The theology of charismatics and pentecostals allows them to witness frequent healing miracles in the context of preaching the gospel to unbelievers, especially on the mission field. Partly for that reason they are among the fastest growing segment of the Body of Christ in the world today, especially in Third World countries.
In contrast, evangelicals see relatively few healing miracles in missions. This need not be so. Evangelicals can preach the gospel with miraculous signs following without having to embrace charismatic doctrines. (This is written with the utmost respect for charismatic believers and without making any judgment on their doctrinal position. The reality is that most evangelicals have difficulty with charismatic doctrine with regard to the baptism in the Holy Spirit and gifts of the Spirit.)
Let us address this very important, yet much misunderstood issue.
There are a few variations on the evangelical position regarding healing miracles in general. On the one hand, some evangelicals believe that miracles have totally ceased since the canonization of the New Testament or the demise of the original twelve apostles. God heals only through natural or medical means. It might be said that this view no longer commands the following among evangelicals that it once did, and with all due respect will not be given further treatment here. Other evangelicals may believe that God still performs miracles through believers in accordance with 1 Corinthians 12, but that not everyone has the gift of healing as Paul states later in the 14th Chapter. On middle ground we might find still other evangelicals who hold that God indeed does perform miracles in the current dispensation, but that He is sovereign and does so entirely apart from human agency. Healing is in His hands. He may choose not to heal because He may want to deal with the one seeking healing, or He may have a greater purpose in mind for him. Simply put, healing is according to His will, not the will of any person. There are no more human “healers” or “miracle-workers.”
In addition to the two views above, we may also find other permutations regarding evangelical thinking on supernatural healing.
Before I present a non-charismatic theology of public power encounters that may enable evangelicals to witness far greater power in their evangelistic ministries, I want to clarify a distinction between two kinds of miraculous healing. The distinction is between the healing of believers primarily for the sake of alleviating their pain on the one hand, and on the other hand the healing of unbelievers (or believers) primarily as signs to confirm the message of the gospel to the lost that they may believe in Christ. The former type of healing might take place in church or a prayer meeting. The latter kind will always take place in an evangelistic setting. There may be some overlap as well.
How might God heal believers in the first category, that is, for the primary purpose of delivering them from pain? The first possibility is in accordance with 1 Corinthians 12, where the Holy Spirit has given to some the gift of miraculous healing for ministering to sick believers. The gifts of the Spirit taught in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 are for the express purpose of building up the Body of Christ—for the common good of believers. And clearly, not all have this gift of ministering healing to believers. Therefore the healing of believers might be rare because few have this gift. Or, whether or not we accept the existence of such a gift, God might heal believers in accordance with James 5. Here God heals through church elders who anoint the sick with oil and offer the prayer of faith. Finally, not all believers are healed by God because He may have another purpose for them.
Now what of the second kind of healing, where God heals for the specific purpose of demonstrating His power and grace to unbelievers that they might believe the gospel? Such miracles are extremely effective when we preach the gospel to people from non-Christian cultures living in the 1040 Window. How does God heal in such instances? Is it generally His will to heal when the eternal destiny of a precious soul is in the balance? The answer is “yes!” “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things,” even miraculous signs so that sinners may believe in His Son? In contrast to the uncertainty regarding God’s ways in healing believers, we may have confidence that God wills to heal when that healing can bring unbelievers to repentance.
All evangelicals will agree that God’s primary purpose in the gospel is to save the lost through Jesus Christ. In the four Gospels and in Acts, sinners very often believed in Christ because they witnessed, sometimes personally, a miracle of healing from Him. Jesus Himself understood this fact of human nature:
- John 4:48 “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
- John 14:11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.
Jesus performed miracles not just for the sake of removing people’s pain, but so they could repent and receive the greatest miracle of all: eternal life. Thus we may rightly conclude that “God so loved the world” He is not reluctant to perform miracles for sinners to see in order that they may repent and turn to Him. Through whom does He perform these miracles?
- Mark 16:15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation…. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; …they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” 19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
Jesus commands all believers to preach the gospel. When these believers go out in obedience, miraculous signs will accompany them for the purpose of confirming the gospel to their listeners. These signs will include healing the sick. The above Scripture teaches that God can potentially use all believers to do these miracles in the context of preaching the gospel. If some doubt the authority of the verses from Mark, we might note that John 14:12 teaches: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also…” It is clear from the Gospels that Christ did the works of preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and casting out demons before He went to the cross. Believers are to do these same works as they preach the gospel to the nations.