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Friday, March 28, 2014

The Disabling Command as a Christian ministry:



Paul vs. Elymas: Acts 13:8-12

But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.  Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?  Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand.  When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

This scripture has major implications for the present situation in the Christian West.  Here the spiritual hollowness and faithlessness of many mainline churches, and the anti-super-naturalism of the Evangelical cessationist churches, have allowed for a rise of a witchcraft and occultism that they do not understand and often cannot effectively counter.

In this incident Paul is not being “nice” by contemporary politically correct standards. Rather he manifests the wrath of God that is forceful but also makes provision of mercy - note the blindness is “for a time.”  This is not an aberrant moment for Paul, nor did the Holy Spirit lose control over the formation of scripture in this incident.  Rather, it is consistent with other parts of scripture both Old and New Testament. We should remember that Paul also consigned a young man in his Corinthian congregation to Satan because he was sleeping with his step-mother. Certainly that was worse than blindness, but Paul intended that his period under Satan’s influence (bodily disease?) would result in his salvation (1 Cor. 5:5).


In both of Paul’s actions, there is a redeeming element to his commands.  That is, Elymas will be blind only for a time, and presumably will have time to reconsider his sorcery and rebellion against God. And the lustful son would presumably also had time and opportunity to repent and be saved.  This type of action is similar to the classic curses of the Old Testament, but also different.


For instance, the curse in Deut. 28 lays out the negative consequences of disobeying God -  poverty and illness in unequivocal terms and with no hint of reversal:

 All these curses will come on you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the Lord your God and observe the commands and decrees he gave you.  They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. (vs. 45-46)

The incident recorded in 2 Kings 5 also shows a pattern of irreversible negativity. It is the story of the Assyrian commander Naaman’s healing of his leprosy by the prophet Elisha. After his healing, Elisha’s servant Gehazi ran after Naaman and lies to receive a substantial gift. Gehazi then lied to the prophet Elisha as to what he had just done.

 But Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes—or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves? Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and his skin was leprous—it had become as white as snow.(vs. 26-28)

There is a similar incident reported in Acts 5. There Ananius and Sapphira lied to Peter about property they sold, and both persons dropped dead at the Apostle’s feet. It seems, however, that Peter merely declared what God was doing, rather than command the action.
In another instance Jesus proclaimed an unambiguous curse against a fig tree which withered to the roots (Mark 11:12-13, 20. Much more noted in the commentaries and sermons is Jesus’ injunction not to curse our enemies:

 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Lk. 6:27-28)

This sets up one of those supposed contradictions in scripture, and one cited by liberal and apostate theologians.  That is, that Paul distorted and often reversed the message of Jesus. For instance, that Jesus was a humble itinerant preacher, but Paul made him into the “Son of God”, etc. In the case under discussion, Paul seemingly cursed a person, but Jesus said no, don’t do that!

 But the contradiction is not real. Jesus did command we love, pray for, and not curse our enemies. But Paul did not curse his personal enemy, but disabled a person who opposed the Kingdom of God through sorcery. We should also point out that through the work of the Pharisees, sorcery and witchcraft were banished from Palestine. Thus, Jesus never, to our knowledge, encountered a sorcerer in his ministry and had no occasion to act as Paul did.

 In both the Old and New Testaments there are provisions to escape from curses by way of repentance and God’s mercy. For instance in, 2 Chron. 6,  King Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the First Temple, the king petitioned that God remove the curse of any future disobedience, provided that the people repent and return to the Lord.

 Yet Paul’s negative proclamations are subtly different from the Old Testament examples in as far as within the initial proclamation there are elements of mercy (i.e. Salvation of the lustful son, repentance for Elymas). To distinguish Paul’s command from a classic curse, which is proclaimed unambiguously and permanently, it may be useful to call what Paul did in Acts 13 a “command disablement.” 

