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Faith healing is alleged healing achieved by religious belief and prayer rather than by medical treatment. The modern form of faith healing began in the 19th century and exploded in popularity in the early 20th century. Faith healers today claim that God still performs such healings, and they are backed by the testimonials of thousands who claim to have been healed by them. What about today? Is miraculous healing still a good possibility for those who can find no medical cure?
New Bible Dictionary on Faith Healing
Miracles and healing
a. Healing—its meaning
Healing means the restoration of one to full health who had been ill—in body or mind (or both). This includes recovery resulting from medical treatment and spontaneous remission of a disease. It includes the improvement in a patient’s outlook on his condition even if no physical amelioration is possible, and even a correction of a patient’s misconception of the nature of his illness. In psychological disorders the term is used to describe an improved mental state. It is important that these different facets of the meaning of the word be realized, because the biblical miracles of healing (apart from cases of demon possession) show healing in its primary medical sense of the restoration to normal in cases of organic disease. Any cases claimed as present-day miracles must show comparably outstanding cases of the healing of organic disorders. Changes in spiritual outlook, an improved acceptance of an organically incurable condition, or the natural and spontaneous remission of disease, are all continually occurring, but do not partake of the miraculous, in the strict theological sense. There are, of course, natural recoveries from illness, as well as miracles, recorded in the Bible, and in fact probably most recoveries other than the miraculous ones were natural, because of the almost complete ineffectiveness of therapy in ancient times.
b. Healing—its Author
God is the one who heals all our diseases (Ps. 103:3; Acts 3:12–16). Even today when medical and surgical skill is so developed, God is the healer, using men (trained or untrained) to do his work for him in the same way that he uses the governing authorities to maintain order and execute justice in the world (Rom. 13:1–5).
c. Healing—the use of means
Even in biblical times, when so few treatments for disease existed (see III, above), men were encouraged and expected to use the means that were available, both in OT times (e.g. the fig poultice for Hezekiah’s boil, Is. 38:21) and in NT times (Paul’s advice to Timothy, 1 Tim. 5:23). True faith in God gladly and gratefully uses such means as are available, whether medicines, blood transfusions or surgical operations to prevent death, as much as life-jackets to prevent drowning.
d. Faith healing
Various terms are currently used to describe healing that occurs without the use of means and in response to faith. Because all true healing comes from God the term ‘divine healing’ is not helpful to distinguish this especial form. ‘Spiritual’ healing suggests more the restoration of health to the spirit than the body and moreover may be confused with the work of spiritists who, in the name of the devil, can produce spurious healing. Faith healing is a helpful term so long as the object of faith is clear (it is by no means always God).
e. Miraculous healing
A *miracle essentially consists of ‘a striking interposition of divine power by which the operations of the ordinary course of nature are overruled, suspended or modified’ (Chamber’s Encyelopaedia, ‘Miracle’). So far as miraculous healing in Scripture is concerned, the essential features are that the cure is instantaneous (the incident of Mk. 8:22–26 being a notable exception), complete and permanent, and usually without the use of means (the saliva of Mk. 7:33; 8:23; Jn. 9:6 is an exception; cf. also Mk. 5:27–29; Acts 5:15; 19:12). Divine miracles of healing show no relapses, which typify spurious miracles, except, of course, when dead persons were raised to life who, sooner or later, subsequently died again (e.g. Jairus’ daughter, Mk. 5:21–24, 35–43; the widow of Nain’s son, Lk. 7:11–15; Lazarus in Jn. 11:1–44, etc.).
1. The purpose of miraculous healing. Like the other miracles in Scripture, they were dramatized signs and enacted parables intended to teach a double lesson. They were to authenticate the word of the person who performed them (e.g. Ex. 7:9; Lk. 5:20–24; Jn. 7:19–22; 10:37–38; Acts 2:22) and to illustrate the word. Thus what happened to the body of the paralytic in Lk. 5:18–26 was a proof and picture of what happened in his soul. It is important to see, therefore, that the purpose of the healing miracles was theological, not medical. The many who were healed at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, of the early church and of individual Christians (e.g. Philip, Acts 8:5–8) gradually became fewer as the essential lesson was learnt. Many lay ill at the pool of Bethesda (Jn. 5:3) but Jesus healed only one because one was enough to teach the spiritual truth. If Christ’s purpose had been the healing of the sick, he would have healed them all.
