After reading the stories coming out of china I questioned my own experience. Why is it so easy for people in China to pray for others? Whereas, here in the West, we don't have people seeking out a christian to pray for healing. In the West, many dismiss the idea, most are just indifferent, in any case it is a very different response. In China, religious concern over matters of health and physical well-being is fueled by two factors: culture and economics. The two factors reveal how God has providentially set up China to be open to prayers for divine healing. 

1. Socioeconomic level

At the socioeconomic level, there is a lack of medical care for the majority of the people. Chronic illness is the number one cause of impoverishment in China. [1] Contrary to the political promises of the CCPD, 75 years of socialism has only produced a scandalous insufficiency of medical care for a majority of the population.

“Medical care has long benefited a privileged elite only…Medical care in China is not free, and often doctors must be bribed to gain their full attention. Health insurance systems are nonexistent in rural areas, and large segments of China's peasant population can simply not afford to seek sound treatment in the cities, while the cheaper doctors at the village and township levels are usually poorly trained.” [2] 

The lack of medical care has led to a desperation among many for healing. Such a need is often an open door to receive prayer. 

2. Religious/cultural level 

Chinese people have always put a strong focus on health, diet, and spiritual and physical energies as understood by Daoism. Daoism is a truly indigenous Chinese religion and it has a lot to say about the topic. Daoist alchemy forms the basis for much of the Chinese view of health. In Daoism, physical well-being is seen as an outward sign of the believer's harmony with the Dao, whereas illness is understood as a symptom of religious imperfection. It developed theories about the connection between sin and sickness, meditation and healing. Spiritual purification is obtained through prayer and meditation.  The practicer of the Dao was viewed as going to the root of sickness as it enabled them to appease the evil spirits or correct any imbalance responsible for maladies. [3]  Daoism’s answers to human problems of sickness are intriguing half-truths which, from a Christian perspective, make for whole lies. Yet, its larger influence allows for an openness to healing prayers by the general population.   

Unlike the materialistic Western mindset, the Chinese mindset, influenced by Daoist thinking, holds as plausible the idea that physical problems can have spiritual solutions. Ideas such as: evil spirits can afflict the body, or, prayer can bring real, measurable healing. These ideas are seen as suspect or outright ridiculed in the Western medical establishment. Yet in China, these ideas, as they are understood on a cultural and popular level, make for an openness to alternative means of healing. Thus, people are open to the possibility of prayer for divine healing and even deliverance as a means of healing. Due to this openness, Christian believers do not shy away from telling unbelievers (often neighbors and friends) who are ill they should believe in Jesus for their recovery. This is not to say that signs and wonders are not needed in the West. That is most definitely not the case. It is to point out that we have particular hurdles to overcome that are not present in China. 

The Chinese context is one of a need for healing and an openness when it comes to divine healing. The numerous reports of divine healings, especially in the rural areas, often open the way for outsiders to ask for prayer. The result is that unbelievers who do not find a cure within the established medical system often seek out Christians and ask them for prayer so that they can be healed. This has led to a rather forthright approach on the side of Christians. Oblau quotes Zhang Guangming, a peasant evangelist in Yunnan Province. Zhang explains the way he prepares unbelievers for prayer. He often begins by telling non-Christians who request his prayer for healing: “I will gladly pray for you to my God. But if you don't recover, you must not blame me. And if you recover, you should not thank me but give thanks to my God.” [4]. Oblau goes on to explain how God has used this man to lead whole villages to the Lord. The pattern outlined by the evangelist is indicative of the method used by many believes in China. 

Healing is considered a sign of the kingdom. Jesus taught his disciples that when someone is healed to tell them the kingdom has come near (Luke 10:9). So, when people are healed, we know that the kingdom has come in power. To use a modern metaphor, “signs of the kingdom” are the purest form of gorilla marketing. [5] Guerrilla marketing is a marketing tactic in which a company uses surprising and/or unconventional interactions in order to promote something. It often relies on small scale, personal interaction to get the word out in a particular location rather than through sensational ads or celebrity endorsements in a widespread “blitzkrieg” media campaign.  While the gospel is no product but rather the power of God unto salvation, and the kingdom is no gimmick, but God’s rule and reign made evident on the earth, we can see parallels between the way God moves in power and this marketing concept. A local church is nothing more than a small band of believers taking hold of the responsibility for getting the word out in a particular location who use surprising and unconventional interactions that involve the kingdom coming in power.  It is also important to note that when power is experienced in a smaller context, through personal interaction, it is more easily pastored but can also be highly leveraged for the kingdom. 


[1] Katrin Fiedler, “The Growth of the Protestant Church in Rural China,”  China Study Journal  (Spring– Summer 2008): 49

[2] Gotthard Oblau,  “Divine Healing and the Growth of Practical Christianity in China,” in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, Edt. Candy Gunther Brown (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011) 

[3] M. Kobayashi, “The Celestial Masters under the Eastern Jin and Liu-Song Dynasties,”  Taoist Resources  3.2 (May 1992): 17–46.  

[4] Gotthard Oblau,  “Divine Healing and the Growth of Practical Christianity in China,” in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, Edt. Candy Gunther Brown (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011) 312

[5] The term is a bit dated but still common among the marketing chads and bros.


Divine healing can also be understood biblically in a holistic sense. Some point to how the Greek word for save means wholeness. Others highlight the full scope of the meta-narrative to support the view. A holistic view affirms that God’s healing power is understood to extend to the transformation of individuals and communities. The belief that the gospel brings wholeness, which extends into healing in all its aspects, has been a transformative concept for the church in China. Such an inclusive concept of health existents God’s power into all aspects of the community. Where ordinary christians, in ordinary ways are used to bring extraordinary healing and flourishing to people and communities. This is the way.

A real world examples of this can be seen all over China. The below narrative of God’s grassroots transformation of a community is taken from Oblau’s field notes, recorded in Fujian Province (May 1997):  

Xiyang, an extremely poor village in the coastal mountains of Fujian Province. Church history in Xiyang village covers scarcely 30 years. It originated through three experiences, one of sudden death and two of apparently divine healing. A young girl from Xiyang had been sold by her parents into marriage to a man from another province. When she arrived at her in-laws', her fiancé had suddenly died. But instead of blaming her for bringing bad luck, which would have been expected, the grieving parents received her in generous hospitality. They turned out to be Christians, and under their influence the young woman from Xiyang became a Christian herself. After some time, she moved home to Xiyang, where she openly confessed her faith but managed to win over only a few elderly women, until one day a nine-year-old boy fell into the village pond and almost drowned. He was pulled out of the water unconscious and carried home. Since the village had no real road connection and the next clinic was very far, his parents and their neighbors resigned themselves to his fate. The Christian believers, however, came and sat at the boy's bedside, asking God for the boy's life, until many hours later he awoke and recovered quickly and fully. As a result, many young people and entire families joined the Christian group.


