So, what are we to make of all this? Should Christians make use of modern medical technology or not? Is it valid for churches that seek to live like the Christian Church in the first couple of centuries to rely solely on healing through prayer and miracle? I believe that a survey of the church in those centuries demonstrates that the early Christians appreciated that question, but did not answer it as the First Century Gospel Church does. But neither did they answer it as many non-Charismatic American churches answer it.
Illness has different sources. It is a simplistic worldview that always sees natural causes for everything. While we resist the idea that God visits us with illness, it seems apparent that illness can and does result from sinful behaviors. It can also stem from more spiritual roots. Sometimes a pill isn’t going to touch the real source of our suffering.
All healing comes from God. Whether through prayer, a miracle, or a medical treatment, the origin of all helping is God. It may come in one of many intermediate means, but it comes ultimately from God.
God can heal. The historical record is clear. God does heal directly, through miraculous means. We may not believe it today in the west, but it is unavoidable in the record that healings happened. And not only among Christians, but in those pagan temples. More is out there than we imagine.
The Church has a two-fold role today in relation to illness and healing.
1) Don’t cede too much to the doctors. The Church cut its teeth in the world by caring for the sick, by praying for them( for healing and by effectively creating modern medicine. Just because the medical field has become more professional and medical knowledge has become the domain of professionals, does not mean that the Church can not still actively care for the sick, by visiting, praying, and providing basic care.
2) Take your medicine. At the same time, the Church should not stand apart from the medical field and accuse it of paganism. The knowledge of the doctors is a gift of God and our living in such a time when medicine is more effective than ever before is given to us by grace. Do not spurn the gift. Do not worship it, but do not reject it either.
As a pastor today, among my church, my role is probably to do more reminding that God should be sought for healing too. My church and denomination tend to discount the supernatural and to see things In a more materialist fashion. My role is to counter that by pointing to God’s sovereign freedom to heal according to his will. While to advocate that my congregation reject medical care would be irresponsible, so too it would be irresponsible for me to lead the congregation to believe that only medicine can heal.
Amundsen, Darrel W. Medicine, Society, and Faith in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds. The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, Baltimore, 1996. Especially Chapter 5.
Kelsey, Morton. Healing and Christianity. Augsburg, Minneapolis, 1995.
Marty, Martine E. and Kenneth L. Vaux, eds. Health/Medicine and the Faith Traditions: An Inquiry into Religion and Medicine. Fortress Press: Phila., 1982.
Porterfield, Amanda. Healing in the History of Christianity. Oxford Univ., Oxford, 2005.
Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity.