Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Signs And Wonders

There is so much to the understanding of church and mission emerging (for want of a better word?) from the ‘emerging church’ that I find extremely helpful; but one thing that troubles me is the profound dis-ease with signs and wonders. This seems to me to be more about reaction against other expressions of church, than arising from serious engagement with the biblical narrative we, as twenty-first century followers of Jesus, place ourselves in continuous trajectory with.

The reasons for this dis-ease are articulated well by Peter Rollins in his excellent contribution How (Not) To Speak Of God: on the one hand, demonstrations of miraculous power may be seen as forcing a positive response, leaving the one who experiences them no alternative, akin to the crusaders ‘winning converts’ at sword-point; and on the other hand, such an approach may result in people choosing to respond positively for what they can get out of God, rather than out of love for God.

Both these possibilities are undoubtedly real. And yet. And yet, we have to face up to the Gospel representation of Jesus as one who worked miracles, and who delegated his power and authority to his disciples to do the same – first twelve, then seventy-two, and then through all generations until his return.

Jesus healed the sick, out of compassion, and in order to set those held captive through sickness by satan free. With healing came the invitation to live life differently, to follow him (whether that be physically following him or following his example). It would appear that some, but not all, did – the experience did not violate their free will – and that those who followed did so for a variety of reasons: curiosity, self-interest, love, ultimately incorrect Messiah theology…or a complex mix of several motives. And as people followed, so their understanding was challenged and their motives were confronted…Some chose to go back to their previous way of life; others, to carry on following, being challenged, being confronted, being changed. Their initial reasons for following were not what mattered, so much as the ongoing, evolving, nature of their following.

Anything can be abused; but that is not reason to reject the thing in question. Any expression of the Church that rejects the place of signs and wonders in her mission rejects the One who sends us out with the command to go into new neighbourhoods and heal the sick, raise the dead, and bring freedom to the demonised we find there, as evidence that God comes to set his people free.

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  1. interesting...

    we have just added a session to our next intensive on 'pioneering leadership' entitled 'Signs and Wonders in Pionerring mission'.

    Stu Wesley of vineyard will teach it.

  2. That's encouraging.

    In the Anglican tradition, among many others, we speak of the Church as being one (united in Christ), holy (set apart for God's purposes), catholic (universal - the Church on earth and in heaven), and apostolic (sent out into God's world). On what I see in scripture, what I know of church/mission history, and what I have seen 'with my own eyes' I would say that signs and wonders are part of the apostolic calling of the Church - that they are most prevalent where the Church is operating in pioneering situations.

    Your comment has pin-pointed why I lament the suspicion of signs and wonders as a valid part of mission within the 'emerging church'/'fresh expressions'/'mission-shaped church'- church operating in precisely the kind of contexts in which signs and wonders are most natural. And why I am encouraged to hear what you are doing.

    Great to hear from you!

  3. I know I'm the choir here, but that doesn't stop me saying yes and amen very loudly.

    My journey's into the alternative/emergent stuff and the holy spirit stuff took place at the same. It has been a great frusration that there are so few people also wanting to journey on both roads.

  4. I wonder if perhaps the dis-ease is missional. What I mean is that, here in the states at least, a lot of folks who are "post-modern" are entirely put off by Benny Hinn types (tele-vangelists who stage healings in the name of JEEEESUSSSS and then promptly ask for your money). There is such a tension between rooting ourselves in the Church catholic, and distancing ourselves from the elements of Christiianity that those we are among find (understandably) unsavory. Having said this I must say that it is a good topic for us to struggle with.