Healing Line

Healing Line

The Critical Next Step

by Francis MacNutt
May/Jun 2007

We are among that hopeful group trying to reawaken the once universal belief that Jesus Christ has entrusted to us a share in his supernatural healing power. You should also be aware that for the past 200 years, God has been touching individuals in every one of the major denominations with the same realization that healing prayer is vitally necessary for the full practice of Christianity1. To take just one example, in the Lutheran Church, around the year 1840, God touched a simple, hard–working pastor, Johann Christophe Blumhardt, and led him to rediscover the power to exorcise a suffering member of his church. This happened in a small town in the Black Forest of Germany. Soon his church became a center of pilgrimage, even though he never even gave a sermon extolling healing prayer.

What happened to Blumhardt, and to most of the healing pioneers in the 1800s, was that the mainline churches did not accept their exciting rediscovery, but, instead, sealed off their influence from the rest of the Church as if it were an infection. Blumhardt, for example, was visited by a Lutheran official, accompanied by a physician, who warned him that physical health belonged to the world of medicine, and that Blumhardt should mind his own business and stop praying for the sick. They told him that he should only counsel his people to practice Christian patience when they were sick. The same tragic response — at least I see it as tragic — blocked those other Christian ministers and physicians who rediscovered the reality of healing prayer and tried to bring it back to their churches. They usually met a stone wall, and when they died, their ministries died with them. This happened to Baptists, to Episcopalians, to Presbyterians, and to almost every other denominational leader. It was as if God was calling out to us for years and years, but no one could hear.

Then, it seems that, God grew weary of Christians who would not listen and he began to speak to people who were not ministers within the established churches. During this next stage in our story, God empowered individuals, such as William Seymour at Azusa Street in Los Angeles (1906). At the very beginning of the 20th Century, these lonely individuals were given a dramatic introduction to the power of the Holy Spirit, very much like the beginning of the Church at Pentecost. Their preaching about the kingdom of God was dramatically accompanied by charismatic “signs and wonders,” including miracles of healing. It was as if God got tired of running into the center of the line (in football terms) and decided to do an end run. As has so often happened, the ones whom God chose were financially poor and uneducated, but their influence spread all around the world and new churches rose up among them, such as the Assemblies of God and the Church of God in Christ.

The third move of the Spirit in renewing the healing ministry has been called the Charismatic Renewal and sprang up in the 1950s and 1960s when priests, ministers, and lay people in the mainline denominations experienced the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and also rediscovered many of the charisms, especially healing the sick. In those years, beginning with the Episcopal priest Dennis Bennett (1939), millions of clergy and laypeople (including us) in the mainline churches not only learned about healing, but experienced it in their own lives. This third stage was another great leap forward and healing associations such as the Order of Saint Luke and the Association of Christian Therapists were formed. That is where we are now. It changed many people and, to some extent, the churches. When I first started praying for the sick, it was still seen as unusual for a Catholic priest to step out and pray publicly for the sick, but it has now become acceptable. In many churches, volunteers are set aside on Sundays to pray for the sick after communion. Some priests celebrate liturgies for healing the sick and hundreds of the faithful attend.

So what more is needed?

Wonderful as those changes may have been, much more is needed, or what has already happened is in danger of fading. Indeed, as I travel in order to speak, I am often saddened to see that Christian ministries and charismatic communities have faded in their significance or split into different groups, or have even disappeared. Thirty years ago, some of them were beacons of hope and even places of pilgrimage. Their names are not so important as is the sad fact that this loss of life seems almost normative.

I believe that something far more needs to happen. There needs to be an explosion of healing life so enormous that it cannot be ignored, so vast that we can no longer overlook God’s desire to heal his people, and so clear that no one can deny — or wish to deny — that normal Christianity means that every ordinary Christian understands that preaching that the kingdom of God is here means that Jesus heals the sick and destroys evil — even now! It will mean that every pastor will know that if someone has cancer, they are expected to pray for healing; if a parishioner is a drug addict, they are happy to pray for freedom; if anyone wants to quit smoking, they can pray for the ability to quit. Every Christian will know that it is normal for us to pray that we come to be transformed into a new, loving creation.
(II Cor. 5).

1 I write about this in my recent book, The Healing Reawakening.

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. May/Jun 2007 Issue