A BALANCED THEOLOGY OF DIVINE HEALING
By Philip A Matthews
For several years there has been a need to respond to the many theological questions constantly arising in the Church of God (Evening Light Saints), or COG (ELS) for short, as member after member, some very notable, get sick, suffer greatly, then die "trusting God," i.e., refusing to seek/accept medical assistance during his or her illness. To exacerbate many of these situations, the church leaders closely involved have often more or less assured the families that God was going to heal and raise their loved ones up. But obviously He did not.
Such situations naturally engender multitudes of very significant theological questions, e.g., Where was God? Was it really His will for him or her to die, and if so, what in the world could God be thinking? Why couldn't God have simply overruled what appears to have been horribly bad decisions in order to avert what often become unmitigated tragedies? And indeed many other very legitimate questions arise, some of which we will seek to answer here.
First of all, let it be stated immediately that there is absolutely no scripture to forbid going to the hospital, clinic, or doctor, taking medicine or natural remedies, or seeking any other such medical assistance. There is no scripture indicating in any way that using medical assistance is a sin or moral failure. There is no written Word describing exactly what is or is not acceptable behavior when it comes to medicine, medical treatment, or the like. It's simply not there.
Those who believe, teach, and practice that seeking medical assistance is wrong or sub-par Christianity have the burden of proof resting on their shoulders. We accept the fact that divine, supernatural healing is a biblical concept: The New Testament provides many examples of divine healing occurring without medical intervention. The apostle James writes that any sick person should call for the elders of the church, who shall anoint the sick with oil and pray the prayer of faith (James 5:14-15). But there simply is no Bible telling us what to do after that has been done and the sick one is still sick and not healed. So where the Bible stops, we should stop. We have no authority to teach or take it any further.
I. Dispelling the "Proof Texts"
In absence of direct scripture, when discussing divine healing, many proponents quote 2 Chronicles 16:12 as proof that it is wrong and even sinful to use physicians or medical assistance. "And Asa in the thirty and ninth year of his reign was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great: yet in his disease he sought not to the LORD, but to the physicians." Many others use Jeremiah 17:5 as proof that using medical assistance is wrong: "Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD."
A. But what do these verses really mean? Let us start with 2 Chronicles 16:12 first:
Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
2 Chronicles 16:12 "III. His sickness. Two years before he died he was diseased in his feet (2Ch_16:12), afflicted with the gout in a high degree. He had put the prophet in the stocks, and now God put him in the stocks; so his punishment answered his sin. His disease was exceedingly great; it came to the height (so some); it flew up to his head (so others), and then it was mortal. This was his affliction; but his sin was that in his disease, instead of seeking to the Lord for relief, he sought to the physicians. His making use of physicians was his duty; but trusting to them, and expecting that from them which was to be had from God only, were his sin and folly. The help of creatures must always be used with an eye to the Creator, and in dependence upon him, who makes every creature that to us which it is, and without whom the most skilful and faithful are physicians of no value. Some think that these physicians were strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, and were a sort of conjurers, to whom he applied as if there were not a God in Israel" (italics added).
John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
2 Chronicles 16:12 "yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord; his seeking to physicians for help in his disease, perhaps, would not have been observed to his reproach, had he also sought unto the Lord, whom he ought to have sought in the first place; and when he applied to the physicians, he should have implored the blessing of God on their prescriptions; but he so much forgot himself as to forget the Lord: this is the first time we read of physicians among the Jews, and some think these were Heathens, and a sort of enchanters: the Jews entertained a very ill opinion of physicians; the best of them, they say (o), deserve hell, and they advise (p) men not to live in a city where the chief man is a physician...
"[B]ut the author of the book of Ecclesiasticus gives a great encomium of them, and exhorts to honour and esteem them, '1 Honour a physician with the honour due unto him for the uses which ye may have of him: for the Lord hath created him. 2 For of the most High cometh healing, and he shall receive honour of the king. 3 The skill of the physician shall lift up his head: and in the sight of great men he shall be in admiration. 4 The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth; and he that is wise will not abhor them. 5 Was not the water made sweet with wood, that the virtue thereof might be known? 6 And he hath given men skill, that he might be honoured in his marvelous works. 7 With such doth he heal men, and taketh away their pains. 8 Of such doth the apothecary make a confection; and of his works there is no end; and from him is peace over all the earth,' (Sirach 38) Julian (q) the emperor greatly honoured them, and observes, that it is justly said by the philosophers, that the art of medicine fell from heaven.' "
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary
2 Chronicles 16:12 "yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians”most probably Egyptian physicians, who were anciently in high repute at foreign courts, and who pretended to expel diseases by charms, incantations, and mystic arts. Asa's fault consisted in his trusting to such physicians, while he neglected to supplicate the aid and blessing of God. The best and holiest men have been betrayed for a time into sins, but through repentance have risen again; and as Asa is pronounced a good man (2Ch_15:17), it may be presumed that he also was restored to a better state of mind."
Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament:
2 Chronicles 16:12: "In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa became diseased in his feet, and that in a high degree. The words are a circumstantial clause: to a high degree was his sickness. 'And also in his sickness (as in the war against Baasha) he sought not Jahve, but turned to the physicians.' [The Hebrew phrase] is primarily construed with the accus., as usually in connection with [words meaning] to seek God, to come before Him with prayers and supplication; then... usually of an oracle, or seeking help of idols (cf. 1Sa_28:7; 2Ki_1:2.; 1Ch_10:14), and so here of superstitious trust in the physicians. Consequently it is not the mere inquiring of the physicians which is here censured, but only the godless manner in which Asa trusted in the physicians" (italics added).
John Wesley's Explanatory Notes:
2Ch 16:12 "Sought not - He did not humble himself before God, but put his confidence in the skill and faithfulness of his physicians. His making use of physicians was his duty, but his trusting in them, and expecting that from them, which was to be had from God only, was his sin and folly. The help of every creature must be used, with an eye to the creator, and in dependence on him, who makes every creature that to us which it is, without whom the most skilful and faithful are physicians of no value."
Geneva Bible Translation Notes:
"2Ch 16:12 And Asa in the thirty and ninth year of his reign was diseased in his feet, until his disease [was] (e) exceeding [great]: yet in his disease he sought not to the LORD, but to the (f) physicians.
(e) God plagued his rebellion and by this declared that it is nothing to begin well, unless we continue to the end, that is, zealous of God's glory and put our whole trust in him.
(f) He shows that it is useless to seek the physicians unless we first seek God to purge our sins, which are the chief cause of all our diseases, and later use the help of the physicians as a means by which God works."
Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible:
2 Chronicles 16:12 "Yet in his disease he sought not ... - Rather, 'and also in his disease he sought not.' Not only in his war with Baasha, but also when attacked by illness, Asa placed undue reliance upon the aid of man." Similar to the comment below:
John Darby's Synopsis:
2 Chronicles 16:12 "Wounded in his self-love, and irritated at having thus missed so good an opportunity, Asa puts the seer who gave this testimony in prison; and he oppresses the people. He is chastened of God, and alas! he does not seek God in the chastening..." He remains rebellious before God, refusing to accept His correction.
To get the correct meanings from this passage, we must look at several things:
i) Look at the CONTEXT of the story: Asa had already neglected to trust in God for a military victory, and God had sent the prophet, Hanani, to reprimand him. Asa responds by imprisoning the prophet. Later, during his illness, Asa continues to refuse to seek for the prophet of God to ask God to heal him. Instead, he tries to avoid God and resorts to the medicine men, which requires us to look next at the meaning of the word "physician."
ii) Look at what is meant by the word "PHYSICIAN." Gill says that "this is the first time we read of physicians among the Jews, and some think these were Heathens, and a sort of enchanters..." Matthew Henry says something very similar: "Some think that these physicians were strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, and were a sort of conjurers, to whom he applied as if there were not a God in Israel." Keil & Delitzsch state that the word used is "usually of an oracle, or seeking help of idols (see also 1Samuel 28:7; 2Kings 1:2; 1Chronicles 10:14), and so here of superstitious trust in the physicians." The gist is that Asa's use of these "physicians" actually approached the use of idol gods and the various practices associated with such gods to obtain healing. These "physicians" appear to be religion-based entities, more like the shamans and medicine men of ancient pagan societies, not the religion-neutral, science-based physicians of today.
iii) Look at what is meant by the Hebrew word "SOUGHT:" Strong's 1875: darash (daw-rash') A primitive root; properly to tread or frequent; usually to follow (for pursuit or search); by implication to seek or ask; specifically to worship..." Obviously, the use of this word and the context of the previous incident together indicate that Asa was guilty of more than merely going to the doctor. He trusted in the doctors, who represented other gods, as Keil & Delitzsch indicated: "[I]t is not the mere inquiring of the physicians which is here censured, but only the godless manner in which Asa trusted in the physicians" (italics added).
