The mystery of divine healing

faith_cureOf all the non-Nazarene churches where my family gave gospel concerts, the Tom’s River Assembly of God was among the most memorable.

My mom’s parents had long attended a staid, independent Baptist church. But some from the AOG befriended them, and for the next 10 years, they were faithful members.

We gave our concert at the same time that a faith healing evangelist was conducting a protracted meeting at the church. After having laid hands upon the sick and praying for them, he invited others to come forward to represent people who needed healing but were not present at the service. I went forward and prayed for Friend Stafford, an elderly mostly deaf man in my home church back in Rochester for whom I had learned sign language so I could be his interpreter during church services. We went back home, and I couldn’t wait to see what Friend would be like as a hearing man. Much to my disappointment, he was as hard of hearing as ever.

With my own background as a Nazarene and my contact with Pentecostal groups like the AOG, Nancy A. Hardesty’s Faith Cure: Divine Healing in the Holiness and Pentecostal Movements (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003) caught my attention. It is a handsome volume that packs a lot of solid historical research into a mere 152 pages.

Where Nancy Hardesty excels is in her making various heroes (and heroines) of the late 19th and early 20th century divine healing movement in America come alive. Aimee Semple-McPherson, Alexander Dowie, A.B. Simpson and a colorful cast of of others who emphasized God’s healing touch receive sympathetic treatment from Hardesty, though she does not hesitate to show their flaws.

In a chapter entitled “No doctors, no drugs,” the author delves into the quackery that passed as medical science at the end of the 19th century. This does much to establish the historical context that makes it understandable why Simpson and others insisted that believers seeking physical healing put their sole trust in Jesus, the Great Physician. As modern medicine has improved, this categorical insistence upon forsaking all other means toward healing except God’s direct touch has likewise faded.

Not all is well with Faith Cure. The chapter entitled “theology” is too short to do justice to various Bible passages often cited in defense of divine healing. Further, there is no attempt on the part of the author to research the authenticity of healings that the so-called “healing evangelists” performed in the mid-20th century.

Despite these shortcomings, Nancy Hardesty provides a good introduction to a vast topic. She acknowledges that there is an ongoing place for the doctrine and practice of  divine healing (and anointing with oil – James 5) in the life of local congregations within the Holiness and Pentecostal traditions. If her book stirs up a desire to return to balanced teaching on the topic, then it will have served a useful purpose beyond mere academic interest in a fascinating topic.

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Photo credit: Barnes and Noble

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6 thoughts on “The mystery of divine healing

  1. Cher prof,

    je suis intéressé par ton article. Le titre contient toute la problématique de la guérison divine: ” LE MYSTÈRE DE LA GUÉRISON DIVINE” . Je voudrais situer ce mystère à deux niveaux: le niveau humain et divin.

    Au niveau humain, il y a le danger du légalisme qui consiste à transformer une expérience personnelle réussie avec Dieu en loi. Cela devient une sorte de recette de guérison miracle valable partout et en toute circonstance. C’est le mystère que les gens entretiennent autour de la guérison divine parce qu’à un moment donné, ce n’est plus eux qui suivent Dieu mais ils semblent forcer Dieu à les suivre. Est-ce que nous nous comprenons?

    Cependant la guérison divine est l’oeuvre du Saint-Esprit dans le corps humain. Cela relève de sa seule souveraineté. Les gens ne se polarisent que sur les guérisons spectaculaires, friands sont-ils de l’extraordinaire? Or, le baptême du Saint-Esprit n’est pas bénéfique pour l’âme seulement. Le baptême intégral du Saint-Esprit prend en compte l’âme, l’esprit et le corps.

    C’est ainsi que nombreuses maladies, liées à nos vielles habitudes de péché, disparaissent sans croisades ou quelques séances “spirituelles” de cures. D’autres maladies, justifiant leur persistance par la présence des démons, ne peuvent plus résister à la présence effective et permanente du Saint-Esprit…

    Cher prof, comme toi, j’ai prié pour la guérison de mon épouse du cancer du sein. Ma confiance était totale en Dieu mais elle est morte. Récemment, j’ai prié, aussi, intensément pour mon fils de 34 ans. Ma confiance en Dieu était totale mais il est mort. Est-ce pour cela que la guérison divine est un bluff? Je ne crois pas. Jésus est le même, hier, aujourd’hui et éternellement. Il a guéri, Il guéri et continuera de guérir, avec une médecine avancée ou pas. Il a opéré des guérisons qui défient la science médicale… Attention au “Saint-thomaisme”: VOIR AVANT DE CROIRE…, Nous connaissons la réponse de Jésus.