Thus a miracle of healing today should not be expected simply when it is medically desirable but rather where the Word of God and his servant needs to be authenticated and illustrated, and such evidence is not already available in the Bible. The fringe of an area of new evangelization on the mission field would therefore seem to be the most likely place for miraculous healing to occur today, the very place where miracles can least scientifically be proven! (But the church in general is now recovering her healing ministry as an integral part of the total gospel of wholeness, and such healings sometimes include the instantaneous as well as the more usual gradual recoveries. See J. C. Peddie, The Forgotten Talent, 1961; G. Bennett, The Heart of Healing, 1971; F. MacNutt, Healing, 1974; The Power to Heal, 1977.- N. Hillyer.)
2. Miraculous healing in the Old Testament. Even if medical means were also used, recovery in the OT is generally attributed to the intervention of God, e.g., the recovery of Moses (Ex. 4:24–26) from the illness associated with his disobedience over his son’s circumcision is given an entirely spiritual significance. The healing of Miriam’s leprosy (Nu. 12:1–15) and of Naaman, through Elisha (2 Ki. 5:8–14), appear to be miraculous. The healing of Jeroboam’s suddenly paralysed hand (1 Ki. 13:4–6) and the raising from the dead of the son of the widow of Zarephath by Elijah (1 Ki. 17:17–24) and of the son of the Shunammite woman by Elisha (2 Ki. 4:1–37) are clearly miraculous. This boy’s illness has been attributed to sunstroke; but it could equally well have been a fulminating encephalitis or a subarachnoiod haemorrhage. (The Jews were conscious of the effects of the sun [see Ps. 121:6], and a case of sunstroke is reported in the Apocrypha [Judith 8:2–3].) The recovery of the Israelites bitten by the serpents when they looked on the bronze serpent is miraculous also, though individuals are not specified (Nu. 21:6–9). The salvation of the Israelites from the later plagues in Egypt is a curious example of what might be termed a ‘prophylactic miracle’, i.e. for them disease was miraculously prevented rather than miraculously healed. The recovery of Hezekiah (2 Ki. 20:1–11) was probably natural, though it is attributed directly to God (v. 8) and is accompanied by a nature miracle (vv. 9–11); the illness was probably a severe carbuncle.
Miraculous healing, even counting raising from the dead, is unusual in the OT, and the few cases seem to cluster about the two critical times of the Exodus and the ministry of Elijah and Elisha. See Ex. 7:10–12 for nature miracles performed by Moses and Aaron. The miracles performed by the Egyptian sorcerers (Ex. 7:11, 22; 8:7) mimicked the first three miraculous signs wrought by Moses and Aaron (even though their second and third attempts only added to the sufferings of their people), but they were unable to counterfeit the power of God in the subsequent signs (8:18). Thus the miracles wrought by Moses achieved their purpose (7:9) of authenticating his word of authority and finally led to the escape of the children of Israel.
3. Miraculous healing in the Gospels. Our Lord’s miracles of healing are reported by the Synoptists as groups (e.g. Lk. 4:40–41) and, in greater detail and more specifically, as individual cases. *Demon possession is clearly distinguished from other forms of disease (e.g. Mk. 1:32–34, where kakōs echōn is separate from daimonizomenos). People came to him in large numbers (Mt. 4:23–24) and were all healed (Lk. 4:40). Doubtless cases of mental as well as of physical illness were included, and on one occasion our Lord even restored a severed part of the body (Lk. 22:50–51). At the same time, these recorded instances can represent only a small fraction of those ill in the country at this time.
