Healing by Faith
Faith healing, the idea that faith in God is the operative
agent in miraculous healings of the body, is in large part a misnomer.
Most Christian ministers and evangelists who practice
healing understand clearly that God, through the power of the
Holy Spirit, is the operative force in healing. In Christian theology,
faith is the name given to the trusting relationship the
Christian hopefully has with God. Given the omnipotence of
God, faith is often seen as the element that allows the believer
to receive God’s healing power.
The practice of healing in evangelical churches has often received
bad press. It has been attacked by those who believe it
is an exercise in ignorance. The image of healing ministers has
not been helped by those few who have advocated a complete
break with doctors, an attitude carried over from the days prior
to the scientific medicine of this century. Given the successes of
medicine, the miracles reported have not dealt with the question
of those who failed to receive any healing. A few have cited
lack of faith as a reason why some people are not healed.
Divine healing, the more proper designation of what is popularly
called faith healing, emerged in force in the 1870s, contemporaneously
with Christian Science and New Thought.
Physicians were scarce and their cures still haphazard at best.
The leader of the new healing movement was an Episcopal physician,
Charles Cullis, who held healing meetings each summer
beginning in the 1880s. Among those who were healed at his
hand was Rev. Albert Benjamin Simpson, a Presbyterian minister
who had responded to the new Holiness movement that had
emerged among the Methodists. Members of the Holiness
movement saw themselves living in the last days, when God
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Healing by Faith
would pour his spirit out anew on his people (Acts 2). They
thought they lived in a time of miracles.
Simpson joined hands with G. O. Barnes, also a former Presbyterian
minister, who had worked with evangelist Dwight L.
Moody and also had been affected by Holiness preachers. In
1876, Barnes traveled through Kentucky, saving souls and
healing the sick by laying on hands in the name of the Lord.
By 1882, Barnes and A. B. Simpson were working together.
Simpson began a magazine, the first step toward founding the
Christian and Missionary Alliance, the first modern denomination
to advocate healing as a central tenet. Simpson developed
an understanding of Christ’s fourfold ministry as Saviour,
Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King.
Another influential evangelist healer was John Alexander
Dowie, an Australian Congregationist minister who came to the
United States from Australia in 1888 as head of the international
Divine Healing Asssociation. He eventually settled in Zion,
Illinois, north of Chicago, and founded the independent Christian
Catholic Church. Dowie was a controversial figure, constantly
in conflict with authorities, and lost control of his own
movement following an illness in 1906. His community was a
frequent stop on the tours of initerant healing evangelists and
several of the residents emerged to became evangelists of note.
Healing in the Holiness movement was passed along to the
Pentecostal movement. That movement began with Holiness
evangelist Charles Fox Parham. Parham opened the Bethel
Healing Home and Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, and it was
here in 1901 that people began ‘‘speaking in tongues,’’ the definitive
experience of Pentecostalism. In his revival campaigns,
Parham practiced healing through the laying on of hands, and
hundreds of cures were claimed. Among Parham’s Bible school
students was African American Holiness preacher William J.
Seymour, who became pastor of a small holiness congregation
located on Azusa Street in Los Angeles.
The healing emphasis in Pentecostalism set the stage for the
emergence of Aimee Semple McPhearson, one of the most colorful
healing evangelists of the 1920s. Unable to find a home
in the older denominations, she founded the independent
Church of the Foursquare Gospel, drawing her doctrinal perspective
from A. B. Simpson. Although MacPherson’s following
was initially small, a revival campaign in San Diego became immensely
successful through claims of miraculous healing under
her ministry, and her followers eventually provided funds for
a huge Angelus Temple in Los Angeles. A charismatic figure,
McPherson had a flair for publicity, and was one of the early
evangelists to take advantage of the new communication possibilities
provided by radio. She purchased a radio station in Los
Angeles, and her services were broadcast to thousands of followers
across the United States. In 1926, she was supposed to
have been kidnaped for a month, but critics have stated that
this story covered a ‘‘love-nest’’ scandal.
During the Great Depression, healing evangelism suffered
something of a decline, although there were still many missions
and itinerant preachers. There was a great upsurge in evangelism
after World War II with the ministry of William Marrion
Branham, an independent Baptist preacher who attracted
huge crowds with his healing during the 1940s. There were rumors
that he had even raised a man from the dead. Amongst
those influenced by Branham’s gospel campaigns were Oral
Roberts, O. L. Jaggers, Gayle Jackson, T. L. Osborn, and Gordon
Lindsay, all of whom developed their own ministries. In
spite of a great expansion of such evangelism during the 1950s,
there was again some decline through the 1960s, largely attributed
to the development of air conditioning, which virtually
killed independent itinerant evangelism of all kinds until the
emergence of large air conditioned facilities in the 1980s.
