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McManus - Ethics & Religion
                         July 10, 2006
                         Column #1,298
                   Advance for July 15, 2006
                   "The Nearly Perfect Crime"
                        by Mike McManus
                               
     "It was a nearly perfect crime," writes Francis MacNutt in his opening words of his new
book with that title. "You can see the body lying there, almost cold, the heart barely pumping.
This dying body once kept Christianity alive.  What we see lying there, scarcely moving, is
Christian prayer for healing."

     This was not Jesus' idea.  In fact, his name, Jesus, means "God saves" and "God heals."
In his first sermon Jesus opened the scroll of Isaiah and read,  "The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim
freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed."

     MacNutt, author the classic best seller, "Healing," notes that Jesus' ministry was
continually marked by healings demonstrating that he was the long-awaited Messiah.  Mark's
Chapter 1 gives many examples and notes so many following Jesus for healing that he had sneak
away before dawn to go to a new city.

     He risked healing on the Sabbath, such as a crippled woman in a synagogue (Luke 13).
But that violated Jewish law, and was denounced by the synagogue's leader. Jesus rebuked him as
a hypocrite, who would give his donkey water on the Sabbath, yet deny the healing of a woman
bent over for 18 years with pain. The crowd loved it, but not the Pharisees.

     Nor did he keep power to himself., but told his 12 disciples they had "authority to drive
out evil spirits and heal every disease and sickness."   In Luke 10 he appointed 72 others and told
them, "Heal the sick who are there and tell them `The kingdom of God is near.'"

     For 325 years, Christians believed that God answered prayers for healing. Church Father
Origen, who was martyred in 253, wrote that Christians cast out demons "merely by prayer and
simple adjurations which the plainest person can use, because for the most part it is unlettered
(illiterate) persons who perform this work."

     However, after Emperor Constantine converted in 312, it was no longer necessary to
prove that "there was only one true God who was demonstrably more powerful than the false
gods of the pagans," writes MacNutt. .

     To counter diminished fervor, the church honored heroes of the faith, saints who regarded
suffering as an opportunity to grow in sanctity. "Sickness came to be seen as a (ital) blessing (un
ital) permitted - if not actually sent - as a test by God in order to help you grow in holiness."

     In the Reformation, healing was denounced by Protestant leaders who saw healings at
Shrines as a corrupt source of donations, a substitute for the true faith.  Baptists have no healing
ministry today because John Calvin argued that miracles ended with the Apostles.

     He wrote,  "That gift of healing, like the rest of the miracles, which the Lord willed to be
brought forth for a time, has vanished away in order to make the new preaching of the gospel
marvelous forever."

     Liberal Protestant scholars even argued that the miracle stories of the gospels were
"myths."

     MacNutts comments: "Healing is now all but dead. Case closed."

     Well, not really.  MacNutt identifies three waves of Christians who believe in healing:

     1.  Exactly a century ago, on April 9, 1906, "the power fell" on a poor black preacher
named William Seymour who began praising God in unknown tongues in Los Angeles. Crowds
grew so fast that an old stable was converted into a church at 312 Azuza Street. A direct result
was the emergence of new Pentecostal denominations who believed in healing: the white
Assemblies of God and the black Church of God in Christ.

     2. In 1959 an Episcopal priest named Dennis Bennett was baptized in the Spirit and wrote
a book, "Nine O'Clock in the Morning" that awakened the charismatic renewal movement in both
Mainline Protestant denominations, and among Catholics.  Francis MacNutt was a Catholic priest
who never prayed for anyone's healing until Agnes Sanford prayed for a release in him "of the
Spirit and the charismatic gifts that are already in you through baptism, confirmation and
ordination." By the 1970s, he led 35,000 Catholic charismatics at Notre Dame's football stadium.

     3.  Finally, the "Third Wave" is a movement of evangelicals who embrace healing, starting
with John Wimber who founded the Vineyard Christian Fellowship now in hundreds of churches.
Of far greater importance is the explosive growth of 295 million "neo-charismatics," 71 percent of
whom are non-white, such as booming churches of Africa.

     Yet what American seminary teaches how to experience divine healing?  
 

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