A few years ago an excited woman in her 20’s ran up to me one Sunday at church – she was a newer attendee who had been kicking the tires on our church for a few weeks when my last name must have clicked. It’s not like we talk about it every Sunday at Mission Bible – our members don’t really care. We have a lot of important ministry to do and I’m just another one of the pastors. But sometimes it comes out in conversations and you never know what you’re going to get. Angry ex-faith-healer-enthusiast who threatens a shake down if I don’t pay them back what my uncle stole from them? Excited believer who came out of the jaws of deception like me? It’s hit or miss.
This particular Sunday it was a little more complicated. Here’s a paraphrase of what she exclaimed just outside the sanctuary doors:
Costi Hinn? Like as in Benny Hinn? Oh my goodness! Your uncle is part of my testimony – He totally healed me of scoliosis (curved spine). It was late one night when I was watching his program, “This is Your Day,” and he told everyone who is sick or in pain put their hands on the TV up against his hands and believe for a miracle. I did. Then, I felt this warmth go up my spine and I just knew I was healed! After that experience, my spine got better and I stand here today completely healed with a straightened spine. I know you don’t agree with all that he teaches but he’s a part of my story and God used him to heal me – I’ll always be grateful for your uncle.
This is familiar ground for a lot of pastors and Christians who are approached often by people who claim that God is doing great things through a false teacher and/or that God used a false teacher to heal them. Some of these claims are even by well-meaning, truly converted Christians who no longer follow the false teacher but are adamant that God used the false teacher to heal them or provide them with some particularly meaningful mystical experience.
“The truth of a teacher’s words is determined not by the feats he can perform but by the orthodoxy of what he teaches. We are never to follow anyone who perverts the truth of God’s Word, no matter how gifted that person is, how large of an organization that person commands, or how amazing that person’s work seems to be.
– R.C. Sproul
So is there any credence to a claim of miraculous healing at the hands of a false teaching faith healer? How should a pastor or leader handle such claims when there is clearly a danger in any kind of endorsement of a false teacher? There is much more to be said on the topic than a mere blog entry can supply, so resources for further reading have been recommended at the end of this article.
For our purposes here, let’s look at four potential responses (or scenarios) that can be useful in helping people understand what they may (or may not) have experienced.
Response #1: You were mercifully healed by God; and He mercifully snatched you from a wolf.
This particular response would be applicable if an individual proved to be a true believer, was verifiably healed, and had been saved from following a false teacher’s ministry out of ignorance.
Since God is still a healer, it is certainly possible that He has healed this individual, but the biblical standard for healing must still apply as does the biblical standard for bearing the fruit of true faith in Christ.
First, throughout Scripture we see divine healing at the hands of God as: 1) immediate, 2) unquestionable, 3) irreversible, 4) not dependent on special healing services, 5) not solely dependent on faith, 6) much more than curing a cold, 7) accompanying a call to flee from sin 8) not dependent on continuous confessions 9) not solely dependent on proximity, 10) possible through prayer.
One could certainly add this to this list but if, generally speaking, the healing matches the biblical standard, then praise God! God heals in many different ways, but false teachers are not able to thwart the divine power it takes to match God’s criteria. Even if in the slightest way, they will fall short.
Second, throughout Scripture we see that true believers cannot and will not stay deceived, so even if someone appears to be have been healed, there may have been other powers at work if that individual has not come out from the clutches of false teachers. Sheep ultimately come to hear and follow the Shepherd’s voice (John 10:27), saved people grow in Christ-likeness (Philippians 1:6), children of God walk in the truth (1 John 3:18-19), true disciples – though not always perfect – will pursue obedience to God’s Word out of love for Christ (John 14:15).
Plainly, we can gather a short list of truths and offer these to genuinely saved people who have experienced healing, but mistakenly believe they were healed by a false teacher.
- Give God the credit for healing you if it fits the biblical criteria.
- Give God the credit for healing you through medical means if you’ve received treatment and were healed from it.
- God is sovereign in healing, and in saving. He has mercifully done both in your life.
- He spoke through a donkey (Number 22:28-30) in Scripture, turned a murderer into an Apostle (Acts 9), and healed a man’s ear who was teamed up with Judas the Betrayer and Pharisaic High Priests (Luke 22:49-51). He has graciously worked in your life, in spite of your prior ignorance and blindly following false teachers.
- Reject false teachers as agents of Satan (2 Corinthians 11:13-15), not as anointed vessels who “God uses despite some shortcomings.”
- Seek wise counsel for quantifying your testimony and explaining it biblically.
Maybe you know someone who fits nicely into this criteria – and that’s wonderful – but it’s likely you will eventually meet someone that needs help defining one of the subsequent categories.
Response #2: You were temporarily healed by the power of suggestion, hypnosis, or sleight of hand.
Wouldn’t it have been nice to just have the first section on our list?
The sad reality is, this response is necessary and applicable for helping people understand that if their healing, relief from pain, or euphoric experience was temporary, then it was not cut short because of their own lack of faith or negative confession – it was because it was all part of the game. God doesn’t relapse when it comes to divine healing.
We need to get honest about facts that are much easier to kick under the rug.
Studies have shown that the placebo effect is real, that hypnosis can cause people to do and feel things they’d otherwise never do or feel, and that the power of suggestion can cause people’s bodies to respond in temporary ways – without the lasting results. This reality is nothing new. Back in the late 1980’s, Tyndale published Dr. Normal Geisler’s, Signs and Wonders, and shed light on a very confusing era in evangelicalism. The Charismatic Renewal era (approx. 1960-1983) had given way to what was being called, “The Third Wave.” The Third Wave was taking Charismatic practices to new mainstream heights and Dr. Geisler’s book provided important answers. In his chapter, Psychological or Supernatural, he quotes Doctor Paul Brand’s original article in Christianity Today on the mind’s power to control or even heal the body,
In the placebo effect, faith in simple sugar pills stimulates the mind to control pain and even heal some disorders. In some experiments among those with terminal cancer, morphine was an effective painkiller in two-thirds of patients, but placebos were equally effective in half of those! The placebo tricks the mind into believing relief has come, and the body responds accordingly…In a false pregnancy, a woman believes so strongly in her pregnant condition that her mind directs an extraordinary sequence of activities: it increases hormone flow, enlarges breasts, suspends menstruation, induces morning sickness, and even prompts labor contractions. (Brand 1983,19)[i]
Furthering the evidence surrounding the power of the mind, Geisler writes,
Dr. William Nolen explains that “the patient who suddenly discovers…that he can now move an arm or a leg that was previously paralyzed had that paralysis as a result of an emotional, not a physical disturbance.” It is known that “neurotics and hysterics will frequently be relieved of their symptoms by the suggestions and ministrations of charismatic healers. It is in treating patients of this sort that healers claim their most dramatic triumphs” (Nolen 1974, 287). So “there is nothing miraculous about these cures. Psychiatrists, internists, G.P.’s, any M.D. who does psychiatric therapy, relive thousands of such patients of their symptoms every year.” But they do it by purely natural means, claiming no special supernatural powers.[ii]
Today, not only do we have many faithful Christian theologians who have put in countless hours of study to help us understand false faith healers in contrast to biblical truth, even unbelievers have been able to shed light on the deception. In his 2011 documentary, Miracles for Sale, a world-renowned hypnotist and illusionist goes undercover in one of the most jaw-dropping exposes ever recorded. He teaches and trains a man who had no prior experience with hypnotism or faith-healing to be a faith-healer. The facts prove that numerous modern faith-healers are little more than scam artists who use a false rendering of biblical truth to exploit the sick for monetary gain.
Unfortunately, many people – both Christians and non-Christians alike – have been duped by faith-healers who use hypnotic strategies and the power of suggestion to provide temporary relief from ailments. The real losers in this game of winner-take-all are the sick and hurting people who are left wondering what they’ve done to keep God from healing them completely.
