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.” 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.” 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.
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?
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.
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].” 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.” 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.