If members of the Charismatic movement are to be believed, there are those walking among us who are gifted by the Holy Spirit with the ability to heal various maladies, diseases, and injuries. Christians from denominations dating before 1960 have been skeptical of these claims, however. Unsurprisingly, this has engendered some small degree of controversy. It’s not a minor issue either; rather, it’s the difference between a cruel joke and a Divine blessing.
As a cessationist, I have no problem acknowledging that God is perfectly capable of giving out spiritual gifts, including healing; to claim that I believe that He can’t is fatuous and dishonest. I simply believe that He no longer issues the apostolic gifts like healing, tongues, prophecy, etcetera.
The gift of healing is, I think, the easiest gift to test for. Someone with the gift of healing will be able to invoke supernatural complete and permanent healing of physical ailments and injuries in Jesus’ name. That’s how it worked in the Bible, and we have no reason to assume it changed. If a person claiming the gift of healing can’t do that, they do not have the gift of healing, and are either delusional or a charlatan. This is different from when God Himself intervenes directly to heal someone; the gift of healing is performed by people. A typical example would be in Acts 3:1-10:
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God; and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
Peter is able, through the power of God, to heal a man who was entirely unable to walk, at the drop of a hat. It’s important to notice that the beggar had been lame since birth, and had never walked in his life. His legs would have been completely atrophied, and he certainly wouldn’t know how to walk. Nevertheless, Peter hauls him to his feet and he is immediately able to walk and jump around as if he had never been lame. He didn’t have to learn to walk, he didn’t need a walker, he didn’t even have residual stiffness. Peter didn’t need an hour of mindless, high-energy music to gin everyone up into an emotional high before he healed the man, he just did it on his way to the temple.
Charismatic ‘healing’ services, on the other hand, are entirely artificial and, while full of emotion, are devoid of any Divine power. One of the favorite ‘miracles’ in these services is leg or arm lengthening. This is, quite frankly, a really stupid ‘miracle’. (It’s also fake.) The Apostles’ healings were complete cures of serious diseases and injuries. Paul even resurrected a kid from the dead after a 3-story fall in Acts 20:9-12. Why can’t these so-called healers manage something like that? Why don’t they hang out in the ICU at their local hospital? Maybe stop by the childrens’ cancer hospital on the way home from church? Healing a child of cancer should be no problem for someone with the gift of healing. Do you really think Paul would have any difficulty healing someone who had been run over by a bus?
Charismatic ‘healers’ may not be able to heal your fractured skull or take away your brain tumor, but they can make sure your arms and legs are the same length. Any doctor will tell you that equal limb length is way more important than a crushed rib cage, so naturally that’s where their efforts are best directed. Cerebral palsy? Not nearly as important as making sure Little Billy’s finger lengths match. In Acts 19:11-12, giving a sick person a handkerchief that Paul had touched was enough to heal them. You won’t see any Charismatic ‘healer’ mailing their snot rag to Ebola victims in Africa. Who has time for that when there’s an epidemic of uneven leg lengths in Redding, California? That’s the real crisis.
You may think I’m being unkind by deriding ‘miracles’ that don’t measure up to the ones in the Bible. It’s much kinder than telling a parent that you couldn’t heal their toddler’s congenital heart disease because the parent didn’t have enough faith. Maybe I’ll ease up when I see people from Bethel ‘Church’ completely healing people who were mangled in a car wreck. When I see them reattaching severed limbs without surgery, I will consider their claims. When I see confirmed quadriplegics running and jumping, I will take their claims seriously. When I see a pile of used glass eyes, wheelchairs, and prosthetic limbs outside of a Charismatic ‘healing’ service, then I will concede that they might have the gift of healing. I expect no such thing.
The reason that you won’t see Charismatic ‘healers’ hanging around the emergency room is because they know, deep down, that they would be revealed to be frauds. The so-called healings that they present are fake. After all, if an atheist can perform the same ‘miracles’ as a so-called ‘healer’, I can guarantee you that the Holy Spirit is not behind it.The people that they claim to heal are no better off than they were before, the ‘healer’ simply knows a few tricks to make it look like the person is better off. Even the people who genuinely believe and don’t use the faith-healer tricks aren’t truly healing people. The excitement and expectation ginned up at a ‘healing’ service leaves people open to suggestion, rather like hypnosis. In such a state, people may experience a psychosomatic phenomenon similar to healing in which they temporarily don’t feel pain, even chronic pain. This isn’t true healing, it’s just a placebo. It may make your arthritis feel better for a little while, but it’s not going to do much for an amputee.
To sum up, nobody today has the gift of healing. It is not difficult to demonstrate the gift of healing; all that is needed is for the supposed healer to completely restore a sick or injured person to health in Jesus’ name. This does not happen. The supposed miracles cited by the proponents of the belief to the contrary are pathetic imitations, where they are not outright fabrications. It is no more than a cruel delusion in the best case, and we Christians need to stand up against it.