    Trois ans avant, mon épouse avait parfaitement recouvré la santé et ces trois années furent les meilleurs moments de sa vie et de ma vie avec elle. Je ne peux pas tout décrire. C’était merveilleux. Elle était plus belle et véritablement sainte. Quelle sublime grâce de Dieu ! Je n’ai pas vu le temps passer et je voulais encore plus de bonheur avec elle mais pour Dieu, c’était trois ans en plus en réponse à ma toute première prière lors de l’ablation de son sein gauche. C’était trois ans en plus et pas plus. Aujourd’hui je remercie Dieu pour avoir exaucé ma prière. Dieu répond à toutes nos prières, pas toujours selon notre volonté, mais Il y répond en toute souveraineté, selon sa volonté. Sa volonté est la meilleure pour nous. Tôt ou tard nous verrons que nous n’avions pas inutilement prié. Merci prof.
    Rév DJEDJE, ton étudiant.

  2. 68 healings as the result of events at Lourdes France, as investigated by doctors of the Lourdes Medical Bureau, are “medically inexplicable.”

    Aimee Semple McPherson was an unstoppable heal machine.

    Yes, Aimee Semple McPherson is known for her extensive divine healing work. Biographer Daniel Mark Epstein writes: No one has ever been credited by secular witnesses with anywhere near the numbers of faith healings attributed to McPherson. “The healings present a monstrous obstacle to scientific historiography. If events transpired as newspapers, letters, and testimonials say they did, then Aimee Semple McPherson’s healing ministry was miraculous. …The documentation is overwhelming: very sick people came to Sister Aimee by the tens of thousands, blind, deaf, paralyzed. Many were healed some temporarily, some forever. She would point to heaven, to Christ the Great Healer and take no credit for the results.”
    (p111 ,185 Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson).

    It may be a mystery why McPherson was so often ill herself, especially during the latter part of her life, but she was always fervently working, rarely taking time for herself unless forced to do so because an affliction caused her to be bedridden. Ways of interpreting that, God rested after six days of work, maybe someone needed to get a clue. Or it proves McPherson wasn’t a mutant, her “power” did not come from an expanded pituitary gland or something, and therefore a naturalistic explanation; but was a gift: ultimately, the Lord heals whom He will when He willith.

    • Thanks for this note.

      What troubles me is applying the term “healing machine” to Aimee Semple McPherson. Note who gets the glory? Hint: It’s not God.

      The term “divine healing” (on the other hand) points us all back to God, the Healer. May it ever be so!

  3. Yes…, McPherson might take issue with the “heal machine” term as well, but then, maybe not, since she was known for her sense of humor and as long is it was not conveyed in dead earnest seriousness. She has hundreds of pages of sermons and I only read / heard the tiniest of fraction of them, but from what I gather, she did not emphasis her own singular proficiency. We can only do it because we are on the outside looking in. And as gatherers of data, the results of divine healings attributed to her presence as opposed to other individuals is considerable.

    Of interest to me is not what is conveyed by the “true believer,” but the skeptic or at least the more impartial observer who takes notice of these things, writes about them and yet cannot explain them in naturalistic terms. For to do so would even be more fantastically implausible that the “miracle” itself. If miracles could be explained naturalistically, then certainly they can be duplicated under the right conditions–and these at least, have not. Epstein and Blumhofer’s books serve to underscore this mightily and to a lesser extent other works. A book online that might be of interest is

    http://archive.org/stream/havefoundafaith012535mbp/havefoundafaith012535mbp_djvu.txt

    Marcus Bach, They Have Found a Faith, (The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis / New York, 1946) p.74

    Bach, a seeker who investigates several diverse faiths writes of Aimee Semple McPherson ( his section on the Unity Church is also intriguing for healing references as well):

    “I encountered too many who testified that they had “been healed’ for me to check them all off as frauds, neurotics, or victims of paranoia. They answered my queries with questions of their own. “Has not every true religion had its miracles?” “Shouldn’t a person expect and demand miracles of religious leaders ?*
    “Isn’t healing what everyone is seeking?”

    If Sister’s manna of duplicating the apostles’ power was often spectacular, this could also be explained. In a modern age it was necessary to be sensational in order to catch the interest of a speedy world. I was consistently reminded of Mrs. McPherson’s classic statement, I am not the healer. Jesus is. He does the work. He’s the Boss.
    I am only the office girl who opens the door and say “Come in The Great Healer is waiting. ” “

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