So it should be obvious that 2 Chronicles 16:12, when properly and objectively interpreted, does not forbid or even discourage seeking medical assistance when sick.
B. We now turn our attention to the next "proof text," Jeremiah 17:5—"Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD."
The context of this verse is the sinfulness of the nation of Israel in resorting to the military strength of Egypt and other nations for their protection while they continued to forsake the worship of Jehovah in favor of idols. In fact, this is the common theme of the entire book and ministry of Jeremiah: Forsaking God to worship and seek help from idols. This passage has nothing to do with divine healing. It is a complete misapplication that many people apply indiscriminately for whatever suits their purposes.
This point is proven by the last—and key—phrase of the passage, "whose heart departeth from the LORD." The Hebrew word is "sur," meaning "to turn off, rebel, or revolt from." This verse, along with verses 1-4, is referring to some kind of idolatry. It obviously does not apply to faithful children of God who believe that using medical assistance when necessary is actually the responsible way to take care of the bodies they have dedicated to God, and they trust God while doing so, recognizing that medical assistance is human-based and limited and all healing actually comes from God alone.
It should also be noted that these are both Old Testament scriptures, but the "divine healing" practiced by Jesus and His disciples is an entirely new concept found only in the New Testament. It is very inconsistent to use Old Testament events and prophecies (e.g., Asa and Jeremiah) to dictate the way the New Testament gifts of the Holy Spirit are to work. So the conclusion is that neither of these scriptures contains much to bear on the practice of divine healing in this New Testament era.
While this discussion concerns physicians, it should be noted that the apostle Paul called Luke, the Evangelist and writer of The Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles, "the beloved physician" (Colossians 4:14). This word, "iatros," simply means "physician" as we mean it today—a medical doctor or healer, coming from the root word, "iaomai," to cure, heal, or make whole. (See Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries or Thayer's Greek Definitions #G2395 and G2390.) There is absolutely no reason for Paul to use these words in such a positive and affectionate manner if physicians and their trade were to be viewed as negatives.
Nor would Jesus Christ Himself have used the word "physician" in such a positive manner when He informed the Pharisees, "They that are whole/well don't need a physician, but they that are sick (Luke 5:31). Why would Jesus say that "It is the sick who need a doctor," if doctors are to be avoided? There simply is no way that we can truthfully claim that the Bible views physicians, their abilities and skills, and our use of these skills, as something negative, wrong, or forbidden. Both Paul and Jesus appear to refer to physicians commendably.
C. There is one other "proof text" often used in discussions about divine healing, and that is Galatians 2:18—"For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor." Many people use this to mean that once I have ever taught a certain doctrine, divine healing or any other, then if I ever change my teaching or practice concerning that doctrine, I then become a "transgressor," i.e., I have sinned. Using this logic, it then becomes a sin to reverse or correct one's teachings, but any reasonable person knows this to be a fallacy. Indeed, it is only wisdom to correct and adjust one's teachings as God, through the normal Christian growth process, reveals new meanings and better understandings.
Of course, this gross misapplication of this verse occurs because, once again, many religious people have a tendency to take specific verses out of context. The context is this: Paul is reminding the Galatians that it is possible to be saved through faith in Jesus Christ only. Under the law system, they were still sinners, because the Law couldn't save them. However, when they go back to teaching and believing the necessity of the law system, i.e., "building again the" doctrine that they could be saved by works, then they are going back to a system in which they are still sinners. They have made themselves "transgressors." Christ and His death become "frustrated, neutralized, and void" (Galatians 1:21), "of no effect" (Galatians 5:4). They are still in their sins if they revert back to the law system. Paul is telling them that they had better keep believing in salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone, or they will "fall from [being saved by] grace" into salvation by works, which is no salvation at all (Galatians 5:4). So obviously, taken within its context, this verse has absolutely no application to teachings about divine healing”or any other COG doctrine.