Later, a young woman called You Muhua married into Xiyang. She was a recent Christian convert. Prayers in her aunt's house church had reputedly cured her from chronic fatigue and turned her into a fervent Christian. Her personal healing testimony plus her record of nine years of schooling gave her sufficient credentials to be put in charge of preaching and pastoring in the emerging house church.  Meanwhile, the social situation of the area was unhealthy and disheartening. Some young men had been sentenced to death and executed for crimes, including piracy. Poverty and destitution had led them to seek their fortune by robbing and sometimes murdering people down the coast. You's husband, too, had been involved in criminal activities. The young Christian woman, however, managed to win him over, and told all who were willing to hear that the Lord Jesus wanted people to repent from their wrongdoings and in turn would provide for their sustenance. Xiyang's new converts developed an active social life. A visitation team looked regularly after all Christian families and cared for the sick, a production team organized assistance during times of sowing and harvesting for families with insufficient labor power, a know-how team of several young people was sent to the county town to attend courses in mushroom growing and the tending of orange trees. They shared their newly acquired knowledge with Christians and non-Christians alike, and the entire village population benefited from the Christian presence in numerous ways. When the Christian congregation had outgrown You's family courtyard, the local Communist cadres provided a piece of land for a special price and helped to build a church. They had become sympathetic to Christianity as they observed how it brought social and economic development and drastically lowered the crime rate. A simple brick structure was erected. As people leave the building now, they pass underneath an inscription above the door which reads “Peace to those who go out.” [1] 

[1] Gotthard Oblau,  “Divine Healing and the Growth of Practical Christianity in China,” in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, Edt. Candy Gunther Brown (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011) 324-325

In China, the following testimonies are typical of the part healing prayers play in evangelism. Below are several testimonies from Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, Oxford University Press, 2011. Each of these testimonies have been peer reviewed and verified for publications.

A common testimony 1 

I used to be a party member . . .  . So of course I was an atheist, I didn't believe in anything. But then my daughter contracted some kind of heart disease . . .  . We were so poor; we didn't have much money for expensive treatments. At that time, someone introduced the Gospel to me. I started to pray and became a believer . . .  . My daughter also believed. After ten days, she could leave the hospital because she was much better. After that, my whole family became Christian.  . . .  And the really miraculous thing is: Since then, none of us has ever been back to the hospital ever. We didn't have to spend one penny on health care!   [1]

A common testimony 2

My neighbor fell seriously ill. She was hospitalized, but the doctors couldn't help her…. She tried what she could to regain her health. Finally she said, “I will try and become a Christian now, then the other Christians will come to pray for me. Perhaps that will help.” The woman was indeed healed!    [2]      

Testimony of a peasant woman from Li Shuying

(In this testimony, the distinction between the spirits of Daoism and the Jesus of Christianity is clearly seen. Especially note how the peasant women is awed by Jesus’ graciousness. She emphasizes that Jesus does not demand money or sacrifices, but simply responds to prayers and hymn singing.)

About ten years ago, I suffered from serious anemia. I fainted frequently; but in order to earn a living, I had to sell fruit every day on the streets. One day, I overheard someone say that I was possessed by six demons. I was very frightened and asked the help of a sorceress. I spent a lot of money with her, but my health was not a bit improved. Another day, while selling fruit, I heard some strangers reciting unfamiliar words which I later learned were the Ten Commandments. These people claimed that Jesus was the greatest god and could heal the most stubborn illness. I hurried home to tell my husband what I had heard on the street, adding that I was determined to seek this greatest god. My husband, however, mistook the word Jesus for Zushi [founder of Daoism], because the two sound familiar in Hakka. But I knew it could not be Zushi, for I remember clearly that this god, Jesus, did not take chickens or ducklings as offerings.  Then, months later, I came across a preacher named Jiang Yunying and I inquired about Jesus. She first taught me to sing a hymn of praise. I was so anxious to seek God, I memorized the whole hymn and it has stayed in my heart: “Opening the door we see the blue sky. Do not worry about firewood, or about money. Do not worry about rice, or about clothing. For all these are in the hands of the Lord.”  . . .  Every Sunday I asked my husband to take me [to church] to Huacheng by bicycle, a journey of 17 miles one way. It was through [the preacher's] influence that I learned to be an honest person. Like all hawkers, I too often gained extra advantage at the expense of the customer. To be a Christian means that I must never cheat again. In practical terms, I lost money in my business. This antagonized even my own mother, but I cared little about the derision and taunting of others. On the contrary, I felt enthusiastic and shared with them what I learned from the church.  Now, my anemia is gone, my whole family, including my mother, are Christians, and my business is good. With all these blessings, how could I ever forget to thank the Lord?   [3]       

Testimony of a professor turned preacher 

A retired physics professor turned preacher in Jiujiang (Jiangxi Province) relayed to the interviewers an account of how he came to believe in divine healing. 

While traveling to villages around his city, he was approached by a farmer who had a tumor the size of a soccer ball on his leg. This farmer had been to a hospital and was informed that his condition was too serious to be remedied by any other (Western or traditional) cure than an operation. Like most farmers in China, however, he lacked health insurance, and the necessary operation would have cost more than he earned in a year. He thus had few options besides asking prayer for healing. As a scientist who had worked in an ideological environment of enlightened materialism and as a church worker trained in “western” theology, the preacher was skeptical about divine healing. However, due to the farmer's urging and out of love for this poor, stricken man, the preacher gave in and said a prayer, since he could not help him financially. When he visited the village again a few weeks later, the farmer came running toward him, greeted him enthusiastically, then pulled up one trouser leg to show him that the tumor had all but disappeared.   [4]    

Testimony from a female leader in Shaanxi Province  

The healing of my daughter was just the beginning of my faith. But there is a lot of faith healing around here. In most cases, people first start asking about Christ when they are sick. They don't have any other way to go. To believe in Christ is their last resort, when nothing else is possible. When they have received Christ, they also realize the need for change and repentance. Of course, those who are ill and experience other obstacles on their life roads need to believe in Christ, but those who don't have these obstacles need to believe even more . . .  . Because we don't just believe in Jesus for reasons of our flesh, our body. We need the salvation of our souls. Faith is not just for now, it is also for the future . . .  . So, if you are healed, you should believe, but if you are not healed, you should also believe. Because faith is not only for our life on earth.  [5]

China church DNA: Prayer, Care and Love 

The connection between religious conversion and healing from an illness may not always be as simple as the testimonies suggest. As Oblau has pointed out, healing prayer is practiced in a natural way by everyone. Thus, it is not an isolated ritual abstracted from the context of community but an integral part of life in community. It is one aspect of the loving, comforting, and supportive attention shown to the hurting by the church. 

So it is not just a spectacular healing that brings Chinese people to the faith but also the care for one another observed by outsiders. Oblau notes that in his own experience, many attest to seeing the apparent commitment and care with which the church representatives keep visiting their members in the hospital. Such observations produce appreciation often leading to curiosity. Further, in China, family is important. The virtues of loyalty and love within the family are common. Yet rarely, if ever, does it extend out beyond the bounds of blood. What makes Christianity so attractive in China is the expansion of traditional family values to the extended family of the church. That people help each other though they are not blood relatives causes astonishment and admiration from outsiders. Even when prayers do not seem to bring immediate healing, those receiving prayer are often observed to experience a betterment of life. A spectacular recovery often gets people’s attention, but it is the care and familial bond among the faithful that makes Christianity attractive. 

Oblau points to a holistic view of healing as a central of the Chinese church's view of divine healing. It is never about a Holy Spirit whammy. Where everything is made right in a moment, almost magically, like the end of a Disney movie. God never works that way for we are all works in process. Pastors should also not work that way. It takes more than an a hand on your forehead with a strong shazam to bring wholeness. It takes community, not celebrity, to make people whole. This consumeristic, prepackaged, Amazon-shipped, view of healing that claims instantaneous cures without personal engagement and community involvement is a doctrinal virus in need of eradication. Divine healing can happen in a moment. The dead are raised. The lame walk. God moves in power and the sick are made whole. But that is not the end of the story, only the beginning, the start of a path to wholeness if one is willing to walk it. 

The Chinese church understands that the gospel brings wholeness. The healing found in Christianity extends to all aspects of life; relational, physical, spiritual, emotional. Yet, this process happens as prayer, care, and the love of Christ are practiced in community. In this way, God’s healing power is experienced as love and care are actualized in terms of social support, nurturing human relationships, and improved living conditions. In this sense, healing is a process of unfolding wholeness. So in reality, a personally experienced health crisis, help received, and betterment felt (with or without full healing) becomes the starting point for the majority of converts in China’s churches.  


