Healing Line

Healing Line

The Main Stream of Healing in the Early Church

by Rev. Ken Polsley
Fall/Winter 2017

I love the story about how John Wimber started to go to church when he was a new Christian straight out of the nightclub scene in Las Vegas with no church background. John was reading his New Testament cover to cover and listening to some great sermons from his pastor about Jesus.

After a few weeks, John got restless and asked a lay leader in the church, “When are we going to do the stuff?”

“What stuff?” replied the leader.

“You know, the stuff here in the Bible; the stuff Jesus did, like healing the sick, raising the dead, healing the blind — stuff like that?”

Then it had to be explained to John that they didn’t actually “do the stuff “anymore. They only did what they do in the church services. Wimber, who was a baby Christian and couldn’t help himself, blurted out, “You mean I gave up drugs for that?”1 Wimber was reading and hearing God’s word without historical layers of reasons why a follower of Jesus might not do the ministry that the early followers of Jesus did. A simple reading of the New Testament without historical blinders creates an expectation that we might get to do “the stuff.”

Jesus trained the twelve and then the seventy–two unnamed disciples to do exactly what He had been doing: to preach that the kingdom of God was at hand, to heal the sick, and to drive out the demons that oppressed people. When He sent the disciples into the villages in pairs, they were well trained by Jesus by constant observation — practical experience and debrief. They knew what to do because they had seen Jesus do it hundreds of times and they had assisted Him. Training creates the expectation of actually doing the ministry, just as teaching created an expectation in John Wimber to “do the stuff.”

The disciples continued to do what they were trained to do after Jesus ascended to the Father. The healings through the disciples in the book of Acts, like the healings of Jesus in the gospels, should be considered “the highlights” that contributed to the strategic advance of Jesus’ mission. The healing through Peter and John of the paralytic beggar at the temple gate opened Jerusalem to the good news of the Kingdom. Peter preached to the crowd and many people were added to the faith.

The report about Philip in a Samaritan city (a surprising place for a Jew to minister) was amazing! "When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city" (Acts 8:6–8). This is how the message of the Kingdom and the demonstration of the Kingdom worked together to open up new regions to Jesus.

In Lydda on the coast of Israel, Peter healed a man who had been bedridden for eight years. All those in Lydda and Sharon saw the formerly sick man and they turned to the Lord (Acts 9:32–35). In Joppa, still on the coast, Peter was used to resuscitate from death a believer named Tabitha. This news spread throughout Joppa and many in that city believed (Acts 9:36–43).

Paul is used to heal a man with crippled feet in Lystra in what is now Southeastern Turkey. As a result they were able to share the good news of Jesus throughout that whole region and planted churches. The disciples did what Jesus trained them to do. Interestingly, we see these same kinds of strategic healings happening throughout the “majority world” today in Asia, South America, Africa and the Middle East. New cities and regions are being opened up to the good news of Jesus.

Jerry Trousdale, who directs international ministries for CityTeam, shares one of my favorite stories about an African minister and his assistant whose motorcycle broke down as they were going to a village. Unfortunately, the cycle stopped just outside another village that they had been warned not to visit because it was very hostile to Christians. They couldn’t fix their cycle, and it was too far to push it to the destination village. As they were agonizing about what to do, they heard loud crying and wailing coming from the direction of the hostile village. They started to walk toward the noise. They asked a passerby what was happening and were told that the chief’s wife had died. They felt a strong urgency to go into the village and see. The woman had been washed, dressed and prepared for burial. One of the two stranded men, although afraid, felt an inner compulsion to pray for the dead woman. He had never done this before, but he went to the body and started to pray. Some people wanted him to be removed, and others said to let him continue, because maybe God sent him. After he had prayed fervently for an hour and a half, he felt some warmth in the dead woman’s hand. Then he felt a heartbeat. The crowd was getting angrier with him just before the woman opened her eyes, sat up, and asked, “May I have some water?”

The two men explained to the crowd that it was Jesus, not them, who raised the woman from the dead. They were required to stay in the city overnight, but they wanted to leave because they were afraid that the woman might die again in the night. The next morning she was still alive!

