Evidence and Faith
Controversy has recently erupted regarding recent reports of miraculous happenings at a church in Missouri. The church alleges that restorative healing occurred as the direct result of prayer during a week of special services. A woman attending the meeting testified to the regrowth of her formerly amputated toes. This type of report should give Christians no pause whatsoever, seeing that divine healing is a fundamental tenet of Christianity. But such was not the case due primarily to a lack of evidence, which should have been readily offered upon request. This search for evidence by numerous religious and secular people has caused many believers with different perspectives to detonate with accusations of faithlessness and doubt against those desiring proof. Some argue that Christians should merely accept the testimony of their fellow believers and receive the witness of spiritual leadership. Many conclude that asking for evidence is to doubt God and insult the clergy's integrity. No photographic or video evidence has been offered, which is essentially why many have expressed skepticism.
The purpose of this article is not to take sides in this debate but to articulate the meaning of faith as discovered in the Bible. Misunderstanding the function of faith will frequently result in negative consequences. There are certain implications intrinsic to faith. Failing to voice those facts comprehensively leads to the contention that Christians follow the Bible blindly. Millions of cynics denounce Christianity as a fool's religion because they witness believers' lack of intellectual curiosity and empirical accountability. Failing to communicate biblical integrity to an unbelieving audience is irresponsible and ultimately leads millions of people to view Christianity as another form of mythology. The tragedy is that such pejorative behavior is utterly unnecessary when a miraculous event has occurred.
The faith Scripture outlines as a prerequisite for favor with God is no less than twofold. The basis of biblical faith is belief, and such a conviction must have an objective reality. Hebrews 11:6 provides this criterion when it states, "Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him." Immediately the reader is confronted with the need for personal faith. Ultimately salvation is procured by trusting in the person of Jesus Christ and what He stated about Himself when He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to the Father except by me." This confidence is the wholly individual attitude towards the truth claims of an individual concerning what they have said about themselves.
Salvific faith in Christ necessarily accepts the propositions Jesus made concerning Himself and other similar proposals layered throughout the New Testament by various writers. This is known as propositional faith, or the belief in certain propositions. The Apostle Paul said, "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." This verse has two propositions named as prerequisites to salvation, principally that Jesus is Lord and God raised Him from the dead. Both personal and propositional faith aspects are required when pleasing God unto saving faith.
Scripture repeatedly details personal faith exercised in the propositions Jesus made, confirmed by irrefutable evidence. The Christian religion is a knowledge-based tradition, not an institution of irrational and unsubstantiated claims. Followers of Christ exhibited doxastic faith in the New Testament, which has three possible attitudes one can take towards a proposition. A person can believe, disbelieve, or have unbelief towards a premise.
Christ established the New Testament model for evangelism. He recognized that His claims were unprecedented and utterly extravagant. The Lord knew tangible evidence was necessary for His audience if they were to accept the arrival of the Kingdom of God. Countless healings and scores of exorcisms grabbed the citizens' attention and provided profound corroborating evidence for the Messiahship of Christ. The supernatural exploits of Christ were deliberately public and repeatedly performed for the sake of authentication to His person. These extraordinary actions Jesus displayed directly connected Him with the prophecies of the Old Testament, which had given the people precise information concerning who the Savior would be.
The apostles then replicated the prototype for ministry established by Christ. They were sure to follow the same tactic. Peter provided an ideal example of this approach on the day of Pentecost when he initially appealed to prophecies fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He then transitioned into an account of Jesus' miracles, which the thousands he spoke to had witnessed for themselves. The final basis for his argument concerning the validity of Jesus as the promised Christ was the evidence of the resurrection. All three of his persuasions answered the demands for evidence. Neither he nor any other apostles required their audiences to accept their claims about Christ without providing substantial evidence.
The personal and propositional faith delineated in the New Testament is further expanded in the meaning of the Greek word pisits, translated in English as "faith." In the ancient world, the word meant having belief in both someone and something. There is a clear distinction between the two, but they are inextricably linked together. The faith demanded by the New Testament towards the person of Christ is directly connected to the empirical evidence documented in both sacred and secular historical records. The Gospel of John repeatedly relates belief in propositions with having evidence that the claims were credible. Denying a request for proof is counterfactual to New Testament literature.
Among the best examples of providing proof for Christ to convince the skeptic is the narrative concerning Thomas and his struggling faith. Critics of Christianity cite the statement Jesus made to Thomas when the disciple refused to believe the assertions of his colleagues regarding the Lord's resurrection, "stop doubting but believe" (John 20:27), as proof that the Christian faith requests blind belief. The very opposite is true. Thomas refused to believe the apostolic testimony of those who knew the object of the proposition directly. Christ responded to Thomas' doubt by providing crucial physical evidence, principally His scarred hands and injured side, to satisfy the disciple's need for proof. The special blessing Jesus pronounces in John 20:29, "Blessed are those who believe without having seen," refers to those who were not members of the first-generation Christian faith. Without having the benefit of being eyewitnesses themselves, they evaluated the propositions of the apostles and found them credible.
Hebrews 11 is among the most significant chapters in Scripture regarding the action of faith. There are several biblical characters highlighted for their remarkable demonstrations of faith. The men and women in this chapter behaved with confidence that a specific outcome was possible. They based their belief in this probability on more than mental ascent or wishful thinking. Abel, Enoch, Noah, and the other characters mentioned in Hebrews 11 all acted with a conviction of faith because they believed in the evidence they had witnessed through observation and historical recollection.
The last two chapters of John's Gospel end with an identical theme – belief based on evidence. John 20:31 says that the miraculous displays of Christ were done "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." In matching fashion, John verifies the authenticity of his writing by saying, "This is the disciple who testifies of these things and wrote them down. We know that His testimony is true." Both verses substantiate evidence's role in establishing faith in a particular belief. This reality is scattered throughout the pages of the Old Testament and continued in practice throughout the New. Deviating from this pattern for any reason is an abrogation of basic biblical directions and procedures.
Any person requesting evidence for the claims of healing made at the church in Missouri is within their rights of investigation. Any person seeking verification for these miracles is sensible, and forgoing such evidence is irresponsible. Placing faith in something believable is wise. Accepting a claim of a supernatural phenomenon without observing any evidence is naïve at best and will ultimately lead to cynicism among Christians and mockery by unbelievers. Sadly, this has become the case already, and it never needed to be.