Healing Line

Healing Line

It's Stranger Than I Thought

by Francis MacNutt
Jul/Aug 2004

Now that I have almost finished writing my new book on the mystery of why healing prayer died out over the centuries, I find it is an even stranger near–death mystery than I thought when I first began to write (Chosen Books will publish it in about a year). Here are the basic facts, and see if they don't shake you up a bit.

First of all, it is clear that Jesus (whose name Jeshua means "God heals" or "God saves") considered that his major mission, in addition to teaching, was to heal and cast out evil spirits. This is how he spent his time, and he had a passion to do it, risking his life to heal on the Sabbath.

And he passed his healing power on to the Twelve (Matthew 10 and Luke 9), and then to the 72 (Luke 10). Still later, at Pentecost, he passed his ministry on to the entire church, 3000 on that day alone, when the fire came down upon their heads. The entire book of Acts shows that the early church did the very same things that Jesus did. Peter, representing the Hebrew community, healed the sick and even raised a woman from the dead, while Paul, standing for the Gentile Christians, also healed and raised the dead.

And then, and this many people do not know, the early Christians for the first 300 years continued doing what the book of Acts describes. In fact, the main method of evangelizing was not preaching to huge crowds ( after all, they were hiding out from the Roman authorities), but was by healing the sick and casting out evil spirits.1 It took 300 years, mostly one–on–one ministry, until Rome was gradually converted. (The Emperor Constantine was converted in 312.)

Now, the Church emerges triumphant, but, incredibly, the very means that made Christianity successful started to disappear! There were two primary elements comprising Christianity:

  1. The power of the Spirit is the force that makes us into a "new creation" and it underlies healing and deliverance from evil spirits. This comes to us in the "baptism in the Spirit—the main promise of the prophet John the Baptist. Jesus"is the one who is going to baptize you in the Holy Spirit"—this is John's main prophecy and is found in all four gospels.
  2. The charisms of the Spirit that Paul said are necessary to build up the Church (1 Corinthians 12), and these include healing and the power to work miracles.

For those first 300 years, the Christians expected that when adults were baptized, they might emerge from the water praying in tongues or see a vision or prophesy. For the early Christians, baptism in the Spirit and water baptism were seen as the same event. Then, in the fourth century, these expectations started to disappear. The first Christians had prayed to receive the charisms mentioned by Paul. Then it changed. Instead of Paul's nine charisms, the official prayers turned back the clock hundreds of years before Jesus' time and started praying for the seven gifts listed by Isaiah (11 :2), which are not ministry gifts but are for personal holiness (such as "wisdom"). Gradually, the expectation that a real Pentecost experience would result when converts were baptized died out.

As far as healing was concerned, expectations quickly died out there, too, when the Spirit was quenched. Occasionally and rarely (by the fifth century), it was expected that healing might take place. But Christians no longer learned to pray for healing. Instead, the sick were encouraged to visit shrines and there pray for the intercession of the saints, especially Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Then the sacrament of healing, which originally included physical, bodily healing, became a sacrament to prepare for a happy death (Extreme Unction, which translates as "the Last Anointing"). Not that preparation for death is not important, but praying for physical life was turned on its head ,and we ended up preparing for death. You couldn't even receive the anointing of the sick unless you were sick enough to be in danger of death. Again, this was a change that took several hundred years (A.D. 1200).

And then, surprisingly, the Protestant reformers who look to the Bible for authority took healing prayer one step further on its way to death when the great reformer John Calvin claimed that supernatural healing ceased with the death of the last apostle ("Cessationism") and that Catholics making pilgrimages to healing shrines was vile "papist superstition" and should be abolished. So much for the Bible, which says that these signs shall follow those who believe — and among the signs are that "they will lay hands on the sick who will recover" (Mark 16: 18). So even that was taken away. Most Baptists today, who believe so strongly in Scripture, do not have a faith in healing prayer because they are the spiritual heirs of Calvin.

But at least Calvin believed in the reality of the New Testament miracles. Another 300 years after Calvin, Rudolph Bultmann said that even the New Testament healings and deliverances did not really happen. They were merely stories made up to illustrate a spiritual point ("demythologizing").

And so healing prayer — Jesus' main activity upon this earth, so much his passion that he risked death to heal on the Sabbath — almost disappeared from the Christian world. So much so that when I ask people in any mainline church whether they can remember their parents ever praying for them when they were sick as children, only two percent can remember their fathers praying, and only about fifteen percent can remember their mothers praying for them to get better when they were sick.

Truly, we have been robbed of our inheritance.

And these are not minor elements in the Christian message. Giving us the baptism in the Spirit is the main reason Jesus came to live among us, according to the great prophet, John the Baptist, who we all believe was sent to prepare the way of the Lord. The Church was not born until Pentecost!

And healing and freeing us from evil were the early church's main ministries (along with preaching that the Kingdom of God was at hand).

This brief synopsis of this tragic loss is why I had to write the book I am working on now. Perhaps we are living out Paul's prophecy: "They will keep up the outward appearance of religion, but will have rejected the inner power of it" (2 Timothy 3:5).

1Ramsey MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire: A.D. 100–400 (New Haven, University of Yale Pres, 1984).

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Jul/Aug 2004 Issue