Legacy of inept commentaries:

Paul’s use of command disablement in his confrontation with Elymus, has not, to my knowledge, been seen as an example for other Christians in countering sorcery or other forms of evil. The commentaries on the incident are scant and largely miss the point.[1] For instance, St. Jerome, the famous Bible translator (and one of the most irascible folks ever to slip into officially proclaimed sainthood) confused the understanding of the Paul/Elymas confrontation by saying that Elymas’ blindness was permanent.[2] St. Chrysostom, the gifted preacher and theologian of Byzantium, better understood the passage, but he gave no hint that Paul’s command disablement could be a usable technique against witches and warlocks.[3] (I have found no other commentaries from the Church Fathers, but would love to be corrected.)

 Many modern commentators have fared even worse. In a careful search I found few references to this incident except in passing. Evangelical commentators laud Paul’s apostolic power, but give no hint of modern relevancy - as would be expected from the cessationist viewpoint that barely recognizes the legitimacy of present day healing and deliverance prayer.

In my search, I noticed a citation of a whole chapter dedicated to the incident. I anticipated reading something useful and enlightening. [4]  It was hugely disappointing. The author blended liberal theology with sociological analysis into a mumbo-jumbo that claimed that: 1, the incident is mythological and did not happen (the de-mythologizing hermeneutic) and, 2, Paul’s other actions and prayers, as in Gal. 3:28, make him a practicing Greco-Roman magician by reason of his use of his repetitive incantations. Awful nonsense.

 Such incompetence in biblical commentary has become commonplace among those who adhere to various forms of liberal and de-mythologizing theology, or others who have no experience in, or flatly disbelieve in the supernatural. Last year the Presiding Bishop Apostate of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Shori, preached a sermon in which she explained that Paul sinned against feminism by casting out the demon of divination for the slave girl in the incident reported in Acts 16:16-18. To quote precisely, the presiding Apostate said:

 “But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!”[5]



Much closer to serious analysis is Henry P. Hamann’s, “The Church that Cannot Curse Cannot Bless Either”[6] The author rightfully makes the point that blessing and cursing are biblically united, and that cursing evil is a sign of spiritual maturity. The article expands much time on how the church excommunicated and publically dammed heretics and evil doers in its earlier period. The reader may remember seeing a scene in the 1964 movie Becket. Richard Burton plays Becket, the Bishop of Canterbury. He excommunicates and damns Lord Gilbert, a friend of King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) - a dramatic and historically accurate presentation. But Hamann does not get beyond the theological into the pastoral, as in, “Should we really do in certain circumstances what Paul did to Elymus?

Evangelical-cessationist Objections

The cessationist argument is that healings and exorcisms belong to the Apostolic period, which ended about the year 120 AD or so. Thus Paul’s command disablement is seen as historically true, but not relevant or possible to us in the post-Apostolic Church.
Cessationism has tragically been at the heart of Protestantism since the beginning of the Reformation.  Its origins are found in the protest to Roman Catholic abuses of the healing and deliverance ministries such as relic mongering (remember the “Pardoner’s Tale” in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). In spite of Catholic abuses, the argument for cessationism was absurd and unbiblical then and always, and I will not take time to counter it here.[7]

But there is need to recognize that some commentators attribute Paul’s command disablement and his earlier relegation of the lustful son in Corinth to Satan, to a limited apostolic privilege. That is, that only the original 12 Apostles (plus Paul) had the authority to do such things, but that this is no longer possible to anyone in the Church.
One can read Acts in this way, as it was intended by Luke to highlight the power and authority of the Apostles and Paul. In it the Apostles heal the sick and raise the dead by command. One example of many is in 3:6  when Peter heals the person lame from birth:  “Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.””

But note that the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to include a layperson to do the same type of command healing. Ananias of Damascus prayed over Paul to remove his blindness. Paul described that healing in Acts 22:

 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there.  He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him. (vs. 12-13)


Yes, the Twelve Apostles were special by virtue of  Jesus’ promise that they would rule over the tribes of Israel, but not as special or unique as traditional theology often affirms. Beside Paul as an additional Apostle, others are mentioned in the New Testament. Romans 16:7 names two Apostles (of which nothing else is known except that one was a woman).