In the next blog, we will look deeper into the Chinese church's holistic view of healing. Also see our playlist on healing  found on Remnant’s  Youtube page



[1] Währisch-Oblau, interview, Shaanxi Province (1997).       

[2] Währisch-Oblau, interview, Zhejiang Province (1991). These events took place during the Cultural Revolution, when all religious activities were officially banned.   

[3] Areopagus: Magazine of the Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre  (Advent 1993): 28.    

[4] Währisch-Oblau, field notes (Feb. 1993). 

[5] Währisch-Oblau, field notes, Shaanxi Province (1997).

Normalizing healing is an aim here at Remnant. By this, we mean normalizing the practice of praying for healing, believing that God will meet His people if we seek, knock, and ask. It means believing God continues to bring His “kingdom in power.” We believe Jesus commissioned His church to proclaim the gospel. If we ask that proclamation can be accompanied with signs following (Mark 16:19-20; Heb 2:3-4; Acts 4:29-30). 

Where do we begin? What model do we hold out as faithful to the mission? I believe all would agree, the need of every community of faith, no matter the context, is a growing trust in God’s Word and a deepening life of prayer. The testimony of the Chinese church is a good example to hold out to us all. Oblau describes the Chinese church’s commitment to living out the Word (He also delivers a funny quips): 

“Chinese Christians tend to read the Bible literally and prescriptively. For them, there is no historical-critical or theological gap between the text and their present-day reality. They are definitely not cessationists. Biblical healing stories go hand-in-hand with reports circulated in villages today.”[1]

He quotes a church elder in eastern China, explaining why they believe in praying for healing:  

In Christ, our Lord, we can see God's love. His love is the same yesterday, today and certainly in the future, too. Because His love does not change, we who believe and follow Him can do what the Lord has allowed us to do: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. When the Lord Jesus Christ lived on earth almost 2000 years ago, He helped a lot of sick and wretched people. Our church today is in no other situation at all! There are still many suffering and miserable people in our midst. [2]

The elder outlines a problem and a solution that has not changed in 2000 years.. The problem is the world is full of hurting people. The solution is Jesus. It is a s simple as it is profound. Let’s look a little deeper at these ideas. 

First, the Chinese church sees the world as a mass of hurting humanity because of the fall. In the fall, the world became a collection of dehumanizing powers. Sin brought death and the consequences of death brought corruption, and sickness. The West gets this backwards, the Chinese church does not. We, in the West, define what is normal by what is natural. Our experience of the world shapes what we think is normal. We often see miracles and healing as the disruption of the natural order. As if we live in the natural order of things. When God does something supernatural — we often interpret it as unnatural. Yet miracles, and especially healing, are not interruptions of the natural order; they are the restoration of the Creator’s natural order.  We think sickness, disease, and death are natural. They are not. They are unnatural. Those unnatural things broke into God’s good world that he made and corrupted it, bringing a dehumanizing influence into a good world. 

Second, The gospel message that Jesus has done it all and is doing all to save humanity, and this includes restoration of health that can be experienced in this life. Physical healing is understood as a foretaste of the bodily resurrection to come. Believers have no need to postpone all hope to a heavenly existence but expects resurrection power to become effective at any place and moment, in the here and now. On a grassroots level, Chinese Christians take initiative and mobilize people to pray for healing and wholeness of anyone willing to receive it. For they believe, as C.S. Lewis described, that the effects of the cross and resurrection meant, “Death itself would start working backwards.”[3]

Seeing Restoration in a Dehumanizing World. 

The Chinese approach to healing is simple and direct. It is rooted in a commitment to the Bible; its story as their story and its God as their God. It also centers on the needs of hurting people and the God that can meet that need in practical ways. In light of their understanding of sickness, testimonies of divine healing are stories of protest. They tell of people who do not resign themselves to the vicious circle of illness, pain, and sickness. The message for those hurting is one of hope. It is a message, where sickness is not absolute and help is only a prayer away. Yet such prayers are not seen as instantaneous escapism through mystical means but a progressive restoration one prayer at a time. Knowing, just as Lewis, that God never wastes our pain but from conversion to consumption is in a process of making us whole. And even if the healing is slow, we confess with Lewis, “Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” [4]

These stories are underdog stories. Stories of death running in reverse. Stories of Heaven working backwards to bring an outpost of restoration in this mass of human suffering. So, our brothers and sisters in the East, pray against the status quo of sickness and suffering, knowing God is moving against the flow of sin and sickness in this world. So many in the West get it backwards. We consider the simple to be foolish. Yet, with God all things are possible and God uses the foolish things to confound the wise, as Währisch-Oblau observes:  

“Simple, poor, uneducated people gain access to the power of God through their prayers. In so doing, these people show themselves to be more powerful than those who are usually invested with power: more powerful than doctors with their university degrees, and more powerful than party officials who have not succeeded in providing a functional health care system.” [5] 

In the next few blogs, we will look at some testimonies of healing in China and what we can learn from them. Also see our playlist on healing  found on Remnant’s  Youtube page



[1] Gotthard Oblau,  “Divine Healing and the Growth of Practical Christianity in China,” in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, Edt. Candy Gunther Brown (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011) 324.

[2] Währisch-Oblau, field notes (May 1995).      

[3] C.S. Lewis, “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,” (New York: HarpersCollins, reprint, 2002) 171.

[4] C.S. Lewis, “The Great Divorce,” (New York: HarpersCollins, 1946), 69.

[5] Währisch-Oblau, “God Can Make Us Healthy,” 98.




In Chapter 15 of “Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing” put out by Oxford University Press, in 2011, Gotthard Oblau writes on his research into the role divine healing had in the rapid growth of Christianity in China. 

From 1985 to 1997, Oblau was employed by a state-approved Chinese medical agency, the Amity Foundation. His job gave him a chance to travel the country far and wide, affording him the opportunity to gather stories and testimonies of divine healing in China. 

At the time he was in China, Christian believers accounted for 3–5 percent of the overall population. Yet Protestant communities were growing like someone put fertilizer in their shoes. The growth was so rapid that the majority of all Protestants were first-generation Christians. 

The question for many was, why were so many Chinese people deciding to become Christians? The answer among academics was that it was the result of the moral and ethical fruits of Christian religion. Yet, on a grassroots level, the answer was radically different. After reviewing his research, Oblau concludes:

Divine healing, understood as both the restoration of physical bodies and in a more holistic sense as the transformation of individuals and communities, may be the single most important factor explaining the extraordinary growth of Christianity in China. [1]

Oblau recorded many stories about healing experiences, and prayers for the sick. His observations were not isolated but were collaborated by other international observers and many Chinese colleagues. Some of the conclusions made in his chapter: 

    • Divine healing in China is in a context of poor medical care and Daoist-inspired preoccupation with health. 
    • Divine healing in China is seen as holistic transformation and not just healing of the body. 
    • Divine healing in China is often an entry point into Christian faith   

Two key theological factors related to divine healing in China: 

    1. Everybody does it! Prayers for divine healing are a universal practice among Christians in China. The practice of divine healing prayers is not exclusive to one group or denomination. It cuts across the urban-rural divide as well as denominational lines. Testimonies about divine healing experiences are a regular and widespread phenomenon among Protestant Christians in China. In China, it permeates protestant Christianity as a whole, registered and unregistered congregations, in rural and urban communities.

The universal practice of divine healing across denominational lines has led many to point to the influence of the Pentecostal movement. While it may be fair to claim that China's Christianity as a whole does carry a pentecostal flavor, this flavor can’t be attributed to some doctrinal distinctive, but to the fact that committed and ardent passion for God looks the same no matter the creed or confession.

