In the first post in this series we looked at the Christological errors being espoused by Bill Johnson. The reader also saw what I believe to be the driving presuppositions behind the denial of Christ's Divine attributes during His earthly ministry, namely an idolatrous esteem for miracles. That same presupposition is explicitly the guiding principle in this next area of examination, the so-called "Healing in the atonement" teaching.
Let me again preface my article by stating where I sympathize with Mr. Johnson. I whole heartily agree with Mr. Johnson that sickness and death are NOT normal. We were not originally made to die, leave our bodies and be unclothed spirits (2 Cor 5:1-4). So, let me be very clear, sickness and death are tragic. As a Christian, I long for the day when that last enemy, death, is put under king Jesus' feet (1 Cor 15:26 cf Psalm 110:1). With that said, I appreciate the passion Bill Johnson has to see these things taken away, he is sincere in wanting to see sickness and death eliminated and health restored, and with that I am in cheerful agreement.
It's the theology that Bill Johnson has built around healing that is the problem, not the aim. He has a good goal but has drifted off the path and into bypass meadow, much in the same mindset of Bunyan's Christian thinking he was achieving something good, yet in reality, falling into error.
Defining The Healing in the Atonement DoctrineLet us firstly define what this healing in the atonement doctrine actually is teaching. The marrow of the healing in the atonement teaching is that just as Christ died for our sins He also died for our bodily healing. Thus, healing is guaranteed to people just as surely as salvation from our sins (and the wrath they deserve) is guaranteed by Christ's death. So, bodily healing is readily available on demand, Christ bought it. The doctrine is said to have its Biblical base in Isaiah 53:4-5 which reads:
"Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:4-5)
Now a possible translation of "griefs" in Hebrew "khol-ee'" From H2470; malady, anxiety, calamity: - disease, grief, (is) sick (-ness), is sicknesses. Also, a possible translation for "sorrows" in Hebrew "mak-o-baw'" From H3510; anguish or (figuratively) affliction: - grief, pain, sorrow. So in the text there is a possible meaning of the words that indeed is closely related to sickness, and to this the healing in the atonement teachers have latched on. (Strong's Concordance)
Further Scriptural citation for this doctrine often include the close relationship between individuals being forgiven their sins and being bodily healed. I have personally heard the doctrine being extracted from the healing of the paralytic in Matthew 9 where Christ says:
"For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'?
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he then said to the paralytic--"Rise, pick up your bed and go home." (Matt 9:6)
The logic goes something like this, Jesus in the above account was saying that the evidence that the paralytic was forgiven of his sins was shown in his consequent healing. Or, to put it another way, he was healed because he was forgiven. Therefore, it stands to reason that all those whom Christ has forgiven have full access to this bodily healing, just as he died for their sins that they may be forgiven, He equally died that their bodies might no longer taste sickness. This coupled with the sickness oriented rendering of Isaiah 53, and it seems a pretty airtight argument, especially if you are not thoroughly familiar with all of scripture.
By way of my making a response to this teaching it must be pressed upon the understanding of those who hold to and teach this doctrine that it has broad implications which threaten other Biblical doctrines and our own practice. These Biblical teachings under assault include the sovereignty of God, God's goodness in His sovereignty, the Biblical teaching on sickness and in a more empirical vein the ubiquity of sickness in our world and lives.
Before I go into a rebuttal of the position, I will let these things be stated by Bill Johnson himself. In Video #1 here, Mr. Johnson asserts that sickness is never the will of God and in fact to think that God is sovereign over sickness is actually to make Him out to be a child abuser. I find that almost every time some teacher says things like, "If God is like X then He's a rapist" that the Bible teaches that God in fact is like X. There are also many other statements made in the video I would consider outlandish, particularly the Smith Wigglesworth quote that seems to make God into an impersonal force we tap into.
Video #2 here is Mr. Johnson replying to 3 questions, 1.) Does God ever cause sickness? 2.) Does God ever choose not to heal? 3.) What was Paul's thorn in the flesh? Johnson of course answers no to the first two questions, but in doing so really has to make the devil bigger than he really is and make God smaller than He is, and again God seems more like a force that we tap into the more I listen to Mr. Johnson. In response to the third question Mr. Johnson says he just doesn't know what Paul's thorn in the flesh was, but he knows it wasn't sickness.
In this #3 and last video Mr. Johnson makes a statement that I think is very revealing and really supports my thought as to why there are all of these odd doctrines in Mr. Johnson's theology. Mr. Johnson states at the 1:00 mark, "I refuse to create a theology that allows for sickness." Furthermore, Johnson actually says that if you don't believe in all of this healing on demand business or think Paul's thorn is some sort of bodily ailment you are preaching a different gospel. Please note, this video has written comments by someone obviously not sympathetic to Johnson's position, I rather don't like that, as Johnson's own words are enough.