Marjoe Gortner, a healing evangelist as a teenage preacher,
left the field and appeared in a documentary film (Marjoe,
1972) in which he exposed the tricks used by some evangelists
to support their highly competitive work. His exposure of the
underbelly of healing ministries, and the disgusting practices
of some ministers, disillusioned thousands of would-be followers
and threw doubt on other evangelists.
By 1970, the end of the traveling tents was in sight, as increasingly
sophisticated audiences expected comfortable seats
and air conditioning. However, a recovery was seen as revival
services were shifted to hotel auditoriums and the new civic
centers built to house seasonal sports events. Experienced
evangelists such as Oral Roberts, W. V. Grant, and Rex Humbard
found a new life.
New life for the healing evangelists also came from the
emergence of the charismatic movement, a new spread of Pentecostalism
within the older mainline denominations. As Baptists,
Methodists, and Presbyterians found the baptism of the
Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues, they became open to the
Pentecostal message of healing. A new generation of healers
emerged, including Don Stewart, Kathryn Kuhlman, Roxanne
Brandt, and many others. Included among them was Ruth Carter
Stapleton, sister of former president Jimmy Carter. One
notable evangelist healer is Willard Fuller, who specializes in
dental healing. An eyewitness reported ‘‘He prays for people
and God fills their teeth. I have actually seen fillings appear in
teeth that had cavities; some gold, some silver, some white enamel-like
substances, and some are completely restored to their
original condition.’’
Is Faith Healing Genuine
Healing as practiced by the Pentecostal and Charismatic
evangelists raises all of the questions that any form of nonconventional
or psychic healing does. Do healings occur If paranormal
healings occur, do they happen because of some psychokinetic
force By definition, consideration of God and the
Holy Spirit stands outside of any scientific discourse, but might
it be that the results of any divine intervention in the life of an
individual have measurable consequences that could be documented
Could it be that subtle psychokinetic forces are active
but misunderstood as miraculous or divine
Given current knowledge of the mundane healing forces,
quite apart from drugs, available to the average individual,
from placebos to the body’s own healing capacity, those skeptical
of divine healing have made a strong case that all religious
healing can be ascribed to natural forces—the placebo effect
(operative in most cases of fraud), delayed action by medications,
temporary or spontaneous remission, or, as often as not,
misdiagnosis of the person’s condition. On such grounds, for
example, physician William Nolan attacked the ministry of
Kathryn Kuhlman.
The most recent attack upon the legitimacy of healing ministries
followed the discovery and exposure in the mid-1980s of
several healers, most notably Peter Popoff and W. V. Grant, Jr.,
who were using fraudulent techniques derived from Spiritualism
to bolster their appearance as people possessed of unusual
powers. Magician James Randi surveyed the activities of numerous
evangelists. He found most of them to be naive people
of integrity, but discovered several engaged in fraud.
Defenders have countered with reports, complete with medical
records, of people who have been healed in their meetings.
These are, however, relatively few in number given the amount
of effort required to properly document a case. Also, in most
cases today, the proper records do not exist, the condition is
largely stress related (psychosomatic), or the causes operative
in the healings are not clear.
Many who defend healing in the religious context no longer
argue that such healing is miraculous. Rather they cite the
value of a life in which community, intimacy, fellowship, forgiveness,
order, and compassion operate to destroy the guilt,
alienation, and chaos that contributes to diseased conditions.
Allen, A. A. Bound to Lose, Bound to Win. Garden City, N.Y.
Doubleday, 1970.
Healing by Faith Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Harrell, David Edwin, Jr. All Things Are Possible With God.
Bloomington, Ind. Indiana University Press, 1975.
Hart, Ralph. Doctors Pronounced Me Dead in Dallas. Detroit
The Author, n.d.
Lindsay, Gordon. William Branham, A Man Sent From God.
Dallas Voice of Healing Publishing, 1950.
Melton, J. Gordon. A Reader’s Guide to the Church’s Ministry
of Healing. Independence, Mo. Academy of Religion and Psychical
Research, 1977.
Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, N.Y. Prometheus
Books, 1987.
Roberts, Oral. My Story. Tulsa, Okla. Oral Roberts Evangelistic
Association, 1961.
Rose, Louis. Faith Healing. London Victor Gollancz, 1968.
Simpson, Eve. The Faith Healer Deliverance Evangelism in
North America. St. Louis, Mo. Concordia, 1977. Reprint, New
York Pyramid, 1977.
Spraggett, Allen. Kathryn Kuhlman The Woman Who Believes
in Miracles. New York Thomas Y. Crowell, 1970. Reprint, New
York New American Library, 1971.
Stegall, C., and C. C. Harwood. The Modern Tongues and
Healing Movement. Western Bible Institute, n.d.
Tenhaeff, W. H. C. Paranormal Healing Powers. Olten, 1957.

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