II. The Only Direct Biblical Imperative: "Call for the Elders of the Church"
James 5:14-15, the classical passage regarding prayer for the sick, reads thus: "Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up..." These are the only clear instructions regarding divine healing in the New Testament. But it is obvious that for this to work supernaturally, at least one of these "elders" must have the gift of healing, faith, or miracles (1 Corinthians 12:9-10). Otherwise, no healing will happen. Of course, this does not rule out the occasions when God, in His Sovereign love and mercy, decides to heal a person simply because He wants to.
Adam Clarke, in his Commentary, actually states this about James 5:13 (italics added):
"What is here recommended was to be done as a natural means of restoring health, which, while they used prayer and supplication to God, they were not to neglect...
"Oil was and is frequently used in the east as a means of cure in very dangerous diseases; and in Egypt it is often used in the cure of the plague. Even in Europe it has been tried with great success in the cure of dropsy. And pure olive oil is excellent for recent wounds and bruises; and I have seen it tried in this way with the best effects... But that it was the custom of the Jews to apply it as a means of healing, and that St. James refers to this custom, is not only evident from the case of the wounded man ministered to by the good Samaritan, Luke 10:34, but from the practice of the Jewish rabbis. In Midrash Koheleth, fol. 73, 1, it is said: "Chanina, son of the brother of the Rabbi Joshua, went to visit his uncle at Capernaum; he was taken ill; and Rabbi Joshua went to him and anointed him with oil, and he was restored."
"They had, therefore, recourse to this as a natural remedy; and we find that the disciples used it also in this way to heal the sick, not exerting the miraculous power but in cases where natural means were ineffectual...
"In short, anointing the sick with oil, in order to their recovery, was a constant practice among the Jews... And here I am satisfied that it has no other meaning than as a natural means of restoring health; and that St. James desires them to use natural means while looking to God for an especial blessing. And no wise man would direct otherwise."
The Eerdmanns New Bible Dictionary by J. D. Douglas, F. F. Bruce, J. I Packer, et.al., also says something similar regarding James 5:14-15:
"The oil may have been used as was Christ's clay or spittle to reinforce faith, and may in some cases even have been medicinal... The important points are that the outlook in the passage is spiritual (i.e., the matter is referred to God), the distress of the individual is made the concern of the Church, and what is said neither excludes nor condemns the use by doctors of the normal means of healing available at any particular time and place. The whole of this passage is really concerned with the power of prayer" ("Disease and Healing" section, page 317, italics added).
To lend credence to both of these commentaries, it should be noted that, except in Mark 6:13, anointing the sick with oil was not the usual way for Jesus, Paul, or Peter to heal. They healed by laying on hands (Luke 4:40), touching hems (Matthew 9:20; 14:36), handkerchiefs and aprons (Acts 19:12), passing shadows (Acts 5:15), or simply with a word (Matthew 8:8; Acts 3:6). So James' advice to "anoint with oil" could very well mean just what Clarke and Douglas have said: Use all natural means to restore health while looking for God's supernatural intervention. But in any case, whether the oil was used medicinally or symbolically, all healing came from God.
These conclusions about divine healing are in many ways similar to what D. S. Warner, the "founder" of the COG, expressed over 115 years ago in the Gospel Trumpet, October 24, 1895 (italics added):
"Let us be understood. If you know nothing in nature that will produce the desired healing effect, take the case to God in prayer and faith. If you do know any thing at hand that will heal you, be free to use it if you wish, if you feel desirous to glorify God as the all-wise Creator... Therefore it is all right to use God-created remedies, when the devout soul would do so wholly to the glory of God... But if a sincere child of God does use medicines... do not reprove or rebuke such as if a sin had been committed..."
These principles would apply to any kind of medical assistance, not merely to herbs or naturally-occurring medicines, because all medicines are nothing more than special formulations of God-created substances, all arising from the earth. And all three of the above sources recognized that no "sin has been committed," whatever the remedy, obviously because no scripture or God-spoken commands are being violated.
While God can and does heal miraculously without any medical intervention whatsoever, He should also be praised for healing through the instrumentality of human medical skills, medicines, natural remedies, and other methods, besides anointing oil and prayer alone. Still, though medical assistance is used, people must keep their ultimate trust in God. Doctors and medicine are not really trustworthy. Their ability to affect healing is limited, fallible, and never guaranteed. Thus, it is not wise to trust in them.