2. The democratization of prayer for divine healing. In China, the practice of divine healing prayers has been democratized. The Chinese understanding of the classic Protestant principle of the priesthood of all believers includes the practice of healing prayers. Any Christian can say a simple prayer for somebody else's recovery, while the actual miracle is expected from God's supernatural power. The faith needed is considered implicit in the act of praying to the Christian God. Thus, faith is defined as going to the only one who can actually help. 

Prayer for divine healing as a function of the priesthood of all believers has support in scripture. The command for such a practice is located in the commissioning of the 72 disciples. In Luke 9:1-2, Jesus commissions the twelve apostles and “sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” Then again in Luke 10, Jesus sends out a larger group to do mission work. Luke writes, “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few…. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.’” . Among the instructions he gives to them, Jesus states, “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”(Luke 10:9). 

It seems clear in Luke, that not only are the twelve apostles commanded to heal the sick, but a similar command was also given to the seventy-two “ordinary” disciples as they were sent out. The command in Luke 10 is often taken to be a universal command and in harmony with the great commission. This commission is applies to all believers as part of their priestly service before the Lord. Further, it is commonly held that every believer has  priestly access to God in prayer.  Any christian may come before the Father as a holy priest of God, and make a request, be heard, and stand in hopeful expectation of receiving an answer. 

So, as stated above, among Christians in China there appears to be a common conviction that any single believer can pray for the sick and expect healing. Countless testimonies like the one below reflect this fact: 

“When my son started to get worse, I became more and more desperate...  but there was an old woman in the hospital who believed in Jesus. Pretty soon she kept coming and praying with me for the child. And then he started to get better.”  [2]

As international observer Claudia Währisch-Oblau concludes:  

It cannot be stressed enough that prayers for the sick in China take place “democratically,” i.e., without any one person specifically assigned to this role and with virtually no fixed ritual applied. Illiterate peasant women as well as university professors and pastors ordained decades ago, as well as newly converted Christians, all pray for those who are sick, without any sense that a special gift or training is needed for this. This is possible because of the extreme simplicity of procedures: There is rarely any laying on of hands, no anointing with oil, no ecstatic prayers, no falling and “resting in the Spirit,” no holy water, no specific place or situation for healing prayers. [3] 

They just pray and leave the rest to God. Thus, the practice of healing prayer is low key (as the kids say). 

The Historical and Social Shape of the Practice

The Chinese practice of divine healing prayers is drastically different from the expression in the West. The best way to observe the difference is by looking at what is absent from the Chinese church’s practice when compared to the church in the West. Below is a list of practices Oblau found to be absent from the church’s expression in China:  

    • A christian needing a spiritual gift of healing to operate in divine healing is downplayed. 
    • No particular healing ministries are relied upon as necessary.
    • Healing crusades are unheard of and utterly unfathomable in a Chinese context. 
    • Special church services for the sick are extremely rare. 

Given the “everyone participates” attitude, any sensational showmanship like we see in the West was unloaded for a more stripped down version. In the East, prayers for the sick are conducted with little fanfare and “spectacle”.  

The low-key approach to divine healing does have sociological origins and is not an indictment of the cultural practices in the West. The development of this low-key approach can be traced back to two factors within the social development of the Church in China. 

    1. A persecuted church produces a striped down liturgy.

The simplicity corresponds with the style of worship and liturgy. An average worship service involves hymn singing, praying, Bible reading, and some sharing of religious encouragement. Often all performed by leaders with rudimentary religious training. The liturgy developed during times of intense religious persecution. Times when church buildings were closed and pastors sent away for manual labor, often never to be seen again.

2. Continuing outside pressure reinforces simplicity of practice.

Legal and political pressure played a role in shaping the simplicity of the practice. The way they practice healing prayers may be seen as an act of self-protection. The communist government is firmly atheist, as their governing documents reflect. China’s constitution states that, “no person is permitted to use religion to conduct counterrevolutionary activities or activities which disrupt social order [or] harm people's health.” The last clause is problematic for many influential party members, and political leaders count the practice of “exorcising spirits to cure illnesses” among the “feudal superstitious activities” that are incompatible with the progress of socialism as well as China's modernization. [4]    

A Community of Prayer 

If everyone can pray for healing and prayers are practiced in a “low key” way, then what does it look like in the life of the community? The answer is surprisingly simple. The universal, democratized practice of divine healing looks like a community of faith that cares. Oblau gives us a description of love actualized within the church: 

Prayers for the sick, present or absent, are also common in midweek Christian meetings and in prayer and Bible groups, whether they convene in churches or in private homes. Church members pay visits to fellow believers who are sick at home or in the hospital. Many congregations organize rosters of people responsible for such visits. It is clear that Christians in China who fall ill will seldom have to suffer in isolation but will become the center of loving attention from their congregation. [5]

The love for those inside the church is not self-contained, turning back on itself but overflows and extends outward in prayers to those not of the flock. 

Healing prayers for non-Christians are not uncommon either. Individual Christians may pray for sick family members, neighbors, colleagues, or people who share their hospital ward. In praying for those unfamiliar with Christianity, Chinese Christians commonly disavow their own gifting and emphasize God's agency in healing. [6]

In the next few blogs, we will look at the theology of healing in China and what we can learn from them. Also see our playlist on healing  found on Remnant's  Youtube page.




[1] Gotthard Oblau,  “Divine Healing and the Growth of Practical Christianity in China, in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing”, Edt. Candy Gunther Brown (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011) 325.

[2]  Claudia Währisch-Oblau, interview, Zhejiang Province (Apr. 1991).        

[3] Claudia Währisch-Oblau, “God Can Make Us Healthy Through and Through: On Prayers for the Sick and the Interpretation of Healing Experiences in Christian Churches in China and African Immigrant Congregations in Germany,”  International Review of Mission: Journal of the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches  [Geneva] 90.356–357 (Jan.–Apr. 2001): 89.     

[4]  Article 36, qtd. in  Donald MacInnis, “Religion in China Today: Policy and Practice”  (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1989), 35, 404. 

[5] Gotthard Oblau, “Divine Healing and the Growth of Practical Christianity in China, in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing”, Edt. Candy Gunther Brown (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011) 312.

[6] Gotthard Oblau,  “Divine Healing and the Growth of Practical Christianity in China, in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing”, Edt. Candy Gunther Brown (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011) 312.



In Jeremiah chapters 37 though 39, it records the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. In chapters 37-38, just prior to the fall, Jeremiah is imprisoned for speaking about the coming judgment and claiming God's way to avoid such destruction was to surrender to Babylon. Neither the people nor their leaders heeded Jeremiah's words and judgment came upon Judah. From the greatest to the least, Judah could no longer deny that Jeremiah's word was true. Their imprisonment and persecution of him accomplished nothing for them except to give evidence of their continued rebellion. The remarkable thing I noticed in these chapters is the repeated denial of Jeremiah's prophecies. Men like Zedekiah and other leaders operated in denial even as they saw Jeremiah's word fulfilled with their own eyes. 

