Faith healing

Faith healing is the attempt to use religious or spiritual means such as prayer, mental practices, spiritual insights, or other techniques to prevent illness, cure disease, or improve health. Faith healers say they can summon divine or supernatural intervention on behalf of the ill. Faith healers say their practice may afford gradual relief from pain or sickness or bring about sudden "miracle cures." Faith healing may be used in place of, or in tandem with, conventional medical techniques for alleviating or curing diseases. It has been criticized on the grounds that those who use it may delay seeking conventional medical care. This is particularly problematic when parents use faith healing on children.

Faith healing in various belief systems


The term "faith healing" is sometimes used in reference to the belief of some Christians who hold that God heals people through the power of the Holy Spirit, often involving the "laying on of hands".

In the four gospels in the Christian Bible, Jesus is said to cure physical ailments well outside the capacity of first century medicine, most explicitly in the case of "a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was not better but rather grew worse.. Jesus endorsed the use of the medical assistance of the time (medicines of oil and wine) when he praised the fictitious Good Samaritan for acting as a physician, telling his disciples to go and do the same thing that the Samaritan did in the story. The healing in the gospels is referred to as a sign to prove his divinity and to foster belief in himself as the Christ. However, when asked for other types of miracles, Jesus refused some but granted others, in consideration of the motive of the request, but He healed all present every single time, sometimes determining whether they had faith that he would heal them, but the sole contributing factor was His faith for them. Jesus commanded his followers to heal the sick, and said that signs such as healing were evidence of faith ; .


Faith healing is reported by Catholics as the result of intercessory prayer to a saint or to a person with the gift of healing.

Among the best-known accounts by Catholics of faith healings are those attributed to the miraculous intercession of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary known as Our Lady of Lourdes at the grotto of Lourdes in France, and the remissions of life-threatening disease claimed by those who have applied for aid to Saint Jude, who is known as the "patron saint of lost causes".

The Catholic Church has given official recognition to 67 miracles and 7,000 otherwise-inexplicable medical cures since the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared in Lourdes in February 1858. These cures are subjected to intense medical scrutiny and are only recognized as authentic spiritual cures after a commission of doctors and scientists, called the Lourdes Medical Bureau, has ruled out any physical mechanism for the patient's recovery.

Christian Science

Christian Science teaches that healing is possible through an understanding of the underlying, spiritual perfection of God's creation. The world as humanly perceived is believed to be a distortion of the underlying spiritual reality. Christian Scientists believe that healing through prayer is possible insofar as it succeeds in correcting the distortion. Christian Scientists are free to choose either prayer or medication in the treatment of health problems, but they usually avoid using the two methods at the same time, in the belief that they tend to counteract each other.


At the turn of the 20th century, the new Pentecostal movement drew participants from the Holiness movement and other movements in America that already believed in divine healing. There were many pastors and evangelists in the US, England, and other countries who believed in a God who healed the sick.

Most Pentecostal historians trace the beginnings of the modern movement to the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. The revival was started through the ministry of an African American preacher named William J. Seymour, who was inspired by Charles Fox Parham. During the Azusa Street meetings, according to witnesses who wrote about them, blind, crippled or other sick people would be healed. The prayer room upstairs was decorated with crutches from people whose prayers had been answered. People flocked from all over the US and around the world to Azusa Street amidst reports of speaking in tongues and other spiritual gifts.

Belief in divine healing was generally accepted by participants in the Azusa Street meetings. Some of the participants would eventually minister extensively in this area. For example, John G. Lake was present during the years of the Azusa Street revival. Lake had earned huge sums of money in the insurance business at the turn of the century but gave away his possessions with the exception of food for his children while he and his wife fasted on a trip to Africa to do missionary work. Certain people he'd never met before gave him money and keys to a place to stay which were required to enter South Africa at the dock. His writings tell of numerous healing miracles he and others performed as over 500 churches were planted in South Africa. Lake returned to the US and set up healing rooms in Spokane, Washington.

During the 1920s and 1930s Aimee Semple McPherson was a controversial faith healer of growing popularity during the Great Depression.

Smith Wigglesworth was also a well-known figure in the early part of the 20th century. A former English plumber turned evangelist, who lived simply and read nothing but the Bible from the time his wife taught him to read, Wigglesworth traveled around the world preaching about Jesus and performing faith healings. There are reports of Wigglesworth raising several people from the dead in Jesus' name in his meetings.

William Branham is usually credited as being the founder of the post World War II healing revivals. By the late 1940s Oral Roberts was well known, and he continued with faith healing until the 1980s. A friend of Roberts was Kathryn Kuhlman, another popular faith healer who gained fame in the 1950s and had a television program on CBS. Also in this era, Jack Coe and A. A. Allen were faith healers with a large following, and they traveled with large tents that were used to hold mobile, open air crusades.

Oral Roberts's successful use of television as a medium to gain a wider audience led others to follow suit. For example, Pat Robertson and Peter Popoff became well-known televangelists who claimed to heal the sick. Richard Rossi, known for advertising his healing clinics through secular television and radio, claimed he could demonstrate and prove God's power to unbelievers.


Spiritualism is a religion which holds as a tenet the belief that contact is possible between the living and the spirits of the dead. For this reason, death, as an outcome of disease, may not seem as frightening to Spiritualists as it does to those who practice other religions. According to the 20th century Spiritualist author Lloyd Kenyon Jones, "This does not mean that sickness is unreal. It is real enough from the mortal viewpoint. The spirit feels the pain, senses the discomfiture of the flesh-body, even though the spirit is not ill."