But that does not mean one can never use them. A person must trust in God, even while using medical assistance, praying that whatever treatment takes place will be blessed by God to accomplish the intended healing and restoration. Indeed, it takes great faith in God to place one's life in the hands of another frail, finite, mistake-capable human being, or to relax in a hospital where deadly, treatment-resistant infections are increasing every year, or to count on a prescribed medicine whose side effects might be worse than the benefits. One must trust in God even when using medical assistance.
III. Other Theological Questions
A. D. S. Warner's advice on this issue. In the October 24, 1895, Gospel Trumpet, D. S. Warner wrote a "Question and Answer" article concerning Paul's advice that Timothy "drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake, and thy oft infirmities" (1 Timothy 5:23): "...There are conditions and reasons under which it is to the glory of God to use natural remedies for the removal of afflictions, and under which it were fanatical and superstitious to condemn men for so doing. First, it is the rule in the government of God that his creatures should not ask him to do for them, supernaturally, what they can do for themselves by the use of his gifts in nature. (Italics added.) [For example,] it were folly to withhold our hand from sowing and planting, with the plea we should trust God for our food. But what is the difference between such folly, and that of refusing to use something which God has freely given to us, and which we know has the very elements within it to remove certain abnormal and painful conditions of our bodies?"
The key concept here is that if God has already made provision for our health and well-being, then it is presumptuous for us to refuse to use those provisions and instead ask God to provide what we need supernaturally. A Christian does not need a special revelation or voice from heaven to tell him to do what the principles of the Word of God and his sanctified judgment already tell him to do. It is our duty to make the best choice based on whatever is already at hand.
God does not make all of our decisions for us. Instead, He has given us two things:
(1) The responsibility to "have dominion" (Genesis 1:26, 28), to conquer and rule the world, to develop and maintain culture and civilization, to nurture life, etc. One of the most important responsibilities He gave us is the responsibility to take care of our bodies, souls, and minds in the best way possible. When we do so, we actually honor Him as our Creator/Father, because responsibly taking care of ourselves shows that we value the life He has entrusted to us. Neglect, abuse, indulgence, and other selfish ways to treat ourselves is dishonoring to God because it devalues what He has created and entrusted to us.
(2) But in addition to responsibility, God, in all fairness, has also given us authority and ability, including intelligence, creativity, curiosity, wisdom, knowledge, skills, resources, etc., to fulfill our responsibility. We exercise this authority and ability by exercising our free wills in decision-making. Although God is all-powerful and can do anything, He Himself has limited Himself by giving us humans this freedom to make choices. He set up this system at the Beginning and expects us to perpetuate this by making the best choices we can make using our authority, abilities, and available resources. He can be expected to supernaturally intervene only when circumstances go beyond our authority and abilities, when they go beyond what our choices can control. Otherwise, He would be guilty of overriding our free wills.
We "tempt" God when we expect Him to do for us supernaturally what He expects us to do for ourselves with the authority, ability, and resources He has already provided and which we can freely choose to use. A divine miracle is not always necessary if we make the right choices.
B. This answers the question, "Why doesn't God simply overrule our bad choices?" Some of our choices have consequences that are just too horrible to live with. "If He loves us," it is reasoned, "then why doesn't He step in and save us from ourselves when we make bad choices? Where was God in all of this?" These are reasonable-sounding questions. It would sure make the world a better place if God would just nullify all of our bad choices and let only the good choices take effect. But once God gets into the business—the overwhelming business—of overruling our bad choices, He eliminates our free will. And once He eliminates our free will, He removes the possibility that we would serve Him out of Love. And that would remove the only reason for which He created this world in the first place.
So God, just as He did with Adam and Eve, must sometimes sadly stand by and watch as we blunder along, making choices that have consequences utterly impossible to live with. Most unfortunately, this includes our choices to refuse medical assistance, and the consequences can be absolutely nightmarish. It is even more devastating when we do this mistakenly believing that the Bible requires it all, and still worse yet when we do this with the encouragement of those we deem to be our spiritual leaders.
C. Thus, we can now answer one more really big question: "When people die 'trusting God' by not seeking medical assistance, is it God's will for it to happen that way?" And the simple answer is "No! He didn't want things to happen that way," meaning that it wasn't in His Sovereign or Perfect Will. He did not make it happen that way; our own choices did. But it would definitely still be within His Permissive Will.
