Healing Encompasses the Past, Present, and Future of Christianity
Christians tend to focus on mystical or ethereal matters. Yet, it cannot be forgotten that—in the beginning—God joyfully and purposefully created physical matter. He looked upon what was made and said, “This is very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
Men and women were uniquely designed to be the imago dei—God’s image-bearers in the dust and dirt.
God declared: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Humanity was formed in His likeness to express the unfathomable realities of the creator.
Our bodies are not a prison, nor merely dwelling-place for the soul. Our physical form was conceived by God to display the intangible. We were made of earth, and for earth, to transmit the glory.
Tragically, humanity turned from the Heavenly Father. As we distorted our identity and purpose, “thorns and thistles” (Genesis 3:18) began to grow. The natural order became cursed with sickness and disease.
Deuteronomy 28:15-21 warns that when the sons and the daughters of the Most High turn from the Father and reject His heart-felt guidance, it removes the covering and the door is opened to terrible things.
In corruption and sin, we witness the tragic marring of the imago dei.
Nevertheless, that isn’t the end of the story. In the midst of brokenness and despair, a longing remained. Some envisioned an era where humanity would be purified, healed, and restored. The prophets declared: “And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind and unplug the ears of the deaf. The lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak will sing for joy!” (Isaiah 35:5-6a).
Jesus and the Restoration of Creation
In the fullness of time, God sent His son to earth. He came not to just to confront the ugliness of sin, but to also inaugurate the new creation.
"Jesus went about all the cities and villages, … preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people" (Matthew 9:35).
I understand that the notion of new era breaking in is difficult for some to accept. Many want to push things off to the distant future.This struggle is not entirely new. John the Baptist’s followers asked, “Are you sure? How can we be certain that the world is changing?” Here’s Jesus’ response:
“At that time Jesus healed many who had diseases, sicknesses, and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor’” (Luke 7:21-22).
Healing is not an add-on or an addition. It’s a sign-post of salvation and a designation of the inauguration of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was and is restoring the imago dei—demonstrating the supremacy of God in time and history.
Healing’s Centrality in Church History
Amanda Porterfield, an Oxford University historian, reiterates that “healing has persisted over time and across cultural spaces as a defining element of Christianity.” While suffocating hierarchies and institutional forces seek to minimize it, “church history proves it to be a part of historic Christian faith … the doctrine of healing has at times emerged in all the historic churches, both Protestant and Catholic.”
In the earliest centuries of the Church, healing was manifest through the laying on of hands, decrees of command, and works of power.
Justin Martyr (100–165), acknowledged that "many of our Christian men . . . have healed and do heal."
Healing was depicted in sculptures, murals, and paintings in the catacombs. Miracles were also portrayed in the weavings of elaborate tapestries.
Origen (185-254), declared, “Without miracles and wonders, they would not have persuaded those who heard the new doctrines and new teachings at the risk of their lives. Traces of that Holy Spirit who appeared in the form of a dove are still preserved among Christians. They charm demons away and perform many cures.”
Later, healing was not only identified with communion “but also in the baptismal rite.” Augustine talks about “a physician … much troubled with gout … [was] baptized … [and] freed both from his pain and the cause thereof, so that he never had gout in all his days after.”
Monks who reached the pinnacle of holiness were considered bastions of power. Not just their hands or feet, but also their clothing and personal effects were considered avenues of grace. Sulpicius Severus (363-420) recounts how “threads from Martin of Tour's garment … had been plucked from the sackcloth which he wore, wrought frequent miracles upon those who were sick … they very often drove away diseases from the afflicted.”
Healings also transpired through pilgrimages. At Canterbury Cathedral, “a deaf woman felt twigs snapping in her head; while she screamed from the pain a great deal of bloody matter flowed from her ears, after which she could hear.” On another occasion, “a crippled … boy, with one leg shorter than the other, went to St. Frideswide's church. There he was cured while his sinews were heard to crackle, and both legs became equal.”
Eighth Century missionary, Boniface (672- 754), brought many Germans into the church through “sound doctrine and miracles.”
Later as the Sixteenth Century Reformers began to question the validity of healings, Martin Luther (1483-1586) could not avoid praying for Friedrich Myconius (1490–1546), and Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560). This is the prayer that Luther for Melanchthon: “I command thee in the name of God to live … The Lord will never let me hear that thou art dead, but will permit thee to survive me. For this I am praying, this is my will, and may my will be done.”
