A Paradigm for the Contemporary Church
Disability studies span over a wild variety of exceptionality studies which falls under the branch of study known as Special Education. The term disability is used to describe an exhibition of peculiar difficulties or deficits in physical abilities or learning especially in school children, but also a general adjustment to wholistic living be it in children or adult.
Learning disable student is one who exhibits some deficits in the essential learning processes of perception, conceptualization, language, memory, attention, and impulse control. Signs of learning disabilities are hyperactivity, hypoactivity, incoordination, perseveration, over attention, perceptual disorder and memory disorder.
In the same vein, S. K. Mangal described disability as the loss of function that the individual experience due to an impairment, so that the individual is limited to perform some task. Such functional deficit or impairment in a person, include spasticity interfering with walking and the likes.
Impairment is an abnormality or disturbance in the structure and functioning of the system of the body, psyche and psycho analytical inference or difference. It is a loss in organic psychic level for an individual involving loss of limb, paraysis of speech, muscles or legs, vision, earring system, neuro-logical system, brain, spinal chord, and structural abnormalities. When such impairment takes place in an individual, it handicaps the victim or get him disabled in several societal social strata like walking, talking and so on. Therefore disability is a fundamental, structural, psychological and physiological deficit like disordered motor accessibility or control in cerebral palsy. It is a loss of function due to impairment that limit the individual to perform some tasks listed above. So when there is an impairment, it causes disability which may handicap the victim.
In the words of Julie Hight, mental impairment is described as deficit in adaptive behaviour and manifested during the developmental period. It is divided into three functioning levels viz: educable mentally handicapped and severe or custodial mentally handicapped. Each of these categories is directly related to the degree of retardation and corresponding abilities.
In his own word K. Gallagher Anastasiow described disability as significant intellectual functioning or limitation in two or more of ten separate indicators of adaptive skills.
In view of the above descriptions of disabilities discoursed, this writer argues that disability issue is aged, yet serious study proffering solution to the problem among theological scholars caught attention recently. This is against the background that disability is found almost all around the Scriptures both in the Old and New Testament. However, this work is a focus on disability in the New Testament with specific attention on the Acts of the Apostles. It analyses apostolic responses to the problem of disability using same as a worthy pragmatic approach to set a paradigm for the contemporary church.
Disabilities in the Book of Acts
There are cases in the book of Acts that vividly depict disability scenario described above especially in chapters 3:6, 16; 4:10, 12, 17, 18, and 30 etc.
In chapter three verses 1-10, there was the episode of a cripple man. There are cases in the book of Acts that vividly depict disability scenario described above especially in chapters 3:6, 16; 4:10, 12, 17, 18 and 30 etc. In chapter 3:1-10, there was the episode of a cripple man. As earlier noted that disability issue is an age-long phenomenon, which probably has nothing to do with religiosity or irreligiosity. Otherwise a disabled man should not be in the Temple. This assertion is against the backdrop that the cripple man in the passage under review is found in the arena of religious gathering, an indication, according to Lawrence O. Richards that he was a regular beggar. The reference to regular times of prayer in chapter 3:1. It was an early morning prayer, at the night hour, our contemporary 3.00 p.m. and the late evenings. The cripple man was always being carried to the temple, perhaps by his relatives or friends suggest the idea that he regularly went to beg for alms when the crowd were thickest in the temple is also suggestive those who were involved to carry him to the temple arena believe in divine solution to the problem as well as securing his daily means of survival. This particular episode coincided with the very time both Peter and John went to a regular time of prayer the disciples had in the temple courtyard arena.
The cripple man in the temple is above forty years of age according to further review of him in Acts 4:22. He had always begged at the entrance of the Temple gate called “Beautiful.” Everybody knew him to be a regular customer and professional beggar of food and money from those who come for prayer. Perhaps this particular beggar missed an encounter with Jesus in his regular visit to the Temple. It was providentially reserved for the occasion of his meeting with Peter and John. In his usual model of begging, when he saw the two apostles, he requested for something to be given to him. There is record silence on if this man ever asked Jesus for something on his trips to Jerusalem. However, he fixed his eyes on them with hope to receive.
In the Apostolic response in this episode, the apostles demanded from the crippled man for an intense gaze on them. They were not asking him to have faith but rather to focus on them for him to receive something more than gold, or material things. Actually the man thought to receive money or food. In their response, Peter retorted saying: “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you.” (v.5, ESV). A response that authenticates Paul’s assertion in Philippians 4:12 that the apostle had learned the secret of contentment with poverty and complaining about his situation. He knew how to go without food or money even shelter (1 Cor. 4:11) as against some who seek to acquire more money, food and shelter irrespective of their comfort.
