Healing Line

Healing Line

A Near–Death Experience

by Francis MacNutt
Jan/Feb 2005

One of the most startling discoveries I made in doing research for my new book was that everyone in the early Church was encouraged to pray to heal the sick — and even to cast out evil spirits. For the first three centuries after Jesus’ Resurrection, Christians boasted that any ordinary Christian could heal the sick.

Then, beginning around the year 350 A.D. it all began to change. Only a few extraordinary Christians still prayed for healing. They believed one had to be unusually holy — a “saint” — in order to expect that the sick actually would get well. Furthermore, a special group — the priests — was set apart to minister in the sacrament of “Anointing the Sick.”

Even the Anointing was largely emptied of healing expectations; this sacrament was restricted to those who were so sick that they were in danger of death. It became the Last Anointing — Extreme Unction — and its primary purpose was no longer physical healing but was to prepare the Christian for death. What an amazing change!

Then came the Protestant reformers, such as John Calvin, who wanted to restore Christianity to its early purity. Paradoxically, they managed to abandon healing prayer altogether. Nevertheless, in the 1500’s, Catholics still were seeking healing by making pilgrimages to pray for the intercession of the Saints in heaven. (You probably remember your English Lit classes and reading Chaucer’s recreation of a medieval pilgrimage in his Canterbury Tales). In those pilgrimages Calvin only saw a Catholic superstition that needed to be removed from the face of true religion. He still had an absolute belief in Jesus’ healing the sick but, believed that after the Apostles had died off, the age of miracles had ceased. In the years following Calvin, the Protestant reformers continued to suppress the last remnants of a “supernatural” healing ministry.

It took another 300 years, and then some theologians (such as Bultmann) went still further and taught that even the healing stories about Jesus and the Apostles were no longer to be believed as literal history. They were not scientifically credible, so in their minds these healings never really happened in the way the Gospel writers described them but were simply ways of symbolizing a deeper truth.

As a result of all these skeptical theories taught

for the past hundreds of years, most non–Pentecostal Christians today never have learned to pray for healing. When I have asked Christians (more than a hundred thousand so far) how many could remember their parents ever praying with them when they were sick as children, the vast majority have had no memory of such a thing. My estimate is that 97% could not remember their fathers, and 80% could not remember their mothers ever praying with them when they were sick. And these are the loyal people in church every Sunday!

Their precious heritage of healing has nearly been lost. The good news, however, is that healing prayer is gradually making a comeback; but it will be a struggle.

Most ordinary Christians have never learned they can pray with the sick and actually expect healing to happen. To paraphrase Paul, “How can they learn, unless someone tells them?”

But there is a further difficulty, in addition to simple ignorance about healing prayer, and that is that faithful, humble believers have an ingrained sense that only ministers and priests are supposed to pray for the sick — and then only in church services.

Compounding these barriers the ordinary faithful somehow have also come to believe that they are unworthy of God’s answering their simple prayers.

Breaking through these barriers to renewal is a real problem! Here’s the religious world view we hope to restore, together with showing how it all was reversed:

  1. In the beginning all Christians believed in praying for healing. Everyone got to play.
  2. Then just a few prayed for healing. And healing itself became rare.
  3. Next they told stories about how it used to happen when Jesus and the Apostles prayed.
  4. Then they wondered if the healing stories in the Gospel weren’t just a wonderful fairy tale invented to make a point.
  5. Lastly, they came to a point where they didn’t even believe in the fairy tale any longer. It never really happened in the first place! And that’s where some Christian leaders and scholars are today.

As Chesterton once said, “The Gospel is too good to be true.”

The good news is that we are called to recapture the vision of our lost heritage and heal our sick world. Once we ourselves have seen Jesus actually heal the sick and liberate the oppressed, never again can we return to the way we once thought — and acted.

Without judging others too critically we need simply to share in a credible way what we not only believe but what we actually experience. Once that happens, our families, our churches and our world have a chance of being gloriously renewed.

Indeed the Gospel is good,

and once again it becomes News!

P.S. If you would like to read the full story behind this article, it will be in my book The Nearly Perfect Crime, due out in April, 2005.

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Jan/Feb 2005 Issue