In the combined narrative of the four Gospels there are over twenty stories of the healing of individuals or of small groups. Some were healed at a distance, some with a word but without physical contact, some with physical contact, and some with both physical contact and ‘means’, i.e. the use of clay made from spittle, which was a popular remedy of the time for blindness (Mk. 8:23; Jn. 9:6) and deafness (Mk. 7:32–35). This may have been to aid the patient’s faith, or to demonstrate that God does not exclude the use of means, or both. In one unique instance Jesus performed two successive miracles on the same man—see Blindness, above.
Luke’s Gospel is the only one to give the story of the good Samaritan. It also includes five miracles of healing not recorded by the other Evangelists. These are the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (7:11–16), the healing of the woman ‘bowed together’ (13:11–16), the man with dropsy (ascites) (14:1–4), the ten lepers (17:12–19) and the healing of Malchus’ ear (22:51). More details of cases are given and the writer uses the more technical iaomai for healing, rather than the non-technical words.
The Fourth Evangelist, unlike the Synoptists, never refers to healing of people in large numbers, nor to demon possession (though demons are referred to, and the word daimonizomenos is used, Jn. 10:21). In addition to the raising of Lazarus from the dead, only three cases are described. These are the healing of the nobleman’s son of a serious febrile condition (4:46–54), the man paralysed 38 years (5:1–16), and the man born blind (9:1–14). These miracles of healing in John’s Gospel are not only mighty works (dynameis) but also signs (sēmeia). They demonstrate that Christ’s miracles of healing have not only an individual, local, contemporary physical significance but a general, eternal and spiritual meaning also. For example, in the case of the man born blind, the point is made that individual sickness is not necessarily attributable to individual sin.
4. Miraculous healing in apostolic times. While the promise of healing powers in Mk. 16:18 is probably to be dismissed as being no part of the true text, Christ had commissioned the Twelve (Mt. 10:1) and the Seventy (Lk. 10:9). The Twelve were evidently commissioned for life, while the mission of the Seventy seems to have ended when they reported back (Lk. 10:17–20). In Acts there are several accounts of individual miracles, which have much the same character as those performed by Christ. The lame man in Jerusalem (3:1–11) and the one at Lystra (14:8–10), the paralytic (9:33–34), and Publius’ father’s dysentery (‘bloody flux’, av, 28:8) are individual cases, and there are a few reports of multiple healings, including that in 5:15–16 and the unique case of the use of clothing taken from Paul (19:11–12). Two people were raised from the dead (Dorcas, 9:36–41, and Eutychus, 20:9f.) and demons were cast out on two occasions (5:16 and 16:16–18). The author distinguishes between demon possession and other illness (5:16).
Mark ends at 16:8, which is supported by א B 304 syrs copsa (l MS) arm geo (2 MSS) Hesychius Eusebian canons MSSaccording to Eusebius MSSaccording to Jerome MSSaccording to Severus. In short, the traditional longer ending Mark 16:9-20 is not supported by the earliest and best manuscripts: (1) The early church fathers had no knowledge of anything beyond verse eight. (2) Such ancient scholars as Eusebius and Jerome marked them spurious. (3) The style of these verses is utterly different from that of Mark. (4) The vocabulary used in these verses is different from that of Mark. (5) Verse 8 does not transition well with verse 9, jumping from the women disciples to Jesus’ resurrection appearance. Jesus does not need to appear because Mark ended with the announcement that he had. We only want that because the other Gospels give us an appearance. So we expect it. (6) The very content of these verses contradicts the facts and the rest of the Greek New Testament. With textual scholarship, being very well aware of Mark’s abrupt style of writing, and abrupt ending to his Gospel does not seem out of place. Eusebius and Jerome, as well as this writer, agree.
