Some Questions Answered
The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved
If there is just one area where the charge of irrelevance against the Church should fall it is that of the ministry of Christian healing . At the same time the excesses of enthusiasts and the carping of cynics have so confused the subject of healing that reasonable Church people are prone to raise their eyebrows and steer clear of the whole business. In consequence the Church's healing ministry has been reduced to the sacramental ministry of Anointing in many quarters whilst diversifying into a lawless and unedifying free-for-all elsewhere.
The purpose of this examination of issues is to help build on the current reclaiming of the healing ministry by the Church's centre ground. Many who welcome the Holy Spirit's rekindling of expectancy upon God to heal today, desire to remain Catholic in the sense of keeping reasonably balanced and obedient to the faith and practice of Christians through the ages. It is this constituency as well as the rational enquirer that should find encouragement from the dialogue below.
Why does the Church offer healing ministry?
The short answer is that Jesus Christ commanded his disciples to ‘heal the sick and say ‘the
The Church’s ministry of healing takes its humble part within an amazing process of 'gathering together' in a universe that to the outward eye seems so full of human and material dissolution. 'Healing' is part of a process of drawing together which flows from the heart of God.
When we encounter Jesus Christ we find in him the very drawing power at the heart of the universe. Whereas to the outward eye there is a pulling apart of things, an expansion, a diversification about the universe, to the eye of faith God is 'gather(ing) up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth' Eph 1:10. God's desire as seen by Christians is this - to draw all that is, visible and invisible, personal and material into the life and glory and splendour of the Trinity. As a Russian Churchman puts it, between the Trinity and hell there lies 'no other choice'. Ultimately people are either caught up into the movement towards personal union with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit with the Church or they are heading for emptiness.
Scripture tells of how 'God...reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation' 2 Cor 5:18. God's work of reconciliation entrusted to us incorporates the linked aspects of forgiveness (the overcoming of the power of sin), healing (the overcoming of the power of sickness) and deliverance (the overcoming of the power of evil). The Church's ministry of healing takes its place within this ministry of reconciliation which is itself part of an overall sweep into wholeness, fullness, and complete belonging which is the purpose of the Blessed Trinity.
What do Christians mean by 'salvation'?
One of the best definitions of salvation is the process described by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:18 where he speaks of Christians as people who 'with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.' This transformation that Paul speaks of is possible when the 'veil' of someone's unbelief comes down and God is able to shine in their hearts ‘to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ' 4:6.
It is the heart of Christian belief that God, seeing the sickness and sin, the bondage of fear and death abounding in his creation, sent his Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to be our Saviour. The way to glory Paul speaks of was opened by the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus who is now able to send his Spirit on the fellowship of believers to transform them into the likeness of Christ ‘from one degree of glory to another'.
Salvation can be expressed positively as a drawing into relationship with God through Jesus 'with all the saints'. It can be expressed negatively in terms of a 'losing of the veil', an ongoing loosening from the worldly powers of sin, sickness, fear, doubt, death and the devil through the demonstrably greater power of the Lord's death and resurrection.
In the Christian perspective salvation is corporate and not individualistic, promoting human and social flourishing.
Why is there sickness in the world?
Though God uses sickness to bring people closer to him and to fulfilment, it is not of his original design. It resulted from the evil powers that came to play when he made man as a free agent, dwelling at a distance from him in the created world. We know as Christians that God loves us with an everlasting love (cf. Jeremiah 31:3) and wants us to love Him too. Such love can only be offered freely in the world as he has created it. We have to seek him from a distance to offer the love he so desires. Sickness is one consequence of our distance from him. It loses much of its power when we actively seek the Lord.
How can God favour a selection of the human race with supernatural gifts of healing?
The question resembles other questions such as why
By the gift of the Holy Spirit Jesus Christ has given authority to his Church to promote his salvation by preaching the good news, forgiving repentant sinners and healing the sick. He lives as risen Saviour wanting to share the fullness of his Life with us here and now, banishing evil's power. Though God brings healing to all people naturally and through the medical profession, where there is active faith in Christ there are new possibilities through Christ's promises.
In Christian tradition welcoming instrumentality under God is not seen
as guaranteeing an easy life. St. Teresa
At the same time those who live in the New Covenant hold that 'all things work together for good for those who love God' Romans . That such things can include supernatural intervention in answer to prayer is not seen as contrary to scientific world view. God can be seen as holding the world in being, interacting with it whilst not readily over ruling its order. Both science and Christianity uphold the vital importance of invisible realities. The world is increasingly seen by scientists to be full of surprises that go beyond reason, so that there is less cynicism in principle about healing miracles.
