The future's promise--and challenge
LOOKING to the future of healing, Christians see a vast horizon of possibilities but also enormous challenges. Church leaders say they expect interest in healing to grow universally. The bleakness of life felt by millions of people in an increasingly secular culture, nuclear fears, famine, pollution, and other tragedies, as well as the medical challenges posed by such developments as the AIDS epidemic, are impelling Christians to a deeper exploration and understanding of biblical teachings.
``I sense a spiritual renaissance, a spiritual renewal that is going on,'' says the Rev. Edward W. Bauman, senior pastor of the Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. ``It's quiet, it's not a noisy renaissance, but an increase of interest in quiet meditation. Where the word of God is preached with integrity, people are hungering and eager to grow with it.''
``The [healing] movement will continue to grow because of people's heartfelt need for reality in their Christian life, and because, in our culture, many are losing their bearings and direction,'' says the Rev. Paul E. Pierson, a Presbyterian clergyman and dean of Fuller Theological Seminary's School of World Missions.
At the same time, there is an acute awareness of the challenges facing the field of Christian healing: institutional inertia, a lack of interest on the part of most theological schools, and, perhaps most daunting, the fact that healing efforts are not always successful.
``I've seen many people in my church healed through prayer,'' the minister of a Pentecostal church in Atlanta said in an anguished tone. ``But my own five-year-old son has a chronic disease and we have not helped him. I guess we just don't understand enough.''
There are healing evangelists - commonly referred to as ``faith healers'' or as being in the ``faith-healing movement'' - who say that healing is available to all who have enough faith, implying that failure is due to lack of faith on the part of the sick. But such a view is challenged by many in the healing field, who suggest that absence of healing may not be the result of insufficient faith.
``There is an implication that healing is brought about in simple proportion to our faith: the more faith we have, the more likely we are to be healed,'' states British clergyman Frank Wright in ``The Pastoral Nature of Healing.'' ``But that seems to lay too much stress on our faith rather than on God's healing-power. Healing is God's work, and faith only the `motor' which opens up the channel for us to receive that healing.''
It is further believed that God may or may not want to heal a given individual.
``There are multitudes of cases of people with sublime faith who have not been healed,'' writes physician Rex Gardner in ``Healing Miracles.'' ``It proves that God's plan is not always our return to full health.''
Some clergy, however, feel that it is not a matter of having to attribute failure to a lack of faith (putting an intolerable burden on the individual) or to a lack of God's will (in effect branding God as a cruel and arbitrary dictator). Rather, they see it as an opportunity to further develop one's own prayer and approach to healing, persisting with one's conviction of God's goodness despite the evidence of sickness.
``Christian faith is believing that God is good and ultimately powerful, and acting accordingly, even when events are going badly,'' writes the Rev. Gordon Dalbey, an ordained minister, in Christian Century. ``To someone who sees sickness as God's will, this notion of human responsibility is cruel and burdensome; heaping guilt upon suffering. But to those who see God as a loving parent who wants our healing, our responsibility is the avenue of hope.''
Such views point to the staying power of those involved in healing ministries. As many clergy point out, the medical community is also confronted with failures, yet persists in its efforts to heal.
``Doctors don't quit medicine because a patient does not respond to treatment,'' writes Methodist pastor Paul C. Frederick in the Michigan Christian Advocate. ``He seeks to understand how he can learn from his `failures,' and be more effective the next time.''
``Similarly,'' he adds, ``if our prayer for healing does not work, we must re-examine and reset our procedure yet another time, and try again. It is childish to blame God for every misfortune; we must begin to take responsibility for our part in the cooperative venture of healing through prayer.''
On the institutional front, too, religious groups face challenges. The charismatics, for instance, are struggling to overcome a sense of ``routinization'' and breathe new life into their movement.
AT the congress of evangelicals in New Orleans last July, the rafters of the Superdome thundered with the ``Hallelujahs'' of some 35,000 evangelicals, most of them charismatics. But despite its ambitious goal to convert 3.1 billion people to Christianity by the year 2000, the congress itself was a disappointment to many evangelicals, attracting far fewer people than a similar conclave in Kansas City, Mo., in 1977. National news media virtually ignored it.
Because the mainline churches have accommodated the charismatic renewal movement, evangelical leaders like John Wimber of Anaheim, Calif., now call for a further invigoration of the churches. They speak of a ``third wave'' of evangelical renewal - the first being the rise of Pentecostalism and the second the growth of the charismatic movement. This ``third wave'' blurs the distinctions between charismatic and noncharismatic Christians and aims to embrace the fundamentalist and conservative evangelicals who have tended to deny modern-day healing.
Mr. Wimber, a burly, bearded preacher who founded the Vineyard Christian Fellowship movement 10 years ago, has a burgeoning ministry, especially among young people. His local ``Vineyard'' in Anaheim has grown to 6,000 members, and some 200 Vineyard churches have been established in various parts of the country. Wimber's book ``Power Evangelism'' has sold 100,000 copies and is available in nine languages.