Cases of illness among Christians in apostolic times are mentioned. The fact that they occur indicates that the apostolic commission to heal could not be used indiscriminately to keep themselves or their friends free from illness. Timothy had a gastric complaint (1 Tim. 5:23). Trophimus was too ill to accompany Paul from Miletus (2 Tim. 4:20). Epaphroditus was gravely ill (Phil. 2:30), and his recovery is attributed to the mercy of God (Phil. 2:27). Most striking of all is Paul’s enigmatic ‘thorn in the flesh’ (skolops tē sarki), which has been variously identified (most often as a chronic eye disease), but by few convincingly and by none conclusively. Its spiritual significance far exceeds its importance as an exercise in diagnosis. Paul gives three reasons (2 Cor. 12:7–10) for it; ‘to keep his feet on the ground’ (v. 7), to enable him to be spiritually powerful (v. 9) and as a personal service to Christ (v. 10, ‘for Christ’s sake’). There is perhaps more resemblance between this ‘thorn’ and Jacob’s shrunken sinew than has been realized (Gn. 32:24–32).
The classical passage on prayer for the sick (Jas. 5:13–20) has suffered from two misinterpretations: that which finds in it authority for the institution of anointing those who are in extremis, and that which regards it as a promise that all who are sick and who are prayed over in faith will recover. The oil may have been used as was Christ’s clay or spittle (see above) to reinforce faith, and may in some cases even have been medicinal. Or oil may be taken as a symbol of separating the sickness from the patient on to Christ (cf. Mt. 8:17), after the pattern of kings, etc. being *anointed to separate them from others for their office. For a full discussion, see R. V. G. Tasker’s commentary on James (TNTC). The important points are that the outlook in the passage is spiritual (i.e. the matter is referred to God), the distress of the individual is made the concern of the church, and what is said neither excludes nor condemns the use by doctors of the normal means of healing available at any particular time and place. The whole of this passage is really concerned with the power of prayer.
5. Miraculous healing after apostolic times. This is, strictly, outside the scope of this article, but is relevant in that certain texts are quoted in favour of there being a possibility, and more, of miraculous healing mediated by Christians at the present day (cf. Jn. 14:12, above). However, there must be considerable caution in equating personal commands by Christ to the apostles with those which are generally binding upon Christians today. Such views are out of keeping with the general view of miracles as instruments and accompaniments of revelation. Great care must be exercised in avoiding the magical in a search for the miraculous. The ecclesiastical miracles of Patristic times, often posthumously attributed, sometimes became absurd. It has also been shown that the frequently quoted passages in Irenaeus, Tertullian and Justin Martyr, which purport to show that miracles of healing continued well into the 3rd century, will not in fact bear that interpretation. Post-apostolic claims should therefore be treated with extreme care. But this cautious attitude should not be confused with modern materialistic unbelief and scepticism. See also 1. The purpose of miraculous healing, above.—D. T., “Health, Disease and Healing,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 452–455.
Nearly all scientists dismiss faith healing as pseudoscience. Believers assert that faith healing makes no scientific claims and thus should be treated as a matter of faith that is not testable by science. Critics reply that claims of medical cures should be tested scientifically because, although faith in the supernatural is not in itself usually considered to be the purview of science, claims of reproducible effects are nevertheless subject to scientific investigation.
Scientists and doctors generally find that faith healing lacks biological plausibility or epistemic warrant, which is one of the criteria used to judge whether clinical research is ethical and financially justified. A Cochrane review of intercessory prayer found that “although some of the results of individual studies suggest a positive effect of intercessory prayer, the majority do not.” The authors concluded: “We are not convinced that further trials of this intervention should be undertaken and would prefer to see any resources available for such a trial used to investigate other questions in health care.”
A review in 1954 investigated spiritual healing, therapeutic touch, and faith healing. None of the hundred cases reviewed revealed that the healer’s intervention alone resulted in any improvement or cure of a measurable organic disability.
In addition, at least one study has suggested that adult Christian Scientists, who generally use prayer rather than medical care, have a higher death rate than other people of the same age.