What about the risk of disappointment associated with the healing ministry?
Once upon a time there was a young boy who was trying to open up a flower whose buds were closed. No matter how careful he tried to be he could not avoid bruising or damaging the bud as he forced it open. "Why can't I open the flower like God does?" he asked. His mother replied, "But dear, God opens the flower from the inside. And he only does this when the climate is right for the flower, when there is warmth and light."
The Church's healing ministry advances as parishes build up the warmth and light in congregations that helps people open up expectantly to God as flowers do to the sun. Belief in the power of prayer is always to be coupled to the sustaining of such believers within the loving fellowship of the Church. Healing like evangelism has no 'quick fixes'. It is always a matter of taking a step forwards in a journey of faith. There are times of disappointment when it appears outwardly as if a backward step is being taken.
Such disappointments test and build up the loving fellowship of the Church without which healing ministry is hollow. As the sacraments are instruments and channels of the living Christ and effective signs to his body so Christians are loving instruments of the same Lord to one another and to the parish. The incarnational principle 'love needs a body' gives heart to a parish through its preaching, its active participation in the Sacraments and its service to others. Listening ministries are at the heart of such unconditional loving service and very often prepare the way for effective healing ministry.
The encouraging of greater expectancy upon the Lord risks serious disappointment only where people receive ministry in isolation without the loving commitment of the Christian body as a whole. Otherwise disappointments in prayer become a matter of 'bearing one another's burdens'.
Isn't the only prayer 'Thy will be done'?
Yes - but it really matters that we find God's will for our lives so that we can pray and work for it in a specific fashion. Sometimes the prayer 'thy will be done' can be uttered as a bowing to cruel fate. In the Lord's prayer that clause is coupled to the phrase 'thy kingdom come' which expresses a looking towards God's possibilities breaking into the world which includes our lives.
Through the ministry of the Church people are drawn closer to God to
discover more of him and of themselves and their needs. It is the bringing of such discerned needs to
Our Lord for his possibilities to engage upon them that constitutes the heart
of healing prayer. So the prayer 'thy
will be done' is prayed most powerfully and effectively when
A young man addicted to heroin took months before he discerned there was a God, One who loved him and One who had power to help him overcome his problems. Only at this point did he pray with the Church that God's will be done in his life and he be cured of his addiction. This occurred in the months that followed and he remains free of heroin years later. The healing process involved much loving care from a Christian community, the discovery of God as both loving and all-powerful as well as the acceptance of Christian discipleship.
Are lay people equipped to involve themselves in healing ministry?
There are two issues hidden in this question. One is about professional conduct. The other bears upon the doctrine of the Church.
Our Lord is understood to have given a special authority to heal to his apostles. This is understood by most Christians to have passed on to our bishops and priests. The 'apostolic mandate' to heal is seen as focussed in the sacramental ministry of Anointing.
'Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.' James 5:14-15
At the same time every Christian is called to pray with expectation for the needy, assured that God will answer their prayers, especially when their prayer is joined to that of other believers.
'Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ Matthew 18:19-20
The Church's healing ministry is a 'continuum' linking pastoral care with faith expectancy, loving with empowering, individuals with the community. In the same way it is desirable that ordained and lay ministries run together. The restriction of public prayer to the clergy denies the dignity and authority of every baptised believer. On the other hand all ministry in the Church is under authority and the clergy are accountable for its decent ordering and entrusting to people in good standing with their congregations.
The term 'lay' also contrasts with 'professional'. Inasmuch as the involvement of Christians in the healing ministry is through their humble instrumentality under God, talk of 'professionalism' may be misplaced at times. The manipulative excesses of some Christian groups have bred a healthy concern for better practice but to restrict the healing ministry to clerical 'professionals' is surely to quench the Spirit.
Isn't it rather arrogant or at least credulous to expect divine intervention?
It is said that one with such a sceptical attitude stumbled into the
The story is telling. Christianity is a supernatural religion of grace if it is anything at all. It goes beyond but not against reason. The scientists of today see the world as less mechanical and predictable and more 'open-ended' than their forbears. In Christian revelation our Father in heaven has covenanted with his adopted children to provide for their needs one way or another and on a timescale according to his wisdom. Unbelief is as great a barrier to receiving wholeness as arrogance or credulity.