In the morning the chief came and thanked the men, and told them that he was not going to change his religion, but that he believed in their Jesus. He was, however, lifting the ban on Christianity that had existed for many years in the village. The chief pointed to a school building and said that if the visitors wanted to use the building to pray for his people, they could use it for prayer sessions. Again, the men were permitted to address the whole village and tell them about Jesus. Today there are Christian communities throughout that region. A postscript to the story is that when they returned to their motorcycle later that day, it started up immediately.2

The point I am making is that numerous strategic healings are being reported today throughout the “majority world,” similar to this African story. They are not always as dramatic, but they mirror the kinds of healings done by those early followers of Jesus. The largest compendium and most reliable contemporary stories are recorded in Craig Keener’s book, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.3

The question is, what happened after the twelve and seventy–two disciples died? Did healing continue in the Christian communities or were the healing gifts discontinued? I used to answer this question incorrectly, but according to my lack of experience. I said that healing died when the last apostle died in approximately 100 A.D. I was ignorant of the history. In reality, healing flourished in the early post–Apostolic churches and the church grew rapidly by means of healing and exorcisms for the next 200 years, even after Christianity was declared illegal in the Roman Empire.

Think about this: Christianity was illegal, so how could it grow? Christians didn’t do preaching events or conferences in those days. They didn’t go door–to–door talking with people; that would be dangerous. One didn’t advertise church. Any neighbor could turn a Christian into the authorities, and one could be thrown into jail, or worse, be thrown to wild animals. There was rigorous preparation even to become a Christian. Sometimes it would take two or three years with many lifestyle changes required, many exorcisms, and thorough instruction from the Bible. It was not easy to become a Christian like today, because Christianity was illegal throughout the Empire. One had to be fully committed.

The Romans and Greeks already had gods to which they were committed. The Roman intellectual elite wrote disparagingly of Christians as atheists, cannibals, and anti–social people. Nobody really read the Christian writers except for other Christians. So how could Christianity possibly grow? But it did grow at a high rate of about 40% per decade for 250 years.4

Here’s how it happened: A Christian had a neighbor, or a co–worker, whose wife was sick and dying, and the husband was in despair. The Christian would then say, “Friend, I know someone who can help your wife. Would you let me come over and pray for her?”

“Sure, come on over. I’m desperate.”

So the Christian would go to their home and pray for the wife. Then she would get better, and the family would be amazed. The Christian would tell them the secret — Jesus healed your wife. The whole family would then go through the rigorous process of becoming Christians. This was especially striking in regards to deliverance from evil spirits, because Christians had power and authority over spirits that sometimes pretended to be gods.

The Christian apologists, Origen in Palestine, Tertullian in North Africa, Justin in Rome, Irenaeus in Gaul, all bragged about this. They would say that any Christian can be used to heal and exorcise demons. Even the simplest uneducated person could do it. I love the way Tertullian of North Africa writes about this to unbelievers. He says, “Who would rescue you from those secret enemies that everywhere lay waste your minds and your bodily health? I mean, from the assaults of demons, whom we drive out of you, without reward, without pay.”5 In my words Tertullian is saying “Hey, why are you persecuting us? We are providing a public service for you and your families, and we are not even charging you for it.” This is in contrast to the shrines of the Greek god of healing, Asclepius, which had prohibitive costs to the average person.

The historian, Alan Kreider, sums up the experience of the post–Apostolic church like this: “Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, had unleashed unimaginable spiritual power for good in the world. The Christians claimed that they had access to this power. When the Christians encountered what they viewed as demonic forces, they believed they could defeat these forces with prayers for exorcism and healing. The Christians became known to their contemporaries as healers and exorcists.”6 This was the history that I didn’t yet know when I didn’t believe that Jesus still healed today.

1Christy Wimber: Naturally Supernatural | CBN.com. Accessed April 22, 2017; http://www1.cbn.com/700club/christy–wimber–naturally–supernatural.
2(Jerry Trousdale, Miraculous Movements, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2012, pg. 135–140)
3(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011: pg. 264–358, 508–600, 788–856).
4(Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1997, pg. 6).
5(Tertullian, Apology 37.9 from Andrew Daunton–Fear, Healing in the Early Church, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2009, pg. 70).
6(Alan Kreider, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, pg. 107, 111).

Ken Polsley Rev. Ken Polsley is an ordained minister, CHM prayer minister and speaker at many of CHM's Schools of Healing Prayer®. Fall/Winter 2017 Issue