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On Sunday 27th April Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII were declared saints in a ceremony at the Vatican. Necessary for their canonisation were two authenticated miracles. In the case of John Paul II a woman in Costa Rica was supposedly cured from an inoperable brain aneurysm after the pontiff appeared to her in a vision, and a Polish nun was cured from Parkinson’s disease after praying to the deceased Pope. These claimed miracles are no new development in the Roman Catholic Church; from appearances of the Virgin Mary, to bleeding and weeping statues, to the healing of incurable diseases, miracles are an extremely important part of the Roman Catholic faith. Many pilgrimages are made by Roman Catholics to locations where miracles are reported to have occurred; one of the most famous examples being Lourdes, a place regularly visited by millions of Roman Catholics in the hope of being cured by the water there. Yet with every miracle which it claims, the Church of Rome faces the same problem – a lack of authentication. Even as the Vatican was seeking to canonize John Paul II, reports were abounding that Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, the Polish nun supposedly cured of Parkinson’s, had fallen ill again.a Time and again this same issue arises with miracles in the Roman Catholic Church, they are either proven to be false, or they are authenticated only on the most tentative of evidence, and rarely if ever supported by medical verification. Yet in spite of this, Roman Catholics continue to enthusiastically seek after miracles. Since the time of the Reformation mainstream evangelical Protestantism has rejected the belief that the supernatural sign gifts of the New Testament such as healing are still available today, and has been highly sceptical of the claimed miracles of Rome. Yet with the advance of the Charismatic Movement many Christians have turned once again to seeking after miracles, and to a belief that the power of healing which was bestowed on the apostles is still available today. Here once again we see the common ground between Roman Catholicism and the Charismatic Movement; a seeking after miracles that, when they are examined, are shown to be at best exaggerated, and at worst counterfeited.
At the end of 2013 a documentary film was released by the Mountain Light Cinema entitled Deadraiser. This documentary followed a group of young men as they travelled across the United States ‘raising people to life.’ Their own website described it as ‘a captivating documentary exploring modern day resurrection stories. A true supernatural adventure, this film follows a dynamic group of spiritually empowered individuals from wide-ranging theologies, backgrounds and locations as they team up to live out the words of Jesus Christ recorded in Matthew 10:8’b. Yet the programme contained one glaring omission; no-one is actually raised from the dead. Throughout the 103 minutes of the film not one person is actually healed of any disease or raised to life. The dead raising team visited a quadriplegic man in his hospital and prayed that he would be stronger than he was before his accident, yet the man’s condition did not change at all. Three days were spent in a funeral home praying for a man to be raised from the dead, yet once again their efforts were in vain.
The complete lack of results in this documentary sums up the issue of miracles within the Charismatic Movement. There is little or no evidence for any genuine healing as the result of the prayers and actions of charismatic leaders. The healings which are purported to have been carried out by the likes of Benny Hinn are soon shown to be either mistaken or fake. In 2001 a young boy called William Vandenkolk was supposedly healed of blindness by Benny Hinn at one of this Miracle Crusades. Sadly two years later he was still registered blind and admitted himself that it had only been wishful thinkingc. In 2008 Todd Bentley made great headlines with his meetings in Lakeland Florida. Part of his meetings involved supposed healings, yet they were performed in a manner which rightly caused outrage among many Christians. Bentley’s methods of healing people included kicking a woman in the face, slamming a crippled woman’s legs against the stage, and knocking out a man’s toothd. Needless to say on none of these occasions did any verifiable healing take place. Indeed one man, supposedly healed of terminal bone cancer at one of Bentley’s meetings, died a week after his ‘healing’e. Such was the extreme nature of Bentley’s ministry that he was banned from visiting the United Kingdom in 2012f. Yet despite these evident failures the likes of Hinn, Bentley, Copeland, Popoff and others are still revered as great faith healers.
