Faith Healing

Faith healers can fill major convention centers wherever they go. Thousands of Christians file in to the convention center because this could be "their day" for healing.

Their healing services are complete with praise and worship songs to God. Messages and testimonies by those who were previously healed and by associated healing evangelists. A special message by the main, gifted, healing minister. A collection where people can place their "seed money" as a token of their faith in God's power to heal. And finally, the healing line where people come up on stage for prayer and healing.

Perhaps you have gone to faith healing services. You may have seen people hoping that God would heal them coming from hundreds of miles away. They sought out God's minister to anoint them with the healing power of God.

People with cancer are cured. People with poor vision have their sight restored. Back pain is eliminated. AIDS is vanquished. People with emphysema breathe freely. Heart blockages are relieved. Arthritis is gone--gone! Gone by the grace of God!

Yet, are these people actually healed?

Various media investigators have followed up on people who attended healing services and received the healer's prayer and touch. Investigators interviewed people receiving "healing", their family and friends, their doctors or other health professionals in an attempt to find a verifiable instance of an actual healing.

What they have found is universally disturbing.

There does not appear to be a single verified case of anyone being healed at a faith healing meeting.

Perhaps you saw the Dateline NBC segment on Benny Hinn. They followed up on a number of people Benny Hinn declared as healed. What were the results?

  • Terminal cancer was cast out of Belva Ventura and her son. A short time later they both died of cancer.
  • A doctor of a woman "cured" of Lou Gehrig's disease believe she didn't have Lou Gehrig's disease in the first place.

There is not a single verifiable cure.

Benny Hinn modeled himself after another faith healer, Kathryn Kulman. Her record is also nothing to brag about:

During the early 1970s, Minnesota surgeon William Nolen, M.D., attended a service conducted by Katherine Kuhlman, the leading evangelical healer of that period. After noting the names of 25 people who had been "miraculously healed," he was able to perform follow-up interviews and examinations. Among other things, he discovered that one woman who had been announced as cured of "lung cancer" actually had Hodgkin's disease -- which was unaffected by the experience.

Another woman with cancer of the spine had discarded her brace and followed Ms. Kuhlman's enthusiastic command to run across the stage. The following day her backbone collapsed, and four months later she died. Overall, not one person with organic disease had been helped.

Later [Dr.Nolen] made that claim even more sweeping, saying Kuhlman would be wrong to think that anyone had ever been cured of organic problems in her meetings.

Healing Through the Centuries: Models for Understanding

But, people are desperate for hope, desperate for relief of pain, desperate for longer life. They will do whatever they are told to get that hope. And, one thing they are told is to contribute money to "God's work" in order to demonstrate their faith. They must sow a seed to reap the benefits God has in his storehouse.

And it all seems like one big money machine, geared to rake in as much money as can be squeezed out of desperate people.

False teachings on faith healing vary from group to group. Many attribute all sickness to demonic activity and include exorcism as a tool of faith healing. Others, especially certain teachers associated with the word-faith movement, blame sickness on anything from unbelief to sin, and often tie promises of healing to slick pitches for financial contributions.

Apologetics Research Resources on Religious Cults, Sects, Religions, Doctrines

What does the Bible say about healing?

If the Bible is relevant for today, there should be some message there that is consistent with reality. Why don't we see great healings in the church today?

The Bible seems to describe two distinct spiritual areas of healing:

  • Power to heal
  • Gifts of healings

We will look at each of these areas and see the purpose of each. Then we can compare the Biblical examples with current faith healing ministries.

Power to Heal

The Greek word for power is "dunamis". It is the word from which we get words like dynamite and dynamic. We can say that "dunamis" is a "dynamite miracle working power".

Jesus, after he was baptized by John, went into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. Jesus went without food for 40 days and was tempted severely. After that period of temptation the Devil left Jesus and Jesus returned to Galilee. At that time, scripture indicates Jesus returned in the power (dunamis) of the Spirit, with miracle working power. From that time he became famous throughout the region because of the miracles he performed.

Juke 4:13-14

And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.

During his ministry, Jesus sent his twelve disciple out to preach the gospel telling them to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils. Jesus gave them power (dunamis) to enable them to perform their tasks.

Matthew 10:1

And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.

This power enabled the disciples to cure diseases in others.

But, this miracle working power was not used without a purpose.

The purpose was to assist and give authority to the preaching of the gospel.

Healings of Jesus

Notice how the scriptures tie together the miracles with the preaching.

Matthew 4:23

And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.

This association between the miracles and the preaching is not simply an accident. It is repeated again and again to emphasize that relationship.

Matthew 9:35

And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.

Jesus commanded his disciples to combine the miracles with the teaching. There were not to go as simple preachers, but to go in miracle working power giving authenticity and authority to their message.

Matthew 10:5-8

These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.

