There is a lot of disagreement among Christians on this question. Some believe that we should be seeing healing and miracles all the time in the church, while others believe that these gifts faded away with the foundations that the apostles laid in the early church.
In a previous post I argued that the gift of working of miracles is not for today. In this post Alistair Anderton argues the same for the gift of healing.
The book of Acts in the New Testament has many accounts of miraculous healing. Acts 3 is a classic:
Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, Look at us! So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk. Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. (Acts 3:2-8)
According to this example, the New Testament gift of healing had a number of characteristics (thanks to Joel James for pointing these out):
1) It was unassisted
No medical intervention, medication, or surgeries were needed for full healing to take place.
2) It was immediate
There were no lengthy, repeated prayer sessions. The man’s legs didn’t strengthen over weeks or months. Peter said, “Walk!” and “immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened.”
3) It was complete
The healing of the lame man was not partial or temporary. He didn’t take a few faltering steps. He jumped up, leaped about, and never returned to his previous, crippled state.
4) It healed visible, verifiable diseases
Peter didn’t heal only back pain, headaches, or invisible internal conditions. Peter healed a man whose legs were visibly deformed. One second they were twisted and misshaped; the next they were straight, whole, and strong.
5) It was undeniable
The miracle of Acts 3 was so irrefutable, the Jewish religious authorities (no friends of Peter!) said this about the healing: “The fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16).
6) It never failed, regardless of the faith of the person
The lame man in Acts 3 didn’t even know that Peter intended to heal him; all he was hoping for was a handful of coins. He had no faith, but this didn’t stop Peter’s ability to heal.
Luke’s report in Acts 5 about the apostles’ healing ministry reveals some more characteristics of the New Testament gift of healing:
The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade…Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed. (Acts 5:12, 16)
7) No one was left unhealed
Every single person who came to the apostles to be healed, was healed.
8) It was used to heal unbelievers, not believers
This might surprise you, but there is no clear example in the book of Acts or the New Testament epistles of a Christian healing another Christian. Peter healed an unbeliever in Acts 3. In Acts 5, the people of Judea brought their sick to be healed. Philip the evangelist healed unbelievers when he evangelised in Samaria (Acts 8), and Paul healed during his missionary journeys (Acts 14). The New Testament never gives an example of a Christian healing another Christian. In other words, healing was a sign gift: it was used to heal unbelievers to prove that the gospel message was true and to promote evangelism.
“‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed.’ Immediately he got up. And all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:34-35)
Surely, you would think, the gift of healing was given so that Christians could heal other Christians?! But there is no evidence that healings took place within the church. In fact, when Paul wrote to Timothy he mentioned Timothy’s stomach problems and “frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23). Paul’s advice to Timothy wasn’t, “Find someone with the gift of healing.” It was, “Drink some wine as medicine.”
Paul didn’t expect Timothy’s chronic stomach illness to be healed by a church member with the gift of healing. That wasn’t the purpose of the gift. Other examples of sickness in the New Testament support this. According to 2 Timothy 4:20, Paul had to leave Trophimus, a valued companion, behind during one of his journeys because Trophimus was too sick to travel. James said that if someone was sick, he must call the elders for prayer (James 5:14ff.), not someone with the gift of healing. In other words, there is no evidence that the early church dealt with physical sickness among its members by using the gift of healing.
9) It was done without preliminaries or special meetings
Peter healed in the temple and on the street in impromptu situations, so did Paul (Acts 14:8-9). No healing crusades!
These then are the characteristics of New Testament healing. It was unassisted, immediate, complete, and healed visible deformities and diseases. Its healings were so obvious that they were undeniable, even by the enemies of Christianity. The New Testament gift of healing never failed regardless of the faith of the recipient. Everyone who came to be healed was healed. It wasn’t used in the church to heal other believers. Instead, it was a sign gift used to promote evangelism among the unsaved.
10) Finally, it was impromptu
It didn’t require the controlled environment of a special meeting or slow music with a smoke machine. How does that compare to the healing crusades we see today? Today’s “healings” bear no resemblance to the New Testament gift of healing. Today’s “healings” often require medical assistance (surgery, prescription drugs, and other treatments) to be successful. They require weeks or months to take effect rather than being instant. They are incomplete: the cripple walks, but only with staggering, painful steps. They are temporary: the heart condition returns two months after it has supposedly been banished.
Today’s “healings” are successful only with problems invisible to the naked eye. Because they are invisible, today’s healings are highly deniable. No healer today can say that everyone that comes to him is healed. Today’s healings often need special meetings at which the mood is carefully orchestrated and the people to be “healed” are cautiously screened.
Can we pray for healing? Yes. We can and we should. Jesus has all the power and authority to heal you. Does he promise to heal you or your family member? No. In his wisdom and greater purpose, it’s not always his will to heal you physically. Not in this lifetime. But in the new heavens and new earth, our full physical and emotional healing is going to happen. We must take this truth to heart because this will give us hope and a sense of peace for the rest of our lives.
The gifts of healing and miracles were given to the early church to authenticate the radical, life changing, and earth shattering message of the gospel. And to verify that the messengers who proclaimed it were from God. May we be a church that’s passionate about God working miracles in people lives today, by transforming their hearts through that message he’s given us, and bringing them into his eternal family. And may we be a church that’s always asking God to heal our brothers and sisters who are suffering, rejoicing when he does, but trusting that he has a bigger and greater purpose for when he doesn’t.