issue of unbelief. Both are quantifiable.
I grew up in a church where I think more was preached about what God can’t do than what he can do. As in my first paragraph, speaking in tongues, and virtually all the other gifts listed in the New Testament of the Bible were things that are “not for today”. They would tell you proudly that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, then immediately go on to tell you the parts that no longer apply. As I’ve gone out into the world, as I’ve become a missionary, as I’ve seen more and more things, I’ve learned that what I was taught was an absolute lie. So why would there be an entire doctrine, “cessation doctrine”, that teaches that what the early church did is no longer applicable today?
It’s all tied to unbelief. The church I grew up in would tell you that God no longer heals miraculously, that there are no longer words of knowledge, that there are no longer any miracles. If they were speaking of their own church, they would be absolutely right. But why? It’s a shifting of blame. If these things don’t happen in my church or God doesn’t do them through me, then it must be because God doesn’t do these things any more. It couldn’t possibly be because of my own unbelief. Your faith the size of a seed might be enough that you go through the motions and pray for someone, but what good does that do when you’ve at the same time pulled up a truck load of unbelief embedded in your doctrine that’s already told you that God doesn’t do these things anymore? You’re not disappointed when nothing happens, because in all honesty, you never expected it to anyway. So you go through your spiritual walk living out a life of cowardly mediocrity because you lacked both the faith and the courage to let God do the great things he said he would do. This is why the American church is faltering. We live out an ineffectual, academic, irrelevant, inbred version of Christianity that looks nothing like it’s roots, while in the developing world there is revival because they have none of the baggage that comes with telling themselves what God can’t do. They just do it. This is what I’ve seen, and this is what I wish I could fully convey to the American church, and I want to see it happen again here, as it has at various times and places.
So I’m very glad that the denomination I mentioned is going the direction they are, and I hope it’s a precursor of things to come. Oh, and the church I grew up in? They died out, and the building is now occupied by a church that practices the things my church told us we couldn’t do. I write this not because I’m happy about it. They were people who loved God, and I learned a lot from them, but frankly they were trying to walk with God with one leg tied behind their backs. Without faith what do we have? If our faith is eclipsed by our unbelief, what do we have? Let’s stop telling ourselves what God can’t do, and let him do what he said he would, and to be who he said he is.
As a side note, I’ve included a picture of a child I met in South Sudan a few years ago. She had malaria and was starving and feverish. I thought she was going to die within days. I could have left it there, but I pushed past my unbelief that God could heal this child and prayed for her anyway; not that God would help her in her suffering or some such thing, but that God would heal her. I didn’t see her again for two more trips, but a year later I barely recognized her. The same sister was holding her, but this time she was healthy and fat. Let God do what he said he would do.