Of course, there's really nothing simple about these concepts. But if God truly had His way directly and perfectly, everything would go according to His wishes and we would have heaven on earth. However, since He's given us this free will, He must deal with our choices that are often contrary to His original wishes. And since He is the one who has given us this freedom, whatever happens is still within His Permissive Will, that is, what He permits to happen. God's Permissive Will allows both bad and good things to occur. For example, it is not God's Sovereign or Perfect Will "that any should perish" (2 Peter 3:9), but, in His Permissive Will, based on their own choices, millions still do.
Things never get out of His control, however, but stay within His ultimate design. And being the loving Designer that He is, He is able to salvage, rearrange, rescue, redeem, and otherwise bring everything back into His ultimate Sovereign Will and decree. But the pain, suffering, and badly-broken lives we ourselves may experience during this process, because of the choices we ourselves or someone else has made, may be unimaginably devastating.
So we can say definitely that it is not God's will and desire for people to die by choosing death over obtaining medical assistance. Using medical assistance for healing does not involve moral sin. Therefore, God does not require His people to choose death or chronic suffering rather than obtaining medical assistance. If this did involve some type of moral evil or violation of the Scriptures, God would then expect Christians to choose not to seek medical assistance in order to obey the Word. But once again, this is not the case.
Therefore, it is His will and desire that His people use everything at their disposal to care for their physical bodies in the best way possible. Nothing in the Bible indicates otherwise. This is the only responsible behavior.
IV. Conclusions and Applications
Recently in the COG (ELS), a lot of discussion has occurred about what kinds of medical assistance is or is not allowed. However, without the Bible as the clear written standard, there is no way for this divine healing controversy to ever be "figured out." Some people may feel like God has shown them that using medicine for certain ailments under certain conditions is fine. Others may feel like something else is fine. Hospitals are sinful, but clinics are acceptable, some are reportedly saying now.
Doing one procedure is wrong, but doing another procedure is okay. Performing a certain medical procedure on yourself is acceptable, but having a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional perform the exact same procedure for you is wrong because it is considered "treatment," and "treatment" is "wrong." Or, using a nurse practitioner is fine, but using a fully certified medical doctor is going too far, crossing the "line" into sin. Using medical assistance is permissible if a life is at stake, but using it for non-life-threatening situations, e.g., "elective" surgery, is not permissible. Or vice-versa.
Preventative medicines such as vaccinations are fine for some, condemned by others. Getting broken bones set is fine for some, shunned by others. Taking vitamins is fine for some, wrong for others. Using anesthesia at the dentist is fine for some, sinful for others. Having a C-section to save a mother and baby is fine for some, condemned by others. Taking a sleeping pill to get some sleep or a Tylenol to relieve a headache is a little thing and thus OK, but having a surgical operation is entirely off limits for true "saints." Or perhaps some operations and medical procedures are more acceptable than others.
And so on”based on what? Where do we draw the line? "What saith the Lord?" Absolutely nothing!
Without clear, written New Testament scripture that speaks to this matter directly, there is absolutely no way in the world anybody can make any valid rules of behavior when it comes to medical assistance, divine healing, acceptable or unacceptable treatments, operations, procedures, etc. Period. Church leaders need to tell everybody this truth and quit messing around with people's lives. Without Bible, nothing anybody says is sound in any way! Without Bible, there is no basis to say anything!
So ultimately, since the New Testament does not describe what is permissible or forbidden after or in addition to the "prayer of faith," this whole issue devolves into an "I think this" or "You think that" personal, conscience-based controversy. It becomes nothing more than what each of us infers about the issue. And this is a far-too-unsound position for people's physical and spiritual lives to depend on.
Looking at the crisis surrounding divine healing existing in the COG (ELS), leaders should admit this and act accordingly:
(1) Church leaders must take responsibility for misleading people or allowing them to be misled regarding the COG (ELS) doctrine of divine healing. As discussed above, there is no real Bible to support the COG (ELS) tradition. Leaders must proactively teach the truth about this matter and educate their people according to the Scripture. It is not enough simply to tell one's members, "It's all your decision whether or not you go to the hospital. I will support you however you decide." Such a statement is actually extremely irresponsible and does not absolve the leaders of guilt.
