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Healing and Faith in World Christianity

Updated July 21, 2021
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In a world ruled by the human mind it’s easy for mankind to reject anything that does not fit with scientific thought. It is difficult for those in a modern context to accept anything that cannot be observed empirically, matters of faith are less trusted and less “proven” than modern science and thus generally rejected. Christians today have the added challenge of trying to reconcile faith in a world that worships the seen. There’s an observable friction between the concepts of faith and science.

Since its beginning Christianity has been a religion of healing. (Kimbel 2005, p.3) Not only did Jesus come to heal the break in the relationship between God and man, as he was here he also showed many signs and wonders that were products of His connection to God. In Matthew 11:5 Jesus foretells that “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” The story of miraculous healing in the Bible was inseparable from the story of Christ, but as time has gone on this belief and faith healing has slowly disappeared in most parts of America, as science has risen to take its place. But faith healing is still alive and powerful today in world Christianity. Though less seen and less practiced, the power of God is still at work in the lives (both physical and eternal) of His children. This paper will look at the biblical foundations of faith healing, its friction with science, and how faith healing is still having an effect in the world today.

Biblical Foundations

As stated prior, Christianity is a religion of healing. Mankind was eternally separated from God by sin, but God sent His only son to heal the schism between Himself and mankind. Through God eternal prosperity can be found. Through faith in Him one will never be alone, never overcome. In the New Testament Jesus was known as being an exorcist and healer (Kimbel 2005). While He was on the Earth, Jesus provided many miracles and instructed His followers to take care of the sick and needy just as He had. His ministry of healing was not finished when He died and rose again. After His death and resurrection, when He had gone to heaven to await His return, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit down to live inside His followers. In first Corinthians chapter twelve healing is even listed as one of the spiritual gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit. Healing has been a focal point of God from the beginning of time (Lederle 1997). In the Bible there are events of healing and teachings about healing in the Old Testament before Christ, in the life of Christ, as well as in those who followed Him.

Healing in the Old Testament

Many times, in the Old Testament God heals His chosen people the Israelites. Some were baron and given a child as seen in the story of Sarah, or resurrected as seen in the story of the Shunamite’s son. Generally, healing takes on a reward and punishment personality. Throughout the Old Testament health and wealth are presented as rewards of God whereas sickness, misery, misfortune, even death, are seen as his punishments. This lead to the theology that Job serves to counteract, that loyalty to God results in prosperity.

Jesus as Healer

In the New Testament Jesus counteracts many of the past ideas of the Jew, especially the belief that hardship is the result of the anger of God. When walking next to the temple the disciples asked Jesus who had sinned leading to the predicament of a man born blind. Jesus insisted that neither had sinned, instead it was so that God might be glorified. Jesus healed many in the New Testament. He was able to heal men of leprosy, people of blindness, bleeding, and all different types of calamities. Ultimately Jesus died a death that healed the greatest calamity of all; sin. When Jesus died, He provided a remedy to death. Mankind only had to have faith in Him and to accept His gift.

Christians as Healers

After the death, resurrection, and transcendence of Christ the task of healing fell to believers. The disciples were able to perform miracles in the name of Jesus, the lame were able to walk, the sick were healed, and the dead were raised to life. The gift of healing had not died with Christ, or gone to heaven with Him. It remained on earth in the form of the Holy Spirit. As well, the New Testament reveals Satan and demons as the agents of sickness. (Brown 2011, p.18) Sin has effectively removed the protective covering of God and given Satan the opportunity to infest humanity with sickness and disease. This is a result of mankind’s fall, but it is not to be regarded as God’s perfect will. This shows that by healing people the believers were not undoing God’s punishment for those whom are disobedient but working to restore mankind to their state before the fall.

The Relationship Between Faith and Science

For many years the belief in faith healings was a constant in the Christian community. Healing through faith was attainable and prescriptive. The belief that God was able to heal those who were sick and in need was strong and generally observed, until the Renaissance. During the Enlightenment faith took the backburner as science came to the forefront. Christianity was pit against and the global expansion of scientific medicine (Kimbel 2005) Faith became a supplement to medicine or a last grasp when medicine was not enough. Human thought and reasoning began to push out the belief that faith has healing properties. Throughout the years since, modern medicine has become more and more efficient and the need for faith healing has lessened, and thus the belief in faith healing has lessened. Human reason has made faith for many a nonoption and even within the body of Christ it has made healing by faith secondary to modern science.

Forces Against Faith Healing

Many in the modern age reject the concept of faith healing. They reject that what is written in the Bible could still be possible today. They hold that faith healing either was never possible or is no longer possible or likely today. A number of factors work together to stand against the practice of faith healing. Some of these factors are scientific skepticism, Christian skepticism, and fraud.

