The Spiritual Gifts: Responding to the Faith-Healing Movement

The real danger of false teaching is the truth that it contains within it. Often, heretical movements start with some element of truth, but it is usually overemphasized to the exclusion of other important truths. In other words, it makes a partial truth the whole truth. Such is certainly the case in the Faith-Healing Movement. The Faith-Healing Movement overemphasizes the role of faith in Biblical healing.

It is, of course, true that faith is related to healing in the New Testament. Even a cursory reading of Jesus’ healing miracles in the gospels reveals this relationship. So, Jesus can actually say, “Your faith has made you well” (Matt. 9:22; Luke 17:19). And in Mark 10:46-52 Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus, saying, “Go, your faith has healed you.” But faith is exercised in diverse ways throughout these healing accounts. So sometimes it is the faith of the one being healed, at other times it is the faith of others on the part of the one needing healing (Mark 2:5, 11). In Mark 9, Jesus rebukes the disciples for not having enough faith to heal a demon-possessed boy (Mark 9:17-19). Faith has a relationship, then, to healing, though it is not always in the manner we might think. More generally, the author of Hebrews makes clear that faith is part and parcel of what it means to approach God rightly. He writes:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Heb. 11:16)

Faith is an important element in our relationship with God, our approach of Him, and even in our pursuit of healing from Him. To say anything less than that is to ignore the testimony of Scripture.

We can, at some level, understand the importance of faith. A lack of faith in our requests of God does not honor Him. It does not recognize the glory, power, and love of our God to approach Him with uncertainty about His majesty, strength, or compassion. Faith is important because it is an aspect of our worship. As Sam Storms has written:

Yet another expression of faith is our confidence in God’s character, specifically, his disposition or heart for healing. This relates primarily to our trust in God’s goodness and his commitment to build up and restore. God is overflowing in compassion, and healing is a window into his heart for the welfare and blessing of his people (see Luke 11:11-13). It’s also important that we have faith that God actually does heal in our day and time. To say, “God, I don’t know if this is something you still do today, but just in case it is, I’m going to ask you to heal me” is not an expression of the sort of faith that God delights to honor with the impartation of his power. (Practicing the Power, 71)

We ought to pray with confidence and some level of expectancy.

Yet, at the same time, the Faith-Healing movement has ignored other passages in Scripture that do not support their view. While faith is important the New Testament does not reveal to us that faith is determinative of God’s activity; plenty of passages demonstrate that God operates, even heals, when faith is lacking. So, for example, the father of the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9 states flatly that he has “unbelief,” yet Jesus heals despite it. In Matthew 8:2 the leper believes that Jesus has the power to heal, but he questions whether Jesus will. His faith is weak at best. Yet, Jesus heals. In the gospel of John there is not a single account of faith being evident in healing. John 5:1-9 is just one example. The invalid who lay beside the pool of Bethesda, when asked by Jesus if he wanted to be healed simply referred to his problems. Jesus heals him without any notion of faith. Faith, in other words, is not always instrumental.

The lives, sufferings, and deaths of the apostles themselves remind us that faith does not always mean escape from sorrow. Paul is beheaded. Peter and Andrew are crucified. Thomas is run through with spears. Philip is put to death by Roman Proconsul. Matthew is said to have been stabbed to death in Ethiopia. There are multiple accounts, none confirmed, about how Bartholomew was martyred, and Simon the Zealot is likewise said to have been killed in Persia possibly. James is stoned to death, and Mathias is said to have been burned. John is the only who lives to old age, but he does so in exile on the Isle of Patmos. None of Jesus’ closest friends escapes suffering, and we can hardly suggest taht they lacked faith.

The unbiblical emphasis on faith’s role in producing healing has led to related major issues within the movement’s theology and practice. For example, the Faith-Healing movement has developed an approach to God that is largely manipulative. God is obligated to heal if we have enough faith and express that faith in the right way. With the right words, or right mannerism we can essentially get God to do whatever we ask. So, God is less the sovereign ruler of the universe, and more like a cosmic genie ready at our beck and call.

Secondly, The Faith-Healing Movement has also has no theology of suffering. Within the pages of Scripture we find that suffering can serve a good, even godly, purpose. But the Faith-Healing Movement doesn’t see any of that. Suffering is always to be avoided, always to be shunned, and if you are suffering it is simply because you lack faith. Often the leaders in this movement sound more like Job’s friends than the rest of the Scriptures. Suffering serves many valuable purposes according to Scripture, such as strengthening faith and building character (Rom. 5:1-5; James 1:2-4). Suffering can also serve to keep us dependent upon God (2 Cor. 12:7). But Faith-Healing misses all of this truth for their overemphasis on the determinative role of faith.

Like all false theologies, the Faith-Healing movement takes the needle of truth and buries it in the haystack of error. There are truths to be appreciated in the movement, but they are overemphasized to the point of loss, they are overemphasized to the point of excluding other important truths. The Bible sees faith as important but not determinative, and if we read the Bible carefully then we should see that too.

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