In the world of psychology, such denial is the result of the "normalcy bias." In short: People believe that since something is outside there normal experience, it will not happen. In extreme situations people will do the normal thing rather than the thing that would save their life. People have a really hard time preparing for and dealing with something they have never experienced. When Mt. Vesuvius erupted the normalcy bias likely explains why the residents of Pompeii watched for hours without evacuating. We think. They all died and it was before iPhones and the printing press, so can’t be sure. But we know with better accuracy, when passengers on the Titanic refused the evacuation orders, possibly because they underestimated the odds of a worst-case scenario and minimized its potential impact. The normalcy bias strikes again. In such extremes, the normalcy bias can causes smart people to underestimate the possibility of a disaster and its effects. Another great example is found in Barton Biggs' book, Wealth, War, and Wisdom:

"By the end of 1935, 100,000 Jews had left Germany, but 450,000 still [remained]. Wealthy Jewish families... kept thinking and hoping that the worst was over... Many of the German Jews, brilliant, cultured, and cosmopolitan as they were, were too complacent. They had been in Germany so long and were so well established, they simply couldn't believe there was going to be a crisis that would endanger them. They were too comfortable. They believed the Nazi's anti-Semitism was an episodic event and that Hitler's bark was worse than his bite. [They] reacted sluggishly to the rise of Hitler for completely understandable but tragically erroneous reasons. Events moved much faster than they could imagine."

This is a tragic examples of the effects of the "normalcy bias". Just think about what was going on at the time. Jews were arrested, beaten, taxed, robbed, and jailed for no reason other than the fact that they practiced a particular religion. As a result, they were shipped off to concentration camps. Their houses and businesses were seized. Yet many Jews Still didn't leave Nazi Germany, because they simply couldn't believe that things would get as bad as they did.

The normalcy bias pops up in many areas of our faith. We may have never experienced a miracle but it does not mean they never happen. We may have never heard God's voice but we should always believe he is a living speaking God. We may have never, "done it that way" but if Scripture affirms it then we can't call it “anathema” on the grounds of the normalcy bias.

When the normalcy bias pops up around spiritual matters, it is a smoking gun, undeniable evidence of hidden faithlessness in the heart. Whether you call it, "normalcy bias" or just good old fashion stick your head in the sand denial. The bottom line is such denial places ones experience over the truth of scripture. It disregards the word of God with a flippant “probably not.” In short it is nothing more than faithlessness, hiding behind personal experience. It is a dangerous thing to believe that just because you have never experienced it means it does not happen. This denial is a façade, a thin layer of pretense that can blind us from seeing reality, in the light of scripture. If it is allowed to operate unchecked in our lives both the gifts of the Spirit and/or God’s warnings of judgment are ignored.

We should want to be the type of person who hears clearly when God says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isa 43:19a). As he did in Isaiah’s day. The kind of Christian that responds rightly with obedient courage when God says, “surrender to Babylon”. As he did in Jeremiah’s day. Yet the question is how? How do we become such a people?

The opposite of the normalcy bias is situational awareness. It involves having a real perception of your environment and a comprehension of what may realistically transpire in the near future. A Christian's situational awareness is rooted in a Christian worldview. An awareness guided by the measure of wisdom in the heart and the word of God in the head. We have assurance of our long term future so we can act courageously to respond to situations in the short term. Generally, scripture requires us to be watchful, vigilant in prayer, and always open-hearted to God's leading and exercise clear thinking about the facts of a situation. So whatever comes we can respond in faith, the kind of faith that overcomes our lack of experience. The kind of faith that moves us to act courageously even if you don't like what you hear.



Brought to you by The Remnant Radio, a theology broadcast that exists to educates believers on Theology, History and the Gifts of the Spirit. If you would like to know more about Remnant Radio. Here is a short video.


 During the month of August 1739 in Bristol England, John Wesley had three separate interviews with Bishop Joseph Butler. Butler a towering intellect and presiding bishop. Wesley an upstart preacher of a burgeoning movement. The first interview lasted about 15 minutes, the second about 30 minutes, and the final one approximately one hour. [1] Wesley who was making waves through his proclamation of justification and grace in open fields, was hopeful Butler would be open to his work.

In this meeting, the younger Wesley was perhaps a little too aggressive with the Good Bishop. Despite Wesley’s admiration of Butler’s masterful denunciation of Deism, it was perhaps too bold for him to expect that the Bishop would receive a minister the enthusiastism and manifestations that were accompanying their open-field preaching. [2]

First they talked about the nature of faith in its justifying sense, but the conversation quickly turned to what was probably irritating Butler the most about the preacher. It appeared that Wesley and the flourishing Methodist movement assumed that God was doing something special in their faith and ministry that was isolated from other believers who did not embrace their cause.

To Wesley, Butler sternly snots: “Sir, the pretending to extraordinary revelations and gifts of the Holy Ghost is a horrid thing, a very horrid thing.” [3] Wesley’s response to Butler was the eighteenth century version of "epic" clap back. He candidly responded, “I pretend to no extraordinary revelations or gifts of the Holy Ghost—none but what every Christian may receive, and ought to expect and pray for.” [4]

The conversation that ensued between the two Anglicans must have been a civil but heated one because a few moments later Bishop Butler forbade Wesley from preaching in his diocese, and Wesley, for his part, refused to abide by Bulter’s prohibition. Wesley’s justification was his own ordination credentials in the Church of England to preach to the church universal. [5]

What he meant by his “epic" clap back was not a denial of the miraculous but an affirmation of the universality of the Sprit’s work through all believers. Within the exchange, there is an important feature of Wesley’s understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit and his conception of the experience of the supernatural among believers.

Scholars, particularly Robert Webster, have argued persuasively that John Wesley both believed in demonstrative manifestations of the supernatural and that he collected various accounts of such experiences among the Methodists in a rhetorical defense of the supernatural. [6]

John Wesley was not only committed to the idea of the Holy Spirit’s movement and manifestations but he also elevated that idea to prominence in his rhetoric of the supernatural. Because of his acceptance of supernatural occurrences, John Wesley often found himself combating charges of enthusiasm (the eighteenth century term similar to hyper-charismatics) . Regardless of various oppositions, Wesley consistently contended that the movements and gifts of the Holy Spirit that were active in the first century were also active in the eighteenth.

Wesley held an understanding of the gifts of the Holy Spirit were for all people not just a select few. At the foundation of Wesley’s argument was the idea that the charismata operative in the first century had not died out with apostolic Christianity and emerged in every generation since then. Though Wesley agreed that the primary assurance was an inward one where love, peace, and joy are realized with an incremental advancement towards spiritual maturity, it was also the case that, just as in the first century so in Wesley’s own day, believers could judge the true sense of faith working by love, which often appeared in miraculous ways. 

Two Simple Examples

Scattered throughout Wesley’s journals were a variety of stories that Wesley had collected and edited for edification; stories of healing, dreams and visions, exorcisms, and an assortment of preternatural occurrences. Here are just two of those stories.

On April 6, 1756, Wesley approvingly wrote the story of a lady who had fallen and sprained her ankle several years prior. On her way home from a preaching service, she stumbled and fell on the ankle again. Her injury was recorded by Wesley in the journal: “I thought, O Lord, I shall not be able to hear thy word again for many weeks. Immediately a voice went through my heart, Name the name of Christ and thou shalt stand. I leaped up and stretched out my foot and said, ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, I name thy name; let me stand.’ And my pain ceased. And I stood up. And my foot was as strong as ever.”[7]

Another is the case of an exorcism, Wesley recounts for an entry on October 25, 1739, how he was sent to see a young girl in Bristol. After some reluctance, Wesley entered into conversation with the demons that possessed the young girl. In the midst of the exorcism, Charles Wesley walked into the room and the demon-possessed girl screamed out: “Preacher! Field preacher! I don’t love field preaching.”[8] After two more hours of intense prayer, Wesley recorded the results: “And now it was that God showed he heareth the prayer. All her pangs ceased in a moment. She was filled with peace, and knew that the son of wickedness was departed from her.”[9]

These stories and many more like them, can be found in Wesley’s journals.



