The past few months have been a difficult time for many. Hospital staff and other essential workers are giving heart and soul to their tasks whilst others have an uncertain and frustrating wait to continue their lives as they might wish. This unusual period has given many of us a little more time to think. I write this having come through all the symptoms of Coronavirus four weeks ago and also because a former university friend of mine (a very committed Christian) died in hospital after suffering with Covid-19.
I Understand that none of us wants illness of any kind. I am concerned that in the face of the current pandemic, this natural desire for health may lend a kind of plausibility, or hope at least, to high profile teachers and preachers who assume ‘apostolic’, or ‘prophetic’ ministries and proclaim a prosperity gospel.
For example, Bill Johnson, Senior Leader at Bethel Church, Redding California, famously refused “to create a theology that allows for sickness” (though, ironically, he allows himself to wear eye glasses!). When the 2-year-old daughter of a worship leader at Bethel Church died in December 2019, it was understandable that the church wanted to pray for her resurrection. None of us likes to accept of death and especially that of a child. However, two days went by and prophecies emerged that she would ‘rise again’ on the third day (like Jesus). When this did not occur, the expectation for resurrection grew to the fourth, then the fifth day, etc. until the church leadership recognized that it was not going to happen and instead set up a GoFundMe page to support the family.
A culture has arisen whereby Christians are encouraged to make ‘declarations’ or ‘speak to’ illnesses and command them to leave. Having confidence in God is one thing but becoming ‘Little Gods’ is quite another! The scriptures say, ‘All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have you done?”’ (Dan 4:35). However nice it might seem to be able to take the reins from God, there is actually far more security in regarding Him as Sovereign!
I understand the desire for signs and wonders but we should never assume that they come to pass at our beck and call. Christians believe that death is not the end of the story. The Apostle Paul says, “Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” (2 Cor 4:16-17). I think we all accept that the process of healing through medical advice and medicine is a wonderful gift. We would love everyone to be healed from every pain. But we also have tremendous admiration for those who with faith and perseverance suffer with physical problems. I have just as much respect for those who faithfully tend the sick, including those who care for sufferers of dementia and alzheimer’s etc.
This brings us to the current pandemic. Kris Vallotton, another Leader from Bethel Church, referring to Covid-19 on his podcast, announced,
Let’s just begin to speak against this virus, and let’s use our faith to move this virus out … we can send it to Mars because we don’t think there’s any Martians there, so why don’t we just altogether send this thing to Mars, wherever, out of the universe … and let’s just begin to believe God and let’s fast … a forty day fast of negativity and fear and let’s feast on chocolate…this is the fast I love, we will fast fear and we will eat chocolate.
Poor Martians. They get the virus and he gets the chocolate!
The true nature of prophecy is frequently misunderstood. Prophecy speaks truth to power. A real prophet does not utter the first thing that comes into his head as if he were in some spiritual overdrive. Currently, there is much nonsense that passes for ‘prophecy’. It tends to be bright and optimistic about specific people and churches. Yes, prophecy is intended to build up the church but it does not ‘butter it up’, scratch the backs of the leadership and bypass truth along the way. The difficulty is that we can end up with sound-bite Christianity where leaders and ‘prophets’ get more excited by their own words than by clearly stated truths. They run the risk of pronouncing a limited range of positive ‘waffle’ so that everyone will raise their hands and cry, ‘Yes!’
It is a sad part of human history that so many tend to follow brash, strong, charismatic leaders. In many cases, it is simply easier to follow than to think. Now is especially a time for thought. Believers should take care not to fall prey to a hyped-up, platform-based Christianity with agendas set by external “apostles.” Rather, we might move towards to a view of God that that is both vibrant and expectant and yet has integrity.
In times of plague and pestilence, the presumed spiritual authority and aura of ‘prophetic insight’ is particularly dangerous. Let us be cautious against blind acceptance. There is a significant difference between faith and credulity. Let us be on our guard against those who bid us in the name of “faith” to leave behind thought, indeed, wisdom. Faith takes us above our knowledge; it never leads us contrary to it.
Paul Burrell lives in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, England. He studied Composition and Biblical Studies at The University College of North Wales where he gained a B.Mus degree. He won the BBC Royal Wedding Song Competition in 1986 and since then has written music for major sports events and for British Cathedrals including Westminster Abbey. He also won two scholarships to the Chautauqua Institution, NY.