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Modern day faith healing; a godly gift or ungodly deception?

Congregation in prayer for a miracle
Congregation in prayer for a miracle
Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Over the centuries since the bible's completion, certain ministries and clergy have claimed to possess a power to heal, more specifically, the power to heal the sick, raise the dead, speak in tongues and hear the voice of God; these powers fall under what's called spiritual gifts or faith healing, but just how much faith should one have in these claims in post biblical times?

Ministries that pose such feats through spiritual gifting are known for being a part of what's called the Charismatic Movement. This title originated in the 20th century but the idea that certain people had these particular powers in post bible times stretch back to early medieval times. More recently however, this movement has not only become popular amongst many Christians, but also quite lucrative for the one claiming such gifts.

"As an evangelist I had never realized that it's not that uncommon for God to embrace people who go out and about bringing the gospel with that kind of gifting" said Bruce Carlson, a self-proclaimed faith healer and former Lutheran evangelist. Carlson recalled the first time he came to understand that he had spiritual gifts which later led to the healing ministry that he is currently a part of called Sweet Bread Ministries.

"The first person a prayed for was about a nine year old boy who stood in front of me, and I put my hand toward his face, I never touched him. As I started to lift my hands he fell back on the floor speaking in tongues and I was amazed" said Carlson. Some time afterwards, Carlson says he performed another miracle by removing the spirits out of a man who performed as a voodoo drummer.

Perhaps the most sensational miraculous healing performed by Carlson was when he claimed to heal a man from Wisconsin who allegedly had a truck over five tons fall on him during a mechanical accident. This man by the name of Bruce Van Natta has gained fame of his own claiming to have had angels save him at the time of the accident, and after his healing, he too became a faith healer, and maybe not coincidentally, a ministry partner with Bruce Carlson.

I'm in New York...I hear a whisper, not audible just within myself, 'Go and pray for Bruce Van Natta who was severed by the truck.' I flew out there...I finally get to the hospital...he was down to 124 pounds...when it came prayer time I just put my hand on his forehead...In the name of Jesus I command all intestines to come back...They tested him again a couple of days later...from what I understand there was anywhere from nine to eleven feet of intestine out of nowhere unraveled in his belly" said Carlson.

Carlson not only says that he instantly grew back a man's intestine, but that God literally called him to fly from New York to Wisconsin to perform the miracle. For believers in this Charismatic Movement, these stories need no investigating, they are accepted by the words of the speaker alone. However, there are Christians who have trouble taking such stories seriously, their reasons vary.

One of the most well known faith healing ministries comes from Pastor Benny Hinn's camp. Hinn, who claims to have powers to heal the sick has put on various crusades and stage shows in stadium settings of which thousands of people have attended. According to an interview Hinn gave on ABC, his ministry also brought in $100 million at the time and was the focus of a senate investigation into his finances on how his not for profit funds were being spent.

In one of the interview clips of Hinn's crusade, it shows him allegedly healing a young boy who was losing sight in his left eye. Years later, the boy, as a 17 year old wore a patch and admitted his sight was not healed. Hinn's response to this was, "These are things I can not explain because I am not the healer, I am human like you..." He went on to claim that it was God who did the healing.

Christians who reject such post biblical modern day claims are called Cessationists. These are Christians who believe in miracles that did occur in the bible, but after its completion, such miracles ceased and explains for why such powers are not visible in the world in modern times. They see the Charismatic Movement as a combination of people who are either deceived and/or fraudulent.

In times of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and catastrophic acts of terror like 911, it is questionable of many Cessationists as to where these Charismatic leaders are, being that there is a definite need for both physical and spiritual healing. Carlson himself, could not seem to find an answer either.

"Well you know that's a great question and I tell you I wish I knew the full answer...if I could turn it on and off, I wish I could...but it just doesn't work like that and to tell you the truth I don't know" said Carlson. He also uses the bible like others from the Charismatic Movement to cite where and why faith healing was not just for biblical times, but also extends into the current and beyond.

He refers to the book of Joel where it states,

And so it will come to pass afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit."

The problem with citing this as evidence of post biblical spiritual gifts is that it was referring to an event that was later fulfilled in the bible by the disciples of Jesus. It gave these biblical figures the gifts explained by the prophet Joel as opposed to giving them to someone like Bruce Carlson or Benny Hinn. Carlson cites another verse that unfavorably to him, explains this even better.

He refers to the book of Mark which states,

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

The main problem with this particular passage is that Carlson cited something that doesn't exist in the oldest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. This particular passage was a late addition which was one of two endings to the book of Mark. Carlson still referred to it as the word of God. A clearer example of these miracles being only for the disciples and apostles is found in the book of Luke.

"And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” This passage points directly to these powers being specifically for the biblical disciples as Jesus is commanding them to wait in Jerusalem to receive them. In conjunction with this, like Benny Hinn, Carlson admittedly did not heal everyone he has laid hands on either.

A controversial situation occurred in 2006 when Carlson and his crew attended a small gathering and attempted to heal the participants of any back problems they may have had. In doing so, a woman that Carlson laid hands on unknown to him, was infected with the HIV/AIDS virus and three months later, died from complications of it during surgery. Carlson gives his reasoning on why God did not warn him of such at the time.

"Remember in the New Testament, it says Jesus healed everyone who came to him. It doesn't mean he healed everyone as he walked along the road" said Carlson. "The only thing I can think on that issue is I wonder if she would have been healed if she had said I have HIV."

Of course however, as stated above, the man crushed by the five ton truck, Bruce Van Natta who is Carlson's healing partner was healed because God whispered to him to fly from New York to Wisconsin. Van Natta never asked Carlson to heal him either. Carlson instead had another answer which seemed to echo Benny Hinn.

"Again we can't heal anyone...I take no credit, there's nothing divine about me I'm a forgiven sinner, I'm just a tool in Jesus' tool bag." Ultimately, Carlson later admitted that he didn't know why God spoke to him concerning his healing partner, but not this terminally ill woman. A skeptic could theorize that he and Bruce Van Natta were planning to launch a ministry together and needed a miraculous tale to convince the people they serviced.

Or, everything Carlson is saying is true. Bruce Van Natta in an interview on Ubroadcast years ago was asked to make his medical records of the truck accident public. He refused claiming that the records were 2,000 pages long and there was nowhere on them to pinpoint where the injury occurred. However, TV shows like the 700 Club gladly brought him on to promote his book and story.

It would appear that whenever the 'gift' does not work, the reason is because God is doing the healing, not the actual people who were given the gift to do so. The disciples of Jesus had no problems healing whomever they intended to heal, in fact, the gift of healing was purposely given in order to make believers out of non believers in furthering the gospel.

In reality, many clergy from past to present have played on the psychology of their congregants for either monetary gain or power over their people. Bruce Carlson also speaks about accountability to God for what one says and does. In the meantime, all Christians alike should use the gift that God gave all humans whether saved or unsaved, and that is, common sense when approaching something that sounds too good to be true.