In our last blog we looked at three separate moments in church history that helped diminish the ministry of healing. I use the word “helped” because it was not a single event, but rather a series of events, teachings, and personalities that when combined swept away the clear instructions of Jesus and left us with a host of faithless theologies and unbelieving believers. Culture, theology, and politics in the church produced a reversal in beliefs and behavior.
Over time, all these things affected the Church’s teaching on spiritual gifts. It moved from a supernatural understanding to one based on natural aspects. Around 600 AD, Pope Gregory the Great issued a new list of spiritual gifts which consisted of wisdom, science, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear (imagine that—a spiritual gift of fear…huh? What about 2 Timothy 1:7 or 1 John 4:18?). Apparently Pope Gregory the Great thought the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and other places were incomplete. He choose not to include the gifts of healings, miracles, prophecy, word of knowledge and word of wisdom in his new and improved list. What the Pope decreed the priests taught and the people believed. Most of them could not read anyway so they had no way of checking what the Bible really said.
Another change took place with a division between the clergy and the laity. The priesthood of every believer was replaced with a priesthood of only the clergy that excluded the common people. And with this false division, a belief arose that soon became the practice of the church—only the bishop could exercise spiritual gifts.
Spiritual gifts did not cease, but regular Christians became fearful of exercising them. Ordinary Christians who gave prophetic words or employed works of healing or did miraculous things were labeled as heretics or witches. They were persecuted and put to death by drowning or burned at the stake. It became unhealthy, even deadly to use the very gifts Jesus had given his church to demonstrate the presence of the kingdom of God.
The interpretational methods of the Bible by the church also contributed to the loss of healing as a viable ministry. The corporate church began to use the miracles, healings, and resurrection that Jesus performed as proof texts to prove the deity of Christ. We tend to forget that although Jesus was one hundred percent God, he was also one hundred percent man. And during the 3 ½ years of his ministry everything he did—he did as man fully dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit and fully obedient to the Father. Otherwise you and I cannot do what Jesus said we could and would do according to John 14:12. Biblically speaking, these things were secondary proofs, but not primary proofs. Jesus healed because God is good and it was a demonstration of the gospel of the kingdom.
Add to this that the church did not distinguish or understand the true meaning of suffering. Jesus and Paul talked about Christian suffering, but they were talking about a persecution for following Christ, not sickness or infirmity. The church mistakenly defined suffering as anything that afflicted you—sickness, diseases, infirmity, poverty, pestilence, etc.—and declared it to be the cross you were to bear and glorify Jesus. In other words, when you are sick it is your cross to bear making you more Christ-like. Sadly, that belief still lives and breathes today in many churches. Many believers will talk about how God allowed, sent, or gave them this sickness or that disease so they could become better Christians. (By the way—that is why God the Father sent his Son to die on the cross. If something else could make you better, the Father wasted the Son.)
The Protestant Reformation recovered the Bible and salvation by grace through faith, but most of the other things that were lost, including healing, were not recovered. In fact, the Protestant Church of today thinks much like the Church of Martin Luther’s day, or the Church of the Dark Ages, or even the Jewish religious system of Jesus’ day.
We have invented all kinds of theologies to explain why God no longer does what he once did and then drape them in the trappings of biblical sounding excuses. Many churches and denominations believe the gifts of healing, as well as the other gifts, disappeared with the death of the last apostle or the canonization of the Scriptures. This is a powerless gospel and is not transforming the culture we live in. These excuses are nothing more than unbelief and a refusal to embrace the dynamic Jesus the Gospels declare. We have become guilty of the very thing that led to the crucifixion of Jesus—his wondrous works threaten our little religious kingdoms and he does not look or act like we think he should.
Biblical healing has been lost because we refuse to contend for it. Instead, we are willing to accept a series of flimsy excuses that attempts to explain why God won’t, don’t, or can’t. God has not changed—but over the centuries the Church has.