Healing Line

Healing Line

The Struggle to Recover Healing

by Francis MacNutt
Apr/May 2008

If Satan ever convened a conference to figure out how to kill the healing (and deliverance) ministry that Jesus came to bring us, he could not have come up with a more brilliant — and successful — strategy. What had begun in the first 320 years of church history when everyone — clergy and lay, men and women, rich and poor — believed that they could pray for their families and friends gradually withered and nearly died.1 A sign of how close we came to losing our healing heritage was that in the 1520s, the only one holding healing services in England was King Henry VIII, while in the 1700s, the healing services in France were led by the profligate Louis XIV!

For the past 200 years, God seems to have been trying to restore the healing ministry for which Jesus died (Mt. 8:16). A spark of healing fire would be kindled when God would touch an individual Christian with the realization that healing was part of the Good News. (Usually, this individual was pondering Scripture, such as Matthew 10, when Jesus commissions the Twelve to heal the sick.) If this person had courage, he/she might take a risk and pray with a sick person he/she knew. Then, to everyone’s surprise, the sick person would be healed; but later, skeptics — usually leaders within their churches — would intimidate these bold individuals or would encapsulate them so that they could not influence the wider church. From 1750 until 1900 (roughly), this is what happened, even while the Spirit continued to occasionally touch Christians (usually pastors on the lower rungs of the ecclesiastical ladder). Like lights, they would flicker brightly for about twenty years and then disappear.

My particular favorite (and one of John Wimber’s heroes, too) was Johann Christophe Blumhardt, a Lutheran pastor whose church was in the Black Forest area of Germany. He was a very ordinary, normal type of minister who was dragged, as it were, into the healing ministry. Everyone liked him, but Lutheran authorities, together with medical doctors, told him he was not supposed to pray for healing. “Leave healing to the medical profession,” they told him. A lot happened in his little town of Möttlingen, but he eventually resigned his pastorate. When he died, his ‘contagion’ stopped with him. There you have the typical pattern, as, for 200 years, God touched individuals who might have restored a healing ministry to their churches, but they were seen as eccentric (and some were) and their individual ministries died with them.

You all know the famous saying of Lord Acton that those who ignore the mistakes of their past history are doomed to repeat them. We are now discovering some of our historical mistakes and are attempting to escape their influence, but the dead weight of past custom is hard to lift off. Just to give an example, closer to home, there was an Episcopal physician in Boston, Dr. Charles Cullis (1890), who discovered healing prayer and set up a healing home, combining prayer and medical treatment. He was highly respected and was not an extremist, but what lasting influence did he have? Have you ever heard of him? A pebble leaving a splash in the pond.

Then came the next stage, when the Pentecostals (such as at Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906) and entire groups of Christians rediscovered the gifts of the Spirit; so many of them, in fact, that they were enough to start entire churches, such as the Assemblies of God. As happens so often, God touched the poor, the illiterate, the “lower classes.” They rediscovered healing and deliverance prayer, the power of the Holy Spirit and the charisms, but their influence did not immediately reach the established churches. It took 50 years, but their discovery finally reached the established churches, such as the Episcopalians in 1959 and the Roman Catholics in 1967. Now the fire could not so easily be put out, but healing prayer was still seen as a side issue by most denominations. The good news is that healing became somewhat acceptable. However, it was not embraced as an essential part of the Gospel that must be taught and practiced. That’s basically where we are now and that leaves us with a most important question: how can we restore healing prayer to the church — churches — when:

  1. There is no time or space given to it on Sunday morning during church services, therefore, it is always seen as optional;
  2. It is not taught in most seminaries as a key subject; and
  3. Many theologians (following Bultmann and the Enlightenment) no longer believe in the reality of evil spirits, nor of healing beyond the medical profession?

You do not find these questions taken up in Christian magazines, or even in Pentecostal magazines such as Charisma. Nor do they seem to be discussed in denominational charismatic renewal. Perhaps it is because these issues are too sensitive and imply a deficiency in church leadership: or perhaps it is simply that we do not have confidence that we can come up with any real answers.

The encouraging news is that the situation has radically improved in the past 40 years (a small blip on the screen of history), so that what once was considered odd (or at best unusual) — namely praying with the sick for their healing — is now considered (in some churches) as an acceptable, ordinary Christian activity.

Our mission now is to return the power of the Holy Spirit to the ordinary life of the church as essential and not be afraid of trying to work out such questions as the relationship between “infant baptism” and the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” (i.e. how can an infant receive the baptism in the Spirit?).

We hope that the new Christian Healing Ministries center will become a visible sign that will continue on into the next generation — and the next — as a witness to the belief that God still heals the sick (something like the shrine at Lourdes, France), long after I (and Judith) have gone on — a destination for the sick and discouraged who need not only encouragement, but real healing. The fact that there are 7,000 shrines in Europe is a witness to the deep human longing for God to heal the sick and have compassion upon his people. We, of course, are only one among the many leaders and churches that are trying to restore healing to God’s people. The task is vast, and we need an army of harvesters, for the fields are ripe: up until now, very few Christians have been taught that when they pray with expectant faith, God will heal his people.

1For a variety of reasons that I described in The Healing Reawakening

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Apr/May 2008 Issue