The Global Medical Research Institute (GMRI) was created in 2012 to start collecting medical records of patients who claim to have received a supernatural healing miracle as a result of Christian Spiritual Healing practices. The organization has a panel of medical doctors who review the patient’s records looking at entries prior to the claimed miracles and entries after the miracle was claimed to have taken place. “The overall goal of GMRI is to promote an empirically grounded understanding of the physiological, emotional, and sociological effects of Christian Spiritual Healing practices”. This is accomplished by applying the same rigorous standards in other medical and scientific research forms.
A 2011 article in the New Scientist magazine cited positive physical results from meditation, positive thinking, and spiritual faith.
Skeptics of faith healing offer primarily two explanations for anecdotes of cures or improvements, relieving any need to appeal to the supernatural. The first is post hoc ergo propter hoc, meaning that a genuine improvement or spontaneous remission may have been experienced coincidental with but independent from anything the faith healer or patient did or said. These patients would have improved just as well even had they done nothing. The second is the placebo effect, through which a person may experience genuine pain relief and other symptomatic alleviation. In this case, the patient has been genuinely helped by the faith healer or faith-based remedy, not through any mysterious or numinous function, but by the power of their belief that they would be healed. In both cases, the patient may experience a real reduction in symptoms, though in neither case has anything miraculous or inexplicable occurred. Both cases, however, are strictly limited to the body’s natural abilities.
According to the American Cancer Society:
… available scientific evidence does not support claims that faith healing can actually cure physical ailments… One review published in 1998 looked at 172 cases of deaths among children treated by faith healing instead of conventional methods. These researchers estimated that if conventional treatment had been given, the survival rate for most of these children would have been more than 90 percent, with the remainder of the children also having a good chance of survival. A more recent study found that more than 200 children had died of treatable illnesses in the United States over the past thirty years because their parents relied on spiritual healing rather than conventional medical treatment.
The American Medical Association considers that prayer as therapy should not be a medically reimbursable or deductible expense.
Belgian philosopher and skeptic Etienne Vermeersch coined the term Lourdes effect as a criticism of the magical thinking and placebo effect possibilities for the claimed miraculous cures as there are no documented events where a severed arm has been reattached through faith healing at Lourdes. Vermeersch identifies ambiguity and the equivocal nature of the miraculous cures as a key feature of miraculous events.
Negative Impact on Public Health
Reliance on faith healing to the exclusion of other forms of treatment can have a public health impact when it reduces or eliminates access to modern medical techniques. This is evident in both higher mortality rates for children and in reduced life expectancy for adults. Critics have also made note of serious injury that has resulted from falsely labeled “healings,” where patients erroneously consider themselves cured and cease or withdraw from treatment. For example, at least six people have died after faith healing by their church and being told they had been healed of HIV and could stop taking their medications. It is the stated position of the AMA that “prayer as therapy should not delay access to traditional medical care.” Choosing faith healing while rejecting modern medicine can and does cause people to die needlessly.
Christian Theological Criticism of Faith Healing
Christian theological criticism of faith healing broadly falls into two distinct levels of disagreement.
The first is widely termed the “open-but-cautious” view of the miraculous in the church today. This term is deliberately used by Robert L. Saucy in the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?. Don Carson is another example of a Christian teacher who has put forward what has been described as an “open-but-cautious” view. In dealing with the claims of Warfield, particularly “Warfield’s insistence that miracles ceased,” Carson asserts, “But this argument stands up only if such miraculous gifts are theologically tied exclusively to a role of attestation; and that is demonstrably not so.” However, while affirming that he does not expect healing to happen today, Carson is critical of aspects of the faith healing movement, “Another issue is that of immense abuses in healing practices…. The most common form of abuse is the view that since all illness is directly or indirectly attributable to the devil and his works, and since Christ by his cross has defeated the devil and by his Spirit has given us the power to overcome him, healing is the inheritance right of all true Christians who call upon the Lord with genuine faith.”