Wimber and others in the healing ministry, such as former Roman Catholic priest Francis MacNutt, are trying to deepen and systemize their teachings, in part to distance themselves from identification with ``faith healers'' and also to help dispel a common perception of the charismatic movement as superficial and lacking in intellectual depth.
For their part, the mainline churches, compared with the charismatic movement, are largely unfocused in their healing activities. Their efforts are fragmented and tentative, although some groups, like the Episcopal Church and the International Order of St. Luke the Physician, have long held healing services that stress sacramental healing and intercessory prayer.
The mainline churches tend to be more conventional. While the charismatics feel they are breaking down some rigid traditions of the Christian Church (by being more open to the ``supernatural,'' for instance), the tendency of mainstream Christianity is to blend with the status quo rather than challenge it. This helps explain the increasing integration of religion with medicine and psychiatry.
For all the guardedness of the mainline churches about Christian healing, however, many clergy believe the Christian churches can no longer ignore biblical teaching about healing. They are being sensitized to the fact that more than a third of the verses in the four New Testament Gospels deal with Jesus' healing ministry.
``Even though Jesus and his early followers were active in the healing ministry, Christian education in recent generations has largely ignored the implications for today's church,'' writes Methodist minister James K. Wagner in ``Blessed to be a Blessing.'' ``Faith in modern medicine and the latest technology has replaced faith in God.''
``The task ahead,'' this pastor states, ``is clearly defined - reeducation on the significance, the importance, the necessity, and the practice of intentional healing ministry within the life of every Christian community (the church).''
Because of the need for education, it concerns many clergy that the overwhelming number of theological seminaries training future pastors make no room for a healing ministry. The schools remain, as one clergyman put it, ``scared to death'' of this central element of Christianity.
Nevertheless, there are a few exceptions. Among them is Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., one of the nation's foremost evangelical Protestant schools, with an enrollment of 2,800 from 60 countries. It is a surprising exception, given its extremely conservative profile.
In 1982, Fuller's School of World Missions began a course called ``The Miraculous and Church Growth,'' which soon began to attract widespread attention. Hundreds of students - especially those from third-world countries - and pastors from local churches began attending a workshop on ``signs and wonders'' conducted by Mr. Wimber, the Rev. C.Peter Wagner, and others. At these workshops, individuals claimed to have been healed of functional and organic diseases.
THE growing visibility and ``phenomenalism'' of the workshop alarmed many faculty members, however, and the course was discontinued while a year-long study was made of the program. Published this year, the study, ``Ministry and the Miraculous,'' cautioned against considering Jesus' charge to his disciples to heal as a ``permanent mandate for the churches.'' It noted that Jesus himself was wary of people's ``hankering after signs and wonders.''
Fuller has not abandoned its interest in healing. But its new course on the healing ministry has stricter guidelines. ``We were afraid of the trivialization of Christianity,'' says the Rev. Lewis B. Smedes, the Fuller teacher who edited the study. ``We were worried about sensationalism and wanted to make sure there was something more than `immediate celebrations.'''
A handful of other seminaries are also receptive to the issue of healing. The Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, which helped pioneer courses on healing, has integrated healing into a program called ``Prayer and the Spiritual Life.'' And the Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, Mass., in contrast with the evangelical approach at Fuller, also offers a course on healing which emphasizes spiritual growth.
```Spirituality' is the new wave in theology,'' says David Yohn, a United Church of Christ minister who gives the course together with his wife, Craig B. Millett, also an ordained minister. ``It allows for feeling without emotion, and is more inward than outward. That's where we want the churches to focus. Healing becomes a corollary to the spiritual life.''
``Spirituality is being rediscovered by the Protestant churches,'' agrees the Rev. Bruce Birch, a Methodist minister at the Wesley Theological Seminary of the United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. ``Those dimensions of faith that have to do with one's personal relationship with God - prayer, meditation, healing - are coming into a time of renewed interest. Every Protestant seminary is much more concerned with that.''
IN both the noncharismatic and charismatic camps a few religionists suggest that, if physical healing is to become a natural part of Christian practice, a new perspective or different ``world view'' will have to be gained. Discoveries in the physical sciences are changing traditional views of matter, they note, thereby creating a greater willingness to think in terms of new world views.
These developments, chronicled in such popular books as Paul Davies's ``God and the New Physics,'' are lending encouragement to a small minority of clergy in the healing movement. ``The best `theologians' these days are physicists,'' says the Rev. Dr. Yohn, whose views on ``healing fields of energy'' in the universe are influenced by new thinking in physics.
The Rev. Morton Kelsey, an Episcopalian clergyman and author of ``Healing and Christianity,'' likewise stresses the need for a new point of view that steps out of the ``materialistic box'' and makes possible a greater reliance on the ``reality of the spiritual world.''