Scientific Skepticism

The first force against the belief in divine healing is scientific criticism. Science rejects anything that does not ere on the side of reason. If it seems impossible, it must be impossible. When scientist are met with an instance of faith they generally answer it in one of two ways. The first is “post hoc ergo propter hoc”, meaning that a genuine improvement or spontaneous remission may have been experienced coincidental with but independent from anything the faith healer or patient did or said. These patients would have improved just as well even had they done nothing. They chalk up the healing as happening regardless of prayer or any faith. The second reasoning scientist employ for faith healings is the “placebo effect”, through which a person may experience genuine pain relief and other symptomatic alleviation. In these cases, the patient genuinely had been helped by the faith healer or faith-based remedy, not through any mysterious or numinous function, but by the power of their own belief that they would be healed.

Christian Skepticism

Christian theological skepticism of faith healing broadly falls into two levels of disagreement. The first is widely ‘open-but-cautious’ view of the miraculous in the church today. This view does see that Christ by his cross has defeated the devil, and by his Spirit has given us the power to overcome him Consequently healing is the inheritance right of all true Christians who call upon the Lord with genuine faith. But while they admit to the possibility, they are aware of the probability. Christian skeptics are doubtful when stories arise because these cases are few and rarely heard of.

The second theological disagreement with Christian faith healing goes further. Commonly referred to as Cessationism, it holds that faith healing will not happen today at all, or may happen today, but it would be extremely unusual. Cessationists believe that spiritual gifts such as healing and tongues have passed away as time has gone by. They believe that while there were healing acts in the New Testament after Jesus ascended, they have since disappeared because they were not practiced. At the same time, however, they hold that the power of God today to heal the sick, particularly in response to prayer is still very possible.

Fraud

Many skeptics of faith healers point to fraudulent practices either in the healings themselves (such as plants in the audience with fake illnesses), or concurrent with the healing work supposedly taking place and claim that faith healing is a fake practice in which the ‘healers’ use well known non-supernatural illusions to exploit people in order to obtain their gratitude, confidence and money. Christian evangelists such as Peter Popoff, who claimed to heal sick people on stage in front of an audience who pretended to know private details about participants’ lives by receiving radio transmissions from his wife who was off-stage and had gathered information from audience members prior to the show. Many of the most well-known modern evangelistic healers have engaged in deception and fraud.

There have also been legal controversies. For example, in 1955 at a Jack Coe revival service in Miami, Florida, Coe told the parents of a three-year-old boy that he healed their son who had polio. Coe then told the parents to remove the boy’s leg braces. However, their son was not cured of polio and removing the braces left the boy in constant pain. As a result, Coe was arrested and charged with practicing medicine without a license. (The case was dismissed on grounds that Florida exempts divine healing from the law).

Faith Healing Practices in World Christianity

Even with the forces working against the belief of faith healing, it still saturates the world today. Many cultures believe in faith healing (though the item/being they put their faith in varies), they hold that faith healing is a practical, and effective way to heal people of sicknesses and misfortunes. To look around the world at faith healings one must first look at the international faith’s that hold divine healing to be true, and then look into specific examples of faith healing in different areas of the world.

Pentecostal Charismatic Movement

The Pentecostalism Charismatic movement holds to the belief that Jesus as Healer is one quarter of the full gospel. Pentecostals give four major reasons for believing in divine healing their first is that it is from scripture. As Faith healing was reported in the Bible, it must exist. The second is that Jesus’ healing ministry was included in his atonement so it must be inherited to all who have salvation. The third is that ‘the whole gospel is for the whole person’ meaning spirit, soul, and body. For the gospel to be for the body would mean that the power of Christ can heal the sick. The last is that sickness is a consequence of the Fall and salvation is ultimately the restoration of the fallen world. So as Christ had power over death, through Him Christians have power over health.

For Pentecostals, spiritual and physical healing serves as a reminder and testimony to Christ’s future return when his people will be completely delivered from all the consequences of the fall. An important note however, is that not everyone who prays receives healing. It is God in his sovereign wisdom who either grants or withholds healing. Common reasons that are given in answer to the question as to why all are not healed include: God teaches through suffering, healing is not always immediate, lack of faith on the part of the person needing healing, and personal sin in one’s life (however, this does not mean that all illness is caused by personal sin).

Pentecostals believe that prayer is central in receiving healing. Pentecostals look to scriptures such as James 5:13-16 for direction regarding healing prayer. There an opportunity for healing is found both in the singular sense (verse 13) and the plural sense (verse 16). Pentecostals hold to the practice found in also way is based on Mark 16:17–18 where believers laying hands on the sick result in healing. This is done in imitation of Jesus who often healed in this manner.

During the initial decades of the movement, Pentecostals thought it was sinful to take medicine or receive care from doctors.[45] Over time, Pentecostals moderated their views concerning medicine and doctor visits; however, a minority of Pentecostal churches continues to rely exclusively on prayer and divine healing. For example, doctors in the United Kingdom reported that a minority of Pentecostal HIV patients were encouraged to stop taking their medicines and parents were told to stop giving medicine to their children, trends that placed lives at risk.[46]

Catholicism

Africa

Religion is a survival strategy, Ghana p. 66 (Asamoah-Gyadu 2007)

Both these movements strongly supported and practiced faith healing, and both played a major role in the rise and growth of the African independent churches. Healing on biblical grounds and exorcism after the examples in the Bible were given place in the independent churches.

Faith healing in independent churches can be divided into three categories: healing during church services, healing by immersion, and healing through consultation with a prophet.

