I write this prayerfully and with what I hope is due respect for the parties directly or indirectly mentioned. My intent is to explore the underlying issues and maybe promote some understanding. I also hope to explain if not excuse the reactions some may have observed from me in the course of events I’m about to describe.
Once a month, we have a group from another church come in and do our service. We meet at 2:30 in the afternoon, so they come straight from their own services to do ours. Their style could not be more different than what most of our congregation is used to. We are in most ways a very traditional Baptist church. There are some notable exceptions, and those exceptions are the reason Linda and I attend. I’ll fill that in later. They are part of a traditional Charismatic church. I used the word traditional purposefully. Charismatics love to bash tradition, seemingly unable to see that they have simply developed their own set of traditions that are merely different than the ones they despise. .
First, here’s a little background for those who may not yet know. I am almost blind. I was raised in a family whose beliefs are more closely aligned with the charismatic theology and style of worship. I grew up hearing about and praying for physical healing. Linda has multiple sclerosis. She returned to the Lord later in life and graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary. Linda and I believe that God has not changed and is still active in the way that He was when the New Testament was written.
Bartimaeus Baptist Temple, the church we now attend, has existed for over fifty years to meet the needs of people with disabilities. If you had told me about the church just a short time ago, I would not have been interested. As I’ve pointed out, my traditions are not Baptist, though my family attended Baptist churches from time to time and I have no quarrel with their statement of faith. I also had no interest in being part of a group of other “disabled” people. I still do not believe we should cloister ourselves and steep in our troubles. We need to get out and be a part of the world we live in.
However, a gracious and merciful God wasn’t done with me yet. I think it may have started with the Bethel Series Bible study that I participated in a few years ago. One of the first concepts it teaches is that we are blessed in order that we may be a blessing. I began to think about what I have been blessed with. One of the greatest blessings is the attitude and approach to the challenge of disability fostered in me by the wise guidance of my parents. I began to ask myself how I might give back out of what I have been given. That suggests some form of ministry to (and through) other people with disabilities. Maybe I needed to lay down my pride over something I actually had little to do with and begin to share what I have. I began to consider some kind of support network, designed to show people with disabilities how God intended to use them and launch them out into the “real world.”
Then I met and married my beloved wife, Linda. A better match for this mission could not have been made. In addition to complementary skill sets, we combine the two perspectives of one who has experienced disability from birth and one who faced it later in life. We have found unity of purpose in this ministry.
Even so, when Linda discovered BBT and wanted me to visit with her, I approached it with something less than enthusiasm. We had not yet found a place where we were both truly happy. Not really believing such a place could exist, I had adopted a stoic approach to the whole church attendance thing. If I could just find some fellowship and maybe a chance to teach wherever we landed I would be content if we could only stay there. I liked where we were well enough and prospects seemed good.
The service at BBT was much as I expected it to be, except when it wasn’t. When the pastors wife began praying for people and receiving words of knowledge about them, I knew this place was anything but typical. It brought back memories of churches Dad pastored where he attempted to introduce long forgotten elements of truth to congregations’ who had not known them. I felt at home. I started to see the church as a place I could be myself and fulfill the ministry God was preparing me for. After two Sundays and a talk with Pastor David Whitmore, I was ready to join. The appearance of Summitt Church for the fourth Sunday was icing on the cake. I would even get a little worship of the kind I was accustomed to once a month.
Then, they came for us. Suddenly it wasn’t so fun anymore. Linda has a stronger reaction than I do most of the time. She’s not used to it. I grew up with it. We were surrounded and hands descended from all directions to pray for our healing. It’s not that I don’t believe He can. I still hope that someday He will and that before I go to meet Him. However, to this point He has not chosen to do so. Some would say I lack faith. I can’t really disagree with that, though it was not always so. A host of other reasons follow, some of them possibly valid. I can’t help but think they often represent excuses to soothe the egos of the would be agents of healing when God doesn’t jump to do their bidding.
I confess that I have allowed my internal conflict with this issue to color my reaction to some sincere and wonderful people who come to us with the best of intentions. In part it’s a reaction to the disappointment I feel that God has not given me what I want. In part it’s that I’m faced with big questions that affect how we are to serve him in the place we find ourselves. Either I am following His lead or I am missing Him entirely. The practical side of me says that whatever I believe about healing, I am surrounded by people who have not experienced it and I must deal with the reality in concrete and compassionate ways. The emotional part of me draws from the teaching I grew up on and says we should be praying for and seeing all of us restored to health, thus invalidating our ministry. Some combination of the two is probably the best answer, but I have not been able to resolve the conflict.