``Until an alternative view to the rationalism and materialism of the 19th and 20th centuries is replaced theologically, healing will not be present in the seminaries,'' he remarks. ``You have to provide people with some world view that has a place for God working in the world. That is the basic question. If you don't believe it, you'll ignore it.''
Intimating that healing requires a new understanding of reality, a different structure of thought, Michael Drury, author of ``Every Whit Whole,'' writes that Jesus healed people by causing them to ``see themselves in the light that he threw upon them.'' ``This was not merely an alternative form of treatment''; she states, ``it was a different evaluation of what was going on....''
One hundred years ago, a somewhat similar explanation by Christian Science of what was going on in Christ Jesus' healing ministry seemed to some heretical. In the framework of today's widening spiritual exploration, the explanation that Christian Science offers may be much more understandable.
Central to the healing of physical ills, say Christian Scientists, is the prayer that brings release from conventional reference points of self and life in matter. As individuals give up the focus on themselves and their needs and instead are willing to enter into acknowledging God, Spirit, as the measure of all that is ultimately real, healing can begin.
CHRISTIAN Scientists believe that Jesus' healing works were the outcome of his total yielding to the truth that man is God's child, the image and likeness of Spirit. One's ordinary impression of being a kind of mind-matter mix is really a mistaken conception, they say. Spirituality breaks through this conventional sense and discerns the underlying truth of man's spiritual nature.
``This is not a simple question of `mind over matter,''' writes historian Robert Peel in ``Spiritual Healing in a Scientific Age.'' ``The basic distinction is actually not between mind and matter (which even physics today tends to regard as a continuum rather than a sharp dualism) but between the divine Mind (God, Spirit, Principle, Love) and mortal mind (a false mode of thinking that objectifies itself to itself as matter).''
This profoundly altered view, Christian Scientists emphasize, cannot simply be apprehended intellectually but must be won through the Christian ``new birth,'' through a transforming of thought and character that enables man, in St. Paul's words, to have the ``mind of Christ.''
Among the documented healings that Mr. Peel includes in his book is one recounted by John P. Ondrak of Canoga Park, Calif., who sustained an injury while on duty as a New York City police officer. The injury left him permanently disabled. ``...I was advised by orthopedic surgeons that in their medical opinion I would remain a cripple for the rest of my life,'' he stated in an affidavit published in Mr. Peel's book. ``The doctors informed me that the bones in my feet had calcified into almost solid pieces, severely and permanently limiting their flexibility and motion.''
Twelve years later, having exhausted medical resources and contemplated suicide as a way out of his perpetual pain, Mr. Ondrak began to study the Bible and the Christian Science textbook, ``Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures'' by Mary Baker Eddy.
``Now was the time to lean on something much greater than material means and human will,'' he wrote in a testimony originally published in 1982 in The Christian Science Journal. ``My thoughts began to dwell on the sustaining infinite, as each session of study and research poured in flood tides of Truth. The understanding of God as Father-Mother, as perfect Love, and of His tender concern for all His children - including myself - began to dawn in consciousness. The truth that God is All, and that His beloved children reflect His divine perfection, became tangible fact to me.''
His injuries were completely healed, Ondrak wrote.
Today many Christian pastors echo the message that a disciplined, persistent struggle is required to achieve Christianity's goal of a moral and spiritual rebirth. Too many people are seen to be looking for a quick fix and a relief of disease symptoms.
``The ultimate purpose which God has for us is that we draw so close to Him as fully to reflect His image,'' writes Mr. Dalbey. ``This is the work of the Holy Spirit who `transforms us into (God's) likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.' The ultimate healing for us human beings is to become one with God.''
TOWARD that end, say clergy, Christians need to abandon a preoccupation with self and learn to love those who are sick and in despair, a task calling for great effort and sacrifice. ``There's a price to pay for going into the ministry of healing,'' says the Rev. Vernon Stoop, a Protestant pastor in Pennsylvania. ``It takes great endurance, because there's so much woundedness out there.''
``Healing is a function of love,'' says the Reverend Kelsey. ``We can't be channels of the love of God unless we love. Studies have shown that those healers who are the most effective have been channels of love.''
The churches, too, will have to measure up if healing is to become a vital part of Christian practice. In taking churches to task for their ``health and wealth'' philosophy and preoccupation with business and fund raising, thoughtful critics are calling for a renewal of Christian fundamentals.
``We will not become a healing church by virtue of our strength or bigness or ability to get things done,'' writes the Rev. Albert Keller, a Presbyterian clergyman and medical professor, in the Journal of Christian Healing. ``We will get to be a healing church when our own thirst for healing is so great, and the restoration, purposefulness in Christ, and reconciliation are so powerful among us, that healing can't help overflowing into the lives of others, be they individuals or institutions or nations.''
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