The relation of the powerful miracles and the preaching was intended to proclaim that the kingdom of God had come to them. The message proclaimed the new age of the Messiah and the miracles witnessed to the fact that the Messiah had authority over sickness, disease, and the demonic spirit world.

Luke 10:8-9

"And whatever town you come to and they receive you, eat what they put before you. Cure the sick in that town, and tell them, "‘The Kingdom of God is now at your door.’”

The close connection between the preaching and the miracles is emphasized here as signs that the kingdom has come. The miracles were not simply to amuse the people, but to help announce the fact that the kingdom was present.

What must be understood here is that the miracles of Jesus do not occur outside the preaching and teaching of the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus was not a miracle monger. He refused to perform miracles to gratify the curious. When the Pharisees asked him for a sign, he characterized them as “an evil and adulterous generation.” (Matthew 12:39)

Healing: Sign of the Kingdom

Power to Heal in the Early Church

Jesus promised that the disciples would receive power by the Holy Spirit. He associated that power with the task of being his witnesses, beginning in Jerusalem and continuing throughout the world.

Acts 1:8

"And yet you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the remotest parts of the earth."

During the Jewish feast of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came in the form of tongues of fire and rested upon the disciples. They received power (dunamis) and preached to foreign visitors in their own native languages.

The result of using this power was the conversion of thousands of Jews to the new faith.

This is exactly what Jesus promised. The disciples received miracle working power that allowed them to carry his message (witness) to the people.

We see this power at work in Peter as he was walking into the Temple. He came upon a lame man who was asking for money.

The lame man was not a stranger to those in the Temple. He was lame from birth and was carried to the gate of the Temple daily to ask for money. Everyone entering the Temple saw him whenever they went to the Temple.

Acts 3:6-9

But Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.

And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. And with a leap, he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God.

Here was a miraculous use of power to heal a lame man. The man leapt to his feet and began praising God for the great healing he had received.

The people immediately recognized that a miracle had taken place. The one who had for years been sitting and begging at the gate now leapt and shouted, praising God.

You can imaging the crowd that gathered around to look. They wanted to know how he was cured and who did this miraculous work.

Peter took advantage of the gathered crowd to preach the good news about Jesus. The crowd gathered around to listen to Peter's message.

But, others also took note of the disruption in the normal activities of the Temple. They wanted to stop this activity so people could worship God in the traditional ways.

Temple guards, priests, and the Saducees apprehend Peter and John and put them in jail for a hearing before the priests. At the hearing Peter preached to the priests. They commanded Peter and John not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus and released them. Peter and John returned to their companions.

They told their companions about the events of the last couple of days and they began to pray about the matter. They asked that God would continue to permit the use of his mighty power to perform miracles so the gospel could be effectively preached.

Acts 4:29-30 (YLT)

"And now, Lord, look upon their threatenings, and grant to Thy servants with all freedom to speak Thy word, in the stretching forth of Thy hand, for healing, and signs, and wonders, to come to pass through the name of Thy holy child Jesus."

The disciples continued to use the great power of God to help in their preaching.

Acts 4:33

And with great power (dunamis) gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.

The apostles used this mighty power to attract crowds and show that God was working through them. They preached the gospel and people joined them in the faith.

Acts 5:12-15

And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. The others, in fear, kept back from joining them: but the people made much of them: And a great number of men and women had faith, and were joined to the Lord. And they even took into the streets people who were ill, and put them on beds, so that when Peter went by, some of them might be in his shade.

Other disciples also preached with power.

Acts 6:8-10

And Stephen, full of faith and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people, and there arose certain of those of the synagogue, called of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia, and Asia, disputing with Stephen, and they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit with which he was speaking;

Eventually the message expanded beyond Judea to Samaria. Here, Phillip was preaching with power in Samaria. He used the power (dunamis) of God to cast out evil spirits and cure many diseases. But, with a purpose. He was preaching the gospel to the people. And, as a result, more people were joined to them in faith.

Acts 7:7, 12

For, with a loud cry, foul spirits came out of many possessed by them, and many paralytics and lame persons were restored to health.

But when Philip began to tell the Good News about the Kingdom of God and about the Name of Jesus Christ, and they embraced the faith, they were baptized, men and women alike.

While it is not clear exactly where Lud was located (probably close to Joppa), we again see the power (dunamis) of God being used to preach the good news of Jesus. Use of this power and the preaching that accompanied it resulted in people turing to the Lord.

Acts 9:32-35

Now Peter, as he went to town after town, came down also to God’s people at Lud. There he found a man of the name of Aeneas, who for eight years had kept his bed, through being paralyzed. Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus Christ cures you. Rise and make your own bed." He at once rose to his feet. And all the people of Lud and Sharon saw him; and they turned to the Lord.

