Today at our church office two women came to ask if our facility might have a room available that could be used at various times during the week to provide a healing ministry. On inquiring further I learned that the women represented a ministry that was gaining momentum in some parts of the US and Canada that consisted of this kind of interdenominational healing ministry for people from the community. People from a whole variety of church denominations evidently are taught some basics on how to conduct this kind of “low-key” ministry to whoever comes for prayer.
On the surface of things it sounded like this would be a very good ministry because it could be used to help people find relief from serious illness of many kinds, help them become aware of God’s power, and perhaps lead to seeing many people come to faith in Christ. However, it wasn’t clear that the latter was the ultimate purpose of the ministry represented. The women felt that that the interdenominational element was especially good and suggested that it was a faith movement that anticipated seeing many more physical healings than are normally seen. Most people consider that anything inter-denominational must be good.
As a pastor of the Christian and Missionary Alliance I wholly support the idea of compassion ministries that can help alleviate suffering and the need to demonstrate the power of the Gospel through a healing ministry. I strongly believe that God heals today and that divine healing can attract people to know more about God’s reality in an age of skepticism toward the Christian faith. But as a pastor, my greater concern is that people come to experience genuine spiritual rebirth and salvation through faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sin in order to experience the hope of eternal life. In that sense I truly believe that spiritual healing and eternal life is more important than physical healing. I also believe that suffering can be a means of God’s grace in helping us see our need for God and teaching us to depend wholly upon Him. Spiritual salvation should be central to the purpose of the church’s ministry because of its eternal consequences. Physical healing is a means of alerting people to the power of God and might also be seen as a bonus blessing that God provides for believers. And with regard to inter-denominational ministries such activity has some merit because it celebrates a common commitment to the Gospel but falls short because in those kinds of settings there tends to be less accountability regarding issues of discipleship.
True pastoral ministry I believe understands this distinction and tries to help Christians see this difference. In true New Testament fashion a diligent pastor feels responsible to help the people of the flock avoid being drawn away by short-sighted spiritualities that avoid deeper issues of discipleship such as character development or spiritual formation. Pastoral ministry is important because it can provide a knowledgeable perspective on healing ministry. That’s why good pastoral ministry requires the wisdom that comes from thorough theological training that is tested in the furnace of practical experience. The church of today is desperately in need of these kinds of pastors because there is such an appetite even among Christians for that which is sensational but not truly life-changing.
amen Ed! maybe even subtitle this post ‘the necessity of pastoral discernment required’ or something? I can’t tell you how many times in 9 years at this church we’ve had to exercise discernment ( by asking the right questions ) and then leadership ( by sticking to principles ). Then even pastoral stubbornness when challenged by these folks with “it is growing, or popular, so God is blessing it, must be of God” …
I distinctly recall a conversation with someone after an Alpha talk on Healing. Somehow I got around to suggesting that I’d rather someone go to heaven from a wheelchair, or sick bed, or with different length legs than have perfect health, no sick time, and equal length legs … but end up with the wrong eternal address. She thought I was crazy … I was just doing what your post suggested … ah, the times we’re in!