Response #3: You’ve been deceived by a demonic, or counterfeit, sign.
This isn’t a popular one but the Word of God gives room for scenarios in which a power other than God is at work either to perform a legitimate sign or falsify one so well that it’s uncritically believed. Here some examples from Scripture that provide undeniable evidence that satanic and demonic power is allowed under the sovereignty of God and legitimate to some degree – whether falsified or not:
- Jesus doesn’t refer to “false” signs and wonders when He tells miraculous workers that He never “knew” them (Matthew 7:23). Those could be legitimate, demonic signs.
- Jesus is also clear that in the last days “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22).
- Paul points out that the man of lawlessness will come in accordance with the activity of Satan, with “all power and signs and false wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9).
- Paul also assures that false prophets will disguise themselves as workers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:15).
- The Seven Sons of Sceva were completely overpowered by evil spirits who “leaped on them” via a man they possessed (Acts 19:14-16).
- Satan can bind people with sickness (Luke 13:16). If such an individual is converted, Satan and his oppressive force through disease would conceivably both be gone. In cases like these, salvation is primarily the miracle, the physical relief from satanic sickness is not – the person has simply gone back to his pre-possessed state of health.
- Satan could stop Paul from going forward in his missionary plans (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18).
No matter which side of the coin you land on, there’s no debating that Satan is the father of lies and has mastered the art of deception. It is very likely that many false teachers in the signs and wonders movement are “deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13) by demonic means.
Spiritual warfare is real.
Response #4: You are being used by darkness to deceive people.
There is one final category and it’s probably the last one on the list for a reason – use it sparingly. Simply put, it’s possible that a person is lying and being used to deceive others or are being deceived. They were never sick in the first place, or they had a minor ailment that was healed by their own body’s self-healing capabilities (built by God) and they see it as a way to get attention. Similar to little children who make millions of dollars off of false stories about going to heaven, people claiming healing can make a lot of money off of books and films but offer zero theological value to evangelicalism. Truth always produces fruit. Money doesn’t equal fruit.
Furthermore, even with the best of intentions, deception is deception. I have a former colleague in the faith-healing circuit who is fully convinced (and ok with it) that many of the healings claimed in his meetings are faked and claimed by people who want to be prayed for on the platform. Claiming you were healed is one of the best ways to make it on stage at a healing crusade – if not the only way.
His answer when I asked him why he doesn’t quit going along with the charade and just offer people truth? He says that it’s not his job to focus on who is or isn’t lying. He believes his job is to give people hope and increase their faith so they can activate their healing that Christ already paid for in the atonement. If he can do that by being optimistic about even the potentially false healings, then that is fulfilling his calling in his mind.
This category fits Paul’s exact words to Timothy about the contrast between those who will be faithful to the boundaries of God’s Word, and those who will irreverently or ignorantly do things as they please:
But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:13-17).
None of these scenarios negates that a sovereign God can will and work in the life of one of His sheep at any given time. If a person is in fact a genuine believer, he or she will not stay in a false church long-term, and he or she will be malleable to God’s word as it informs previous experiences under a false teacher.
There is nothing wrong with a Christian praising God for being healed by the Great Physician or his or her medical doctor, but there is something dangerous about an enthusiastic perspective that believes a false teacher is just a well-meaning (though somewhat mistaken) healer who did the healing. We cannot stand idle while sheep are left untaught.
Experience never defines our truth. Truth always defines our experience.
Recommended Reading for Further Study on This Topic:
Desiring God: Satan’s Ten Strategies Against You
Grace to You: Demons and Magic
Grace to You: False Prophets and Lying Wonders
Ligonier Ministries: False Signs and Wonders
[i] Norman L Geisler, Signs And Wonders, 1st ed. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1988). 78-79. Geisler quotes from Paul Brand and Philip Yancey, “A Surgeon’s View Of Divine Healing”, Christianity Today, 1983. 19.
[ii] Ibid., 79-80. Geisler quotes from William Nolen, Healing: A Doctor in Search of a Miracle. (New York: Random House, 1974). 287.