Having let Mr. Johnson speak for himself I begin my rebuttal with the doctrine of God's sovereignty followed by a Biblical exegesis of the popular healing in the atonement passages, the Biblical accounts of sickness as well as our common experience with sickness.
I. The God Who is Good and Sovereign Over All Things, Including Sickness
One of the "stupid doctrines" to quote Bill Johnson, that he seems nauseated by in the first video, as it implies God is in control of sickness, is the doctrine of God's sovereignty. This teaching is directly under assault by the "sickness is never of God" slogans. Is God in control of all things or is He being controlled by something(s)? It is impossible to hold to the healing on demand position and affirm God's sovereignty, because it would mean that every sickness is from the devil, and God would rather that there were no sickness but for some reason He can't stop that pesky devil from running a muck and spreading the Flu virus. Christians often mouth quaint phrases like, "God is in control" but if we really flush that out we find He is in control of things we'd rather Him not be...but He after all isn't a tame Lion...He isn't safe...but He is good.
A. God's Sovereignty Over Evil
The most moving narrative in Scripture in regards to the sovereignty of God is found in the story of Joseph. In the life of Joseph we see a man who has received a promise from God and yet his entire life is one tragedy and suffering on top of another. From his brothers intending to murder him but instead doing the next best thing and selling him as a slave to Ishmaelites, to his slavery and false accusation of rape from the loose wife of his master. From there, as a prisoner in a dungeon, to thinking he might get a release by helping the cup bearer of Pharaoh only to be forgotten by the cup bearer for years.
Finally, Joseph is exalted to the place of 2nd over all of the land of Egypt through his interpreting of Pharoah's dreams. In this position he is able to save the lives of many including his own treacherous brothers through his wise preparations for the famine he knew was coming. It is after going through the valley of shadow full of tragedy and suffering that on the other end Joseph can look back recognizing that God did was its author. This reaches a climax as he is able to gaze upon his wicked brothers and see the hand of God guiding even them as he says:
"So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt." (Gen 45:8)
"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (Gen 50:20)
Here we see Joseph clearly confessing God's sovereignty over all the events of his life, particularly the evil ones, with a good end intended by God in it all. So, in regard to God's goodness I agree with Mr. Johnson, God is good all the time, we just need to understand God's goodness in the same manner as Joseph, and the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28. The "all things" includes a lot of trials are struggles.
B. God's Sovereignty Over Sickness in ParticularContrary to Bill Johnson's Q & A answers to the question "Does God ever cause or allow sickness?" the God of the Bible declares that yes indeed He does cause sickness, and the reality of this is something He confesses boldly as it distinguishes His sovereignty and power. We often overlook passages that deal with the LORD specifically striking someone with illness, one instance is the judgement of God upon David's child born out of his adultery with Bathsheba:
"And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife bare unto David, and it was very sick." (2 Sam 12:15)
Why did the child get sick? The LORD struck him. The average sentimentalist may not like this but there it is. Let God be God. Other examples worth noting are as follows:
"And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw them in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. It shall become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and become boils breaking out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt." (Ex 9:8-9)
"They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, "Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people." For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there. The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven." (1 Samuel 5:11-12)
In a more clear cut pronouncement on His sovereignty over sickness we turn to the book of Exodus. We find this proclamation in the context of Moses stating that he is slow of speech and doesn't think he is the best candidate to go before Pharaoh and give him the "Let my people go" speech, to which God replies:
"Then the LORD said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?" (Exodus 4:11)
Here we see God confessing that it is He who decides whose eyes will work, whose mouths shall speak, and whose ears shall hear. He decides that, not some fallen angel, running around doing whatever he wants while God bites His nails trembling at the devil's works and fretting that the church hasn't activated the power of healing like Smith Wigglesworth. No, God rules over disabilities and therefore over abilities. When someone is good at sports or music or is very intelligent people will say that person, "Has a gift", whether or not they realize they are recognizing a Gift Giver by saying so.
Yet, on the flip side when people are seen with physical problems, we want to protect God and say He didn't do that. People often become indignant and begin to demand "Why?!" from God to which scripture anticipating such a reaction to God's sovereignty replies:
"But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?" (Romans 9:20-21)
Now I understand that people at first don't like this, they want a God that is manageable rather than One who the Supreme Manager of all things, and that is why Arminianism reigns in regard to soteriology. But, that issue aside, once we submit to this teaching of scripture, we find that the doctrine that seemed so dark and void of comfort is actually teeming with sweetness, comfort and light. After all, when you hear from the doctor, "It's terminal." what is more comforting, the notion that this is just an accident that God wishes wouldn't be but for some reason He can't stop it, or are we comforted to know with scripture that not a hair can fall from our heads without it being the will of our Father in heaven (Matt 10:29-30)?
