Monday, 9 December 2019

Christian Healing Ministry Should Be Free for Those in Need

We know from the Gospels that when the Lord Jesus was on earth, supernaturally healing people formed a big part of His ministry.  The apostles and non-apostles also joined Him in healing work (e.g., Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-12).  Then, later, after the Lord had ascended to heaven, apostles and non-apostles continued with this work (e.g., Acts 3:1-10; James 5:14-15).

Nor should we expect anything different today.  The idea, accepted by some Christians, that God ceased working healing miracles sometime in the first century is a big mistake and fits very poorly with the Bible. 

For a defence of the position that healing ministry should take place throughout the Christian era, see my article: God Wants to Use Christians in Miracle Work Today.

Jesus and the early Christians

Something that we need to understand clearly about the healing ministries of Jesus and the early church is that there is no evidence that they ever charged people for this.  Healing ministry was free for those in need.

In fact, we are told in Matt 10:8 that when the Lord sent out the twelve to heal, He said to them: 
“Heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, expel demons.  Freely you received.  Freely give.”

Nothing in the New Testament leads us to think that any early Christian ever acted outside this principle of giving freely to people who needed healing.

It is true that some who were helped then chose to give financial or practical support to those who had helped them (e.g., Luke 10:8).  But there is no evidence that Jesus or early Christians ever charged people for ministry or that they put any pressure on people to give them money or anything else.  Instead, they gave freely out of love, without asking for anything in return.

Those today who charge for healing ministry

Something that really gets under my skin is Christian healing ministries today that charge people for healing sessions. 

There are several things wrong with this:

(1) Those who do this are failing to follow biblical practice. 

As I have noted, in Matt 10:8 Jesus commands the twelve to give healing ministry freely, and there is no good reason for thinking that Christians today shouldn’t also follow this command.

Importantly too, the Bible teaches us how to act not only by giving us commands but also by giving us the example of the early church to follow.  And nowhere in Scripture is there any suggestion that any early Christian ever charged anyone for healing ministry. 

(2) Love is right at the heart of the Christian faith, and love involves giving freely to people without expecting anything in return. 

I suspect that many of those who charge for healing ministry have a poor understanding of the love of God or the love that is required of believers.

(3) No healing ministry today is going to result in everyone who is ministered to being healed.  And when people are not healed but charged a fee anyway, it often greatly damages the reputation of Christians and the Christian faith in the eyes of non-believers. 

(4) Many of those who seek healing ministry are unable to work due to illness or disability.  This means that those who receive this ministry are often among the poorest in society. 

There is something especially nasty about people claiming to be Christian healers who charge money from suffering people who are poorer than themselves. 

(5) Healing ministry requires faith (e.g., Matt 17:19-20; James 5:14-15), and it is ironic that those who ask people for money to do this ministry seem to have such little faith that God will meet their financial needs.

Those today who put pressure on people to give money

There are many in Christian healing ministry today who don’t go as far as charging for healing sessions, but who nevertheless put pressure on people to give money.

All too often, the websites of healing ministries try to persuade readers who are seeking healing to donate money.  Sometimes this is even done on the home page.  And frequently suggestions are made about how much people should give if they are able. 

This sort of practice is not as bad as actually charging people for healing ministry, but it still leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.  It also goes wrong in all five of the ways that I listed above.

Workers deserve wages

It is true that workers deserve wages (e.g., Luke 10:7; 1 Tim 5:18), and this is a principle that applies to healing ministers as much as to any other Christians.

I don’t intend in this article to discuss how healing ministries are funded.  However, I will say that if people who have received healing ministry really do want to give to those who have helped them without being charged or pressured, there is nothing wrong with that.  This is what we find in Luke 10:8 and by implication in Matt 10:10.

What healing ministers should never do, however, is charge people who are seeking healing or pressure them to give money, whether before or after they have received ministry.

Some suggestions

Here are a few suggestions for how healing ministries operate in the area of finance:

(1) As I have said, a healing ministry should never charge or pressure people for money. 

If this means that the ministry can no longer function, then stop the ministry.  Take it as a sign from God either that He doesn’t want this ministry to exist, or that He wants to pause it until it can operate without charging or pressuring people for money.

(2) If possible, on the website of the healing ministry don’t even have a link that people can click on to donate. 

I understand that this will not always be possible, and I don’t want to condemn those who do have a link for donation.  But if the ministry can get by without asking for donations, that is a great thing to do. 

(3) Where a website does have a link for donation, make it as discreet as possible.