Spiritualism does not promote "mental" cures of the type advocated by New Thought; however, help from the "spirit world" (including advice given by the spirits of deceased physicians) is sought, and may be seen as central to the healing process. As with practitioners of New Thought, Spiritualists may combine faith healing with conventional medical therapies. As Jones explained it, "We are not taught to put the burden on our minds. We do not 'will away' illness. But – we do not fear illness. [...] When we ask the spirit-world to relieve us of a bodily ill, we have gone as far as our own understanding and diligence permit. [...] We have faith, and confidence, and belief. [...] If medicine at times will assist, we take it – not as a habit, but as a little push over the hill. If we need medical attention, we secure it."


Inefficacy and alternative explanations

While faith in the supernatural is not in itself usually considered to be the purview of science, claims of reproducible effects are nevertheless subject to scientific investigation. A Cochrane review of intercessory prayer found essentially no effect, and a recent study not included in the review found similar results for the effect of intercessory prayer on outcome for heart surgery. The American Medical Association considers that prayer as therapy should not be a medically reimbursable or deductible expense. Skeptics of faith healing offer primarily two explanations for anecdotes of cures or improvements, relieving any need to appeal to the supernatural. The first is post hoc ergo propter hoc, meaning that a genuine improvement or spontaneous remission may have been experienced coincidental with but independent from anything the faith healer or patient did or said. These patients would have improved just as well even had they done nothing. The second is the placebo effect, through which a person may experience genuine pain relief and other symptomatic alleviation. In this case, the patient genuinely has been helped by the faith healer or faith-based remedy, not through any mysterious or numinous function, but by the power of their own belief that they would be healed. In both cases the patient may experience a real reduction in symptoms, though in neither case has anything miraculous or inexplicable occurred. Both cases, however, are strictly limited to the body's natural abilities.

There are also some cases of fraud (faking the condition) or ineffective healing (believing the condition has been healed immediately after the "healing", and later finding out it has not). These are discussed in following sections.

Negative impact on public health

Reliance on faith healing to the exclusion of other forms of treatment can have a public health impact when it reduces or eliminates access to modern medical techniques. This is evident in both higher mortality rates for children and in reduced life expectancy for adults. Critics have also made note of serious injury that has resulted from falsely labelled "healings", where patients erroneously consider themselves cured and cease or withdraw from treatment. It is the stated position of the AMA that "prayer as therapy should not delay access to traditional medical care."

Christian theological criticism of faith healing

Christian theological criticism of faith healing broadly falls into two distinct levels of disagreement.

The first is widely termed the "open-but-cautious" view of the miraculous in the church today. This term is deliberately used by Robert L. Saucy in the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?, Don Carson is another example of a Christian teacher who has put forward what has been described as an "open-but-cautious" view. In dealing with the claims of Warfield, particularly "Warfield's insistence that miracles ceased." Carson asserts "But this argument stands up only if such miraculous gifts are theologically tied exclusively to a role of attestation; and that is demonstrably not so." However, while affirming that he does not expect healing to happen today, Carson is critical of aspects of the faith healing movement, "Another issue is that of immense abuses in healing practises.... The most common form of abuse is the view that since all illness is directly or indirectly attributable to the devil and his works, and since Christ by his cross has defeated the devil, and by his Spirit has given us the power to overcome him, healing is the inheritance right of all true Christians who call upon the Lord with genuine faith."

The second level of theological disagreement with Christian faith healing goes further. Commonly referred to as cessationism, its adherents either claim that faith healing will not happen today at all, or may happen today, but it would be unusual. Richard Gaffin argues for a form of cessationism in an essay alongside Saucy's in the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? In his book Perspectives on Pentecost Gaffin states of healing and related gifts that "the conclusion to be drawn is that as listed in 1 Corinthians 12(vv. 9f., 29f.) and encountered throughout the narrative in Acts, these gifts, particularly when exercised regularly by a given individual, are part of the foundational structure of the church... and so have passed out of the life of the church." Gaffin qualifies this, however, by saying "At the same time, however, the sovereign will and power of God today to heal the sick, particularly in response to prayer (see e.g. James 5:14,15), ought to be acknowledged and insisted on."

Fraud and faith healing

Skeptics of faith healers point to fraudulent practices either in the healings themselves (such as plants in the audience with fake illnesses), or concurrent with the healing work supposedly taking place and claim that faith healing is a quack practice in which the "healers" use well known non-supernatural illusions to exploit credulous people in order to obtain their gratitude, confidence and money. One book, The Faith Healers, investigated Christian evangelists such as Peter Popoff, who claimed to heal sick people and to give personal details about their lives, but was receiving radio transmissions from his wife, Elizabeth, who was off-stage reading information which she and her aides had gathered from earlier conversations with members of the audience. The book also questioned how faith healers use funds that were sent to them for specific purposes. Physicist Robert L. Park and doctor and consumer advocate Stephen Barrett have called into question the ethicality of some exorbitant fees.

Related deaths

See also



  • Dr. Matthias Kamp, M.D.: Bruno Groening - A Revolution in Medicine. A medical documentation on spiritual healing. Grete Haeusler Publishing, 1998, (Chapters 1 - 4)
  • Louis C. Henderson: The Gift of Healing is Yours. Glenmore Press, 1956.
  • The Doctor in the Face of Miracles (Il medico di fronte ai miracoli) is a book written by the Italian Doctors Association that documents the miraculous cures associated with Our Lady of Lourdes.
  • James Randi, The Faith Healers (Containing exposes of Christian Evangelical faith healers Peter Popoff, Pat Robertson, and Oral Roberts.)
  • Lourdes: A History of its Apparitions and Cures is a 1908 book by Georges Bertrin (author) and Mrs. Philip Gibbs (English language translator) that documents early Lourdes cures, including some made after 1905, when Pope Pius X asked that all cases of alleged miracles or cures recorded in Lourdes be scientifically analyzed.

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