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The Power of the Cross and Healing in a Pastor’s Ministry

As the gospels prominently document, healing was a primary feature of Christ’s ministry. Francis MacNutt wrote, “just as the early church kept a lively practice of the baptism in the Spirit, they also carried on Jesus’ healing and deliverance ministries. For the next three hundred years Christians were proud of their healing mission and enthusiastically prayed for the sick and cast out demons.”[1] For centuries, this belief was a misplaced essential of Christ’s teaching and the importance of Jesus’ resurrection was missing. MacNutt continued, “by the year 800-more or less-a desire for baptism with the Holy Spirit had disappeared…an expectant belief in healing the sick was also dying out. The two are intimately connected: If the power behind the healing prayer is not there, or is diminished, then fewer people will be healed. Healing becomes rare and unusual.”[2] The same remains true in our post-modern societies that healing needed required a recovery to its biblical foundation. The renewal movements of the twentieth century brought a release into the church for this conviction. Healing is once again a part of the established churches, yet, the modern day Pentecostal/Charismatic movements would do well to balance their views of healing with the suffering of Christ found in the cross. Indeed, as one observes certain abuses with healing in today’s church, a corrective methodology needs to draw a dynamic union between the cross and healing.


The practicality between the cross and healing

As a pastor, chaplain, and professor for twenty-eight years, I preach with confidence about the power of God to heal. Because salvation and healing are in the cross (Matt. 8:17), I believe prayer for healing remains appropriate for pastoral ministry. However, the results of healing prayer must be tempered by a healthy theology of the cross. Charles Farah expressed concern between the balance of healing and modern-day emphases on faith. Because of disregard within certain Christian circles with the teaching on healing, he believed a correction with classic theology was necessary. In his perceptive book From the Pinnacle of the Temple, he presented a common storyline with prayer for healing. He writes:

Major premise: Healing is in the Atonement.

Minor premise: Faith is the key to healing.

Conclusion: Therefore, those who are prayed for in faith will be healed.

Right? Not always. It just is not that simple. There is always an X factor in healing, an unknown quantity that God does not chose to reveal. Healing is a divine mystery and humility is our best approach to unraveling the answers.[3]

Farah’s scenario has become a common theme that causes many sincere Christians to fall into doubt and cynicism.

Where does suffering fit in your understanding of faith?

Yet, we read that most of the healings of Christ appeared instantly, and as a result, we believe that healing remains for our day as well. The issue of healing lacked acknowledgment that suffering is a component of the faith journey. When we pray for healing, an acceptance of the suffering of Christ on the cross balances a triumphal idea of healing. An understanding of healing without a grasp of suffering fuels a deficient theology. World War II martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this type of faith cheap grace. Bonhoeffer maintains, “cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices.”[4] In addition, as Farah aptly conveys,

theology always lives within the realm of mystery. No theologian can escape the mysterious ways of God, the capricious ways of the Spirit. Theology is a peculiar science because, when it is most true to itself, it prostrates itself in humility, prayer and adoration. True theology is a theology of prayer, and in the presence of a living God one adores; he never wholly understands.[5]

Thus, sound theology remains vital for practical faith and healing.

We read in the scriptures that Paul left Trophimus sick (2 Tim. 4:20), and Epaphroditus almost died (Philippians 2:26-27). Did Paul lack faith with his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7-9)? Dan McConnell asserts in his critique, A Different Gospel, concerning the hyper word of faith theology, “one cannot help but wonder how Paul’s bodily illness would have been received today among [some Christians].”[6] A balanced theology of the cross with divine healing would revive trust in solving many problems in these specific situations. It may be that the statement of Paul leaving Trophimus sick at Miletus intended to keep the church from extremes. To add, in the light of the apostle’s teaching on holy communion, sin, and sickness (1 Cor. 11), John Thomas writes, “Paul not only believed God could use illness as discipline for believers who sinned (as in 1 Cor. 11:30), but he could also use it as a means to accomplish his will through the preaching of the gospel.”[7] To such mysteries Paul had one answer, “now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). Most notably, those texts concerning the cross reveal the full counsel of God on this topic.

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2017

About the Author: Cletus L. Hull, III, M.Div. (Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry), D.Min. (Fuller Theological Seminary), Ph.D. (Regent University), has served as a pastor with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for 36 years and psychiatric chaplain for 34 years. He is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies in the Oral Roberts University College of Theology and Ministry. He has researched the growing Disciples of Christ churches in Puerto Rico and has an interest in the significance of the Stone-Campbell churches in American Christianity. His article, "My Church is a Mental Hospital" appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Healing Line. He is the author of The Wisdom of the Cross and the Power of the Spirit in the Corinthian Church: Grounding Pneumatic Experiences and Renewal Studies in the Cross of Christ (Pickwick, 2018) and The Call: My Mission and Our Ministry at Trinity United Christian Church, Lower Burrell, PA (Word Association, 2019). Twitter: @cletus_hull, Facebook,

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