This is because members of the COG (ELS) have been conditioned—almost brainwashed—to believe that they are obeying the Word and pleasing God when they refuse medical assistance. They have been taught, pressured, allowed, and encouraged to believe that they are doing God's will. There is quite a bit of fear involved. For the pastor now to tell them that he will support whatever their choice may be is irresponsible if he has never taught his people the truth: That refusing medical assistance is not required by the Bible, nor is seeking medical assistance a moral failure, subpar Christianity, or grounds for some kind of spiritual discipline or congregational disfavor that requires them to "come back by way of the altar." If a pastor has never made these truths clear to his people, then they do not yet have enough information to even make an informed decision about medical assistance. This first group of leaders needs to start telling their people the whole truth.
To make this plainer, imagine the following scenario: As a spiritual leader, I walk into the home of one of my parishioners, who is sitting at his kitchen table looking at a cup of poison he is about to drink. He looks up at me and says, "I believe I should drink this poison, which may very well kill me, but I believe the Bible requires me to drink it, other people in my church have drunk this kind of poison for many decades, it's supposed to mean that I'm real spiritual and willing to suffer for Jesus, and besides, people might think that I've backslidden or settled for something less than the will of God if I don't drink it. So pray for me, pastor," he says with anguish.
Now if I am responsibly fulfilling my duty as a spiritual leader, I am appalled and immediately grab the cup of poison from him! Then I inform that brother that the Bible does not require this, that the history of past misinformed church members should not force him to make a similar mistake, that drinking the poison has absolutely nothing to do with his spirituality, and that any pressure, discipline, or negative reactions from other people is also very misinformed. Then I tell him that if he has already drunk some of the poison, I offer to personally take him to the emergency room myself in my own car, immediately before it's too late!
Now the brother can make an informed choice. Only if those have been my actions can I possibly and legitimately free myself of the responsibility for his untimely death and destruction. Otherwise, if I have not given him the truth which I am duty-bound to give him, then I am partially guilty of his death. And this is the condition of those leaders who leave it up to their misinformed parishioners to make decisions about divine healing without all the facts.
(2) There are other church leaders who appear to have devised a double standard for themselves when it comes to divine healing. They appear to believe in certain exceptions to the "rules" that allow themselves and others they favor to use certain types of medical assistance, forms of self-treatment, etc., which others regard as violations of the traditional COG (ELS) doctrine of divine healing. Of course, as has been proven elsewhere in this document, no one can biblically condemn anyone else for using what they believe is permissible by God. So if they want to use medical assistance, then that's fine; they are not wrong.
However, they are wrong and condemnable when they hold others to continue following the traditional "rules" by disciplining them for not following the "rules," when they never announce that the "rules" have changed, and when they watch other people die without telling them that the "rules" have changed. This is hypocritical and a blatant double standard”and that is definitely wrong and sinful. This second group of leaders needs to confess, repent, and apologize to those they have disciplined, offended, condemned to die, and otherwise mistreated and misled.
(3) There is a growing third group of COG (ELS) leaders who no longer believe the traditional church teaching that "divine healing" requires one to refuse medical assistance, no longer practice such themselves, and no longer pressure or advise their members to practice such. However, unless they have made their position crystal clear to the rest of the church, they too are guilty of being complicit with and supportive of the unbiblical system currently in effect. The blood of many innocent, misled, misinformed people is on their hands along with the above two groups of leaders. This is because they know the truth but have neglected to share this truth with the rest of the church. It is way past time for this "code of silence" to be broken. People continue to suffer and die tragically and unnecessarily”while these leaders keep silent and try not to "rock the boat." Well, the truth is that the boat is already upside down!
This third group of leaders needs to stand up and speak up. They need to officially distance themselves from the COG traditions concerning divine healing”and many other such doctrines. Unless these leaders openly repudiate these traditions as not being Bible-based and begin to openly teach a balanced truth concerning them, people will continue unnecessarily to suffer and/or die erroneously believing that they are obeying the Bible and doing God's will.
(4) There is yet one more group of COG (ELS) leaders. These are those who would sincerely like to possess the gift of healing so that they can make the traditional doctrine of divine healing work better. If people refuse to use medical assistance, then these leaders' prayer is, "Lord, make me powerful enough to heal that person!" This is a noble desire indeed. But is it sound?
