September 2022 | Jesus, the Door

Divine Healing: A Pentecostal Perspective
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Divine Healing: A Pentecostal Perspective

Dr. Shaibu Abraham

German theologian Adolf von Harnack once observed that Christianity is “a religion for the sick.” From the beginning Christians were particular in the care for the sick. Bible as a whole affirms Yahweh as healer and especially the New Testament portrays Jesus as God’s agent of healing. In the Old Testament perspective humanity is created in the image of God and the interconnectedness between human and the rest of the creation is a dominant theme. Healing therefore from a biblical perspective cannot be focused on the physical body alone but also include sin-sick soul and a complete restoration of healthy personality of an individual in relation to one’s own surrounding. In the New Testament healing is a sign of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. 

In the healings and the exorcisms of the ministry of Jesus we see the power of the Holy Spirit at work and that results in the extension of the Kingdom of God; “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (Mt. 12:28). Rene Latourelle, a Roman Catholic scholar who studied the miraculous in Jesus’ ministry, said, “Miracles can be seen to be the visible traces of the radical change that in Jesus Christ affects human beings and the universe in which they dwell.” The church was commissioned and empowered by the gifts of healings and working of miracles as a manifestation of the work of the Spirit for the benefit of the whole world. These gifts are means for the extension of the kingdom of God in our midst. Moreover, healing is also a symbolic foreshadowing of the full life to which we are longing for – the redemption of our bodies. It is considered that divine healings as “sign of the eschatological breaking in of the kingdom of God and last days restoration for the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom in all the earth.” For Pentecostals, healing is a means whereby the gospel is proclaimed in both the physical and spiritual dimension of life’s reality. There is no dichotomising of spirit and body as in the western dualism but both are seen as integral parts of whole human person. Thus, healing restores an individual’s sense of wholeness. Consequently, the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements believe that these gifts still continue in the church and they exercise them in the church and society. 

Next to speaking in tongues, the most popular and widely exercised gift of the Spirit in the Pentecostal movement is the gift of healing. Peter Wagner remarks, “I wouldn’t be surprised if some Pentecostals pray for the sick as often as Presbyterians repeat the Lord’s Prayer.” “For Pentecostals, healing and deliverance are constitutive aspects of the gospel,” comments Cheryl Bridges Johns, “They are means whereby the ‘good news’ is proclaimed in both the physical and spiritual dimensions of reality. Such manifestations are reflections of the power of the gospel for the whole person and for the whole of the cosmos.” Here we shall briefly see what divine healing means in the Pentecostal perspective and how it is a means of liberation in the society.

The emergence of the Enlightenment and the age of reason do not provide any space for the existence of the supernatural. Moreover, the Western scientific world-view visualises the reality as mechanistic and deterministic and dichotomise the physical and the spiritual, the body and the spirit. Unlike the Western world-view, the Pentecostals see the reality as a whole without differentiating it into western dualistic categories. For Pentecostals, truth is not limited to reason. The spectrum of knowledge includes cognition, affection and behaviour, each of which is fused to the other two. Pentecostal world-view is trans-rational and closer to post-modern world view. Harvey Cox Comments, 

Having pondered the Pentecostal movement for several years and in many different countries I have a strong hunch that it provides us with an invaluable set of clues, not just about the wider religious upsurge but about an even more comprehensive set of changes…they add up to a basic cultural shift…I do see a major reconfiguration of our most fundamental attitudes and patterns of perception, one that will ultimately alter not just the way some people pray but the ways we all think, feel, work and govern.

According to David Johns, Pentecostalism emerged out of and as an expression of a counter culture. The early Pentecostalism existed outside of the dominant cultural vision. They reacted to the ‘modern’ theological model of liberalism. At the core of Pentecostal world-view is affective experience of God which generates an apocalyptic horizon for reading reality. In this apocalyptic horizon the experience of God is fused to all other perception in the space-time continuum. This apocalyptic experience coupled with the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit enables Pentecostals to be Christ-like witnesses in the society. Thus, this world-view urges Pentecostals to exercise the gifts of healing in a popular dimension. 

Moreover, Pentecostal world-view is one in which evil is a reality and they believe that there are epiphanies of darkness in the world. For them, the world is in a fallen state in which the powers of evil inhabit the created order. The devil, who is the ‘prince of this world,’ is a personal spirit-being who controls the powers of darkness. Much like the ancient church, Pentecostals are engaged in a holy war against the kingdom of darkness. The war is fought in the spiritual realm and does not consist of violence in the physical world. It is fought through the weapons of prayer and often involves fasting…Exorcisms are open confrontations in which the evil ones are cast out and persons rescued for the kingdom of Christ. According to Michael Bergunder, these exorcisms bring Pentecostal believers in direct confrontations with mantiravadis of popular Hinduism and help many to come out of the evil effects of the witchcraft. This, of course brings liberation in spiritual and physical world of a healed person.    