Ephesian 4: 11 indicates Apostles as a permanent church office. But still, a fair question is, can a disabling command legitimately be used by an ordinary Believer?  Or is that reserved only to one who has received the grace of apostleship (Romans 1:5), or as traditional theology may frame it, one who is a “successor of Apostles” via Bishop’s office.

I believe the answer is yes, that the ordinary believer has the authority to proclaim a command disablement as well as any exorcism (Luke 10: 17) or command healing - as we have just noted. But the evidence for a command disablement is not clear in Church history. Perhaps someone who is familiar with Butler’s Lives of the Saints, a reliable and masterful compendium of Saints’ lives and their miraculous acts, can find examples.[8] Perhaps someone expert of the history of the Celtic monks, who often used the gifts of the Spirit in spiritual warfare against the Druids, may reveal some occurrences of command disablements by monks and others. It is in the Celtic monks that we find accounts of storms abated and winds reversed.[9]

Recovering the Authority of the Believer:

One reason to believe that the ordinary Christian has authority to do a command disablement is that in the last century and a half there have been  radical breakthroughs in the ministries the layperson can do. This has occurred across denominational lines, and such things generally mean the Holy Spirit is behind it.

For example, as a boy raised in pre-Vatican II Catholicism, I never thought that a layperson could or should lay hands on another person for healing or deliverance. These acts are now common in Catholic charismatic circles. Pentecostals led the way (and were often ridiculed for it) but healing and deliverance prayer by non-ordained, but Spirit gifted lay persons is now accepted in many churches.

This move from priest/minister only ministry to lay person ministry took a major step with the Reformation and Luther’s famous doctrine of the “Priesthood of Believers.” That was mostly lip service, as classical Protestantism settled down to become a “less liturgical” Catholicism, with a renewed salvation by faith doctrine, but little observable difference in the role of the lay person in exercising any of the spiritual gifts. This was gravely exacerbated with the establishment, right at the origins of Protestantism, of the doctrine of cessationism.

Other than a few daring pioneers such as Pastor Blumhardt and Dorothia Trudell, cessationism effectively shut down the healing ministry among Protestants until the Faith-Cure Movement of the 1880s and the Pentecostalism of the 1900s. The Faith Cure movement saw the first large scale appearance of lay persons actually do the healing ministry. For instance, Dr. Charles Culles, a homeopathic physician, but not an ordained cleric, often laid hands on hundreds of persons in single events in what anyone today would recognize as a “healing line.”

Pentecostalism went a step further and emphasized the release the gifts of 1 Cor. 12-14 to all believers, as described in Acts. With the arrival and survival of Pentecostalism lay manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit became normal within at least a segment of the Christian Church. This was truly a step in making the “priesthood of believes” into an operational doctrine and not merely a slogan.
Various 19th and 20th Century writers: Pentecostal , Holiness, “Higher Life” and others,  forged a theology to understand this lay actualization of the believers authority. John MacMillan’s Authority of the Believer was one of the most important pioneer works on this,[10] as was E W Kenyon’ writings, who directly influenced Kenneth Hagin and the whole “Word-Faith” movement. Again, in these writers, the authority of the believer to heal and cast out demons was affirmed and encouraged.  With this recovered understanding of 1Cor. 12-14 the minister, at least in many cases, encouraged the laypersons to do the ministry of the church. All of this was passed on to the Charismatic Renewal which broke out in the 1960s and has multiplied all over the world.

A more recent expansion of the believer’s authority as a practical manifestation has occurred in the last decades with the spread of “command healing” as normal made popular by the Pentecostal couple, Charles and Francis Hunter. Their book How to Heal the Sick, and their large international healing campaigns, have shown millions of Christians how to use command prayers to heal the sick and deliver those oppressed by evil spirit.[11]  

The Hunters were among the first to realize that command healing/deliverance what was the normative model in scripture. In fact there is no prayer of petition for healing anywhere in the New Testament. Command healing has been done by various saints and heroes of the Faith such as Smith Wigglesworth, but not taught as a universal principal until recent decades. I teach command healing in workshop for church groups interested in the healing ministry entitled, “Every Believe a Healing Evangelist” and can say that command healing emboldens ordinary lay persons to take the healing ministry more seriously.

