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.
emerging church , theology , signs and wonders , mission