27 April 2009

Alpha Course Day 10: Does God Heal Today?

Dinner: Really really mild chili, to which I added a lot of crushed chilies. Side salad. Coffee cake. Pretty plain day for food, actually. At least it was edible.

Part 1: Sermon

Gumbel starts with a long story about a powerful session of faith healing at his church in Brompton. An American preacher named John Wimber came in. He was loud and boisterous and un-British; Gumbel claimed to be suspicious of him, as he was too obnoxious for the restrained British types in the church.

Google searching reveals nothing substantial in the way of skeptical criticism of Wimber's healing act. No allegations he's like Peter Popoff. That isn't to say that there isn't any criticism of Wimber, but all of it is from other Christians who disagree with some or all of his hyper-charismatic views (calling him a charlatan and a blasphemer). From their articles, I can't really tell if they think Wimber's manifestations of the gifts of the spirit (ie. healings) are real (but demonic) or phony.

Of course, it can be very hard to debunk the specifics of each claim when the faith healers themselves, who claim to help heal thousands of people, tend to avoid giving out names and dates. The fact is, even many Christians have seen Wimber in action and have not been impressed.

Some (who are also critical of Alpha) attack Wimber for being too influenced by the New Age movement.

If you have 30 minutes, here's a video of John Wimber in action. Action starts at around 2:50. Note his use of "words of knowledge," which are what Wimber calls the supernatural epiphanies he receives from God regarding each ailment in the audience: pictures, sympathy pain, words, etc.

Anyway, Wimber was also, in his pre-ministry career, a producer and occasional keyboardist for the Righteous Brothers, who went on to record a few songs that made it to the soundtrack of the movie Ghost. Food for thought.

Importantly, Gumbel's accounts of the healings were like a damned infomercial. First is the disclaimer: man is healed mainly through modern medicine, in fact, nearly all healings are due to medicine. There are very few miracles, he says, and that, when you pray for healing, healing doesn't always - or even usually - happen. Only then does Gumbel go on to talk about his parish's experiences with Wimber, and how in every case, he was able to both identify and heal - Every. Single. Ailment. - in the room. It's almost sickening.

After this long sales pitch, Gumbel goes to explain that healing is in the bible both in the Old Testament and the New.

The New is where most of the focus is. Apparently, 25% of the Gospels focus on Jesus's healing works. There is also mention that much of the time healing is preceded by anointing the sick with olive oil. What is that about? Does God need someone to be greasy in order to heal them? Kind of nonsensical. Anyway, Gumbel also explains that when we pray for healing it is not us that heals the sick, it is God. So this comes right back to the silliness of praying for a specific outcome: either God's a dick who wants you to beg, or your prayer isn't really doing anything since God's going to heal or not heal depending on his wishes, not yours.

Gumbel explained that until the redemption of our bodies after the 2nd coming of Jesus, not everyone will be healed. Right now, God's just teasing us with only occasional healing. This segment of the sermon was full of fanciful descriptions of how wonderful everything will be once Jesus returns.

Even the work of modern faith healers are held to be biblically supported, as the disciples are commanded by Jesus to go out and heal. There are a couple of funny implications to this. First, the bible makes it seem that healing is almost guaranteed if the prayer is righteous enough. So any real pastor of disciple should be able to heal a consistently high percentage of the time, not this rare healing stuff. Secondly, the bible says that the healing of the sick is intended by God to be evidence of his power and the coming of the Kingdom of God. If healing as supposed to be evidence for the skeptical, then why aren't scientific studies into the effectiveness of prayer healing effective?

He also says that if you pray and the victim is not healed it's not due to you having not enough faith, despite what the bible implies. He finishes with an odd call to persevere: “The reason I go on praying is not so much that I've seen masses of people healed, but because Jesus commanded us to do it. And that's why I would go on doing it even if NO ONE was healed”

I guess the theme of today's sermon is 'mixed messages.'

Part 2: NOT Small Groups

There was no small groups time after this sermon. Instead, there was a special healing session. Lights were turned low and some crappy Christian soft pop music was put on in the background. Little enclosures (resourcefully made out of cubicle walls and dividers) were set up. The group leaders each sat behind each one and every person who wanted to be prayed over due to an ailment could go join one of the group leaders within the enclosure and pray about their ailment. Many people, I'd hazard a guess of about 60%, partook in the private healing sessions, including my wife for a minor skin ailment.

The next week, no one came running in proclaiming that they were healed. I know my wife's problems haven't improved at all.

I'm not surprised.

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At May 01, 2009 9:27 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wife and I attend a Vineyard church. They're all about the Alpha course, John Wimber, and modern day healing. Recently they trotted out a group of people who claimed to be healed. They generally fell into two categories.
1. Had an injury or disease which a doctor cured.
2. Had an emotional or mental problem for which they received (religious) counseling.

I pointed out to my wife that in every case they didn't rely on just prayer, but went to a doctor or other professional. She asked what was wrong with giving God the credit, to which I replied what was wrong with giving the doctors the credit.

Most of the healings they claim are the really lame/vague ones. Someone is sick with the flu or a cold, gets prayed for, and then feels better the next day which they credit to prayer. I pointed out that the general course of a cold is that you feel awful for a few days, and then one morning you wake up and feel 10 times better. You're not completely well, but the 6-8 hour sleep can have dramatic results. Lots of post hoc ergo propter hoc type reasoning.

I think the saddest part of the whole thing was the man with cerebral palsy. 25+ years of praying to be healed with no result, but he still believes it can happen.

At May 03, 2009 12:36 p.m., Blogger Theo Bromine said...

I'm surprised no one suggested that your wife's lack of healing was a result of *your* lack of faith. That would be consistent with the Wimber stuff I have seen.

At May 14, 2009 11:32 p.m., Blogger KA said...

Anon, it is sad. Equal parts desperation and being trained to credit God for everything. Well, everything good anyway.

Theo, surprisingly no one has outright claimed that. Yet.

At December 10, 2009 12:09 p.m., Anonymous D Turner said...

I attended the Alpha healing session on Tuesday, and someone prayed for my back. I've been in constant pain for nearly 8 years and have walked with a crutch all of that time. The reason for the pain is that my pelvis and my spine aren't attached to each other properly (the little bones are made of spongy stuff instead of solid bone), and the sciatic nerves are under constant pressure.

As the guy prayed for me I felt all my back muscles 'popping', which is weird because the muscles atrophied years ago. He prayed a bit more (really simple stuff), and the pain just disappeared. Completely.

It took me a couple of minutes to work out what the weird feeling in my back was - it was the strange feeling of not being in pain.

That was two days ago and I am still pain-free, and walking without a crutch. My wife says I don't grunt in my sleep any more when I move, and I feel like a top athlete (instead of a rather unfit thirty-something). It's amazing. I feel like I'm having to learn to walk again (my body wants to limp, even though I don't need to), and going out without a crutch makes me feel a bit naked, to be honest. It's been part of me for so long. But it's gone, and I don't think it's coming back.

I know that you'll probably assume I'm either lying, or mad, or self-deceiving, or some combination of all of these, but I wanted to defend something that I have personally experienced to be true, in an amazing and life-changing way. It's up to you whether you'll believe me or not, of course.

At March 17, 2010 6:32 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very curious if D Turner has an update or if like most "healings", things went back to they way there were within 6 months.


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