For church last Sunday, I went to the church I call the “Word of Faith” church, and also the Missouri-Synod Lutheran church.
The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church was continuing his series on the Elijah-Elisha stories. He focused on II Kings 6, specifically the story of the floating ax-head, and the story of God’s invisible army of fiery chariots. In the story of the floating ax-head, some prophets are cutting down trees, and a borrowed ax-head falls into the river. Elisha causes the ax-head to float to the surface, and it is retrieved. The pastor treated this story as an allegory: when people act outside of their gifts, as the prophets did when they decided to work in construction, they may lose their gift, as the ax-head was lost. The pastor affirmed that encouragement can bring that gift back, lifting up the person and the gift.
II Kings 6:8-23 is about how the Aramean army surrounded Israel, and Elisha revealed to his frightened servant something that the servant could not initially see: a host of fiery chariots and charioteers sent by God. The pastor stated that Elisha, as God’s prophet, has control of this army, and the pastor referred to the statement in II Kings 13:4 that Elisha himself was God’s chariot, as well as the possible implication in II Kings 2:12 that Elijah, too, was this. The pastor said that this is true of believers, who prophesy (Acts 2:17-21; cp. Joel 2:28-32) and have the authority to bind and to loose (Matthew 16:19; 18:18). The pastor seemed to take this into a health-and-wealth (or, more accurately, financial provision) direction, saying that believers have authority over disease and that God provides for their needs. The pastor emphasized, however, that earthly prosperity does not bring fulfillment, for, ultimately, our fulfillment comes at our resurrection in the eschaton. Still, we can have a foretaste of that in the here-and-now.
The pastor at the Missouri-Synod Lutheran church focused on Hebrews 12:1-3. He discussed the importance of encouraging others so that they keep on keeping on, and laying aside the inhibiting burdens of guilt and grief. The pastor stated that Jesus was more than a moral example, for a moral example would not help us, if we are unable to follow that example. The start, the end, and everything in-between in the Christian life is based on and flows from Christ. The pastor also seemed to imply that the author of Hebrews had more sensitivity towards human weakness and the need for God’s grace than the apostle Paul. Whereas the apostle Paul talks about beating his body into submission (I Corinthians 9:27), the pastor noted, we do not see anything like that in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
To comment on the first sermon, there may be something to what the pastor said about the prophetic authority of Elijah and Elisha, the authority of Jesus on earth, and the authority of the apostles and disciples. The logical question when it comes to believers, of course, is “Where is it?” Christians can pray for people to be healed, yet they still may die (as occurred recently to someone for whom I prayed for at least two years). Christians hope for protection, yet a person still enters a church in Texas and shoots them. Yet, I read the synoptic Gospels and I observe that Jesus frequently talks about the importance of faith: for healing, for walking on water, for casting out demons, for moving mountains. I wonder what the significance is of Jesus’ teaching on faith in the synoptic Gospels. Conventional Christian treatments of this subject have not satisfied me, for they often focus on explaining why Jesus’ statements cannot be taken as absolutes, rather than on the purpose and meaning behind Jesus’ statements on faith. (I acknowledge, though, that there is much remaining for me to read on the subject.) Some hyper-dispensationalists have another solution, though: that those particular words of Jesus, and a number of Jesus’ teachings, related to the time of Jesus on earth and not the church age. In the church age, Christians can get sick and not receive healing (II Timothy 4:28), and they have to work for a living (I Thessalonians 4:11) rather than leaving all or selling everything to give it to the poor (i.e., Luke 12:33).
Regarding the second sermon, the pastor has a point when he says that the author of Hebrews is sympathetic towards human weakness (see Hebrews 4:15-16). But I recall a scholar telling me over a decade ago that Martin Luther had a problem with the Epistle to the Hebrews, for it appeared to imply that Christians could lose their salvation (i.e., Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26).