The population of Eisleben is about 16,000. One third of the men are migrant laborers in urban centers. A number of women work on nearby farms. Most inhabitants live below the poverty line. Approximately 6ق% of the community are literate.

India

The pilgrims believe that these saints, some of whom are women, have supernatural powers, and that when they died God empowered them with a benevolent force called baraka that emanates from the grave and can be used to perform miracles for the living.

One very common ritual is for a person to be chained to a railing surrounding the tomb or to a part of the building housing it.

The supplicants remain chained until they feel united with the power of the saint. This may take a few hours, or involve attempts lasting several days. After experiencing this union, supplicants wear the chains wrapped around their arms as a badge of honor. It is also common to see the faithful walking in circles around the tomb until they drop from dizziness or exhaustion. When have recovered their strength, they get up and continue.

When an infertile woman gives birth, or a sick child is cured, the child is brought back to be weighed, so that a gift of raw sugar amounting to the exact weight of the child can be offered. This is accepted by the priests on behalf of the saint.

America

Prosecuted for endangerment (Krause 2009)

Ohio Carey (shrine) (Endres 2016)

Rejection of modern medicine because of faith, Rejection of faith for modern medicine, acceptance of both (Igenoza 1988)

A lack of faith, relationship between science and medicine (Hess 2013)

“… available scientific evidence does not support claims that faith healing can actually cure physical ailments… One review published in 1998 looked at 172 cases of deaths among children treated by faith healing instead of conventional methods. These researchers estimated that if conventional treatment had been given, the survival rate for most of these children would have been more than 90 percent, with the remainder of the children also having a good chance of survival. A more recent study found that more than 200 children had died of treatable illnesses in the United States over the past thirty years because their parents relied on spiritual healing rather than conventional medical treatment.”

-American Cancer Society

References

  1. Asamoah-Gyadu, J. K. (2007). “On the ‘Mountain’ of the Lord” Healing Pilgrimages in Ghanaian Christianity. Exchange, 36(1), 65–86. https://doi.org/10.1163/15725 4307X159425
  2. Brown, C. G. (2011). Global pentecostal and charismatic healing. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
  3. David J. Endres. (2016). What Medicine Could Not Cure: Faith Healings at the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation, Carey, Ohio, (3), 25. https://doi.org/10.1353/cht.2016.0018
  4. Hess, D. (2013). Faith healing and the palliative care team. Journal Of Social Work In End-Of- Life & Palliative Care, 9(2–3), 180–190. https://doi.org/10.1080/15524256.2013.794054
  5. Hinderaker, A. (2018). And the Prayer of Faith Shall Save the Sick: An Intertextual Analysis of the Narrative of Faith Healing in the Media. Journal of Communication & Religion, 41(2), 93–109. Retrieved from http://media.etbu.edu:2048/login?url =http://search.ebscohost.com/login. aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=13076298 1&site=eds-live
  6. Igenoza, A. O. (1988). Medicine and healing in African Christianity: a biblical critique. AFER, 30(1), 12–25. Retrieved from http://media.etbu.edu:2048 /login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0000799062&site=eds-live
  7. Jones, H. K. (1973). Healing and Christianity in ancient thought and modern times. Union Seminary Quarterly Review, 29(1), 51–58. Retrieved from http://media.etbu.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0000446646&site=eds-live
  8. Kimbel, W. H., & Rak, Y. (2005). Healing in the history of christianity. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
  9. Klassen, P. E. (2011). Spirits of Protestantism : Medicine, Healing, and Liberal Christianity. Berkeley: University of California Press. Retrieved from http://media.etbu.edu:2048/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=380285&site=ehost-live&scope=site
  10. Klassen, P. E. (2009). Keeping the faith, discerning the divine: terms and conditions in new research on Christianity and healing in North America. Church History, (3), 640. Retrieved from http://media.etbu.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscoho st.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgwh&AN=edsgcl.207875323&site=eds-live
  11. Krause, K. W. (2009). When faith kills; Christian healing v. scientific medicine. Skeptic [Altadena, CA], 14(4), 45+. Retrieved from http://media.etbu.edu:2230/apps /doc/A1965335 64/PPRP?u=txshracd2502&sid=PPRP&xid=4869f31a
  12. Lederle, H. I. (1997). Healing and Christianity: a classic study. Calvin Theological Journal, 32(1), 204–205. Retrieved from http://media.etbu.edu:2048/login?url=http:// search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0000332526&site=eds-live
  13. Onyinah, O. (2013). Healing: A Pentecostal Perspective. One in Christ, 47(2), 311–339. Retrieved from http://media.etbu.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/ login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=93875019&site=eds-live
  14. Pilch, J. J. (2008). Women Healing/Healing Women: The Genderization of Healing in Early Christianity. Review of Biblical Literature, 10, 407–409. Retrieved from http://media.etbu.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=35165735&site=eds-live
  15. Strunk, O., Jr. (2005). Raising Lazarus: integral healing in Orthodox Christianity. The Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling, 59(4), 411–412. Retrieved from http://media.etbu.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001508547&site=eds-live
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