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.