(4) When people click on a link for donation, have a few paragraphs that say something along the following lines:

·       Explain that you would love not to ask for donations, but you really do feel that you need to do this. 
·       Stress very strongly that healing ministry is free and that no one is under any pressure whatsoever to give money, whether before or after receiving ministry. 
·       Give no suggested figure for a donation. 
·       Say that you would rather a person doesn’t give than gives reluctantly. 
·       Suggest that people who receive ministry and who would like to donate wait a few months until after the ministry, to make sure that they still feel the same way.

(5) Take a decision that everyone in your healing ministry who is paid for this work will have a personal income that is lower than the average income for people living in that country.  Say on your website that this is your policy. 

Drawing people to Christ

As God’s people, one of our big purposes is to draw people to Jesus Christ and the salvation that is in Him.

When Christians give freely out of love to people in need, including to those who are ill or disabled, this is bound to draw some to Him. 

By contrast, charging people for healing sessions or pressuring them to give money is bound to put some off coming to Him.  Everyone involved in healing ministry needs to make sure that they don’t fall into this trap.


See also my articles:




Is It Always God’s Will to Heal Christians?

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Romans 11:16-24 and Apostasy


One area of disagreement among Christians concerns falling away from the faith, also known as apostasy.  Some say that God will never allow a genuine, born-again believer to apostatise and finally end up in hell.  Others say that this does sometimes happen. 

Personally, I much prefer the view that genuine Christians do sometimes apostatise and miss out on final salvation.  I think this view fits best with the overall teaching of the Bible.

AN IMPORTANT PASSAGE

An important passage on this topic is Romans 11:16-24, where the apostle Paul says the following to the Gentile Christians among his readers: 
16 Now if the firstfruits offered up are holy, so is the whole batch.  And if the root is holy, so are the branches.
17 Now if some of the branches were broken off, and you, though a wild olive branch, were grafted in among them and have come to share in the rich root of the cultivated olive tree, 18 do not brag that you are better than those branches.  But if you do brag—you do not sustain the root, but the root sustains you. 
19 Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ 
20 True enough; they were broken off by unbelief, but you stand by faith.  Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.  21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either. 
22 Therefore, consider God's kindness and severity: severity toward those who have fallen but God's kindness toward you—if you remain in His kindness.  Otherwise you too will be cut off.  
23 And even they, if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, because God has the power to graft them in again.  24 For if you were cut off from your native wild olive and against nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these—the natural branches—be grafted into their own olive tree?”

(Scripture readings in this article are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)

In what follows, I will argue that this passage is a strong piece of biblical evidence that genuine Christians sometimes fall away from the faith and miss out on final salvation.

The discussion will proceed in three stages. 

First, I will say something about the symbols in this passage.

Second, I will argue that in this passage Paul is warning genuine Christians against falling away from the faith and ending up in hell.  At this point I will not yet be asking whether this actually ever happens to genuine Christians.  I will simply be arguing that Paul warns genuine Christians against it. 

Third, I will argue that the fact that Paul warns genuine Christians against finally missing out on salvation quite strongly suggests that they do sometimes fall away and end up in hell. 

SYMBOLS IN THIS PASSAGE

Throughout this passage Paul uses the metaphor of a cultivated olive tree, including references to the branches and root of this tree.  He also mentions a wild olive branch (v. 17) that is grafted into the cultivated olive tree and that comes from a wild olive tree (v. 24), and in verses 17-24 he addresses this (formerly) wild olive branch directly.  Before we go any further, I need to say something about what all these things symbolise, giving no more detail than will be necessary for the following discussion.

The cultivated olive tree

First, there should be no doubt that the cultivated olive tree symbolises the saved people of God, both those in pre-Christian times and those living in the Christian era. 

To begin with, this perfectly fits the context of chapters 9-11, where Paul is discussing how the rejection of Christ by a majority of ethnic Jews in his day fits with the salvation purposes of God. 

Importantly too, the cultivated olive tree can’t be a symbol of ethnic Israel as a whole.  Paul refers to Jews who rejected Christ as branches that are broken off the tree (verses 17, 19-20), i.e., that cease to belong to the tree.  However, Jews who rejected Him didn’t cease to be ethnic Jews.  So this tree can’t symbolise ethnic Israel as a whole.

Nor can the tree be a symbol of saved people only in the Christian era, because the tree is envisaged existing before the Christian era began.  When Paul refers in verses 17, 19-20 to branches that have been broken off, the timing of this breaking off is understood to have been when Jews, confronted with the gospel, rejected Christ.  This implies that the tree itself already existed  before the coming of the Christian gospel.