1. Frank Baker, “John Wesley and Bishop Joseph Butler: A Fragment of John Wesley’s Manuscript Journal 16th to 24th August 1739,” Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society 42 (1980): 93–100. The essence of the interview between Bishop Butler and John Wesley is found in Wesley’s journal as well. See Nehemiah Curnock (ed.), The Journal of John Wesley (London: Epworth Press, 1938), 2:256–57 and W. R. Ward (ed.), “Appendix B: Wesley’s Interview with Bishop Butler, August 16 and 18, 1739,” in The Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley, ed. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1990), 19:471–74.

2. See Joseph Butler, The Analogy of Religion, Introduction by Ernest C. Mossner (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1961). For Wesley’s complimentary remarks on Butler’s Analogy of Religion see John Wesley’s journal entries for January 1, 1746 and May 20, 1768 in The Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley, 20:112 and 22:134 respectively.

3. “Wesley’s Interview with Bishop Butler,” The Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley, ed. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1990) 19:471.

4. Ibid., 471.

5. Ibid., 472.

6. Robert Webster, Methodism and the Miraculous: John Wesley’s Idea of the Supernatural and the Identification of Methodists in the Eighteenth Century (Lexington, KY: Emeth Press, 2013).

7.  John Wesley, April 6, 1756, The Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley, ed. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1990) 21:49. 

8.  John Wesley, October 25–27, 1739, The Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley, ed. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1990) 19:110–11. 

9. Ibid., 19:111.


This is the third blog in a three part series on the modern attitude towards healing.

Many people today may say that God “can” heal but those same people often have a negative attitude towards miraculous healing. Such a negative attitude is expressed in suspicious looks, cynical reasoning, dismissive conversations often ripe with bumper sticker talking points. All these marks express a negative view towards healing. Yet some of these arguments remain salient in various communities of faith making the attitudes all the more suspicious, dismissive, and cynical.

As we have seen in previous blogs. Morton T. Kelsey, studied how the church’s teaching on ‘why God does not heal’ has formed over time a negative often unconscious attitude towards healing in the church today.

It is important to remind the reader that Kelsey builds on a principle in social psychology.
The principle states, in any given group a commonly repeated public arguments (like from the pulpit) against something will over time form a negative attitude towards that thing. Once formed those attitudes will endure, even after the argument is disproved or no longer held by the group. While the two arguments in the last blog are no longer taught in the church but are still found in lingering social attitudes, the two in this blog still remain in many segments of Christianity, thus exert an even stronger tendency to cultivate a lack of openness towards healing.

We come to the last two of Kelsey's list. These arguments are still taught in two vastly different sections of Christianity.

  • Biblical Cessationism
  • Anti-supernatural materialism

Argument from Biblical Cessationism

This view makes an exegetical argument that the more miraculous gifts died out in the first century. It is prevalent among groups that cherish the truthfulness of the New Testament and believe healings did happen in biblical times but such things as healing miracles do not happen today. It first became prevalent during the reformation. The reformers adopted what came to be known as a cessationist approach to miracles. Due to the catholic claims of miracles as proof that God approved of their doctrine and practices. The Reformers concluded that the gift of healing in the New Testament served only a temporary purpose. From this perspective, the minister’s only role is expound scripture to prepare the sick for suffering and pastor those who are enduring sickness with care and compassion.

The cessationist view is still alive in some segment of Christianity but is slowly dying the death of a thousand biblical observations. While It is beyond the scope of this blog to refute the clams of cessationists. Eminent New Testament scholar David Garland in his commentary on the gospel of Mark explains the problem with the cessationist argument:

“The problem with the cessationist’s approach is that it can be interpreted negatively as a kind of bait-and-switch tactic on God’s part. The church got started through the power of miracles, but it was withdrawn later. If one does believe that God wills our physical and spiritual wholeness and that God’s power remains available to us and can intervene directly in our lives, then one must allow for Christian healing today. Christians and Christian communities can be instruments of that power and love. It does not necessarily follow that because many persons today have not witnessed New Testament quality miracles, they therefore are no longer possible. We do not understand the vast world of microorganisms, let alone how God works in our world. It is best, therefore, not to place limits on God regarding healing.” [1]

The reason for cessationism’s incredible resilience is due in large part to the attitude about healing promoted in most cessationist churches. For many cessationist churches healing is not only less prominent, but has virtually disappeared from the discussion except for when they’re speaking abstractly about the Bible stories. In this way, nostalgia is confused with reverence. Yet the cessationist’s explanation for the modern miracle shortage is the evidence that God has withdrawn such sign gifts. The lack of healings and other such works of God’s power in their own experience seems to confirm what they believe. Yet in the final analysis, a lack of experience should not confirm their belief the narrative world of the Bible and the experience it describes should shape Christian experience.

Argument from Anti-supernatural materialism

The last view rejects the biblical worldview entirely. It assumes that the idea that supernatural beings can intervene in the natural order of things is a fiction and such stories are properly filed under the heading of ‘myth’. Modern, educated people now “come of age” have progressed beyond such archaic ways of thinking. This view regards healing miracles to be impossible because they violate the laws of nature. The New Testament miracle accounts are dismissed as legends aimed at magnifying Jesus.

This view is rooted in the post-enlightenment materialism. From this perspective science is understood to give us the truest view of reality. Religion is an important for its humanistic way of creating meaning and purpose from the barren wasteland of our material monastic existence. The minister role is to help facilitate meaning making through rituals and the retelling of sacred myths. Outside of that the minister functions as a secular social worker in a clerical collar.

When a church becomes an Eco-chamber.

In these communities, the arguments remain entrenched in their respective segments of Christianity regardless of the full weight of biblical scholarship that has dismantled them on a scholarly level.

Socially speaking, the arguments described above social legitimizes the negative attitude, sanctifying and masking suspicious, dismissive, and cynical attitudes as “cautious”. The process is simple enough to follow. The teaching bounces around a group’s eco chamber until it mutates into a negative attitude, eventually becoming the ‘in-group’ disposition towards healing. This way of thinking and feeling about healing is exclusionary; affirming the groups view as inherently biblical and placing counter evidence and other legitimate interpretations of scripture outside the realm of consideration. Such a process of ‘group think’ is evident no matter if the group is liberal or fundamentalist, Reformed or Unitarian Universalist.

In short, these arguments remain relevant given the ability to passively explain away the group’s lack of experience. They redefine and reframe experience in such a way to push healing outside the ‘Overton window’ into areas deemed unacceptable for respectable dignified and upstanding Christians. Ministers no longer approach the issue by way of biblical analysis and logical assessment. In the pulpit the negative attitude leads many to teach oddly contradictory ideas and ‘unreal’ interpretations of scripture prompted more by the negative attitudes that permeate the church than relevant academic and biblical arguments.

Moving Forward Wisely
At the level of the Christian community, Openness and discernment are not opposite to one another yet discretion and wisdom should always be employed. Being open to the power and work of the Spirit is important while a valid concern remains over charlatans and wolves in the flock.

It is the responsibility of all Christian’s to discern the spirits yet Pastors are undoubtedly responsible to guard against shamanism and religious quackery in the larger community. It may seem counter intuitive but the best way to sharpen Christian discernment is good old fashioned common sense. David Garland [2] helps in this regard with some qualification and helpful advice to keep us wise and open to the things of God. I have added bullet points for accessibility:

  • We should suspect automatically any promise of an instant cure by a self-appointed miracle worker who couples it with an appeal for money.
  • We should distrust anyone who performs miracles in a show-like atmosphere, exalts his or her own power to heal anyone, anywhere, and at anytime, or makes outrageous claims.
  • We should reject all those who blame the victim’s lack of faith for any failure to heal.
  • We should be leery of those who would have us ignore medical treatment entirely or longstanding remedies (1 Tim. 5:23).
  • We should also exercise caution, since a community may become divided over the exercise of the gift of healing. Unity in the bond of love is our witness as defined by Jesus.
  • We should take intercessory prayer more seriously than we perhaps do if we confess a belief in divine healing.