Christ never manipulated people. The 'healing ministry' can often fall guilty of this since, unlike their Lord, Christians are imperfect instruments of God. Those involved in this ministry are expected to be in a growing awareness of their own need of grace before they can be used by the Church in her ministry of healing.
All good things - money, power, sex, food - can be employed to the glory of God or in a destructive fashion. The same is true of 'the gifts of healings' scripture speaks of in 1 Corinthians 12:9. There are people on the fringes of the Church and within Spiritualism who purport to offer healing literally at a price. Since ultimate healing and wholeness are found in the service of Jesus Christ any benefits received outside that commitment must be ultimately flawed and short-lived.
Since healing and wholeness are rooted in the love of God they are to be freely sought and given, which means people are free to turn away like the rich young man who met Our Lord. It is not the business of the Church to compel allegiance but to be transparent to the magnetic influence of Jesus. In the author's experience joy at discovering more of the Lord's love and provision for oneself is more frequent than frustration as people are drawn to seek the Church's ministry of healing.
What is the relationship between medicine and the Church's healing ministry?
The founder of Burrswood Christian Healing Centre, Dorothy Kerin speaking of 'these two instruments of God's healing power' insisted 'Martha and Mary must walk together'.
Sometimes 'Martha' and 'Mary' drift apart. Even Christian doctors can tend to believe God's healing occurs through natural processes in the body alone, remaining suspicious of specific intervention in answer to prayer. They are also extremely reserved about the role of the devil and evil spirits. On the other side some of the Church's ministers of healing can make claims for healing in answer to prayer when the sickness involved would probably have got better anyway. There are also occasions when sickness is falsely attributed to evil spirits.
The partnership between 'Martha' and 'Mary' has enormous importance for the promotion of healing and wholeness and is true to a God who is both Creator and Saviour, covenanted to bless through nature and to perfect nature through grace.
What about evil spirits and exorcism?
The existence of the devil is affirmed by scripture and the tradition of the Church, not least in the rites of Christian initiation and healing.
God's work of reconciliation is a drawing into the fullness of life to be found in the Trinity 'with all the saints'. It is a work that incorporates the linked aspects of forgiveness, healing and deliverance by which Jesus Christ overcomes the powers of sin, sickness and all evil. Sometimes our sins, sicknesses, fears etc. become habitual and take hold of us in such a way that our repentance and prayer for healing seem insufficient to bring us towards wholeness. This is when talk emerges of 'breaking the grip' of something.
C.S.Lewis warned of two errors concerning the deliverance ministry: underestimating the devil and overestimating him. His only power is that of the lie and sometimes he uses it to blind us to his influence. His power of binding is countered by the authority of Jesus given to Christian believers, especially through the apostolic ministry.
Exorcism is a ministry reserved to the bishop and his chosen officers who have a special gift of discernment. Much damage can occur when eager priests or lay people enter deliverance ministry without consulting those 'over them in the Lord' 1 Thessalonians
Why should a parish work to expand its healing ministry?
A parish on the move is one where people are being transformed by the life of Christ, growing spiritually and socially through ongoing discipleship flowing to and from the eucharistic community. The healing ministry is one focus of this movement. Where parishioners are led to do business with God, to face their fears, their resentments, their lack of acceptance of particular circumstances, they are freed to move forwards with a lighter tread that brings joy to the Church.
Through the healing ministry many parishes are seeing a recovery in the use of Sacramental Confession and other forms of personal ministry as people rediscover their individual need of grace. Through the expansion of the healing ministry there is a resurgence in listening ministries among the laity, the unconditional loving service that so often helps prepare enquirers for the Gospel.
Recovery of confidence in the power of God helps the Church extend her pastoral ministry into something that is even more life changing and upbuilding of wholeness. As clergy and lay people see themselves more as God's people working together for his glory there is a natural pointing of others to God and the release of his possibilities into locked up situations. 'Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."' Zechariah 8:23
In what ways can a parish develop such ministry?
It is a matter of conviction and consensus. There needs to be conviction that the Gospel is about the power of God to heal among other things. There also needs to be prudent leadership so that a consensus can be built up about the most helpful ways of inviting people to welcome healing in a particular Church.
