“The gospel is like a caged lion. It does not need to be defended, it just needs to be let out of its cage.” Charles Spurgeon
A few months ago I attended a lecture given by a professor of missions at a local seminary. His focus of ministry was directed toward the Muslims of the world. I learned much about Islam and its tenets from this scholar. His lecture addressed the difficulties Christians face in witnessing to such a devoted and hostile religion. He pointed out that one of the great barriers to evangelizing the Muslims are the walls their governments have erected to isolate their people from foreign influences. Much discussion and strategizing has gone on in the Christian missionary community as to how to scale those walls and proclaim the gospel to the millions that have not heard. This professor pointed out that, in fact, God had taken the initiative to meet this challenge by causing a migration out of these Islamic countries to western lands. In other words, instead of us having to go to them, God has caused them to come to us.
Of course, this act of God does not preclude us from going. That is our commission until the Lord returns, but I thought it very interesting to see how God Himself, sees to it that the gospel will be heard and that His Church will be built, no matter what the enemy would do to hinder His divine purposes.
The professor went on to discuss and even greater problem. The Muslims view of Allah is “absolute otherness.” The Qur’an could only come to Mohammed by way of an angelic intermediary. Man could never have an intimate, personal contact with Allah. Coming from a Pentecostal perspective, it was this professor’s conclusion that only a baptism of the Spirit could bring the Muslim into a “face to face contact with the Lover of His soul.” Without this experience, according a source cited by the professor, “the Muslim believer will ever be at risk of simply substituting one set of religious regulations [Islamic] for a better set of regulations [Christian].”
He went on to conclude: “Muslim converts who live in the spirit of Pentecost have the one thing Islam cannot give them: A relationship with a loving Christ who is intimately and powerfully the center of their lives. If we aren’t Pentecostal in their presence, we may deprive them of salvation itself. Power encounter is vital to their salvation process.” [My emphasis added.]
I come from a Pentecostal upbringing. I believe and have experienced the power of God in a very personal and life changing way. So, I know something of the spirit of which this professor writes. But, I am also a man of the Book. The Bible must be the tool by which we discern the writings and practices of the most sincere and devoted follower of Christ. I find his conclusions very troubling. I think he is in danger of selling short the awesome power of the gospel and God’s Word. Although I believe God can do signs and wonders today, I do not believe they are “vital to the salvation process.” Let me explain why.
Paul wrote in Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” It is the gospel, preached in the power of the Spirit, in the clear language of Scripture that is able to penetrate the hardest and most devoted soul to birth faith in Jesus Christ. Signs and wonders and power encounters may happen in the providence of God, but they are not necessary. God’s Word is sufficient! “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” Psalm 19:7
Jesus had something very clear to say on this subject. In Luke 16, Jesus gives a parable that describes a rich man who found himself in hell. In his misery he asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his family to warn them of their danger. “Abraham replied to the rich man, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” But the rich man insisted, “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham declared, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” [Luke 16:29-31]
I think the point Jesus was making is obvious. When the heart is hard, even a visual miracle from God will not change it. But, what this passage also makes clear is what is essential to bring about repentance and faith: The power of God expressed in and through the hearing the Word of God. Luke demonstrates the same thing in the story of the conversion Lydia, when he records in Acts 16:14, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” God opens the heart to the message being preached.
In 1 Corinthians Paul makes a similar claim. After describing Greeks who seek wisdom, and the Jews who demand signs, he describes how he evangelized the depraved city of Corinth: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” [1 Cor. 2:2-5]
Some might protest: “But Paul admits to the “demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” The assumption is that in those words Paul is referring to miracles and signs that were performed, but such is not the case. The whole point of Paul’s argument is that the demands for wisdom and signs were not given. The demonstration of power was to rest on the message of “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” which was the foolish and weak message that the Spirit used to birth faith in the hearts of these pagans. So, their faith did not rest upon man’s wisdom or miraculous signs, but upon the power of God and His promises.
Peter says it like this: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” 2 Peter 1:3-4
What does this have to do with the average believer? Isn’t this just an intramural skirmish between theologians? I think not. For every parent who has a way ward son or daughter; for every soul who struggles with bouts of depression; for every man who struggles with pornography, this issue is crucial. Can I trust what God has promised in His Word? Is the truth of scripture, made alive through prayer and the power of the Spirit, sufficient to defeat the lies of the devil and bring about total victory? And, for our missionaries who struggle on foreign soil, is the gospel of Jesus Christ powerful enough to change the hearts of even the most devout Muslim? Or, must I fear failure because I am not Pentecostal enough?
For me the clear teaching of Scriptures is that the power is in the Word of God. The signs and wonders may come, but they will only point to, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God is in the Word proclaimed, taught, counseled and shared. It is sufficient. On this we can be sure. It is the one thing that is essential! There is a power encounter. But that power encounter is the Word of God verses the lies of the enemy. In that skirmish God’s Word is the victor. Yes there will be miracles and we should pray for them and be thankful when they happen. But the greatest miracle will be a dead heart brought to life by the power of God’s Word, preached and prayed and practiced in faith and obedience. I must faithfully preach the Word. God will graciously do the work. God’s Word is sufficient. It does need to be added to or defended. It just needs to be let out of its cage.
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