However, Peter had valuables that are more than money, food and shelter. He commands the miraculous power of God that can produce any of the above needs unprecedentially. He was an accredited man of God that has the custodian of healing power of God. The power which he had freely is now to be given without charge. (Mt. 10:8). So, at the name of Jesus, Peter unleashed the healing power of God upon the man without participation on the part of the man. Peter healed him, because the power flow at his command.
Peter went further than unleashing the power for healing on the man. He raised up the man by his own hand. There and then his crippled ankles and feet were instantly healed. It was so instantaneous (like other miracles Mt. 1:41-42) and visible to all men around the Temple courtyards. The man became so hilarious that he started jumping and leaping everywhere. He recognized that the source of his healing goes beyond Peter. So he praised God. His excitement was visible to all (4:16, 21). The miracle was so real that it was not hidden from anybody. All miracles performed by Jesus have the same phenomenon.
In verse 10, it is clear that everyone knew this man was the man that used to beg for money and food many years back. The scenario is equitable with the miracle in John chapter 9:8 about the man born blind. The evidence of knowing the man them and now authenticated to the people that the work could not have been a magic. The people were struck with a sense of awe, “filled with wonder and amazement:” how the man could have worked. So every true miracle stimulates responses from the crowds especially the unbelievers.
Other instances of disabilities in the book of Acts apart from the lame man is that of spiritually insensitive mob, Acts 2:1ff incapacitation to understand, self will Acts 5 and socially stratified cases Acts 10, 12, 15, 23.
Prior the coming of the Holy Spirit, people were spiritually disabled by lack of understanding and inability to understand. The Pentecost event in Acts chapter ……. Is reminiscent of this disability on the part of the crowd, of about seventeen different nations who could not understand God’s intervention in human history for the salvation of man.
In that event, the company of disciplers was gathered in the house. The blowing of violent wind over them was indicative of the event and appearance of tongues of fire common to a spirit filled believer, who perhaps left for the temple where the solemn sound of the blast drew the crowd together. According to prophet Ezekiel in 13:9-14, the wind is a symbol of the Spirit, and was authenticated by the Lord in John 3:8. However, the fire is an indicator of the outworking of divine energies.
According to E. H. Trenchard, the descent of the Holy Spirit closes the series of occurrences, which constituted God’s intervention in human history for the salvation of man and also inseparable from incarnation and earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, his atoning death, and his victorious resurrection, which actually made possible the outpouring of the Spirit (2:33; Jn. 7:39). The prophecy of John and Christ reference to it, Acts 1:5 indicates that the baptism was the culmination of Messiah’s work. The cross has sentenced sin into judgment so that believers are free to be in full fellowship with God. The once and for all time baptism of the Holy Spirit now produce a continuous dividends, which also extended to the Gentiles in Caesarea as authenticated in the experience of Peter in the Corlineous episode in 10:44-48. Everything culminated in the great novelty of divine purpose expressed in Matthew 16:18, thus “on this rock, I will build my church.”
Yes, the Pentecost event was a sign of occurrence outside the usual course of nature and the workings of empirical verifications, which was an evidence of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit which produce intelligible communication to different languages and nationals who were bewildered for hearing the proclamation of wondrous works of God distinctly in their own native tongues. It was a wonder which later became a sign that God wanted to make himself known inspite the Babel of tongues of people present. The story became a phenomenon each language will have to take home as a report to their own countries from Persia to Rome and North Africa etc.
The perplexity and amazement of the pilgrims made a reaction that made them asserted that these speakers must be drunk with wine! But Peter deflated their misunderstanding by his speech in verse 14-36. Hence their spiritual disabilities to understand were treated by Peter’s defence. Further disability in the Acts of the Apostle is the spiritual duodurum of the family of Ananias and Sapphira, and ineptitude which made them succumb to the temptation to deceive the church. The family was like the black sheep among the “pen.” Unfaithful disciples were expunged from the congregation by death for the purpose which was purely voluntary as reminiscent from Peter’s question: “while it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? The sin was simply a presentation of a part to be as a whole. He kept back some of the proceeds, and tempt the Spirit of the Lord. He was self will.
Another disability to be considered by this writer is what is classified as socially stratified group of people who were disabled to be part of the group they really belong.