In the ministry of healing there is the expression of the belief that salvation and healing are for the whole person. The laying on of hands and anointing with oil are means whereby Pentecostals give expression to this belief. As recorded in the gospel, Jesus comes as the Great Physician, healing both sin-sick souls and physical wholeness. His touch is one which brings shalom, restoring wholeness. The touch of the divine upon human flesh reveals the good news that even the most weak and despised are worthy to become tabernacle of God’s glory. Thus, the outcasts become vessels of honour through which God makes known the mysteries of the kingdom of God. 

In this way, through the ministry of healing the Pentecostal communities become ‘free spaces’ or zones of liberation created by the Holy Spirit. These free spaces provide for the disposed a new cell taking over from scarred and broken tissue. Within these new cells, a ‘new faith’ is able to implant new discipline, re-order priorities and reverse the indifferent and injurious hierarchies of the outside world. Jose Miguez Bonino, the Methodist Latin American liberation theologian says, 

It is apparent from their actions that Pentecostals move beyond a simple message of evangelism to an active involvement in alleviating pain and suffering in the physical realm. In a society that systematically denies them access to the basic human rights and marginalises them in huge slums and shantytowns, the Pentecostals, through the impetus of their spiritual experience, have been endowed with a sense of dignity and worth. Such experience, motivated by a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit, works its way out in very practical terms. Their vibrant faith gives them the courage and hope to demand a better existence for themselves. Pentecostal reality is not a passive escape from social responsibility, but on the contrary, the creation of new existence for the popular masses of Latin America.  

Thus, the divine healing of the body brings a new outlook in the life of the healed people and of course it sows the seed of the kingdom of God.   

Gift of healing is greatly needed in our age. It is more than rectifying the disorders of the body; it makes God present to the one healed and to all those joined to that person. F. Martin expresses this fact in obvious terms. To heal a poor person of the effects malnutrition is to reverse a process created by the structures of sin of which the person may be an innocent victim. To heal a person of AIDS is to claim the victory of the cross of Christ not only over physical disorder, but also over the very forces of death that lead to eternal ruin. To heal an angry or anxious person of heart disease or cancer is to initiate a process of reconciliation and restoration that derives from the power of the cross. To free a person from the clutches of evil forces means to open a new vista of reality in physical and spiritual realms. 

However, Pentecostal theologian Frank Macchia cautions us that one should think critically about sickness in terms of social injustice and poverty. He contends that, “The problem with much of the popular teaching of Pentecostal evangelists on healing is its implicit isolation of sickness from the broader plight of human injustice and suffering. Also involved in this emphasis is the isolation of healing from the work of the Spirit of God in all of the creation to bring redemption and liberation. As a consequence, this popular teaching on healing also tends to be isolated from the final eschatological redemption of the body and renewal of that will occur when the kingdom of God comes in fullness.” This is an important critique of popular Pentecostalism. Nonetheless, within a fuller theological framework, Pentecostals understand divine healing “a means of achieving deeper solidarity with the oppressed and the suffering creation as well as with the Spirit of redemption at work in healing,” and “more than any other aspect of Pentecostal spirituality and belief this provides a potential corrective to a onesided emphasis on inwardness and otherworldliness that tends to dominate Pentecostalism.”

Today the gift of healing operates through the believing community for the community and for the needy in the world as in the days of Jesus. When we are being filled with love and compassion as Jesus had, the Holy Spirit will make use of us as channels of liberation to the society. However, Young-Gi Hong cautions us that we need to integrate God’s faithfulness (i.e. faithfulness to God’s healing promises) and God’s freedom (i.e. the choice of how and when to heal) in our theology. 

Thus, Pentecostals understand divine healing as a means of achieving deeper solidarity with the oppressed and the suffering creation as well as with the Spirit of redemption at work in healing. More than any other aspect of Pentecostal spirituality and belief this provides a potential corrective to a one-sided emphasis on inwardness and otherworldliness that tends to dominate Pentecostalism. What Wagner says is apt, “Praying for the sick and casting out demons are New Testament practices which should not hastily be pushed outside of the sphere of Christian experience. The influence of secularism and scientism has dulled the edge of Christian sensitivity to these matters, undoubtedly to Satan’s advantage.”  

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