Now all of this is to say that our present discomfort with using Paul’s command disablement on witches and warlocks, and the enemies of the Gospel, has to do with the long standings errors of cessationism. In other words, not properly and totally believing that the scriptures are models for the Church in the 1st Century, in the 12th, in the 18th and today. In an earlier blog posting I pointed out that the Salem witch trials were a disaster because the Church had disabled, via cessationism, the use of the gifts of the Spirit, especially discernment of spirits. And further it was beyond the Protestant (and Catholic for that matter) imagination to use a Pauline type command disablement upon the real witches of Salem.[12]

My own Experiences:

Let me now share some of my own experiences with proclaiming command disablements. These have been of a pioneer nature, and I do not claim complete success, and I hope for comments and shared accounts from some of my readers.

My first attempt at a command disablement was triggered by a spam email of the type common several years ago. It informed me that I was the inheritor a large fortune left to me by an English millionaire whom I had briefly encountered but profoundly impressed years ago. I only needed to pay a small legal fee…

From my understanding most of these spams originated in Nigeria, where a cottage industry of fleecing naive Americans had arisen. My reply went something like this (I did not save the correspondence , to my regret).

“You are not a liar and a thief, preying on the poor, old and mentally incapacitated. I am a man of God, and as such proclaim upon you a spirit of confusion such that UNTIL YOU REPENT, you will know nothing but poverty and want. This will not be lifted until you repent and find honest employment.”

The next day I received an email reply saying “I am sorry. I am a student in Nigeria trying to earn tuition by “sending out a few letters.”  Apparently my proclamation had done its spiritual good. I repeated that he must forsake his scams and seek honest employment. I never heard from him again.

The next incident involved a telephone scam. Here I had an experience that made me particularly angry at this form of thieving sinfulness. It involved one of my best friends, now deceased. He was an Anglican Priest, some ten years older than I,  and a veteran of WWII.  He had flown 31 missions as a navigator in a B-17 over Hitler’s “Fortress Europe.”

In his last years of his life, and manifesting early dementia, he fell into a telephone scam. This scammer assured him he had won a lottery, and all he had to do was pay a small fee for legal and tax expenses. He wound up losing the last of his meager savings, about $1,200.

With that in my mind, Carolyn and I received a series of similar telephone calls, in accented English (again, probably from Nigeria) saying that we too had won a great prize, in fact, $1,000,000 dollars. All that was necessary was for us to pay the taxes via a Walmart money order to one of his associates.

As in the email scammer, I proclaimed to the caller that he was a thief and evildoer, preying on the week and gullible. I warned him to repent, or come under a curse of confusion or poverty. In the following days he called twice, protesting that he was innocent, and that I was missing a $1,000,000, and I reiterated my proclamation. I have no further information on him.

Now the reader may ask, where is the biblical warrant  to place a spirit of confusion on these folks? There is no evidence they were into witchcraft. In my estimation they were evildoers who preyed on the week with consistent malice.  It  also seemed that a spirit of confusion would be the most merciful alternative that would be effective. There is a scripture that shows that a negative spirit can originate with the Lord.

In 1 Kings 22 we have the story of the alliance between Ahab, king of Israel and Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. They agree to go to war together, but Jehoshaphat wanted prophetic affirmation that they will have victory. The court prophets prophesy success. However, Miceiah, prophesies defeat (which in fact occurred).  Micaiah explains why the court prophets were deceived:

Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left.  And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’ “One suggested this, and another that.  Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’

“‘By what means?’ the Lord asked. “‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said. “‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’ (vs. 19-22)




I will be the first to admit all of this is tentative. There is simply little or not Christian literature on the issues I have raised. There is just the scriptural base I have outlined and the evolving understanding the Christian Believer has more authority and power than Believers of former ages, tainted by false theologies, have understood. I am especially anxious to read your comments.