In Acts chapter 10, the episode of a Centurion in the person of Cornelius was the case of socially, spiritually disabled. That was evidence in Peter’s response to God’s order in the vision in Acts. 11:4-12. Peter’s prejudice was pulled down by the instant divine warning not to call anybody uncommon. The same episode is found in chapter 15 where worship segregated both the Jews and Gentile and the ground of gross misunderstanding of monopoly of salvation. In the same vein, the circumcision of Timothy by Paul was sharply rebuff by the Jews and completely rejected. Paul himself was finally disabled by imprisonment by his own people, due to differences of opinion by the power that be. Each of the disabilities discussed above had its apostolic responses. This paper goes to examine them.
Apostolic Responses to Disabilities in the Acts of Apostles
The episode in Acts chapter three is a revelation on many fronts. The cripple man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple is quite revealing. He had a fixed gaze on the apostle with the hope of receiving alms from him, but another revelation was that the apostle had spiritual insight that this man’s need was more than a giving of food or money. He had been receiving those for many years, yet he remained disabled. This is an indication that a physically disabled man is most probably spiritually disabled. Hence, Peter’s approach to meet the need was not a conventional approach. Peter looked at him intently and demanded the lame man to look at him intently in verse 5.
The apostles resolved, on the spur of the moment, to give the lame man what he has, the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Of course Peter had no money; he had Jesus. Money will solve the problem temporarily, but Jesus solves problem permanently. Hence the interchange between the name of Jesus and the power that disabled is discernible in the episode in Acts 3:6,16; 4:10, 12, 17,18 ,and 30.
After the interchange, the lame man stood up, jumping and leaping on his leg. He began to walk and as vividly described by Luke, the Evangelist. The clear repetition in the episode is an indication that the man was cured all- out. Against this backdrop, the man that was healed was able to enter into the Temple. As at then, cripples were not allowed to enter into the Temple. As at then cripples were not allowed to enter into the Temple. (2 Sam. 5:8)
The result of the healing caught the attention of the crowd, who became bewildered at the miraculous sight vs. 9 – 11. They hovered around John and Peter, who no testified to the secret of the healing to be the choice of God, who decided to honour and glorified His servant, Jesus Christ inspite of crucifixion, and death on the cross. He arose from the dead and by faith in his name (3:16) working thorough the man. So the healing became a public display of the exalted name of Jesus. This became a point of reference to call people of Israel to repentance in verse 19, for a time of refreshing from the presence of God.
The healing of the lame man in Acts 3:1-10 is a clear apostolic response to the problem of disability. The narrative indicates a tripod namely, something miraculous or extra ordinary, people’s attention were drawn to the miracle and lastly, Peter began to witness.
In other word, the apostle displayed the power of the risen Lord, working through his disciples. At the application of the name of Jesus, there was immediate and perfect healing of the lame man. It follows then that the lack of money on the part of the apostles is not a lack of strength. They are custodian of the power that created money, something more than gold itself.
The same episode of public miraculous episode permeate the entire book of Acts. (see 5:12). The contrast between the then and now of the lame man was discernible to the people. Therefore, they gathered around the apostles and the stage was set for the evangelism, which was their primary assignment. They became “a city built on the hill” that cannot be hidden, a community of witness, the community that seeks to proclaim the risen Lord on a platform to resolve the problem of disability in people. This exercise became a rational to call awareness of the Jews to the fact of their appointment as God’s agent of blessing for the rest of the world.
Furthermore, apostolic response to disabilities in Acts was that of demonstration that the risen Lord was alive and active in the church and in the world. The account in Acts gives due to the fact that Christ by His Spirit is present in the church. The confirmation of this is witnessed to by the proliferations of signs and wonders throughout the book. This is against the background that all limitations of whatever category are disabilities and the central message of the Bible is to save the people from all kinds of limitations.
For Luke, apostolic strength to heal the sick and restore hope is a demonstration of God’s power working though Christ. So the healing of the crippled man at the Beautiful Gate is not simply a miracle just for the cripple, it is an opportunity to authenticate that Jesus is Lord as in Acts 3:13-17. Therefore the miracle set the stage for the platform of healing and missions.
Moreover, the healing accredited Peter and John to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles. Healing became their apostolic stamp of office as well as validating the status of Jesus (Acts 2:22; 10:38). The instrument of healing miracle found in this book are: the name and the person of Christ, faith, prayer and evangelism as can be found in Acts 3:1-10; 4:12; 5:41; 9:16; 15:26:21:13.