Conviction, belief in God's promises to heal is at the heart of developing the seeking of wholeness in a congregation. Such faith is kindled in a variety of ways. The author had his kindled by what was in fact a crisis of faith in which he was led to pray 'God, if you're there, show yourself!'. God's answer was in the end a recovery of a vision of him to wider dimensions than before which renewed belief in the possibility of divine intervention in human situations.
Scripture study that allows the word of God to test and to draw out people's experience of God and of the way prayers are answered is a proven resource. Preaching and teaching accompanied by wise leadership is a vital key, as is the readiness to let people share their faith stories so as to encourage others in their seeking of wholeness in Christ.
The providing of special services with a focus on healing and wholeness is important provided they are linked to the healing significance of so many aspects of life. The recent independent report ‘Inequalities in Health’ is a reminder of the necessary partnership prayer must have with action towards social justice.
A key factor in promoting the healing ministry is the identification and encouragement of lay people in good standing with the congregation who might be gifted to exercise forms of prayer ministry. Their role might be to assist the priest at special services and to make themselves available with him to offer prayer for those with special needs.
A focus on healing or the renewal of faith with accompanying rites might be appropriate from time to time at the main Sunday Eucharist eg. The Baptism of the Lord, Pentecost, Remembrance-tide.
What is the healing significance of the Eucharist?
In the Roman Catholic Eucharist the priest may pray this silent prayer of preparation before Holy Communion, echoing the teaching of 1 Corinthians 11:23-34:
'Lord Jesus Christ, with faith in your love and mercy I eat your body and drink your blood. Let it not bring me condemnation, but health in mind and body'.
The Anglican Book of Common Prayer uses the following words of administration at Holy Communion:
'The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.'
Far from being peripheral the emphasis on healing has always been there, right at the centre of the Church's life, in the Eucharist. Here the words and works of Jesus are presented daily for the salvation and healing of believers.
The healing significance of the Eucharist is something that might be more frequently the subject of preaching and teaching. Since the model for true human wholeness is to be seen in Jesus, our growth into full healing and wholeness is a matter of being conformed to Our Lord, as in this deepest of encounters with him.
There should be a degree of reluctance to make the Eucharist a 'Healing Service' by adding rites since the healing Gift offered there cannot be added to, only more fully revealed. At the same time the incorporation of the sacramental ministry of Anointing within the Eucharist is well established and provides a reminder to the congregation of the availability of such ministry.
What forms of 'Healing Service' are to be recommended?
The term 'Healing Service' gives a focus more on human need than on the grace of God. Other titles such as ‘Service of Praise and Healing’ have been preferred. It is sometimes preferable to incorporate opportunities for personal ministry within the framework of regular liturgical worship. This has the advantage of directing people to God with the prayer of the Church in the time-honoured fashion before inviting them to bring him their needs as individuals.
Liturgical worship is also as far from 'manipulative' as worship can be. At the same time the choice of preacher, hopefully one who can excite expectancy upon God, is important. It is always important to clarify the procedure for the laying on of hands etc. so that people know from the outset of the Service what is available. Such instruction best occurs if those leading worship can blend the themes of welcome and challenge, penitence and expectancy.
1. A Service of Praise and Healing
Reflective songs are sung as the people gather in Church
Welcome followed by introductory scripture verse and acclamations of praise.
Jesus said, 'Heal the sick and
All praise and glory to you, almighty Father, for you created us and hold us in being by your love. You are our first beginning and our final end. In you is the fullness of life and at your right hand there is joy for evermore.
Response: Glory and praise to you, O Lord
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, for you loved us and gave yourself for us. You came down to us to raise us up to you. In you is our healing and salvation, our hope and resurrection. Response
All glory be yours, Holy Spirit of God, proceeding from the Father, descending upon the Church to bring her unity and holiness. You fill our hearts and change us from Christ’s image into his likeness from glory to glory. Response
To God the Father, who first loved us, and made us accepted in the Beloved; to God the Son who loves us and washed us from our sins in his own blood; to God the Holy Spirit who sheds the love of God abroad in our own hearts; to you, the one true God, be all love and glory for time and for eternity. Amen
Hymn of Praise
Intercessions for the Church, the world, all who suffer, for the sick and for ourselves followed by a time of open prayer if appropriate and ending with a liturgical prayer associated with the healing ministry.
Lord Jesus Christ, in the days of your flesh the sick were brought to you for healing: hear us as we now bring to you in our prayers those who are ill, in body or mind. May your presence be with them to relieve suffering and distress, and to restore them to fullness of life; for your great love's sake. Amen. Anglican Prayer for use with the Sick
Scripture, Address, Hymn, Confession and Prayer for Forgiveness.