John Welch (1570 – 1622), a Scottish reformer and Richard Baxter (1615 – 1691), also prayed for the sick. There is a lengthy history of Baptists anointing the sick with oil and praying for their recovery.
In the intervening years, healing was mediated through touch, biblical readings, and recuperative spaces known as healing homes.
As we come closer to the present, healing was associated with a manifestation of the Holy Spirit as well as the emergence of the Kingdom of God.
Amanda Porterfield declares: "Healing is a persistent theme in the history of Christianity, threading its way over time through ritual practice and theological belief, and access space through the sprawling, heterogeneous terrains of Christian community life and missionary activity. To focus on healing in the history of Christianity . . . is to attend to important elements of continuity amidst the jumble of competing doctrines, innumerable churches, disparate behaviors, and historical developments."
Healing is not just something from the past.  It also shapes Christianity in the 21st Century (particularly outside of North America and Europe).
Sociologist Candy Brown notes: “healing is in many instances cited as the primary motivator for religious conversion and church affiliation.” She continues: “In Latin American, Asian, and African countries … as many as 80–90 percent of first-generation Christians attribute their conversions primarily to having received divine healing for themselves or a family member.”
Craig Keener, of Asbury Theological Seminary, declared, “As of about ten years ago, it was estimated that perhaps half of all conversions to Christianity were because of experiences with healing.”
The ministry of healing is pivotal to the modern-day expansion of global Christianity. It is arguably the most effectual means of evangelism around the world.
What was once destroyed in the Garden is being progressively restored. Those who are following in the family line of Jesus are enacting the transformation of creation. The New Earth is already stirring. Darkness is being driven back as broken bodies are strengthened.
Healing encompasses the past, present, and future of Christianity.
Find out more about my three volume series on healing in Christianity at: (http://historyofhealing.org).
Amanda Porterfield, Healing in the History of Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 4, 19, 44.
Keith Bailey, Divine Healing: The Children’s Bread: God’s Provision for Human Health and Healing (Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications, 1977), 228. Margaret Poloma writes, "Although divine healing can be found throughout Christian history, most Christian groups that were open to its experience and practice did not make it a central tenet of faith." Margaret Poloma. "Divine Healing, Religious Revivals, and Contemporary Pentecostalism: A North American Perspective,” in The Spirit in the World: Emerging Pentecostal Theologies in Global Contexts, ed. Veli-Matti Karkkainen (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2009), 21.
 Justin Martyr, The Second Apology of Justin, Volume One, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1874), 190.
 Origen, Contra Celsus, 1.46, trans. Henry Chadwick (London: Cambridge University Press, 1953), 42.
Avery Brooke, Healing in the Landscape of Prayer (Boston: Cowley Publications, 1996), 21.
 Augustine, The City of God, volume 2, Book 22.8, trans. John Healey (Edinburgh: John Grants, 1909), 340.
 Sulpicius Severus, “On The Life of Martin, 18,” Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume 11, trans. Phillip Schaff and Henry Wace (New York: Christian Literature Crusade, 1894), 12. 2 Kings 13:21 recounts the resuscitation of a dead man by touching the bones of Elisha. Other biblical passages also imply the transference of power through contact (Luke 8:46; Acts 5:15; 19:12).
 Ronald C. Finucane, Miracles and Pilgrims: Popular Beliefs in Medieval England (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1977, 1995), 89.
 Ronald C. Finucane, Miracles and Pilgrims: Popular Beliefs in Medieval England (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1977, 1995), 91.
 Life of Germanus in Hoare, The Western Fathers, 307, cf. 289, Life of Leoba, ed. C, II. Talbot, The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany London (1954), 213.
 Martin Luther quoted in John MacArthur, Ephesians New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 103.
 Amanda Porterfield, Healing in the History of Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 3.
 “Signs claims do appear most commonly in history in the context of groundbreaking evangelism.” Craig S. Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2011), 367.
 Candy Gunther Brown. Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 13.
 Candy Gunther Brown. Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 3.
 Craig Keener, professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, quoted in Larry Sparks and Troy Anderson. "The Healing Miracles Preacher." Charisma 40:8 (March 2015): 22.