[1] David E. Garland, Mark. NIV Application Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.) 91

[2] David E. Garland, Mark. NIV Application Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.) 92



In a previous blog we looked at Kelsey’s four historical arguments about divine healing to answer the question; "why people lack an openness to Divine Healing?" He observed that many Christians today react emotionally when talking about divine healing and don't even entertain the concept of healing in their own lives, while intellectually claiming God can heal someone. Kelsey concluded the hindrance seems to be a negative affective attitude about divine healing and not just a doctrinal one. The historical teachings have formed something of a social construct in the church shaping people's unconscious attitude over the issue.

To my knowledge, the first two arguments are not taught anymore in the church. Yet still exerts a powerful influence over the attitudes of many

In this blog we will look at the first two arguments in greater detain and give a brief rebuttal. Even though no one formally holds these views the attitude still persists in the social DNA of many churches. Today, people can give mental ascent in healing but hold a negative attitude due to the lingering influence of these arguments.

The approach taken by Kelsey is helpful in understanding a common paradox many see in ministry. The Paradox of people affirming healing in theory while denying its power in their personal life. Such are not hypocrites, in the moral or biblical sense, for they are unaware of all of the assumptions about healing that they hold.

In thinking thought these ideas I have come up with what I see as the root assumption at the bottom of each argument.

  • Philosophical dualism
  • Theological rationalism

First, The Argument from Philosophical dualism

The first view began as a practical argument based on the common Greek division of reality into the material and spiritual. The argument holds that there is a fundamental divide between the secular and the sacred parts of life. It asserts that Medicine is deals with the physical world and religion is secluded to the spiritual with the two spheres not overlapping. Religion is seen as otherworldly, primary concerned with saving souls for Heaven. Thus religion has nothing to do with someone’s physical health. On the other side, there are those who believe that only scientific medical means can affect significant healing. Based on this (false) dichotomy, it is reasoned that sense Medicine is for the body; religion is for the soul, it is best to keep them separate but equal. Any attempt to mix the two ends of in failure. The mixing of the two only breeds superstition and fraud. In this a view, the minister role is to maintain the separation and teach the wisdom of staying far away from such people and practices. Kelsey keenly observes the illogical nature of christian practices in this area. Highlighting how our negative attitude can place some behaviors outside the Overton window while legitimizing others.

“By some quirk of logic, it was legitimate for suffering Christians to go to the doctor for relief; it was even good for the church to build hospitals to minister to the sick. But neither the individual Christian nor the church was to bring the direct power of God to bear upon getting rid of the sickness.” [1]

In our day it is easy to see the practical angle of this argument. Although religious fakes and fraud have always been with us the access to exposure and ability to build a platform is much easier today than in previous generations. Exposure to the quacks and frauds makes many cynical if not combative, leading to those in the church defaulting to the secular sacred division of labor. They would rather keep the religious and medical worlds separated rather than dealing with the mess.

A few rebuttals to this idea.

  • The view that “religion deals exclusively with the soul” is more gnostic than Christian. When we think religion is other worldly and etherial and it only deals with what science and medicine can’t fix we are more secular than Christain.
  • The strong division between the realm of religion and medicine is a false dichotomy. Both deal with the whole person and are not in competition. Human innovation and medical knowledge are common graces from God. Modern medicine rose out of the Christian worldview.
  • The pragmatism of suspicion is not honorable. The fraud argument assumes a consequentialist logic that has no grounding in biblical truth, only in possible outcomes.
  • It is not a sound method to base the validity of something on its worst examples. It is just an overreaction to say because of a few bad actors we should deny a clear focus of the New Testament teaching.

Helping someone get out from under such assumptions begins by "bring heaven and earth together" that is discussing the assumption they likely hold about the secular sacred divide. Central to this is a set of metaphysical assumptions about reality as well as the role of religion in human experience. Another notable area of exploration would be their assumptions about the kingdom of God in general, as well as the individual's "locos of control" and how they relate that to Christ's lordship.


Two, Argument from Theological rationalism

The second view holds that God is sovereign and sickness is his tool. Since God controls all sickness and sends it as a strong rebuke for sin. Sick persons ought to learn from their infirmities. The minister only role is to exhort confession of sin or help the individual to grow in faith through the suffering.

A little background will be helpful to make sense of how Christian’s could have such a view of God. The theological method used at that time was known as “scholasticism”
Scholasticism is a deductive theological method that arose in the Middle Ages Particularly the work of Thomas Aquinas. It was the marriage of Aristotelian philosophical analysis and Christian reflection. Yet Scholasticism moved beyond the synthesis of Aquinas and into hyper rationalism.

Scholastic theological discussion centered on dogmatics (doctrinal propositions) and not exegesis (textual analysis). The scholastic method was deductive in it’s approach. Beginning with a General theological statement, implications were deduced, without much nuance or qualifications given to the primary proposition. The result was a set of blanket conclusions that were more rational than real. By the 1600’s the rigid English scholasticism reasoned in a very absolutist fashion. Adherence defended the view with appeals to a greater good argument of character formation as Kelsey notes:

“It came to be believed that the suffering caused by illness had a real value in developing good Christian character. According to this belief, some illness (if not all of it) is sent by God for a reason, and one of the great Christian virtues is the courageous bearing of such sickness. Obviously, what God has sent for man's good the church should not presume to take away.”[2]

Kelsey gives an interesting example showing how morbid the logic became:

“This attitude is magnificently expressed in the English Prayer Book. The service “the Office of Visitation of the Sick” written in 1661, has to be read to be believed. It states quite clearly that God sends most illness upon us as punishment for sin. The crowning touch (which has been dropped from the American version) is the idea that healthy people are bastards, to use the Prayer Book word. Since they have not received God's fatherly correction in the form of sickness, they cannot be real sons because, as anyone can see, God chastens those whom he loves with divine chastisements like physical illness. Modern Protestantism has taken no official action to countermand this basic idea, and it still represents pretty well the popular, unconscious attitude, although we moderns are not quite so frank as they were in the 1600s.”[3]

A Quick rebuttal

  • The theological method used lacked the precision necessary for the issue.
    The reflection on God’s sovereign to the exclusion of secondary causes is short sighted.
  • The lack of nuance given to the scriptural shape of the nature of God’s sovereignty is to problematic.
  • God controls all sickness. Such a primary proposition is more of a straw man when compared to the biblical evidence.
  • It is a categorical error to imply that a Christian’s courageous bearing sickness is incompatible with a Christian praying for divine healing. Given faith in the Christian God implies such help is within his ability and nature, thus healing is always an implicit possibility.
  • The Christian posture in suffering must be hopeful for it to be virtue shaping. Passive resignation in suffering may dull the pain but it does not purify faith. Biblical hope looks to the God who brakes into our reality as well as the one who is our eternal rest. As Paul describes it, christian hope is a hope against Hope. He did not mean a temporal hope in opposition to an eternal hope but a hope in this life pressed together and made stronger by a hope that assures us of a life to come.  In this life the posture of the Christian hope is an expectation for a foretaste of kingdom matched back to back with a joyful eternal hope is the God of our salvation, the king who defeated death.

Helping someone likely will involve mining a persons assumptions about how someone develops christian character, the nature and role of suffering and especially the implication of the resurrection on the embodied life in the new creation. Central in this project will be understanding the locus of hope in the person. 



