We know God can heal, but what's the best way to tell the world?
In a world that struggles to understand faith-based healing, the church needs to be transparent
Some Christian behaviour smacks of the bizarre and is simply a caricature of true ministry. J Lee Grady (contributing editor to Charisma) highlighted this when he wrote “A few years ago a popular charismatic preacher spoke at a meeting I attended at a church in Orlando, Fla. After his message he asked all ordained ministers to run to the platform so he could lay hands on them. Immediately this man’s team of beefy bodyguards began grabbing people, dragging them onto the stage and holding them in place until the evangelist could pray for everyone. I felt queasy about this spectacle. It resembled a charismatic version of World Wrestling Entertainment: lots of smacking noises, falling bodies and cheers from the excited crowd. We Christians seem to love a good show, even if it is staged.”
Such excesses are not limited to the United States however, and they can easily influence the way we pray for the sick. I remember one evangelist, who claimed a healing ministry, confidently assuring two distraught parents that their dying daughter would fully recover. She died a short while later, and yet there were still those who were disappointed when I said that he would not conduct “a healing crusade” in any church for which I was responsible.
Having said that, though, I am convinced that God can, and does heal people, and that we must do all we can to ensure that the Advertising Standards Authority doesn’t stop us shouting it from the rooftops, as it seems to have done with Healing On The Streets in Bath.
We must be wise of course and avoid any temptation to “airbrush” the facts. Jesus healed, but he did so in such a way that no one could deny that healing had taken place. We must be just as transparent. We must never exaggerate, nor promise more than we can. For when we do, we risk damaging the very cause we want to defend.
But we can rest assured that God can heal. Dr Mary Self knows this better than most. I placed Mary’s story with the Daily Mirror some ten years ago now and it made front-page news. I quote: “Miracle. She was sent home to die from bone cancer. Then Dr Self, 34 was suddenly cured. The mother-of-two says it was the power of prayer. Last night her specialist said ‘Yes, I’ll buy that.’” (You can read a full account of Mary’s miraculous story in “From Medicine to Miracle”, published by Harper Collins).
I will always be grateful to the staff at the Daily Mirror because of the thorough, exhaustive way in which they checked the story before publication. The Leveson enquiry would have been proud of the way they handled her too. But I am even more thankful to God that He prompted ‘The Voice of the Mirror’ to add, “The story of Mary Self’s recovery from cancer will get two reactions. Many people will accept that the power of prayer can heal. Others will say that there must be some other explanation. The Mirror is on the side of the believers not the cynics.”
Like The Mirror the church must refuse to be silenced. We have a message for the public square not the religious ghetto. Yes, it would be presumptuous to assure everyone that God will heal them, and we risk damaging people if we tell them “it’s all down to your faith”. But we will be doing the Gospel a disservice too, if we fail to tell our hurting world that we can “Take it to the Lord in prayer”.
It would be interesting to see how the Advertising Standards Authority would react if the Christians of Bath posted a notice that simply said, “Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.” (James 5 NLT)
That really might put the cat among the pigeons. It might also highlight the size of the challenge facing us today!