I'll take the latter over the Johnsonite position.
II. The Bible on Healing in the Atonement. Or an Attempt to Exegete the Texts Most Used by Advocates of the Doctrine.A. Isaiah 53
There is no controversy as to the actual language in Isaiah 53:3-4, it certainly can mean sickness and pains, hence the footnotes in your Bible's margin telling you this. So, if we let scripture interpret scripture we must ask, how is the Isaiah passage viewed in the New Testament? Lets see:
"And when Jesus was come into Peter's house, he saw his wife's mother laid, and sick of a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them. When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." (Matt 8:14-17)
In Matthew's gospel we indeed do see the Isaiah 53:4 text used directly in regard to healing. The healings Christ performed are said to be the fulfillment of the Isaiah text. Yet, I hasten to add that that is it. Bodily healing isn't in the atonement or death of Christ, but rather was in His earthly ministry. It was during His earthly ministry that this part of the Isaiah text was said to be fulfilled in relation to sickness, not on the cross, or so says the Spirit in Matthew's gospel.
Next, in the context of suffering and persecution the Spirit in Peter's first epistle says:
"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:
Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." (1 Peter 2:21-25)
Now here Peter, unlike in Matthew's citation of Isaiah 53, is clearly talking about the atonement/death of Christ on the cross. It is also apparent that he understands the "healing" of Christ's atonement to be akin to a lost sheep returning to its shepherd. The healing Peter sees here is relational between man and God centering upon forgiveness. He points to it in an exemplary manner in order to call believers to imitate Christ in His suffering wrongfully at the hands of persecutors. Having been forgiven much they too can forgive.
The healing in the atonement that the Spirit tells us about is that of men who were once at enmity with God (Rom 8:7) being restored to God, what greater form of healing can there be?
With all of that said, we see why the language of "sickness" and "pain" is treated more figuratively in regard to the atonement itself by the Apostle Peter. Sin is described in Isaiah itself as a disgusting sickness (Isaiah 1:1-7). The Spirit uses the word "sins" (1 Pet 2:24) and there do we see the true healing in the atonement. The bodily healing aspect of the prophecy was fulfilled in the healing ministry of Jesus, and the greater reality of the sin bearing savior and sinful man's restoration to God is fulfilled in the substitutionary death of Christ. After all what is sicker than a guilty sinner? Who is in more pain than one who suffers under the wrath and curse of God?
B. Is This Taught in the New Testament?If this healing in the atonement doctrine is such an important part of what Christ did that Bill Johnson actually has the temerity to accuse the deniers of it of "Preaching another gospel" where is it taught in the New Testament? Where does the new testament teach that believers are never to be sick, and that in fact getting a cold is evidence of a demonic assault needing to be resisted? Well, the answer to both of these questions should be obvious, it's nowhere in the New Testament.
But, I return now to the assertion made at the beginning in defining this teaching that Christ in healing individuals made a direct connection with their having been forgiven. They were healed as evidence of forgiveness. Lets look at that passage again:
"For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'?
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he then said to the paralytic--"Rise, pick up your bed and go home." (Matt 9:6)
Let me be somewhat silly and say that the text means what it says. Anyone can come up to someone and say "Your sins are forgiven." and that statement be a non-reality, we after all can't see sins leaving someone nor the persons' standing before God. So, to show that Jesus' declaration is not in the same category of a "Your sins are forgiven" declaration from some charlatan, Jesus provides a visual display that He and His proclamation are different from that of some irreverent blasphemer, Jesus gives them a physical display of His authority.
Is there a 1 to 1 correlation here between bodily healing and being forgiven? Absolutely not. The reason for the healing in this instance is given right in the text, and it wasn't that everyone who has been forgiven has access to bodily healing, but rather "But that you may know". Know what? Know who Jesus is. There were skeptics at this display questioning Christ's absolving a man of his sins and Jesus gave the skeptics a visual aid that they might know a bit about the Son of Man and His power.
Another aspect worthy of note is the repeated Johnsonite assertion that Jesus always healed the sick, as sickness was intolerable to Him. Again, as dealt with in the first post, Christ is allegedly our entirely "imitatable" example in this regard according to Mr. Johnson. This "Christ always healed" assertion simply is begging the question. For example, Jesus we know would have passed by a certain beggar who was lame and daily was brought to the gate outside the temple. We know this as this lame man was later healed in Acts 3:2 by Peter.
