A prominent evangelical pastor once said that “Oral Roberts told him one time that most people who were healed in his ministry did not experience long lasting healing.”
Therefore one criticism of “healing ministries” today is that most people who were healed in such meetings did not experience long-lasting healing. The infirmity would return to the person who had been initially healed. Implied is the thinking that if the healing were truly of God, then the sickness or disease would not have returned. This objection would at first glance appear to be reasonable enough.
Let us nevertheless take another look at this matter.
First of all, is it possible that even in the time of Jesus, infirmities for some reason returned?
At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.'” So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:9-14)
Jesus warned the man that if he did not stop sinning, something worse could befall him. This opens up the possibility that under certain conditions the infirmity could return and the man’s condition become worse than before.
There is also another way to address this matter. The above objection to the ministry of healing today is that it does not appear to “work” since the sickness ends up returning. But in the Church do we evaluate practices based on whether or not they “work?” The answer is clearly no. The primary criterion is whether or not the practice or teaching follows Scripture.
As an example of this, consider Luke 10:9.
Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
Here Jesus sends out the 72 disciples and commands them to proclaim the kingdom of God to the Jews who did not know that He was the Messiah—they were not sent to believers of which there were none at that time. So the disciples obeyed, going forth to preach the gospel. The whole point of preaching the gospel here of course was for the lost Jews to put their faith in Jesus as the Messiah and receive eternal life. But did every person who heard the gospel through the 72 disciples accept Jesus as their Messiah? We would dare so no. Today in the West at least, many if not most people who hear the gospel do not accept Christ. Therefore the gospel does not always “work.” For that reason should we not preach the gospel?
Of course not.
We preach the gospel because Jesus commanded us to do so, and we will preach it according to Scripture. After that we “leave the results up to God.” We don’t preach the gospel to the lost simply because it “works” each and every time with the lost accepting Christ. Evangelicals want to obey the properly-interpreted commands of our Lord Jesus in their scriptural context whether or not they appear to “work.” (And it is not surprising that when we do, they in fact often do “work.”)
In the same breath that Jesus commanded the 72 disciples to proclaim the kingdom of God in Luke 10:9, he also commanded them to “heal the sick” using the power and authority He had given to the Twelve earlier in Luke 9:1-2.
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:1-2)
And so the Twelve obeyed the Lord’s command:
So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere. (Luke 9:6)
Did every person who heard the good news accept Jesus as their Messiah? Was every sick person in fact actually healed?
We don’t really know if every person accepted Christ, although it would appear from the passage that every sick person was healed. But the point is that the disciples obeyed the Lord’s command. For evangelicals that should be the primary objective. After we do our part, we “leave the results up to God.” We walk by faith and not by sight.
And we can make the same conclusion concerning the actual results of what the 72 disciples accomplished after Jesus commanded them in Luke 10:9 to “heal the sick and tell them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.’ ”
Our personal experience is that when in the context of preaching the gospel we minister to the sick in obedience to His command in Scripture with the power and authority Jesus has delegated to His disciples, the results will be fruitful. But again, we evaluate the practice not based on its actual results, but rather on its faithfulness to Scripture.
The third and most important factor: context
Perhaps the most important factor to be considered in this matter is the context. Is the healing in the context of “church” with mostly believers present, or in the context of preaching the gospel to those who never heard as it was in the gospels & Acts and as it often is in the Third World? We have discovered that when the context of the ministry is the gospel-resistant “1040 Window” God’s priority to heal is much higher than it is when the context is a gathering of mostly saved believers. The ministry of Oral Roberts was mostly in the christianized United States, and most of the people attending his meetings were believers who already knew Jesus as their Savior. If they were not healed (or if their healing was only “temporary”) and they then passed on, they would of course appear in the Father’s House completely healed forever. But if an unbeliever dies, he or she would have no chance of eternal life. Therefore God’s priority to heal is very high when the gospel is preached to those in the Third World. Being resistant to the gospel because of their non-Christian pagan culture, they need to witness exceptionally powerful miracles before they can give up their pagan beliefs and accept Christ as Lord and Savior. The Lord knows this. Therefore in such a context we will normally witness powerful miracles that are not temporary, but that will remain for everyone in the resistant context to see as incontrovertible evidence that Jesus is the Messiah and the only Savior.
This is the very same context in which the Twelve and then the 72 disciples preached the gospel and healed the sick. They were sent to reach those who had never heard and who had been immersed in a totally “non-Christian” culture.
In summary, therefore, there are three ways with which we can answer the objection that most people who were healed in the ministry of Oral Roberts did not remained healed.
- Evangelicals normally evaluate teachings and practices not based on whether or not they “work,” but rather on their faithfulness to Scripture. For evangelicals, “results” are secondary to remaining faithful to Scripture—no matter what.
- Scripture implies that sickness can return if the person does not repent.
- Finally, the miraculous healings are much more pronounced and frequent in the context of preaching the gospel to those in gospel-resistant cultures who never heard the gospel even once—a context not unlike that in which the early disciples were sent out to heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God. In this most vital context the word of God does “work” and many infirm people are in fact healed as evidence to lost that Jesus is the only way to the Father. And these healings are not simply temporary but they are long-lasting in order to be a continually powerful testament to the community of who Jesus really is.