Why the Church Is Filled With “Functional Agnostics”

One of the reasons we don’t see spiritual breakthrough is that we live as functional agnostics in relation to the supernatural life.

Peter, James and John had amazing experiences on the mountaintop, but now they had to return to the valley with Jesus …

‘When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.

Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”’ (Matthew 17:14-21)

“Because you have so little faith.” That’s hard-hitting—Jesus isn’t pulling any punches. It’s supposed to be shocking, and it is.

But here’s the thing, the faith that Jesus speaks of is not a complex theological matter; it’s a simple issue of hearing his word. ‘Faith comes by hearing the word’ (Romans 10:17).

My faith for healing and deliverance greatly increased from what Jesus calls ‘so little’ to ‘as small as a mustard seed’ when I heard these simple words: ‘the Father wants his children well.’

For me that changed everything; hearing that simple word took my general anticipation from ‘God can heal’ to ‘God will heal.’

Now I’m determined to keep on praying for the sick until one of three things happens,

  1. The sick get healed
  2. They die and go to heaven (where healing is complete and eternal)
  3. Jesus returns (and the Kingdom of God comes in its fullness)

This is the only way I can live now. God has graciously spoken so clearly and so simply, and now I have faith for these things.

So if today I were confronted by a similar situation to that which met the disciples as they came down from the mountain, my faith would tell me that God wants the little boy delivered—however strong the demon might be.

But that was not the disciples’ faith. Like me on so many occasions, they only had a faith to try but not a faith to succeed. They had seen it happen before—people getting delivered—so they thought it might happen again. But that’s not mountain-moving faith. That’s more hope than faith.

Of course, Jesus stepped in and helped the boy, and I’m sure that’s happened many times in my life as I’ve prayed more in hope than faith. But like you, I’ve wanted to learn how to grow in the naturally supernatural life and this has led me to the place that I’m at now.

If we do not have the humility to keep on asking the Lord for a word that gives us faith, we will tend to approach these areas with excuses rather than solutions.

Perhaps we will come up with ‘theological reasons’ that excuse our inabilities. Perhaps we will say ‘God doesn’t heal today’ or ‘it must be God’s will that you’re sick’ (Yuk! I can’t stand Christian fatalism!). Maybe we will say that healing is not our gift. Perhaps we’ll just ignore the problem and hope it goes away.

All in all, these alternative solutions tend to mean that when it comes to living a life modeled on the life of Jesus we operate more as functional agnostics than anything else. We believe that the supernatural life could be possible, we’re just not sure that it will be possible—for us.

Of course I recognize that this is partly because so much so-called ‘supernatural ministry’ looks so repellent—more like a traveling circus than anything else. But this should not prevent us from seeking to be like Jesus in all he did.

So let’s go back to the beginning; do you have a ‘word’ for the supernatural life—for healing and deliverance? If not, why not? The counsel of Jesus appears to be that we should fast and pray until we hear it (Mark 9:29).

We can live the naturally supernatural lifestyle, but to do it we have to stop living as functional agnostics.  

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Mike Breen
Mike leads 3DM, the global home for an organic movement of biblical discipleship and missional church. He and his wife, Sally, have three children.