First of all, it must be recognized that a gift is a "gift." Therefore, no one should ever blame themselves for not having a certain "gift." If a Christian could obtain a certain gift simply by desiring it, or working real hard for it, or trying to be "spiritual" enough to deserve it, then we could fault ourselves for not having that gift. But it is a "gift," given by the Holy Spirit to whomever He desires to give it, completely independent of that person's desires, hard work, or spirituality. 1 Corinthians 13 proves that supernatural gifts may be given even while the person does not have divine Love, which is true spirituality. In millions of cases”indeed this has always been typical in the Christian church”a person's spiritual grace might not match his or her spiritual gift. So, since a gift is not given because of deep spirituality, faulting oneself because of a lack of the gift of healing is not sound according to the Bible.
Furthermore, even if a person has the gift of healing, it is still not in God's government to do for His people supernaturally what He expects them to do for themselves. So even if a person had the gift of healing or miracles, it does not necessarily follow that they would be able to heal those who refuse to use what God has already provided.
Third, having a gift does not mean that they would be able to make healings happen any time they wanted it to work. This is because supernatural healing does not always work the way we think it should work; it's up to God. Why, for example, did the great apostle Paul, who raised a young man from the dead in one instance (Acts 20:9-10), leave another man, "Trophimus, sick at Miletum" (2 Timothy 4:20)? Paul's special friend and co-worker, Epaphroditus, was deathly ill (Philippians 2:27-30), and it appears that his recovery occurred, not because of something Paul was able to do, but only because of the "mercy of God." Going back to Paul's advice for Timothy to "drink a little wine for your stomach because you are frequently sick," the question that is seldom asked is this: Why didn't Paul just heal Timothy—and skip all the wine advice? Why didn't Timothy, who was a gifted man of God, an "elder" in his own right, just pray and heal himself?
And the answer is this: These occurrences of sickness indicate that the apostolic commission to heal could not be used indiscriminately to keep themselves and their friends free from illness. Barnes' Notes on the Bible comments that "the account of the sickness and recovery of Epaphroditus is such as to lead us to suppose that he was not restored by miracle; and he infers that the power of healing the sick was conferred on the apostles only occasionally, and did not depend at all on their will, since, if it had, there is every reason to suppose that Paul would at once have restored him to health." Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary says that "Epaphroditus' sickness proves that the apostles had not ordinarily the permanent gift of miracles, any more than of inspiration: both were vouchsafed to them only for each particular occasion, as the Spirit thought fit."
So it is a misunderstanding, noble-minded though it might be, for any church leader to blame themselves for not being able to heal somebody who dies "trusting God" by refusing medical assistance. Even Paul couldn't heal people when he wanted to! This fourth group of leaders needs to quit being so hard on themselves and start concentrating on the primary business of the church.
Summarizing, this is what the COG (ELS) should now do regarding divine healing in order to avoid being guilty of "sentencing" any more people to die (some have even called it "murder"!): Start openly advising those who are sick:
(a) to go get the medical assistance they need;
(b) to quit believing that refusing to seek medical assistance is required by the Bible, or that accepting medical assistance is sinful, requiring a person to repent and get saved again;
(c) to quit believing that refusing medical assistance is equivalent to truly trusting God or displaying greater spirituality;
(d) to quit believing that refusing medical assistance is a responsible way to treat our bodies and begin to see it as the form of selfishness that it really is. Some have even called it a "slow suicide;"
(e) to quit spiritually condemning, accusing of being backslidden, and disciplining those who choose to use medical assistance, and
(f) Leaders should begin prayerfully seeking how to get this group back on track and reconnected to the primary, kingdom-building, Holy Spirit-led purpose of the church in the world—if that's even possible at this point—where God's people rally around Christ and His love instead of religious doctrines and traditions.
Of course, many people will no doubt say that this document will destroy divine healing. But really, no one can destroy divine healing: Either it works or it doesn't. Ultimately, people can do whatever they want to do about their physical bodies, but somebody needs to help straighten this out so that God and the church are not being blamed. This might help reduce the number of people who refuse medical assistance, and thus reduce the number of people with tragic, untimely deaths and chronic, unnecessary suffering. This might "slay the sacred cow," but when is it the wrong time to tell the truth? People's lives are at stake. If this can save even one life, then this article will be considered a great success.
May God bless us all.
Philip A Matthews