The second level of theological disagreement with Christian faith healing goes further. Commonly referred to as cessationism, its adherents either claim that faith healing will not happen today at all, or may happen today, but it would be unusual. Richard Gaffin argues for a form of cessationism in an essay alongside Saucy’s in the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? In his book Perspectives on Pentecost Gaffin states of healing and related gifts that “the conclusion to be drawn is that as listed in 1 Corinthians 12(vv. 9f., 29f.) and encountered throughout the narrative in Acts, these gifts, particularly when exercised regularly by a given individual, are part of the foundational structure of the church… and so have passed out of the life of the church.” Gaffin qualifies this by saying “At the same time, however, the sovereign will and power of God today to heal the sick, particularly in response to prayer (see, e.g., James 5:14-15), ought to be acknowledged and insisted on.” See Andrews’ Commentary on James below to see what James really meant by his words in 5:14-15.
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the congregation, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (5:14)
James has covered how all Christians undergo evil in a general sense because of inherited sin, human weaknesses, and the world ruled by Satan. Now, he turns his attention to what has resulted and can result from having to deal with a bombardment of suffering through the evils of this fallen world, i.e., spiritual weakness or sickness. Almost all modern commentaries believe James is talking about physical sickness. However, Christian Publishing House does not, and it should be noted that the majority does not equal correct, as history has shown many times over that the majority can be wrong. It is the evidence that determines what is correct. We agree with an older commentary by a noted Bible scholar,
Here is the culminating point of the question whether the language of James is to be uniformly taken in a literal sense, or whether it uniformly bears a figurative character. The literal construction involves these surprising moments: 1. The calling for the presbyters of the congregation in the Plural; 2. the general direction concerning their prayer accompanying unction with oil; 3. and especially the confident promise that the prayer of faith shall restore the sick apart from his restoration being connected with the forgiveness of his sins. Was the Apostle warranted to promise bodily recovery in every case in which a sick individual complied with his directions? This misgiving urges us to adopt the symbolical construction of the passage, which would be as follows: if any man as a Christian has been hurt or become sick in his Christianity, let him seek healing from the presbyters, the kernel of the congregation. Let these pray with and for him and anoint him with the oil of the Spirit; such a course wherever taken, will surely restore him and his transgressions will be forgiven him.
The spiritual sickness spoken of by James can be a direct result of the continued suffering of evil, i.e., his not understanding why God has allowed evil. Or it may be a result of his human weaknesses in that he has committed some grave sin. Or he is living in sin, which has him distraught to the point he feels his unrighteous condition prevents his prayers from being heard by God (Pro. 15:29; 28:9) and has sought the righteous prayers of the pastors. Then again, he might have drifted away from the faith to an extent (Heb. 2:1), or he may have developed an unbelieving heart, leading him to fall away from the living God. (Heb. 3:12-13) Then again, maybe he has become sluggish in his Christian walk. (Heb. 6:12) Maybe he has endured hostility from sinners so that he has grown weary or fainthearted. (Heb. 12:3) Moreover, some had grown weary of doing good, living in miserable, wretched, hopeless poverty, while those doing bad, lived in wealth. (Gal. (6:9) It is also true that prolonged anguish can also bring about physical sicknesses. No one who has suffered spiritual weaknesses should be ashamed to seek out the congregation pastors. They will be able to strengthen and fortify him with biblical counseling and prayer so that there will be no future irrational thinking, which can lead to wrongdoing.
Acts 20:28 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the congregation of God, which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.
And let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. The father does not hear the prayers of the wicked, but he does the prayer of the righteous one. (Pro. 15:29) The loving biblical counsel and prayers from the pastors (the righteous), would be like calming oil, alleviating the fears and quieting the doubts of the spiritually weak one, enabling him to feel at peace (cheerful even) in that God hears the prayers. (Ps. 23:5; Jer. 8:22) The “word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12) Scripture can be likened to the rubbing in of soothing oils. (Isa. 61:3) The soothing, heartfelt voice of the pastor as he prays to the Father will enable this weakened one to draw close to God once more. He can feel relief from the weight he has been carrying lifted off his shoulders. He will come to realize that “Jehovah [i.e., the Father] is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18, UASV.
