A personal testimony
Most Pentecostals, charismatics and members of Pentecostal-like indigenous churches believe in divine healing (they usually prefer this term to "faith healing"), (1) and a few will even admit to their doubts concerning it. (2) Pentecostal belief in healing is often based on testimonies of people who have themselves experienced healing, and they see this as a direct intervening act of God. I share that perspective and offer a personal testimony to clarify my own presuppositions and set the stage for what follows.
In 1975, during a preaching tour in the mosquito-infested Shire River Valley in Malawi, I contracted cerebral malaria. I was unable to have medical attention for two days; I was delirious and felt as if I was dying. A Christian villager prayed for me until the fever broke. The next day I was well on the way to recovery and was preaching again within three days. A medical doctor confirmed from a blood test that I had indeed contracted and recovered from the disease, but I had an injection of chloroquine, just in case!
What seemed like an even greater act of divine intervention occurred ten years later, when my wife Olwen and I were travelling in Zambia towards Malawi with a van and trailer. A partial head-on collision with a large truck resulted in us both being at death's door. I lost a lot of blood from external injuries. A Catholic priest gave me the rite of extreme unction and a Polish nun stayed at my side in the small mission hospital, holding my hand, and imparting incredible strength. The Australian doctor said that it would be "a miracle" if I were still alive the next morning. Lutheran nuns from Darmstadt came to assist the Catholics. We were flown to hospital in South Africa by air ambulance. I was released from hospital within two weeks. Olwen, however, went into a coma after two days, which was to last for seven weeks. People all over the world prayed. I believe that I had received divine assurances that Olwen would recover. One afternoon, after she had been comatose for four weeks, the German healing evangeli st Reinhard Bonnke (who lived in South Africa at that time) came to pray for her and rebuke the "spirit of death" that gripped her. She was in a deep coma with a "decerebral" response to stimuli. The neurologist had pronounced his opinion that she would not recover from her vegetative state. The next day, the nurse reported that she had smiled, and three weeks later she was beginning to talk. Everyone, the neurologist included, admitted that this was an event that had exceeded all expectations. Although Olwen's injuries were extensive and she remained in hospital for six months, we are now the parents of two children, our oldest born eighteen months after the accident that changed our lives. That is another miracle and another story.
I relate these stories because the issues that are discussed here have profoundly affected me and are taken very seriously. God used a Catholic priest, Catholic and Lutheran nuns, medical professionals, a German evangelist; and the prayers of many people to bring about our healing. I will not pretend that everything has been perfect thereafter. Olwen and I continue to suffer physical consequences from our injuries, but we know that we are still alive because of God's miraculous intervention and answer to prayers. We know that God is compassionate and powerful, and can do anything in his love-filled purposes. Sometimes (but not always) these purposes are to heal and to relieve suffering and affliction. I pray for people to be healed even when I seldom see it happening, and I gladly receive prayer for healing when I need it. Sometimes it seems as if sickness overwhelms people, including my family and myself. But we Pentecostals remain convinced that healing is part of the continuing ministry of Christ on earth through the Holy Spirit. Healing, furthermore, is comprehensive and relates to all of life, not just the "physical" part of it. (3) This has been at the heart of the Pentecostal view of healing since its beginning.
The Pentecostal "full gospel"
The contemporary healing practices of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements did not originate in early Pentecostalism. The doctrines of "divine healing" and "healing in the atonement" (explained below) were already widespread in the North American Holiness movement in the 19th century, out of which Pentecostalism emerged, and the idea also existed in early Methodism. Holiness leaders like Charles Cullis, A.B. Simpson and Asa Mahan were staunch proponents of divine healing through faith. (4) The Holiness movement stressed the four elements of a "full gospel", viz. salvation, healing, holiness and the second coming of Christ. (5) The distinctiveness added by early Pentecostals was another element, viz. the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which Pentecostals usually linked to speaking in tongues. Jesus Christ was declared to be "Saviour, Healer, Baptizer and Soon Coming King", to which the Holiness Pentecostals added "Sanctifier". Pentecostal belief in the "full gospel" not only meant that Jesus was "Saviour" who saved people from sin, but also "Healer" from sickness and deliverer of people from the power of Satan. This was a soteriological emphasis, to which was added an eschatological one: Christ was the "soon coming King" who was preparing his church for his rule. The Pentecostals added a pneumatological and missiological dimension before the eschatological one: Christ was the "Baptizer in the Holy Spirit" who empowered ordinary people to witness to the ends of the earth. Steven Land summarizes this "full gospel" as comprising "five theological motifs", characteristic of North American classical Pentecostals in particular: (1) justification by faith in Christ; (2) sanctification by faith as a second definite work of grace (Land's own Holiness Pentecostal position); (3) healing as provided for all in the atonement; (4) the pre-millennial return of Christ (not all Pentecostals, however, are pre-millenialists); and (5) the baptism in the Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues. (6)
Although it is difficult to generalize …