The Laying on of Hands by priests, possibly accompanied by one or two lay people. One priest is also available alone for Counsel, Confession or Anointing. As people come up to the teams they are asked if there is anything in particular they want prayer for. It is possible to request prayer on behalf of someone who is not present. During this ministry quiet worship continues as the congregation uphold the healing ministry in their prayer.
Blessing, Hymn of Praise, Cup of Tea
2. Evening Prayer with Laying on of Hands
Order of Evening Prayer, sung or said.
The Penitential Rite may be at the beginning, prefaced by mention of the forthcoming ministry, or after the Address.
Hymn, Address, Invitation to receive healing ministry.
Laying on of Hands with organ/choral accompaniment.
Blessing and Recessional Hymn
3. A Service of Praise and Healing before the Blessed Sacrament
Welcome and explanation of the Service.
Opening verses and responses for Evening Prayer
Eucharistic Office Hymn during which the Blessed Sacrament is placed in a Monstrance or Ciborium upon the Altar.
A short penitential rite may be incorporated near this place in the Service or immediately before the healing ministry.
Psalms and Canticle, Scripture, Address, Magnificat
Intercessions, Our Father, Concluding Prayer for the Church's Healing Ministry eg. for the 27th Sunday of the Year in the Roman Catholic Divine Office:
Almighty, ever-living God, whose love surpasses all that we ask or deserve, open up for us the treasures of your mercy. Forgive us all that weighs on our conscience, and grant us more even than we dare to ask. We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen
After a brief invitation to both penitence and expectancy before God, people are invited to come forward to receive ministry at one or more of three stations. Two or more teams of clergy, possibly with laity, offer the laying on of hands. A priest is available in a side chapel for Counsel or Sacramental Confession. Another priest administers the Sacrament of Anointing to those in special need. The people are told that it is possible to receive the laying on of hands for oneself and/or on behalf of someone else.
During these ministries the congregation continues in reflective worship before the Sacrament led by a music group or someone who makes prayerful announcement of hymns or devotions..
At the close of the healing ministry there is another Eucharistic Hymn. This is followed by a Prayer of thanksgiving for the Eucharist, Benediction (silent blessing of the people with the Blessed Sacrament) and a concluding Hymn of Praise.
4. Simple Healing Service
Opening Hymn and Welcome
Scripture, Address, Hymn
Open Prayer and Intercessions for the Sick
Confession, Prayer for Forgiveness and Invitation
Laying on of Hands as hymns are sung
Blessing and Hymn of Thanksgiving
Acheson, Sir Donald (Chair) Inequalities in Health Report The Stationery Office 1999
Buckley, Michael Christian Healing CTS 1990
Church of England Ministry to the Sick 1983
Cowie, Ian Prayers and Ideas for Healing Services Wild Goose 1995
Doctrine Commission of the Church of England The Mystery of Salvation 1995
General Synod 1152D Wholeness and Healing Draft Forms of Service 1998
Glennon, Jim Your Healing is Within You Hodder &
Guild of Saint Raphael The Ministry of Healing 1998
Linn, Matthew and Dennis Deliverance Prayer Paulist Press 1981
Lucas, Ernest (Ed) Christian Healing – What Can We Believe? Lynx 1997
MacNutt, Francis Healing Ave Maria Press 1974
MacNutt, Francis The Power to Heal Ave Maria Press 1977
Maddocks, Morris The Christian Healing Ministry SPCK 1995
Maddocks, Morris The Vision of Dorothy Kerin Eagle 1999
Maddocks, Morris Twenty Questions about Healing SPCK 1992
McManus, Jim Healing in the Spirit DLT 1994
Mitton, Michael and Parker, Russ Requiem Healing DLT 1991
Parker, Russ Forgiveness is Healing DLT 1993
Parker, Russ and Lawrence,
Price, Dilwyn Is anyone of you Sick?
Suenens, Cardinal Renewal and the Powers of Darkness DLT 1983
Twisleton, John Confession – Some Questions Answered Church Union 1978
Some Questions Answered
‘Healing’ is a Gospel word. The resurgence of the healing ministry within the Church is a sign of apostolic vitality. It is also a source of confusion and cynicism.
In this booklet
Published by St Pauls Publishing
ISBN 0 85439 585 7