Miracles are performed under the authority of the name of Jesus, which is more authentic mode of his messiahship. Healing in the book of Acts appeared to underscore the authority of Jesus rather than a relief to the sick. Jesus was made known to the apostolic world through signs and wonders through the hands of the apostles, which gave credence and legitimacy to the believers’ ministry.
Healing was performed by direct touch or laying of hands by the apostles. Healing was performed by direct command by the apostles in the name of Jesus. Like a simple command healed the lame man, a simple command also healed Ananias at Lydda in Acts 9:32-35. The healing of the lame man was not the result of his expectations, but because Peter acted in faith by anticipating God would achieve a restorative miracle by commanding the man to stand up. He responded in faith to the affirmation in Acts 9:32-35.
A Paradigm for the Contemporary Churches to Resolve Disability Problems
A charge give to the disciples by the Lord Jesus Christ is to be light in the midst of darkness. The work of light is to reveal darkness. When Christ came he announced his manifesto according to Lukan record in Luke 4:18-20. He did that all-out in his earthly ministry dealing, healing, and liberating the oppressed, and disabled at all levels of impairments. When he was going, his charge to his disciples is to do the work that he did, and really he did more as he said. Now, the baton is in the hand of the church to secure solution to disabled people in our generation to advance the cause of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In their own era, the apostle had a paradigm, which they follow namely: Spiritual Insight (verse 5), acting on the impulse of the Holy Spirit as created by spur of the moment. No emphasis on money but on Jesus, the Creator of money. They learn the art of power changing hands to cause interchange. They learn to glorify God through their approach. Miracle and extraordinary occurrences are properties that accompany their ministry just like Christ promised. They had no money, but they are the custodian of the power of God, who created money. Evangelism, mission, and church planting became easy. They made Jesus real to their own world, because they had means of dealing with forces that disabled people at various levels of impairment. So the apostles became relevant to their generation, and that authenticated Jesus messiahship. They use the method of laying of hands or direct touch or command in the name of Jesus. Finally they acted in faith.
Our contemporary church has much to learn from these apostolic responses to the problem of disability. This is against the background that disability is a phenomenon of many years yet still stirring us at the face in our contemporary times. The church should replicate the above listed methods of the apostles to deal with disabilities.
If the church is to be assessed on the above, this writer will almost give kudos to the church for great spiritual achievement of advancing the Kingdom of God in terms of church planting, conversion of souls, establishment of hospitals to care for the sick, social ministries at various levels to care for the socially stratified, and the likes, yet the church has some areas to work on to be able to be well positioned for the operation of the power of God.
The church will need to become more pro-active in spiritual sensitivity, generating insight to position the church ahead of development of the community we found ourselves. It is common for the church to engage in endless discussion on how what to do to carry out a gospel business, while the enemy goes ahead to create confusion, controversies and quarrelling. So that the church operates like soldiers in disarray. Hence the church that could have been the most potent, world power is acting like a sleeping giant.
To a great extent, there is a paradigm shift from the huger after holiness, and the power of god. The church is focusing on materialism, and making of millionaires so that money is taking the place of spiritual commitment. Everybody want a breakthrough by all means. This is contrary to the apostolic responses that made them enjoy the powerful presence of God.
The church needs to stand out as light stands out in darkness to project, and showcase the power of the risen Lord. They care less about money, but they never lack money. The work of God was accomplished without the use of energy, but using divine energy. They ended up complimenting in Jesus by executing his manifestos, which he proclaimed in Luke 4:18-20. God therefore renewed their strength by eliminating their human weakness for His own divine strength (Isaiah 40:28-30). Hence their hands became God’s hand, hence they heal the sick with a command, because their voice have become recognized in divine area. The world is waiting for the church to resolve disability problems in our generation. God is waiting because the church is divine appointed agent of God on earth to bring God down to the heart of people, and their door mouth.
This paper has argued that disability problem is as old as the world, yet it is never left unattended to. The apostles cultivated a means of dealing with disability problems and though it, they populated the Kingdom of God via the church. There is always a means or way of handling it from time to time. Hence, it is the turn of the church to proffer solution that is pragmatic, and divinely accredited to glorify God, and bring blessing to humanity.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we read about the disabled man, who was crippled despite his religious undertone. Other instances of disabilities in the book of Acts are classified under spiritually inquisitive mob (Acts. 2:1ff), self-will of Ananias and Sapphira and the socially stratified.
For the apostles, it was said of them that they turned their world upside-down, for the kind of influence they yielded in their generation. The influence they wielded in their generation. The contemporary church has everything it takes to do more that the apostles did if he will choose to change the paradigm.