At Joppa, Peter again used the power of God to raise a disciple from the dead. In this case, a well known disciple who did good things for all the people had died. Peter using the power of God commanded that she rise again. News of this miracle got out and many more people believed on the Lord.

Acts 9:36-37, 40-42

Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, that is, Dorcas: this woman was given to good works and acts of mercy at all times. And it came about, in those days, that she got ill and came to her death: and when she had been washed, they put her in a room which was high up. And Peter having put them all forth without, having bowed the knees, did pray, and having turned unto the body said, ‘Tabitha, arise;’ and she opened her eyes, and having seen Peter, she sat up, and having given her his hand, he lifted her up, and having called the saints and the widows, he presented her alive, and it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord;

Paul and Barnabas witnessed with power in Iconium. They preached and performed miracles so that a large number of people received their message and believed.

Acts 14:1-3

At Iconium the Apostles went together to the Jewish synagogue and preached, with the result that a great number both of Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews who had refused obedience stirred up the Gentiles and embittered their minds against the brethren. Yet Paul and Barnabas remained there for a considerable time, speaking freely and relying on the Lord, while He bore witness to the Message of His grace by permitting signs and marvels to be done by them.

Paul continued his missionary trips throughout Asia and the surrounding areas. He performed many miracles and preached about Jesus. As a result many were converted to the new faith and destroyed the materials they used to practice pagan rituals.

Acts 19:10-11, 17-20

This went on for two years, so that all the inhabitants of the province of Asia, Jews as well as Greeks, heard the Lord’s Message. God also brought about extraordinary miracles through Paul’s instrumentality.

And this became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who are dwelling at Ephesus, and fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. Many also of those who believed came confessing without reserve what their conduct had been, and not a few of those who had practiced magical arts brought their books together and burnt them in the presence of all. The total value was reckoned and found to be 50,000 silver coins.

Paul wrote to the Roman church that he had fully preached the gospel of Christ. Here he includes not only preaching by words but by using the miraculous power of God to witness to his message.

Romans 15:19

Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

It was clear to the writer of the book of Hebrews that the message about Jesus was confirmed by the miracles. The signs and wonders produced by the power of God added to the validity of the message.

Hebrews 2:3-4

How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation? Which, having begun to be declared by the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard him. God also bearing them witness by signs and wonders and divers miracles and distributions of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will.

It is confirmed over and over that the power (dunamis) of God was used to help get the gospel message out to the people. It helped attract crowds and gave authority to those delivering the message.

The "Power of Healing" was given to preachers of the gospel so people would pay attention, give heed to the message, and be converted.

The purpose of the miraculous power was to aid in the delivery of that message. It was not used to make life easier or more pleasant for the disciples.

Preachers of the gospel to the unbelieving used the power of healing by commanding the sick to arise and become well. The power of healing was not exercised through prayer to God.

Gifts of Healings

The spiritual gifts are manifestations of the Spirit given by God to people for the common good.

One description of these spiritual manifestations or gifts is found in 1st Corinthians. Here, Paul writes that he does not want people to be without knowledge about these gifts:

I Corinthians 12:1

And concerning the spiritual things, brethren, I do not wish you to be ignorant;

So, it's clear that Paul wants to teach in this section about these spiritual things.

Here, Paul emphasizes that these gifts are from God. While they are different, they work together for the good of all.

I Corinthians 12:4-7

Now there are various kinds of gifts, but there is one and the same Spirit; various forms of official service, and yet one and the same Lord; diversities in work, and yet one and the same God—-He who in each person brings about the whole result. But to each of us a manifestation of the Spirit has been granted for the common good.

Paul then goes on to provide a list of these gifts. While there are three basic lists of gifts in Paul's writings, this list includes the gifts of healings.

1 Corinthians 12:7-11

And to each hath been given the manifestation of the Spirit for profit;

  • for to one through the Spirit hath been given a word of wisdom,
  • and to another a word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit;
  • and to another faith in the same Spirit,
  • and to another gifts of healings in the same Spirit;
  • and to another in-workings of mighty deeds;
  • and to another prophecy;
  • and to another discernings of spirits;
  • and to another divers kinds of tongues; and to another interpretation of tongues:
and all these doth work the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each severally as he intendeth.

The specific gifts of healings is mention in several places in 1st Corinthians chapter 12:

I Corinthians 12:9

and to another faith in the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healings in the same Spirit;

I Corinthians 12:28

And some, indeed, did God set in the assembly, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, afterwards powers, afterwards gifts of healings, helpings, governings, divers kinds of tongues;

I Corinthians 12:30

Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?

Notice that Paul describes the gifts of healings as something distinct from the powers. That is, the powers (including the power to heal others) appears to be of a different nature than the gifts of healings.

