Should a Healer's Lifestyle be Lavish?

by Francis MacNutt
Jul/Aug 2005

This question is not an idle one. For forty years we have been struggling to restore healing prayer, and part of the problem has been the very image associated with being a “faith healer” (do we consider Jesus a faith healer?). People have a suspicion that, if we are spending our lives in the healing ministry, our motives are perhaps less than honest. The very phrase “faith healer” is a disparaging one, bringing back memories of such movies as Leap of Faith, with Steve Martin giving a brilliant parody of the escapades of a healing evangelist.

More recently, TV specials criticizing the ministry of some healing evangelists continue to tarnish not only the image of individuals but, even more sadly, the very ministry of healing itself. We are getting tired of battling prejudice that blocks our ministry. Yet most of the people I meet who look down on “faith healers” are not enemies out to discredit healing prayer; they are good Christians, intelligent and upright, many of them ministers and priests. It’s hard enough working through the theological thicket, following upon the past 400 years of scientific enlightenment which casts doubt on the very word “supernatural.” But what adds fuel to the fire is the suspicion that “faith healers” are in this work to make money off the simple faithful. What we need is to rehabilitate and to heal the very phrase “Faith Healer.”

The first step in doing this is for those of us involved in the healing ministry to turn to the words of Jesus himself who, it  seems, was keenly aware of the danger of healers making a pot of money off it. When he sent out the Twelve (Mt. 10:1ff and Lk. 9:1ff) and then the 72 (Lk. 10:1ff), he spoke clearly in describing the healers’ simple lifestyle:

Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.

When you enter a town or village, don’t insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people, and be content there until you leave (Mt. 10:11 in The Message version).

Summing up Jesus’ instructions: don’t grow rich living off this gift I’m giving you. You deserve enough food to eat as well as a place to stay, but do not seek luxury.*

Since one of the sins prevalent in our nation is greed, we as preachers of the kingdom should be setting an example in following Jesus’ instructions and in challenging our culture of greed. When we hear that a priest or minister has been caught in “immorality,” our thought immediately goes to sexual sins. Greed is just as prevalent as adultery, but is less recognized as a sin.

Whenever I read the story of the Rich Young Man (Lk. 18:18-27), I feel personally challenged and wonder if I should not give away  more of what I have and share it with the poor. The ancient Christian tradition is that whatever is over and above what we really need for ourselves and our families (and this includes education), we should share the excess with a needy mission, a needy church, or a needy person. These are hard sayings (and similar Gospel passages are not often preached on Sunday, in churches or on TV). Jesus’ contemporaries had trouble with them, too, and the Gospel says that “When the Pharisees, a money-obsessed bunch, heard him say these things, they rolled their eyes, dismissing him as hopelessly out of touch” (Lk. 16:4 in The Message).

We all admire Billy Graham for many reasons, but most especially because his very lifestyle preaches as well as his words.  He avoids the very appearance of sexual impropriety and, although he seems to live comfortably, his lifestyle is not lavish.

Similarly, at the very least, we should avoid the very appearance of using Jesus’ ministry to acquire a fleet of exotic cars and aspiring to live like a millionaire. Even people who are not particularly Christian know enough about Jesus’ teaching to be offended when they see Christian leaders who seem to live lavishly off the offerings that the faithful make to spread the Gospel. Something that sounds akin to greed is even made into a motive for giving; “Give abundantly to my mission and God will reward you a hundredfold.”

Continually, I am challenged by the ideal held up by Jesus when he said, “When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbors, for fear they repay your courtesy by inviting you in return. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate, because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again” (Lk. 14:12-14). Clearly, we are to be generous with the poor. Especially, if we are leaders, we should demonstrate an example of not falling prey to greed, just as we are to be careful not to leave the impression that we are unfaithful in sexual matters. His instruction to the Twelve was, “You received without charge, give without charge” (Mt. 10:8).

Do we take his orders seriously? If we do, the term “faith healer” will finally lose its reproach and destroy the barrier of prejudice that prevents intelligent people from considering the great gift Jesus gave us.

* On the topic of poverty, from an evangelical perspective, I recommend God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, by Jim Wallis (Harper San Francisco), Chapters 13-17.

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