The truth is, that with the exception of psychosomatic illnesses (those which are influenced by mental factors such as stress and anxiety), there have been absolutely no medically verified healings within the Charismatic Movement which can be directly attributed to the actions of their 'healers'. The feel-good factor and charged up emotionalism and exuberance which accompanies most charismatic healings services is clearly the influencing factor in the ‘healings’ which are related to psychosomatic illnesses. Yet on all other occasions, the evidence simply is not there. Since very few believers would give any credence to the claims of healing and miracles that emanate from the Roman Catholic Church, why are so many in awe of those in the Charismatic Movement who make the same claims?
2. The contrast with the miracles of the Bible
Whilst today’s charismatic faith healers claim to have the same healing power as the early apostles, in reality there is a great difference between their ‘miracles’ and those conducted by the Lord and his disciples. They differ in four ways:
Biblical healings could not be denied. On the occasion in Luke 17 where Christ healed the ten lepers he instructed them to go and show themselves to the priest. Likewise in Mark 1 the leper who was healed there was also told to go the priest and to make the offering for his cleansing. Their healing was evident to all. When the blind man of John 8 was healed his neighbours were astounded, asking him ‘How were thine eyes opened?’ There was no doubt that he could now see, and as the people had known him for many years, there was neither any doubt that he had previously been blind. Why is there no such evidence and proof of today’s miraculous healings, other than to say that we cannot provide proof for something which has not happened.
Biblical healings were instant and without relapse. At many healing services people will show initial signs of relief and joy, and in the view of all around they have been healed of their ailment. Yet shortly after the meeting they are found to have suffered a relapse. On other occasions they might experience some improvement in their condition, but have not been completely delivered from their illness. There were no partial healings conducted by the Lord Jesus or the apostles, nor did anyone suffer a relapse. The blind saw, the dumb spoke, the lame walked (and indeed leaped) and the dead rose.
Biblical healings did not depend on the faith of the recipient. When a charismatic faith healer is unable to heal someone the standard explanation is that the recipient did not have enough faith. You must believe and have faith in order to be healed. Yet in scripture the faith of the one who was to be healed is not intrinsically linked with the miracle being successful. After all what faith had Lazarus when he lay in the tomb? When the disciples were unable to cast the demon out of the man in Mark 9, the Lord Jesus made it clear that it was a failing on their part, not on the part of the possessed man. What a contrast with today’s faith healers! Never will you hear them say ‘It’s my fault’ when someone isn’t healed.
There was no limit on the diseases that could be healed. Go to any healing service and you will find people with sore backs, bad hips and arthritis, all ‘healed’ from their ailments. However what you will not find is those with more visible and verifiable diseases being healed. Those who are confined to wheelchairs, who have severe disabilities and obvious deformity will be kept well away from the stage. The disciples however were given power ‘to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease’. No case was too hard for those who truly possessed the supernatural gift of healing.
3. Only God heals today
Does God still heal today? Yes he does. Is it right that we pray for the Lord to raise our loved ones from sickness? Yes it is. Yet the New Testament gift of healing as given to the apostles has ceased. As the office of apostle within the church has ceased, so the gift of healing is no longer available for the believer. Despite the claims which many will make there are not any men and women within the church who have a special healing ministry, or a special deliverance ministry. There is no-one specially annointed to whom we should go that they might lay hands on us in order that we would be healed. These offices and gifts have ceased. As the apostles in the New Testament church began to die out, so the supernatural sign gifts which had been so evident in the early life of the church became increasingly rare. In James 5:14 there are no instructions given for the church to seek out an apostle or one gifted with healing power, but if any were sick they were to simply told to call for the elders and have them pray for the one who was ill.
The reason why we do not see genuine healings performed by Christians today is that those gifts were given for a specific time and a specific purpose. They were to authenticate the revelation of the apostles in the early days of establishing the church and were not intended to continue beyond that period. We should not be looking for, or expecting miracles and healings in the same manner that they happened in New Testament times. If we allow ourselves to be taken in by the charismatic claim of miracles healing today then how can we reject those same miracles which are claimed by Rome.
(Recommended reading on faith healing – The Healing Epidemic by Peter Masters)
Next: Unquestionable authority
b William Lobdell, "The Price of Healing", L.A. Times Magazine, July 27 2003
b William Lobdell, "The Price of Healing", L.A. Times Magazine, July 27 2003