Healing. Divine healing or faith healing to be more specific. A topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately, for a variety of reasons. As a Vineyard Pastor healing is ingrained in my spiritual DNA. A focus throughout the history of the Vineyard, healing is identified as one of the primary evidences of the Kingdom of God. We have been taught in the Vineyard, from the earliest days to pray for the sick. We have endeavored to follow the lead of Jesus, to do “what the father is doing”, to take to heart the injunction of James to “call the elders of the church to pray over him (anyone who is sick) and anoint him with oil” (James 5:14,15 TNIV) with the full belief that that prayer will make them well. Healing is for us Vineyardites one of the “main things and plain things” of scripture. And yet, it remains elusive and is at times a perplexing and complex issue.
Where I live, in the Portland (OR) metropolitan area faith healing has made headline news in recent history. There is a church not far from us that practices healing prayer to the exclusion of any medical intervention. Although this church maintains their position out of a deep conviction and belief in scripture, the repercussions are often tragic. Children have died. Families have been torn apart and parents have been prosecuted for negligence after withholding medical treatment from their children suffering from easily treatable diseases.
As it would be, in this gloriously diverse family that we call the Body of Christ there are also those who maintain that healing is not a part of our inheritance in Jesus at all. That the purpose of Christ’s healing ministry was to establish his messiahship and that end has been accomplished, so consequently, healing is no longer necessary. That it is not among “the main and the plain” things of scripture. One well respected pastor, author and Bible teacher maintains: “In fact, if you go through the New Testament and try to find a verse that says, “pray for people to be healed,” you won’t find one”.
For him and others, healing is not an expectation in their relationship with God, prayer for healing is not a common practice and, in my humble opinion, the nature and essence of the Kingdom of God and his purpose and calling for his church are missed.
Two extreme positions. Somewhere in between must lie what Bill Jackson terms “the radical middle”. The radical middle is a fitting description for where the Vineyard lies in the healing milieu evident in the church today. What is the radical middle? And maybe more importantly, what makes it so radical?
The radical middle is this: It’s the belief that When Jesus said “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18,19 TNIV) That it was a proclamation of his purpose that would remain active throughout the history of his people. That until that day when his kingdom is fulfilled, when the new heaven and new earth are a reality and ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4 TNIV) that healing is to continue to be a vital component of the advancement of his kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven. That Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8 TNIV) told his disciples to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (Matthew 10:8) and that he never repealed the order. And as much as anything, it is, believing, living and teaching the Bible as over and against our own experience.
For so many who live in the radical middle, healing is a painful reality. It is painful because the tension of the “now and the not yet” is more real in healing than in any other dynamic of spiritual life. So many that we love, and pray for diligently, remain sick. So often our children cry in pain as we pray, and yet the answer we seek doesn’t come. My own faith has been challenged at times as my daughter suffers from Crohn’s Disease. Her faith is strong, our church (and countless others) are diligent to pray and yet, she remains sick.
What makes the radical middle radical? It’s this; the willingness to press in to Jesus, to continue to obey, to pray against all odds even when the answer we desire hasn’t come. Someone has said that “The definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing over and over and expect a different result”. It may be that that isn’t insanity at all, but rather, the radical middle.
Am I saying that healing doesn’t happen? Not at all, I’ve seen people healed on many occasions. I watched as my friend Dan Ruppe whispered in a deaf woman’s ear “in the name of Jesus, be healed” and her eyes lit up because she heard him. I watched my wife of just a few months actually put her fingers in a man’s mouth in South Africa in 1982 and pray for teeth to grow, and heard them both scream when they did. I wept 15 years later as Costa Mitchell recounted the story and told of meeting that same man years later and being told “I’ve been looking for you for years. In 1982 I was at a meeting in your church and a young American girl prayed for me, that teeth would grow where I had none, and they did”. I rejoice when in our church today anyone is healed of any malady. And yet, the “not yet” nags at me. That some are still sick, that pain and disease are so real, so strong, so… painful frustrates me.
So what is the conclusion? For me it is this: That unlike my brothers and sisters who refuse medicine, I will take my family to the doctor when they are sick, and I will exhort my congregation to do the same. Why? Because I lack faith that God can heal without medical intervention? No. On the contrary, it is because I believe in a bigger God than that. I believe in a God that is over all things. In a God who will use what He may to accomplish his purposes. I thank my God for the medical community. For the dentist that fills my teeth, for the surgeon who performed my fathers open heart surgery, for the doctor who delivered my beautiful grandson and for the nurse who administers infusions to my daughter. I thank my God for their knowledge, their skill and for his hand of healing through them.
It is also this, I will not, as some of my fundamentalist brothers have done reinterpret the Bible to accommodate my experience. I will continue to teach that Jesus heals people, that we are to pray for the sick, and ask that “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. And I will continue to pray. I will pray for my daughter. I will pray for anyone who is sick, for anyone who asks, and sometimes even for those who don’t ask. Why? Because I believe with all my heart that that is what Jesus would have me do. That anything less would not be true discipleship. That failure to do so would be to value experience above the Bible.
Living in the radical middle is to pray for the sick whenever we can. To rejoice with the angels of heaven with every person that is healed. To love and care for every person who is not. To hold the hand of, sit with and minister compassion to anyone suffering from cancer, AIDS or a migraine headache. And, to mourn and weep with the families and friends of anyone who remains sick or dies.