III. Accounts of Sickness in the New Testament
If the healing in the atonement doctrine is indeed the case, there certainly are a large number of New Testament scriptural accounts attesting to ill believers that contradict this teaching.
"Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did. And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber."(Acts 9:36-37)
Epaphraditus:"Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick.
For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful." (Phil 2:25-28)
"Erastus abode at Corinth: but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick." (2 Tim 4:20)
Paul:"And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." (2 Cor 12:7-10)
The following passage in Galatians is why most Bible scholars assume Paul's thorn in the flesh had to do with sight:
"You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of the blessing you felt? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me." (Gal 4:13-15)
Didn't all of these believers know that healing was theirs on demand? Didn't they know that sickness was not part of the kingdom reality that was now their possession? What is Paul doing leaving Trophimus sick?
Obviously, the New Testament account contradicts the healing in the atonement/healing on demand doctrine. We have believers like Tabitha falling sick and dying, faithful disciples like Epaphroditus nearly dying , and we see co-laborers with Paul like Trophimus having to be left behind because of sickness rendering them unable to travel. Also, we have the apostle Paul Himself speaking of a "thorn in the flesh". Where is the thorn again? In his flesh. So, whatever that may be (blindness, or nagging injury from a persecution) it is clearly physical, and it's not going away, God Himself has said so.
Unlike Bill Johnson's assertion that he, "Refuses to form a theology that allows for sickness" the honest student of the Bible isn't allowed the luxury of deciding what the Bible says about sickness a-priori. If we just let the Bible say what it says we see that Paul's suffering was not only physical but that he actually saw a God given purpose in his sufferings.
IV. Sickness and Our General Human ExperienceSince Adam, sickness and death has been a part of the human experience. It is not normal, that is why we weep over departed saints. Those who die tend to die of something, and water is wet. With that said, men like Oral Roberts who claimed to have never been sick in decades still die of something regardless of their delusions. As I said in the first post, I have many dear friends who have been heavily influenced by Bill Johnson and the Bethel Redding Church. A number of them I know have gone to doctors for surgeries and medical treatments. Again, if all of this healing in the atonement/on demand business is true, that simply shouldn't be the case.
In fact, Bill Johnson himself was recently hospitalized for anemia. Of course it was called a demonic attack, but that must mean the devil can thwart God and does so...well...A LOT...because I see sick believers all the time. But lets stay on Mr. Johnson himself since he is the one making these extravagant claims and then not living the reality. Leaving aside acute illness, we can casually observe that, Mr. Johnson's hair is gray, he is getting rather wrinkled in the skin, and he has to wear glasses in order to see properly...healing is in the atonement?
Why all of this unreality? I would humbly say the unreality exists because the healing the atonement doctrine simply isn't Biblical.
Let's just keep it simple, if healing is in the atonement why does Mr. Johnson wear glasses? Seriously, that really should settle the whole debate, no fancy exegesis required. Rather than paying the $200 every few years for a new pair of spectacles why not pay $25 and purchase his own teaching series, "Healing: Our Birthright" at the Bethel store and grab his healing? If God never causes sickness, then what are we to make of David's child, the tumors in Egypt and on the Ark harboring Philistines all being struck with sickness, which the Bible explicitly state is from God? Not to mention the covenantal threats of disease upon the Israelites in Deuteronomy if they break the covenant.
None of that makes sense if we are to live by a theology based upon quaint slogans. All slogan theology leaves us with is a God somewhat like a doting mother with a head full of curlers who showers us with kisses and cookies everytime we skin our knees playing kick the can in the alley when she told us to clean our room.
Fortunately, man does not live by quaint sayings but the word of God.
Lastly, the Johnsonite view of God's sovereignty is surely muddled, I haven't heard Mr. Johnson explain this doctrine but he is certain to have a good deal of problems in doing so. But, the doctrine of God's sovereignty is just another bloody victim that has been slain alongside Christ's Divine attributes at the idolatrous altar dedicated to miracles that Mr. Johnson has erected. If we approach theology like Mr. Johnson, and from the outset have predetermined that certain conclusions are off limits, as he said, "I refuse to create a theology where God allows sickness", then we shouldn't at all be surprised to find that we have to engage in all sorts of scriptural acrobatics, and outright cut and pasting.
But, as I said previously, I have no personal axe to grind here, and I trust I have been charitable in my critique without compromising the truth. I just haven't really seen a rebuttal of this theology done in a responsible way and am responding to the need.