Pastoral Care And Direct Divine Healing

Themes: Biblical, Christian Year, History, Pastors, Scholar, Theology

The ministry of healing has been a central aspect of the Christian faith, beginning with the work of Jesus and the apostles. Throughout Christian history, the church has pursued several approaches to the ministry of healing: hagiographical, incubational, revelational, soteriological, and confrontational.

Adolf Harnack, eminent historian of the early church, observed early in the twentieth century:

Deliberately and consciously [Christianity] assumed the form of “?the religion of salvation or healing?” or “?the medicine of soul and body,?” and at the same time it recognized that one of its chief duties was to care assiduously for the sick in body. (The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, 2nd ed. trans. and ed. James Moffatt [New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1908], 108.)

Harnack thought this was one of the church’s crucial strategic decisions, and he continued, “?Christianity never lost hold of its innate principle; it was, and it remained, a religion for the sick?” (Harnack 109).

Through the centuries, care for the sick has characterized those who have identified themselves with the main ideas of traditional, historic Christianity. Usually this concern has been expressed through the practice of medicine. However, not infrequently, it has appeared in extraordinary forms which can be called “?divine healing,?” wherein the restoration of health comes through the direct intervention of God.

In any discussion of divine healing, the question of the verification of miracles must be raised. Ren Latourelle suggests three criteria that should be applied before accepting an event as miraculous. First, there must be solid historical proof that it occurred. Second, it must be something medically unusual or difficult to believe. Third, it must have occurred in a setting of prayer and holiness (The Miracles of Jesus and the Theology of Miracles, trans. M. J. O’Connell [New York: Paulist Press, 1988], 310–313).

According to the biblical record, healing was a major feature of Jesus’ ministry. He was God’s ultimate response to the spiritual, natural, social, and personal disorder caused by human sin. For those who had “?eyes to see,?” the physical, emotional, and spiritual healings wrought by Jesus were signs that the kingdom of God had appeared among human beings. These signs of the kingdom continued after the ascension of Jesus, and on throughout the church age until the present day. This study will examine some approaches to divine healing that have occurred in the history of the church.

The Hagiographical Approach. The name ha-giography is derived from the Greek hagios, meaning “?saint.?” Hagiography is the written record or study of the lives of saints. This approach to healing emphasizes the holiness of the healer, based on the fact that the first New Testament healers were Jesus and his apostles. During the second and third centuries the church developed the idea that Christian martyrs and especially holy people had somehow attained an exalted position of influence with the deity and could intercede with God on behalf of the sick and needy. Relics such as items that belonged to these saints, or even parts of their dead bodies, were thought to have inherent healing power.

Modern examples of the hagiographical approach are the healing ministry at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, which originated with the ministry of Brother Andre and the miracles occurring at Medjugorje, in the former Yugoslavia, where it is claimed that the Virgin Mary has been appearing daily since June 1981. In both places, the emphasis on Jesus Christ and the thoroughness of documentation indicate that some of the healings are authentic.

The Incubational Approach. In the early centuries of the church various locations were designated as “?shrines?” where it was thought healings were likely to occur. More recently, two ministries that developed in Switzerland claimed that people who came to stay in their residences and were prayed for over a length of time could be healed. One is the Elim Institution in Mannedorf, south of Zurich, founded by Dorothea Trudel in the mid-nineteenth century. The other was established in the 1930s by Charles and Blanche de Siebenthal and Marguerite Chapuis in Yverdon-les-Bains, north of Lausanne.

Both of these ministries based their practices on James 5:14–16, committing themselves to persevering prayer until healings took place. They welcomed whoever came with whatever disorder and assumed that healing would eventually occur in each case.

The Revelational Approach. The revelational approach to healing is based on Scripture passages such as the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 and the mention of the word of knowledge in 1 Corinthians 12:8. Both of the passages indicate that God gives supernatural revelation.

William Branham, associated with the Latter Rain revival of the 1940s, practiced the revelational approach to healing and became a model for many other North American ministries. Branham allegedly received information about people’s illnesses from an angelic messenger, who stood by him as he ministered to the sick. Miracles were a hallmark of the Latter Rain revival, and a great many have been attributed to Branham.

Kathryn Kuhlman’s ministry extended from the late 1940s until her death in 1976. Miss Kuhlman disavowed any part in the healing process, insisting that her role was simply to announce what God had already done as God made her aware of it. As a result of the spectacular healings associated with her ministry, she became a well-known American religious figure.

The Soteriological Approach. By the late nineteenth century, a number of people from major denominations had begun to practice healing. Based on Matthew’s assertion that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 53:4, “?He himself took our infirmities, and carried away our diseases?” (Matt. 8:17), these people taught that as a person is saved through faith in the atoning work of Christ, that person can also be healed through such faith. This doctrine came to be known as “?healing in the atonement.?”

In the mid-twentieth century, Oral Roberts and other members of the Pentecostal movement adopted this concept of healing. Roberts toured the nation with a revival tent from 1947 to 1968, laying hands on thousands of people for divine healing.

The Confrontational Approach. J. C. Blumhardt, who died in Germany in 1880, and John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard churches in southern California, both exemplify confrontational healing. Central to this philosophy is the idea that Jesus has engaged the powers of darkness in battle and has defeated them, inaugurating the victorious kingdom of God. His victory makes it possible for Christians to maintain victory over the sickness and demonic activity that characterize the kingdom of darkness.

Blumhardt did most of his praying in the privacy of his Kurhaus in Bad Boll, while Wimber ministers to large crowds in public. He also employs the gift of knowledge in his exercise of the gift of healing. Wimber is unique among those with dramatic healing ministries in that he has devoted much time and energy to teaching others how to pray for the sick.

Conclusion. The healing ministry of the church through the centuries has featured both the ordinary and the marvelous. Countless testimonies of healing verify that God sometimes chooses to respond to human need by direct intervention. There is no formula that guarantees healing; nor does the occurrence of healings or miracles authenticate the doctrinal philosophy of the healer. Healing is God’s prerogative, and God remains sovereign.

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