This meeting with the pastors would not be a one-time deal, as the weakened one would be helped over time so he could make a full recovery. This would include assigning someone to shepherd him in making a full spiritual recovery. This could include rides to meetings, visiting his home once a week, and so on. The one shepherding would do so in a biblical manner and would not depend on the wisdom of this fallen world, which is foolishness to God, but rather on the Word of God. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (5:15)
Here is another reason to believe that we are talking about spiritual sickness or weakness over against the idea of physical sickness. This verse is a guarantee that he will be restored if the conditions are met. There could be no such guarantee if it was physical, as God only miraculously heals those who have a role to play in his will and purposes. We all know of thousands that had tremendous faith, even the apostle Paul, and they still did not receive physical healing. However, there can be a guarantee when it comes to spiritual weaknesses. If a person receives prayers of faith from the pastors and counsel from the Word of God that they then apply, they can fully recover spiritually. The apostle John said, “If we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” (1 John 5:14) What we have here is the fact that it must be according to God’s will and purposes, and we only have the promise that he hears us, not that he will act on it. However, if it is a spiritual weakness, God will bless anyone that comes to him in faith and with a repentant heart.
Jesus said, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matt. 21:22) Jesus also promised, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:14) We will get what we ask for if it is according to God’s will and purposes.
Philippians 4:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Bible scholar J. Vernon McGee writes:
Whatever Christ has for you to do, He will supply the power. Whatever gift He gives you, He will give the power to exercise that gift. A gift is a manifestation of the Spirit of God in the life of the believer. As long as you function in Christ, you will have power. He certainly does not mean that he is putting into your hand unlimited power to do anything you want to do. Rather, He will give you the enablement to do all things in the context of His will for you (McGee, Thru the Bible, V:327–8).
Matthew 6:30-34 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the nations eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
Keep Seeking Kingdom First
33 But be you seeking the Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own wickedness.
Have not faithful Christians gone hungry, even starved to death? Do not tens of thousands of Christian Children go to bed hungry every night around the world? Do not many Christian homes in this world lack water? Do not many thousands of Christian families live in rundown homes, having only dirty clothes and in some cases not even having shoes?
Let us also add that “the prayer of faith” alone by the pastors is not going to help one recover their spiritual health. The spiritually weak one will have to evidence faith in the pastor’s words and the wise counsel from the Word of God. Therefore, if one is to recover spiritually, the following conditions must be met:
- “the prayer of faith” must be by pastors
- According to God’s will and purposes
- In Jesus name
- The pastors must offer comfort and guidance from God’s Word
- The spiritually weak one must trust in the words of the pastor and Scripture, acting on both
How do serious spiritual weaknesses come about? Generally, it is by irrational thinking or some behavior that has deteriorated. It can be a minor sin, which has become a serious sin, like flirting that leads to fornication. It can be a person who is practicing some sin, which he alone has been unable to get control over, like pornography. Living with a secret sin can be so weighty that it causes one to stumble out of the faith. Then, some allow doubts about their faith, God, or the Bible to grow to the point that they fall away from the faith into apostasy or simply just abandon the faith. Once the weight has gotten so heavy, this one does not feel worthy of approaching God in prayer because he believes he is beyond repentance. Thus, the loving prayers from a pastor combined with corrective counsel from God’s Word will calm his spirit.
Once the pastors have some idea of the depth of what led to this spiritual sickness, they can apply Bible counsel like soothing oils. Even if the spiritually weak one has committed some grave sin (like David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, her husband), the pastors can show him how God views the matter and Scripture on how he can make a recovery. This would come from the pastors as a reproof for correction and for training in the righteousness of the sick one. On this point, David wrote, “Let a righteous man strike me, it is a kindness; let him rebuke me, it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” God will look approvingly upon such a humble person, who is able to bring his sins to another, as well as the prayers of the righteous pastors. He will be willing to remove his sins as though they never were and call them to mind no more.