Addendum:

An excellent comment on the forceful and sometimes destructive power of the Holy Spirit manifesting in the Old Testament was done by the Rev. Peter  Leihart, a Presbyterian who blogs for teh Caztholid journal, First Things, accessed HERE 

I have been informed in a comment (see below) that a book already exists that covers much of the ground  of this blog posting: It is Dale Sides' God Damn Satan: Subduing the Evil Kingdom by the Power of the Biblical Curse ( N.P.: Liberating Ministry for Christ, 200). HERE


Announcements:

The noted Pentecostal scholar Dr. Jon Ruthven wrote a very positive review of my book, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal. You can access it HERE.

The book may be purchased on Amazon, either print or inexpensive Kindle HERE 






Just released is my first book of  plays. Pentecostal (and Anglican) Plays (and Postscripts). It includes two plays and their postscripts.

The play, “One Day at St. John’s” depicts what everyday life can be like in a church that practices the gifts of the Spirit and the healing/exorcism ministry as normal. Among the events that occur in the course of the play are the healing of a waitress who was scalded with hot coffee, an exorcism (led by a layman) and the “laying of a ghost” to rest.

Pentecostal (and Anglican) Plays (and Postscripts) can be purchased HERE at Amazon.

The second play, “Joseph ben Jacob,” explores Joseph, husband of Mary, as the dream interpreter, master carpenter, and father of Mary’s other children. It helps explain why Joseph was able to discern correctly his dream about Mary’s first-born.

The postscripts examine the controversial aspects of the plays and focus on two false early gospels which distorted the meaning of the true Gospels. The “Proto-Gospel of James” claimed that Mary was “every virgin” and never had other children, and the “Gospel of Nicodemus” cancelled the true meaning of Jesus’ “descent into Hell” and his ministry there as described in 1 Peter 3 & 4



Watching God Work: The Stuff of Miracles by [DeArteaga, Carolyn Koontz]


My wife has written a funny and inspiring story of how she transited from a cessionist and Baptist to a Spirit-filled Believer. The book has many stories of our three decades of ministry together.  It may be purchased HERE.











[1] I would love to be corrected on this. Please add any information you may have as a comment.
[2] Letter #109 to Riparius.
[3] Homily #28 on the Acts of the Apostles.
[4] Clark A Waltz: “The Cursing Paul: Magical Contents in Acts 13 and the New Testament Apocrypha,” In: Paul Hertig, Robert L Gallagher, eds., Mission in Acts (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2004)
[5]Anglican Link posted  20 May 13. The link is: http://anglicanink.com/article/diversity-not-jesus-saves-says-presiding-bishop
[6] Lutheran Theological Journal 12 #2 (1978), 63-75. This journal is published in Australia.
 [7]I describe the origins of cessationism in my work, Quenching the Spirit (Lake Mary: Creation House: 1992). An  excellent critique of the theology of cessationism is: Jon Ruthven’s, On the Cessation of the Charismata. (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993).
[8] Alban Butler, Butler’s Lives of Saints, 4 vols., Rev. and edited by Herbert Thruston and Donald Attwater (Westminster: Christian Classics, 1981).
[9] See my blog: “Is Calming a Tornado a Christian Ministry,?” “The Anglican Pentecostal” blog. At:
[10] John MacMillan, Authority of the Believer (Christian Publication, 1920).
[11] Charles Hunter, and Francis Hunter, How to Heal the Sick. (Kingwood: Hunter Books, 1981), See my blog on the Hunters: “The Hunter’s Revolution in Healing Ministry,” at: http://anglicalpentecostal.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-hunters-revolution-in-healing.html
[12]William De Arteaga, “The Devil’s Victory in Salem,” at: http://anglicalpentecostal.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-devils-victory-in-salem-combating.html