Lack of Openness to Divine Healing

February 12, 2022

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.


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