The ministry of healing is core to the identity of Pentecostalism. It is a distinctive that’s modeled on Jesus’ ministry, who always combined healing with proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Understandably, this makes the proclamation of the Kingdom relevant by making the Word incarnational to the human experience. It shows how the Kingdom of God can affect one’s existence by providing empirical evidence that can be observed or physically experienced. This has been a key to the growth of the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement which now represents more than a quarter of all global Christians.
There are, however, extremes in Pentecostal healing ministry theology and culture, affecting both attitudes towards medicine and science, and those who are permanently disabled.
A belief that wholeness can only be attributed to the physically able creates a perception that those with permanent disabilities are living somewhere beneath their best life.
This is alienating towards people with disabilities and permanent illnesses, making them feel somewhat excluded from the able body group and thereby undermining the church’s first priority of inclusion and community.
What is wholeness from a biblical standard?
Before the fall it would appear that Adam and Eve were completely whole physically, emotionally, and psychologically. In Genesis, we read man and woman were made in His image and God declared that what He had made was “very good”. The definition here, amongst other things, is “exceedingly good, cheerful, at ease, joyful, loving, kindness, well”. All these attributes imply they were perfect in their thought patterns conducive to good health and emotional wellbeing. They experienced no shame or guilt until the fall and then their image was marred. This has affected all humanity throughout the ages.
Through Jesus, redemption came to mankind. According to 2 Corinthians 5:17 “we are a new creation,” however this is a spiritual formation process, and “the believer lives in between the now and not yet”. This means wholeness will always be somewhat limited to our mortality this side of Heaven and can only be realized to that extent. Healing or wholeness may be fully available but can never be fully appropriated for “now I know in part; then I shall know fully”. 1 Cor 13:12
Andy Stanley once asked the question, “is it a problem to be solved or a tension to be managed?”. There seem to be many spiritual tensions that need to be managed in the church’s mandate to proclaim the kingdom of God and make disciples of all nations, including healing the sick. To have faith that God can heal and at the same time accepting not all will be healed requires dialectical thinking to manage this tension.
If physical healing is the priority, then at what point does one accept the permanence of disability for one person and maintain faith for healing for another?
However, if the priority is for people to be in Christ, who offers the fullness of life through meaning and purpose, then the goal is for people to flourish in life regardless if they’re able-bodied or disabled.
This may better define the role of healing ministry within the church.
A disability does not limit one from flourishing, in fact, it may enhance their meaning and purpose in life. An example of such a life is Fanny Jane Crosby who was permanently blind six weeks after her birth and yet wrote over nine thousand hymns including some of the most famous hymns of all time.
It may be necessary for us Pentecostals to revise theology surrounding healing ministry that better prioritizes inclusion and community, that is, to “bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame”. At the same time in the process of theological revision, the challenge is not to erode and compromise faith for healing. The ministry of healing is a Pentecostal distinctive, and in the quest to become more inclusive and acceptable, there may also be a danger of losing identity.
Healing ministry has contributed to the explosive growth of Pentecostal churches and not giving up this spiritual territory seems to be equally important, even if it means making some uncomfortable. As faith for healing is generally about taking a risk, and challenging the status quo, and not just bringing comfort to what is.
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