While some people equate gifts of healings with the power to heal, it seems Paul intended to make a distinction between them. That is, we can describe these two aspects of healing as:

  • God's gifts of healings cure your disease or illness
  • God's power to heal gives you authority to heal other peoples' diseases or illnesses

There does not appear any reason to equate "gifts of healings" with the power ((dunamis) to heal that is associated with the preaching of the gospel. There is no mention of an association of "gifts of healings" with preaching the gospel.

Rather, gifts of healings are God's gift to the church for occasionally healing certain diseases or illnesses. Paul indicates that not everyone receives gifts of healings. They are gifts. That is, they are not expected, earned, or demanded. They are freely given when God considers it wise.

We can ask for or desire healing, but it is God who decides whether or not to give that gift.

Through the "spirituals", the Holy Spirit makes visible his activity in the church. "Gifts of healings" are just that, gifts bestowed upon the sick. They are not preferments bestowed upon "gifted" individuals to be exercised at their discretion. This is not to deny that individuals may be channels through which the Holy Spirit works, whether by prayer, laying on of hands, or the anointing with oil by the elders of the church (James 5:14). However, it is clearly the prerogative of the Holy Spirit, and his alone, to bestow “gifts of healings” upon the sick.

Healing: Sign of the Kingdom

One of the sad characteristics of some denominations is the expectation of certain gifts. Some denomination require members to demonstrate that they have received one or more gifts to fully be considered a member. Yet, Paul indicated that not everyone has any specific gift.

Gifts of Healing Within the Church

Within the church community there is no need to preach the gospel. The church is already composed of people who have heard and accepted the good news of Jesus Christ.

Within the church community we are told to pray for one another. Specifically, for healing we are to call for the elders of the church to anoint us and pray that we may be healed.

James 5:14-15

Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

It is God, in his mercy, that decides whether or not to give the gift of healing to any member.

Paul, himself, was beset with some illness. While there is speculation over exactly what that illness was, it was something that irritated Paul.

Paul prayed that God would take away this irritation. Paul probably fasted and prayed earnestly for God to intervene and relieve him of his pain. But, God would not heal Paul.

2 Corinthians 12:7-9

And judging by the stupendous grandeur of the revelations—-therefore lest I should be over-elated there has been sent to me, like the agony of impalement, Satan’s angel dealing blow after blow, lest I should be over-elated. As for this, three times have I besought the Lord to rid me of him; but His reply has been, "My grace suffices for you, for power matures in weakness." Most gladly therefore will I boast of my infirmities rather than complain of them—in order that Christ’s power may overshadow me.

One of Paul's close associates was Timothy. And Timothy, himself, had stomach problems. But, Paul did not use the power to heal since its purpose was to aid in preaching the gospel.

Instead, Paul suggested that Timothy take some wine to help soothe his stomach.

1 Timothy 5:23

Do not take only water as your drink, but take a little wine for the good of your stomach, and because you are frequently ill.

Paul in his travels met many people. While he was at Miletus he became acquainted with a disciple named Trophimus. But, Paul did not use the power of God to heal Trophimus. He probably prayed for Trophimus to ask God to heal him. But, in the end Paul left Miletus with Trophimus still sick.

2 Timothy 4:20

Erastus was stopping at Corinth; but Trophimus, when I last saw him was at Miletus, ill.

While Paul was in prison in Rome, the Phillipian church sent aid to Paul. One of the people sent to help Paul was Epaphroditus. But, after arriving in Rome to assist Paul, Epaphroditus himself became quite ill. Here, after Epaphroditus recovers, Paul indicates he is sending Epaphroditus back.

Phillipians 2:25-27

But it seemed to me necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, who has taken part with me in the work and in the fight, and your servant, sent by you for help in my need; Because his heart was with you all, and he was greatly troubled because you had news that he was ill: For in fact he was ill almost to death: but God had mercy on him; and not only on him but on me, so that I might not have grief on grief.

Healing within the church is done by the grace of God. That is, healing within the church is a gift God gives to some, but not others.

Requests for the gifts of healings are made in prayer to God. The sick are not commanded to rise and become well.

Summary

There are two distinct ways that God heals. One is through the power to heal while the other is through the gifts of healings. These can be summarized as follows:

Power to HealGifts of Healings
Exercised by commandsRequested by prayer
Spoken to the person being healedRequested in prayer addressed to God
Person's illness is well known in the unbelieving communityPerson is a member of the church whose illness is most likely not well known in the unbelieving community
Associated with preaching the good news to unbelieversNot associated with preaching the good news to unbelievers

People engaged in healing crusades have mistakenly equated the two ways God heals. They believe they have the power to heal Christians. They command, in the name of Jesus, that the sick Christians become well. Healing crusades in which Christians gather together for the purpose of being healed are simply not Biblical. That's not the way the power of healing was intended to work.

Sick Christians should request prayers and anointing to seek God's gifts of healing.


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Copyright © 2003 Robert Sherman ge of Freedom in Christ

Copyright © 2006 Robert Sherman