[1] Morton T. Kelsey, The Healing Ministry within the Church, Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Apr., 1970), pp. 106

[2] Morton T. Kelsey, The Healing Ministry within the Church, Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Apr., 1970), pp. 106

[3] Morton T. Kelsey, The Healing Ministry within the Church, Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Apr., 1970), pp. 106



I recently had a conversation with an old friend in which we discussed the idea of divine healing. I was surprised at how immediate and negative his response. I asked myself if next time, I need to give a trigger warning before I talk about healing. My experience hints of a larger problem in the church. In most of the evangelical and mainline churches the idea of healing comes with a negative attitude about the subject. Even if those you speak with have not thought about it in decades. So Do we need safe spaces in the church where no one will bring up God’s power to heal or is the church that safe space? I'm joking a bit but Many people today do not believe that miraculous healing is possible. Many more don’t know what they believe but they know they don’t like it.

This phenomenon has been studied by Christian scholars. Morton T. Kelsey, an Episcopal priest, and Christian psychologist, studied the historical roots of the church’s present negative attitude toward healing. [1] The question he sought to answer was why the church today has a negative attitude towards something found all over the Bible. He does this by surveying four arguments in church history on healing that has produced a fundamental resistance to believing God heals today.

In the study Kelsey builds off a principle in social psychology. The principle states that public arguments against ‘X’ can over time form negative attitudes towards ‘x’ and those attitudes will remain even after the arguments are disproven. Kelsey shows how four historic arguments for ‘why God does not heal’ has, over time, formed a negative attitude towards healing in the church today.

To be clear these points are not a list of hindrances to personal healing but anyone of these points could keep someone from seeking prayer for healing. Nor am I putting forth the ides that God heals everyone if we have enough faith and pray.

I have followed the historical progression without much discussion. In later blogs we will look into the individuals arguments and assess there veracity. In this blog, I just wanted to introduce you to these arguments.

Kelsey’s four arguments

1. Philosophical argument

The first view began as a philosophical argument based on the common Greek division of reality into the material and spiritual. Religion is seen as otherworldly, primary concerned with saving souls for Heaven. Thus religion has nothing to do with someone’s physical health. On the other side, there are those who believe that only scientific medical means can affect significant healing. It is reasoned that sense medicine is for the body; religion is for the soul, it is best to keep them separated. Any attempt to mix the two ends of in failure, often breeding superstition and fraud. In this view, the minister role is to maintain the separation and teach the wisdom of staying far away from such people and practices.

2. Theological argument

The second view holds that God is sovereign and sickness is his tool. Since God controls all sickness and sends it as a strong rebuke for sin. Sick persons ought to learn from their infirmities. The minister only role is to exhort confession of sin or help the individual to grow in faith through the suffering.

3. The biblical argument

This view makes an exegetical argument that the more miraculous gifts died out in the first century. It is prevalent among groups that cherish the truthfulness of the New Testament and a large portion of the Gospels and Acts describe miracles performed by Jesus and his apostles. Those stories are understood to teach that God granted to the early church a special ability to demonstrate his power in an unusual way, to help the church get started, and to authenticate the apostles. After that time those manifestations of power died out. This view first became prevalent during the reformation. Due to the catholic claims of miracles as proof that God approved of their doctrine and practices. The Reformers concluded that the gift of healing in the New Testament served only a temporary purpose. The minister’s only role is expound scripture to prepare the sick for suffering and pastor those who are enduring sickness with care and compassion.

4. The Anti-supernaturalist argument

The last view rejects the biblical worldview entirely. This view is rooted in post-enlightenment materialism. It assumes that the idea of supernatural beings intervening in the world is a fiction. The New Testament miracle accounts are dismissed as legends aimed at magnifying Jesus. This view regards contemporary healing miracles to be impossible because they violate the laws of nature.

Adherants understand humanity has progressed beyond such archaic ways of thinking yet religion is seen to still hold an important function in society. In this view, the minister role is to help facilitate meaning making through rituals and the retelling of sacred myths.

Ideas have consequences
In his conclusion he ties it all together by showing how the modern negative attitude stems from the way these ideas have shaped our view of the world. Kelsay summarizes the influence of the four views:

“Certainly most Christian thinking, both Catholic and Protestant, has been swept clean of any idea of Christian healing. On the one hand the successes of medicine have made it unnecessary, and on the other, modern theology has made any belief in it untenable. First of all, the church had accepted the necessity of dealing with the natural world on its own natural, material terms. Then there has been an acceptance of sickness as a part of the world, put there by God. Dispensationalism has found a way to divide this world so that healing, once seen as one of the greatest divine gifts, no longer seems needed or even wholesome. Finally, most modern theology has made it clear in ample reasoning why it did not happen at all.” [2]

Kelsey’s thesis about the historic roots of anti-healing sentiment checks out. Each argument builds on the next to shape christian attitudes about healing today. These attitudes have become entrenched in modern Christian culture especially in the West. While their influence often goes unspoken, occasionally you can hear them in our conversations about sickness. Here are a few example:

  • Pastor that’s why we have doctors. Your here for moral support.. Don’t want you to look like a crazy person Padre!
  • God allowed it for my good. why would I ask him to take it away?
  • That does not happen anymore, I have the Bible to comfort me.. Anyway that stuff can be demonic.
  • That’s nice, pastor. But my faith is within the bounds of reason so I don’t believe in such superstitious thinking. Instead Pastor please encourage giving to my Go-Fund Me that is the only way to really help.

If Jesus is the model for the church’s ministry, we see one who is confident in the power of God, who touches the unclean and restores the banished to his community and the sick to a meaningful role of service. The church should follow our Lord. While affirming the necessary and importance of medicine.

As someone in the evangelical space, I have to ask; Why is the healing ministry of the church talked about in hushed tones? Why is Wednesday night prayer meeting more a time for gossip than for prayer? Why does no one feel the need to first stop by the church before going to the doctor? When a Christian is sick, why is prayer a last resort and not our first action? All such questions are often more complex than they appear. What Kelsey makes clear are the effects of these arguments. Over time they have incurred a historical momentum and now collectively they promote a negative view towards healing in the church. As stated above, historical arguments for "why God does not heal any more", have over time, formed a general negative attitude towards ‘healing’ in the church and that attitude have remained even after the arguments have been forgotten or disproven.[3]

Ideas have consequences and effect more than we think they do. Don’t let the negativity around you, influence how you relate to the rest of the body of Christ. Conflating your attitude towards an ideas with your approach towards a person is dangerous.

So even if you hold number 3 to be the ‘gospel truth’. If you treat those who disagree with you with the same negative attitude you have for their idea is not the way. It does not reflect Christian unity. Whether the negative expression is avoiding them like they have a memetic virus or approaching them in a condescending manor. Such behaviors are the hallmarks of spiritual elitist. "Those people," don’t have a spiritual plague nor are they gullible, ignorant plebs.[4]

In my opinion, these four specters have become the shadowy doubts lingering in the back of the church, crouched in the corners encouraging fear, promoting a negative attitude towards healing, and sewing doubt and discord among men of good faith.

In upcoming blogs, I will look at each point in more detail, assessing the veracity of each argument.




[1] While I would not affirm all of Kelsey’s work, His assessment of the negative attitudes towards healing in the church is well known and widely cited by scholars like David Garland. Two works were used for this study, Morton T. Kelsey, The Healing Ministry within the Church, Journal of Religion and Health, (1970); and Morton T. Kelsey, Psychology, Medicine & Christian Healing (1988)

[2] Morton T. Kelsey, Psychology, Medicine & Christian Healing: A Revised and Expanded Edition of Healing & Christianity (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988). 24.

[3] This is one reasons, Christian’s should never define themselves by what they are against( ie. By a negative).

[4] Same dynamic applies to those who respond to such negative attitudes with just as much negativity. A negative plus an negative is not a positive. It’s just double the negativity. So the same can be said of those who respond with spiritual pride over believing in divine healing. They can be just as elitist.


crossmenuchevron-down linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram