Healing is a central part of the Gospel of the Kingdom; it is not a peripheral issue. It was not a peripheral issue to Jesus or the early church. Therefore it should not be to us. But—it seems to be in most churches and denominations. Why? Jesus did not change (Hebrews 13:8)—but the church did.
We know Jesus healed. He revealed the character, nature, and will—the essence of who God is. He demonstrated God’s will at every turn. He commissioned and authorized not only the apostles, but all his disciples to do the works he had done and even greater ones. He also commissioned them to make disciples and train them to do all that he had trained them to do. And that is exactly what that first few generations of believers did.
Over the next three hundred years, the church turned the world upside down through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit as they proclaimed and demonstrated the words of Jesus. The book of Acts is saturated with healing miracles and chronicles the first thirty years of the church. The “gifts of healings” are mention in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. Healing was an integral and normal part of the early gospel message.
The Roman government condemned and persecuted the church, but it could not argue against or get rid of the testimonies of healing that accompanied the followers of Christ. Those powerful manifestations of God’s power could not be denied. The early church fathers, such as Origen and Justin Martyr, wrote of these miracles as they defended their faith. Their writings, as well as many others, are available for anyone to read and they serve as faithful accounts of early church history. Healing miracles did not end with the death of the last apostle—they continued unabated for three to five hundred years.
Sadly, over time the church changed and was affected more by the culture surrounding it and from subtle changes from within. These changes negatively influenced the ministry of healing and over time, it was lost—in the dust of abuse, misuse, and eventually no use.
To be a Christian during those first three hundred years meant you were the real deal. There were no nominal or “Sunday” believers. Christians were persecuted, their property confiscated, and their children taken and sold as slaves. They were shunned in their communities, hunted by government and religious authorities, and killed by gladiators and wild animals in the arenas throughout the Roman Empire. A person claiming to be a follower of Christ was all in or that person was not a part of the church. The cost was too high!
Everything changed when Emperor Constantine saw a vision with a cross and was told that he would conquer in that sign. He place the cross symbol on the shields and breastplates of his soldiers and won a great victory in 312 AD. It is likely he became a patron of the church rather than a believer in Christ, and in 313 AD he signed the Edict of Milan, which legalized the church. In 381 AD, the Christian Church was declared the state church of Rome, bringing throngs of pagans into membership who had never experienced salvation. The purity and power of the church was compromised.
Another event that greatly affected healing was the fall of Rome in 476 AD. With this, the civilized world entered what is known as the Dark Ages. During this time, illiteracy became prevalent and ultimately the Bible—the Word of God—was lost to the common people. People could no longer read, and thus, they had to trust their priests (most of them could not read) to tell them was Scripture taught. This enabled a select few to interpret the Bible and disseminate its truths in ways that would maintain a rigid control of the masses and put huge profits in their pockets.
Survival became the daily toil of the common people. Life was tough and life spans were short. People began to focus on the life to come because they wanted to escape their present struggle. Heaven became the ultimate destination and health and freedom promised by Christ in the present lost its luster.
Biblical healing was quickly becoming covered in the dust of time—buried by compromise and unbelief.
(In my next blog, I will share some specific theological choices and events that helped bury the biblical ministry of healing.)