Psalm 6:2-4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
2 Show me favor, Jehovah, for I am growing weak;
heal me, Jehovah, for my bones are shaking.
3 My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Jehovah, how long?
Fraudulent Faith Healers
Skeptics of faith healers point to fraudulent practices either in the healings themselves (such as plants in the audience with fake illnesses), or concurrent with the healing work supposedly taking place and claim that faith healing is a quack practice in which the “healers” use well known non-supernatural illusions to exploit credulous people in order to obtain their gratitude, confidence and money. James Randi’s The Faith Healers investigates Christian evangelists such as Peter Popoff, who claimed to heal sick people on stage in front of an audience. Popoff pretended to know private details about participants’ lives by receiving radio transmissions from his wife who was off-stage and had gathered information from audience members prior to the show. According to this book, many of the leading modern evangelistic healers have engaged in deception and fraud. The book also questioned how faith healers use funds that were sent to them for specific purposes. Physicist Robert L. Park and doctor and consumer advocate Stephen Barrett have called into question the ethics of some exorbitant fees.
There have also been legal controversies. For example, in 1955, at a Jack Coe revival service in Miami, Florida, Coe told the parents of a three-year-old boy that he healed their son who had polio. Coe then told the parents to remove the boy’s leg braces. However, their son was not cured of polio and removing the braces left the boy in constant pain. As a result, through the efforts of Joseph L. Lewis, Coe was arrested and charged on February 6, 1956, with practicing medicine without a license, a felony in the state of Florida. A Florida Justice of the Peace dismissed the case on grounds that Florida exempts divine healing from the law. Later that year Coe was diagnosed with bulbar polio, and died a few weeks later at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital on December 17, 1956.
Miracles for Sale
TV personality Derren Brown produced a show on faith healing entitled Miracles for Sale which arguably exposed the art of faith healing as a scam. In this show, Derren trained a scuba diver trainer picked from the general public to be a faith healer and took him to Texas to deliver a faith healing session to a congregation successfully.
United States law
The 1974 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) required states to grant religious exemptions to child neglect and child abuse laws in order to receive federal money. The CAPTA amendments of 1996 42 U.S.C. § 5106i state:
(a) In General. – Nothing in this Act shall be construed –
“(1) as establishing a Federal requirement that a parent or legal guardian provide a child any medical service or treatment against the religious beliefs of the parent or legal guardian; and “(2) to require that a State find, or to prohibit a State from finding, abuse or neglect in cases in which a parent or legal guardian relies solely or partially upon spiritual means rather than medical treatment, in accordance with the religious beliefs of the parent or legal guardian.
“(b) State Requirement. – Notwithstanding subsection (a), a State shall, at a minimum, have in place authority under State law to permit the child protective services system of the State to pursue any legal remedies, including the authority to initiate legal proceedings in a court of competent jurisdiction, to provide medical care or treatment for a child when such care or treatment is necessary to prevent or remedy serious harm to the child, or to prevent the withholding of medically indicated treatment from children with life threatening conditions. Except with respect to the withholding of medically indicated treatments from disabled infants with life threatening conditions, case by case determinations concerning the exercise of the authority of this subsection shall be within the sole discretion of the State.
Thirty-one states have child-abuse religious exemptions. These are Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming. In six of these states, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio, and Virginia, the exemptions extend to murder and manslaughter. Of these, Idaho is the only state accused of having a large number of deaths due to the legislation in recent times. In February 2015, a controversy was sparked in Idaho over a bill believed to reinforce parental rights further to deny their children medical care.
Reckless Homicide Convictions
Parents have been convicted of child abuse and felony reckless, negligent homicide and found responsible for killing their children when they withheld lifesaving medical care and chose only prayers.
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 John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: James (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 138.
 Gr (ἐκκλησία ekklēsia) “assembly;” “congregation, i.e., of Christians”
 Lit with the blood of his Own. Or, with his own blood.
 Lit in
 Gr., zeteite; the verb form indicates continuous action.