Lack of Openness to Divine Healing (part three)

by May 21, 2022Uncategorized0 comments

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.

 

 

 

Footnotes
[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