Modern “Healers”—Instruments of God?
A WEST AFRICAN man suffered lameness for many years. Finally he visited the isolated village of a prominent “prophet,” hoping for a cure of his affliction. He paid the prescribed “offering,” and days of fasting, meditation and prayer followed. An emotion-charged ritual climaxed the procedure, as the prophet and his prophetesses surrounded the man, singing and calling loudly to Jesus while dancing to the accompaniment of incessant drumming. But alas, no cure was forthcoming!
“You have no faith!” said the prophet.
“But I did have faith!” said the disillusioned man. “I had strong faith that God could cure me.”
What went wrong? Was it really a lack of faith? Many others claim that they are healed. Why was he not healed?
Recent glowing reports have attracted many sincere, often desperate, people to a variety of modern “healers.” The fact that they are gaining some scientific and medical attention is causing even skeptics to take a second look.
At one time, “faith healers” were associated only with the more radical fundamentalist groups in Christendom. Today, however, even some of the most conservative churches have healers and “healing services” associated with them.
When the well-known American faith healer Oral Roberts recently gave a talk at Atlanta’s Memorial Methodist Church, it was “filled to capacity and overflow with mainline ministers, theologians and laymen,” reports the Atlanta, Georgia, Journal. It notes that “he probably would not have been so warmly received by a similar group even as short a time as two years ago.”
Twelve bishops and 700 priests attended last summer’s Catholic Charismatic Renewal Conference at the University of Notre Dame. A massive healing service was held at one point in the meetings. Also, the famed Bolivian evangelist-healer Julio Ruibal is a Catholic.
“A few years ago, reports on the exploits of a faith healer would have drawn little more than snorts of derision from the medical community,” says senior editor John Carlova of Medical Economics magazine. However, some doctors are changing. In his article titled “Even M.D.s Have Faith in This Faith Healer,” Carlova describes the activities of healer Olga Worrall, a Methodist, to whom “scores of M.D.s have gone . . . for treatment of their own ailments,” and to whom “scores more have unofficially referred ‘hopeless’ cases.”
And the deputy director general of the World Health Organization, Dr. T. Adeoye Lambo, calls for “some of these so-called witch-doctors, whom I would prefer to call traditional healers, . . . to be given an official position within the community . . . so that their services too could be incorporated into the overall health services of their nation.”—World Health, April 1974.
With such a backdrop, it is not surprising that an administrator of the National Institute for Mental Health told the recent convention of the American Psychiatric Association that “there is now a psychic healer on every block, and there’s no question that they are effective in some cases. The question is why.”
A brief look at features characteristic of modern “healings” will give us some clues to the answer.
One is immediately impressed by the diversity among healers. Methods differ, results are often unpredictable, and they attribute their powers to differing sources.
To illustrate, many prominent healers claim that their powers come from Jesus. But others who are said to be equally successful profess no links at all with Christianity. Some use voodoo or witchcraft. Others combine these with Catholicism, especially among Latin Americans. Another noted healer claims that he gained his powers through a Buddhist Lama.
On the other hand, a number of physicians and psychiatrists speculate that some form of “psychic energy” within the healer himself may be involved. Others assert that the patients’ self-healing powers are mobilized telepathically by the healer.
Methods vary too. Many “heal” merely by using the name of Jesus in some formula, often after an emotion-charged sermon. Others go through long ritualistic ceremonies involving symbolisms that would repel some observers.
Then there is the controversial “psychic surgery,” most notably practiced in the Philippines. These healers claim to remove diseased tissue in an “operation” that penetrates the body, using. only the healer’s hands as instruments.
Even the matter of faith raises an inconsistency. Most healers demand complete faith from the one seeking a cure. Failure is usually laid to “lack of faith.” But one prominent healer declares that ‘faith hasn’t a thing to do with it.’
Some patients claim that they are completely healed, but others only get “better.” Some healers require a number of visits to achieve a gradual “cure,” while others are said to do it instantly. None of the healers even claim to be able to heal everyone who comes to them. “It can make you look like a hero one time and a failure the next,” says Oral Roberts.
One consistency that does arise on this point is inability among healers to raise the dead. And an observer in Ghana raises the question: ‘Why not make lepers clean in Ghana and elsewhere?’
Attitudes about money vary too. Collection baskets usually precede the “healings.” Baptist healer David Epley frequently has Sunday collections so large that they have to be hauled away in an armored truck. Yet the Philippine “psychic surgeons” are said to receive only “donations,” and it is claimed that Olga Worrall accepts nothing.
Thus it is clear that the main consistency among modern healers is their inconsistency. Does it seem reasonable that instruments of one God would have such a diverse array of methods and degrees of success? The God of the Bible is said to be “not the author of confusion, but of peace.”—1 Cor. 14:33, Authorized Version (AV).
If, then, they are not all instruments of one God, can it be said that any one healer or group of healers is backed by God? If so, then who or what is backing all the others? The healings reported in the Bible, which many modern healers cite as their precedent, prove whether any are instruments of God.
Biblical healings were strikingly informal. Jesus and his disciples scheduled no “healing services.” As they went about their preaching activity, people came to them at all times for healing. The healings were incidental to their preaching and were spontaneous: “[Jesus] saw a great crowd; and he felt pity for them, and he cured their sick ones.” What could be more spontaneous than the occasion when a lame beggar asked for alms from Peter and John as they passed him on the temple steps? Instead of alms, he was given a sound body.—Matt. 14:13, 14; 15:29-31; Acts 3:1-7.
They required no emotional ritual. Usually a few words sufficed: “Get up, pick up your cot and walk.” (John 5:8; Acts 3:6) At times even a touch without any words was enough. (Matt. 8:14, 15; 14:36) No “operation” was ever performed, either with the hands or any other instruments.
It was reported that those who came to an apostle of Jesus Christ for healing “would one and all be cured.” And “every sort of disease” could be cured by Jesus; even the dead were raised. (Acts 5:15, 16; Matt. 4:23; 8:16; 10:1) There were no halfway cures, where the patient merely got “better.” Nor did the healings require additional visits for “psychic surgery” or other ritual to finish the job. They were complete and instantaneous.—Acts 3:7, 16; John 5:5-9; Matt. 8:3, 13; 12:10, 13.
It is true that many of the cured displayed strong faith, but not once did their own lack of faith abort a cure. Many did not even know who was curing them. A blind man said of Jesus after being healed: “And who is he, sir, that I may put faith in him?” (John 9:36; 5:13) Could dead ones who were raised exercise faith beforehand? (Luke 7:12-15) Thus, when some disciples could not immediately cure a certain boy, Jesus rested the responsibility squarely on their own lack of faith and healed the boy himself.—Matt. 17:14-20.
In striking contrast to the frequent pre-healing money collections at modern services, Jesus’ disciples took no collections. But, on occasion, after the cures they did distribute food freely to all.—Matt. 14:14-21; 15:30-38.
The foregoing are some major differences between Biblical healings and those of modern healers. Does it seem reasonable that the latter could be instruments of the same God who acted so differently back there? Has God changed his methods? Has his power become more limited? Does he now discriminate between those he heals and those he lets suffer? A confusing situation, is it not? Yet, as already noted, the God of the Bible is “not the author of confusion.”—1 Cor. 14:33, AV.
However, there is another deficiency among modern healers that overshadows even the foregoing dilemmas.
What was the main thrust of Jesus’ ministry? Was it healing? No. The Bible says that “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and [secondarily] healing all manner of sickness.” (Matt. 4:23, AV) He told some who wanted him to stay and continue healing them: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” He sent out his disciples for this same primary purpose.—Luke 4:43, Revised Standard Version (RS); Mark 1:38; Matt. 10:7, 8; Luke 9:2, 60.
Consistent with this, Jesus did not even mention healing when he predicted the activities of true Christians at the “close of the age.” Rather than healing, he prophesied that they would be ‘preaching this gospel of the kingdom throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations.’—Matt. 24:3, 9-14, RS; Mark 13:9-13.
How many modern healers make God’s kingdom the heart of their ministry? How many teach the people that the Kingdom is a real, everlasting government set up by God that “shall break in pieces all these [present] kingdoms and bring them to an end”?—Dan. 2:44, RS; Da 7:13, 14; Isa. 9:6, 7.
Rather than directing attention to God’s kingdom as the remedy for man’s ills in harmony with Jesus’ prophecy, do not most modern “healers” focus on healing instead? And are they not often identified with conservative; patriotic attitudes, even though the Bible says that all the now-existing kingdoms of men will be ‘broken in pieces’ by God’s kingdom?—John 17:14, 16; 18:36.
Healings reported in the Bible never overshadowed the real thrust of Christianity. They were only supplementary to preaching the “gospel of the kingdom.” They served to prove that God himself was backing the preaching of the young Christian congregation. (Heb. 2:3, 4) They also demonstrated on a limited scale what God will do world wide when he brings permanent physical healing under his kingdom. (Luke 10:9; Rev. 21:1-4; compare 2 Peter 3:13.) Thus healing became obsolete, as did other miraculous spiritual gifts, once the Christian congregation became firmly established.—1 Cor. 13:8-12, RS.
Source of Modern “Healings”
It follows, then, that any who now divert attention from God’s kingdom, though waving the banner of Christ’s name, could not truly be instruments of God. Foreseeing this, Jesus predicted that ‘miracle workers’ in our day would cry: “Lord, Lord, did we not . . . cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” His answer shows whether he is the one backing them: “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.” He would have nothing to do with those subverting the Kingdom message in favor of “miracles.”—Matt. 7:21-23, RS.
This fact identifies the backer of such activities as one who opposes God’s heavenly kingdom in favor of existing invisible “principalities” and “powers, . . . the world rulers of this present darkness.” (Eph. 6:11, 12, RS) The Bible identifies that one as “Satan,” who shrewdly “disguises himself as an angel of light” to deceive people. “So it is not strange,” it continues, “if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”—2 Cor. 11:13-15, RS; compare 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10.
Do not allow yourself to be sidetracked from God’s real purpose to bring permanent physical healing through his Kingdom government. Is it not wiser now to experience the far more important healing of our personalities by having them “renewed in knowledge” through the spiritual healing power of God’s Word? Thereby we can ensure our place as fit subjects of that grand Kingdom.—Col. 3:9, 10, RS; Eph. 4:22, 23.