We should have no hesitation, then, in saying that the cultivated olive tree symbolises the saved people of God in both pre-Christian and Christian times.

The root of the cultivated olive tree

Second, there is some debate about what the root (verses 17-18) of the cultivated olive tree symbolises. 

The majority scholarly opinion, which I share, is that it refers to Abraham and the patriarchs of Israel.  This would fit well with Paul’s description of God’s saved people as a spiritual kind of Israel in Rom 2:25-29; 9:6 and in some of his other letters too. 

For our purposes, however, the precise meaning of the root of this tree is not that important.

The wild olive tree

Third, the wild olive tree (v. 24) surely symbolises unsaved Gentiles.  There is nothing else that it could reasonably be.

The branches

Fourth, it makes sense to think that each branch symbolises an individual person.  Each natural branch of the cultivated olive tree that is attached to the trunk of this tree symbolises a saved Jew.  Each natural branch of the cultivated olive tree that is broken off this tree symbolizes an unsaved Jew.  And each branch of the wild olive tree that is grafted into the cultivated olive tree symbolises a saved Gentile.

This means that the formerly wild olive branch, now grafted into the cultivated olive tree, that Paul addresses in verses 17-24 symbolises each individual Gentile Christian.

There are some, however, who claim that the ingrafted branch that Paul addresses in these verses symbolises not each individual Gentile Christian but Gentile Christians as a whole. 

Sometimes those who make this claim use the following argument to try to support it:

Even in Paul’s day there would have been many more saved people than the number of branches that would be found on a literal olive tree.  And today there are millions who are saved.  This means that if each branch symbolises an individual saved person, we would have the absurd picture of a tree with an impossibly large number of branches.  Therefore, we should take the formerly wild olive branch that is grafted into the cultivated olive tree as a symbol of the mass of Gentile Christians as a whole.

This argument is very weak.  There are a few points to make here:

(1) Biblical metaphors often allow for artistic licence, and there is no need at all to expect the metaphorical olive tree to correspond precisely to olive trees as they are found in real life.  It is in any case very easy for us to grasp the concept of a tree that has millions of branches.

(2) If we were to take the single formerly wild olive branch as a symbol of Gentile Christians as a whole, we have a difficulty. 

In verses 17, 19-20 Paul, referring to unsaved Jews, says that multiple branches were broken off the cultivated olive tree.  Similarly, in verses 23-24, again referring to these unsaved Jews, he says that multiple branches could potentially be grafted back into this tree again. 

If the single formerly wild olive branch in this passage symbolised Gentile Christians as a whole, we would expect Paul to have used a single branch to symbolise unbelieving Jews who were broken off or who might be grafted in again.  We wouldn’t expect him to have symbolised one group of people as multiple branches and another group of people as one branch. 

The fact that he refers to multiple branches being broken off or potentially being grafted back in suggests that each of these branches symbolises an individual Jew.  And if each of these branches symbolises an individual Jew, we would expect the formerly wild olive branch to symbolise an individual Gentile Christian.

(3) There is another difficulty with taking the single formerly wild olive branch as a symbol of Gentile Christians as a whole.

In verses 20-21 Paul tells this branch to be afraid lest it is broken off the cultivated olive tree. 

This warning looks natural if it is directed to each individual Gentile Christian. 

However, it looks strange if directed to Gentile Christians as a whole.  Viewed in this way, Paul would be speaking as if God might decide to suddenly remove salvation from all Gentile Christians.  But Paul surely didn’t believe that God would actually do this or anything remotely like it, so it is difficult to understand why he would want to phrase things in this way.

All things considered, then, we do much better to understand the formerly wild olive branch that Paul addresses in verses 17-24 as a symbol of each individual Gentile Christian. 

DOES PAUL WARN GENUINE CHRISTIANS NOT TO LOSE SALVATION?

Now that I have said something about the symbols in this passage, we are ready to turn to our first question:

In the passage does Paul warn genuine, saved Christians not to fall away from the faith and finally end up in hell? 

At this point we are not asking if this actually ever happens to genuine believers.  For the time being, we are simply asking if he warns them against this.

Paul surely does give this warning

Paul surely does warn genuine Christians not to miss out on final salvation.  There are a few reasons for believing this:

(1) As I have already said, the cultivated olive tree symbolises the saved people of God.  And as I have said too, the formerly wild olive branch, now grafted into the cultivated olive tree, that Paul addresses in verses 17-24 surely symbolises each individual Gentile believer.  So when Paul tells each ingrafted branch to be afraid in case God does not spare it (verses 20-21), it makes sense to think that he is warning genuine, saved Christians against losing salvation. 

(2) We must take note of the clause “you stand by faith” in v. 20 that Paul speaks to each ingrafted branch.  Paul would hardly say this to people who he didn’t really believe had saving faith.

(3) We should carefully note too how in v. 22 Paul says that in order to experience God’s kindness and to avoid being cut off, his readers must remain in His kindness.  But surely only genuine, saved Christians would be told that they would have these benefits by remaining as they already are.


We should have no hesitation, then, in saying that in this passage Paul warns genuine, saved Gentile Christians against falling away from the faith and finally ending up in hell. 

An attempt to avoid the conclusion

Although the passage seems so clearly to be warning Christians against losing the salvation they already have, there are some who try to avoid this conclusion. 

One such attempt is based on the idea that I mentioned earlier, that the formerly wild olive branch that Paul addresses in verses 17-24 symbolises not each individual Gentile Christian but Gentile Christians as a whole.

The argument goes in this way:

If we were to think that the formerly wild olive branch symbolises each individual Gentile Christian, then it would be fair to conclude that the passage is a warning to Gentile Christians not to lose salvation.  However, this branch doesn’t symbolise each individual Gentile Christian.  It actually symbolises Gentile Christians as a whole.  And Paul can’t have thought that God would actually break off this branch, i.e., remove salvation from all Gentile Christians.  This shows that Paul is using the metaphor loosely without trying to make the details of the metaphor match the details of the reality the metaphor is symbolising.  In fact, the image he has created of this branch potentially being broken off is not supposed to be taken at face value.  Instead, we should interpret this image as a warning to Gentile readers simply to make sure that they have come to saving faith in the first place.

It is true that Paul uses the metaphor loosely.  I have already said something about this when I noted that Paul’s metaphorical olive tree has many more branches than would be found on a literal olive tree. 

It is true too that Paul can’t have thought that God would remove salvation from all Gentile Christians.

Nevertheless, this argument fails.  There are two points to make here:

(1) As we have seen, there are good reasons why the branch should be understood to symbolise each individual Gentile Christian rather than Gentile Christians as a whole.

(2) Even if, for the sake of argument, we were to assume that the branch symbolises Gentile Christians as a whole, the effect of the passage would surely be the same as if the branch symbolised each Gentile Christian.  From the perspective of a reader of Romans, any warning given to Gentiles as a group would be the same as a warning given to each Gentile.  So anyone who agrees that if the branch symbolised each Gentile Christian then the warning is about losing salvation, should also agree that if the branch symbolises Gentile Christians as a whole then the warning would also be about losing salvation.

This attempt to claim that the passage is not a warning against losing salvation therefore fails.

Another attempt to avoid the conclusion

There is another way in which some try to avoid the conclusion that the passage warns genuine Christians against losing salvation.  The argument goes as follows:

In verses 17, 19-20 Paul refers to branches that were broken off the cultivated olive tree.  This refers to ethnic Jews who fail to believe in Christ and are therefore not included in the saved people of God.  However, these Jews were never included in the saved people of God.  In terms of the metaphor, this means that they were never really part of the olive tree.  So Paul must be using the metaphor loosely without trying to make the details of the metaphor match the details of the reality the metaphor is symbolising.  Therefore, given that Paul can speak about branches (i.e., Jews) being broken off the tree (i.e., the saved people of God) who were never really part of the tree, he could easily be doing the same in verses 20-21 regarding Gentiles.  This means that the warning Paul seems to give in this passage to Gentile Christians against losing salvation could really be a warning to his Gentile readers simply to make sure that they have a genuine faith in Christ in the first place.

This argument also fails.

Again, it is true, as I have already noted, that Paul uses the metaphor loosely. 

I think it is true too that the metaphor is being used loosely in the way described in this argument regarding ethnic Jews.  I think that at least some of the unsaved Jews that Paul describes as branches that have been broken off were never really saved.  This means that in terms of the metaphor at least some of these branches were never really part of the tree.  I do think it is possible that some Jews really did lose their salvation at the time they rejected Jesus as Messiah.  However, the point does seem to stand that Paul refers to at least some branches (i.e., Jews) being broken off the tree who he believes were never really part of the tree (i.e., the saved people of God) in the first place.  I accept that.

