Series: An edited adaptation of the book Prayer, Power, and Proclamation by C.L.Peppler published by Chrispy Publications in 2009 (ISBN 978-0-620-43583-3). Chap 4; part 1:
The word ‘proclaim’ means ‘to cry forth’, but in a wider sense it means ‘to put forth’. I have already given the example in a previous post of how preaching is one of the ways in which we can receive anointing. For someone to receive in this way, someone must impart it; the preacher proclaims the Word of God, and in so doing, ‘puts forth’ spiritual power.
The Roman Centurion of Luke 7:7 understood the power of authoritative proclamation because he said to Jesus, “say the word, and my servant will be healed.” His servant was in another town some distance away, yet the soldier knew that Jesus was capable of healing with a word.
Do words themselves have power? Do they contain power? From the earliest ages, occultists have answered with a firm ‘Yes!’ An essential tenet of magic is that certain words have the power to control nature, to transform physical elements, and to evoke spiritual beings. In my opinion, the doctrines of Christian positive confession practitioners come perilously close to the occult view, and constitute a form of ‘Christian magic’. Nevertheless, as the old adage goes, ‘where there is smoke there is fire’. Error is usually a distortion of truth, and so, to quote another old adage, we should not be too quick to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’. I do not believe that words themselves have power, any more than I believe that prayer has power. However, words do play an important role in the process of transferring power. I will develop this further, but first I need to evaluate Jesus’ ministry in this regard.
Jesus’ words of power
I have noted this before, but it is worth repeating, Jesus did not pray for any of the people to whom he ministered. He identified their need, most often made physical contact with them, and then either pronounced them healed or instructed them to do something which indicated their restored condition. I do not believe that we should argue that Jesus, because he was God, did not need to pray. Firstly, the Bible records him praying in other circumstances, and secondly, he was fully human and therefore a valid example for us to follow. I believe that Jesus did not pray for the sick, simply because he knew the will of his Father and he realised that he already carried the anointing to minister healing. This is an important observation. Prayer is a form of communication, not an agency for spiritual ministry. When we pray, we talk to God. We might ask for anointing, or we may inquire if something is according to divine will. Prayer therefore precedes spiritual ministry. However, we habitually pray for the sick when we minister to them, instead of simply ‘healing’ them. We don’t seem to know the will of the Father. We are unsure whether it is his will that we heal the sick… so we lay hands on the sick, pray to God for mercy, and then add ‘if it be thy will”. Jesus, on the other hand, knew his father’s will, and so he had no need to pray when ministering; he simply went ahead and healed. Equally, he knew his Father’s will was for him to deliver the demonised, so he cast out demons wherever he encountered them.
Jesus not only cast out demons and healed the sick, he also addressed non-sentient things in most devastating ways. Matthew 21 contains the fascinating account of how he cursed a fig tree. Verse 19 illustrates this: “Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again! Immediately the tree withered.” The only information we are given is that Jesus spoke and the tree responded by conforming to what was spoken. Matthew 8:26 records how Jesus calmed a fierce storm merely with words. It tells how he, “got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” Once again, inanimate objects and forces responded to words of command!
What are some alternative explanations for this sort of phenomenon?
- The fig tree and the storm had intelligence and were capable of responding to his command.
- Sentient spiritual entities (demons) controlled the tree and storm and responded to Jesus’ command by altering the physical conditions of their ‘host’ objects.
- Jesus released and directed spiritual energy through his words, and this caused an immediate change in the targeted physical environment.
Commentators typically write about faith and symbolism when addressing the incidents of the tree and the storm, but do not touch on the ‘how’ of it. This is hardly surprising, because the likely explanations, as given above, all fall outside the borders of traditional Christian theology. There is no indication in scripture that option (1) is viable. Option (2) is possible (Ephesians 6:12) yet there is no indication in the biblical texts cited that Jesus was addressing ‘principalities’ in control of the storm and the fig tree. Unless there is another alternative, that leaves us with option (3).
Jesus demonstrated his authority over inanimate objects and his ability to affect them dramatically with just his words. He expected his disciples to do likewise. As already cited, he said to them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20 again) Why did Jesus use the word ‘say’ if he meant something else? He did not say, “If you have faith you can move a mountain” and he didn’t say, “If you have faith then pray and ask God to move the mountain.” He said, “you can say to this mountain…”
We are all familiar with how Jesus cast demons out of people. It is clear from the scriptural accounts that he did this with words of authority pronounced in the power of the Holy Spirit. Most Christians, with the exception of cessationists, believe that Jesus commissioned us, as disciples, to continue this aspect of his ministry. Whilst I have on occasion addressed demons in the name of Jesus and ordered them to leave their victims, I have seldom addressed inanimate objects. I know that Jesus cursed the Fig tree, but for some reason the notion that I too can exercise authority and release power in this way does not naturally occur to me. I, and most other Christians, seem to suffer from selective belief. We accept that the commission to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” (Matthew 10:8) applies to both the first disciples and to us. However, although we pray for the sick and drive out the odd demon, we seldom, if ever, raise the dead. We address demons, which we cannot see, yet we refrain from addressing other equally invisible powers and principalities. We speak to people, because we understand words purely as conveyers of information processed by the recipients’ mind. If we understood that verbal proclamation communicates not just ideas, but actually targets the release of spiritual power, then we might be more inclined to speak to ‘mountains’ (Matthew 21:21).
I am not suggesting that we slavishly literalise the scriptures in this regard. I am not suggesting, for instance, that spiritual or physical walls will fall if we march around some thirteen times in seven days and shout mightily, as the Israelites did at Jericho. However, I am suggesting that we become less selective in our response to biblical principles and precedents. If, for example, after due research, thought and prayer, we decide that it is appropriate to lay hands on handkerchiefs and send them off for others to place on a particular sick person, then we should do so. Obviously, we need to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit. The fact that Jesus recreated a man’s eyes by using mud does not mean that all who are born blind can be given sight in this way. We need to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit as he directs us in appropriate words and actions. Jesus stated that he only did what the Father instructed him to do, and we should have this same attitude. I believe that, in the main, much of the church has become both selective and ultra-conservative on the one hand, or irresponsibly literalistic on the other. My conviction is that we should commit ourselves to being obedient to a Christocentric understanding of all that scripture instructs and models.
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