However, the fact that Paul uses the metaphor loosely in this way doesn’t mean that his warning to Gentile Christians against being broken off the tree isn’t really a warning against losing salvation.  There is a big difference between the Jews who Paul says were broken off the tree and the Gentiles he warns against being broken off the tree:

In verses 17, 19-20 Paul just gives a bare mention of branches (i.e., Jewish unbelievers) being broken off the tree.  He doesn’t give any more information about these people.  It is therefore not difficult to take the image of being broken off imprecisely and think that some or all of them were never really part of the tree, i.e., saved. 

By contrast, when it comes to the Gentiles who might potentially be broken off the tree, Paul gives much more than a bare mention.  Referring to his readers who were in this category, he says in v. 20, “You stand by faith.” Surely this has to be referring to genuinely saved believers.  He also says in v. 22 that in order to experience God’s kindness and to avoid being cut off, his readers must remain in His kindness, and surely only genuine, saved Christians would be told that they would have these benefits by remaining as they already are.

It is therefore not possible to use the looseness of the metaphor to argue that Paul is not really directing a warning to genuinely saved Gentile believers against losing salvation.

Summing up

In view of all that we have seen, we can be confident that the natural sense of this passage is the correct one.  In it Paul is warning genuine, saved Gentile Christians against falling away from the faith and missing out on final salvation.  And we can be sure that in other contexts he would also have wanted to warn Jewish Christians in the same way.

DOES THIS PASSAGE SUGGEST THAT CHRISTIANS DO SOMETIMES FALL AWAY AND END UP IN HELL?

We are now ready to ask our next question:

Does the fact that Paul warns genuine Christians against falling away and missing out on final salvation suggest that this does sometimes happen?

Some say that the warning is to genuine Christians yet God still never allows any of them to finally fall away

There are some Christians who would agree with my conclusions so far in this article but who would still say that God never allows a born-again believer to apostatise and end up in hell. 

These believers rightly accept that Rom 11:16-24 contains a warning to genuine Christians against losing salvation.  However, they say that God uses this warning (and others in the Bible) as a means of keeping believers in the faith, and that He always makes sure that this means succeeds. 

Thinking through the logic of the warning

We need to ask if this makes sense.  Is it really plausible that Paul would warn Christians against doing something that God would never allow to happen?

I think this would probably make sense if God never allowed Christians to fall away but they were unaware that He never allowed this.  In this case, God could use the fear of what would happen if they fell away to spur believers on to remain in the faith, even though He would know that He wouldn’t allow them to fall away.

However, those who say that God never allows genuine Christians to apostatise are almost always clear that believers should know that He will not allow them to apostatise.  And they also (rightly) say that believers should have assurance that they are saved at the present time.  (Genuine Christians do often struggle with assurance, but that is another issue.)

But if Christians know that they are currently saved and that God will not allow them to apostatise, the warning in Rom 11:16-24 (along with other similar biblical warnings) becomes extremely difficult to understand.  If it is not possible for a Christian to fall away and finally be lost, these texts are warning us against doing something that we know God will never allow to happen.

Let me give a comparison.  Suppose you went to an airport perimeter fence and saw the following sign:

WARNING!  HUMAN BEINGS, DO NOT GROW WINGS AND FLY UPWARDS OR YOU MAY HIT AN AIRCRAFT.

If we saw a sign like this, we would think that someone was trying to make a joke.  We couldn’t possibly take it seriously as a warning, because we know that the thing we are warned against cannot possibly happen.  A warning is a psychological thing, and it is very difficult to understand how a warning is supposed to psychologically impact people if they know that that thing cannot possibly happen.

If Christians know that God will never allow any genuine believer to apostatise, the warning in Rom 11:16-24 against losing salvation is closely similar to this hypothetical warning at an airport.  Both would involve warnings against things that we know can never happen, but this sort of warning looks bizarre to say the least.

Summing up

It seems more than a little unlikely, then, that we are supposed to think that Rom 11:16-24 warns Christians against doing something that they know God will never allow to happen.  Instead, we do much better to think that this warning exists because God does sometimes allow born-again Christians to apostatise and miss out on final salvation. 

CONCLUSION

As an overall conclusion to our discussion, we can say that Romans 11:16-24 is a strong piece of biblical evidence that genuine, born-again Christians do sometimes fall away from the faith and end up in hell.


For a broader discussion of this topic, see my article:



And see also my articles: