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Defined broadly, faith healing is the attempt to use religious or spiritual means such as prayer to prevent illness, cure disease, or simply improve health. Proponents claim that prayers, mental practices, spiritual insights, or other techniques can summon divine or supernatural interventions on behalf of the ill. According to the varied beliefs of those who practice it, faith healing may be said to afford gradual relief from pain or sickness or to bring about a sudden "miracle cure", and it may be used in place of, or in tandem with, conventional medical techniques for alleviating or curing diseases. Faith healing has been criticized on the grounds that those who use it may delay seeking potentially curative conventional medical care. This is particularly problematic when parents use faith healing techniques on children.

Faith healing in various belief systems


The term "faith healing" is sometimes used in reference to the belief of some Christians who hold that God heals people through the power of the Holy Spirit, often involving the "laying on of hands". Those who hold to this belief do not usually use the term "faith healing" in reference to the practice; that expression is often used descriptively by commentators outside of the faith movement in reference to the belief and practice.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

In the four gospels in the Christian Bible, Jesus is said to cure physical ailments well outside the capacity of first century medicine, most explicitly in the case of "a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was not better but rather grew worse."[1]. Jesus endorsed the use of the medical assistance of the time (medicines of oil and wine) when he praised the fictitious Good Samaritan for acting as a physician, telling his disciples to go and do the same thing that the Samaritan did in the story.[2] The healing in the gospels is referred to as a sign[3] to prove his divinity and to foster belief in himself as the Christ [4]. However, when asked for miracles, Jesus refused some [5] but granted others [6], in consideration with the motive of the request whether they had faith that he would heal or simply wanted to test him.


Faith healing is reported by Catholics as the result of intercessory prayer of a saint or a person with the gift of healing.

Among the best-known accounts among Catholics of faith healings are those attributed to miraculous intercession of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary known as Our Lady of Lourdes at the grotto of Lourdes in France, and the remissions of life-threatening disease claimed by those who have applied for aid to Saint Jude, who is known as the "patron saint of lost causes". [7][8]

The Catholic Church has given official recognition to 67 miracles and 7,000 otherwise-inexplicable medical cures since the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared in Lourdes in February 1858. These cures are subjected to intense medical scrutiny and are only recognized as authentic spiritual cures after a commission of doctors and scientists, called the Lourdes Medical Bureau, has ruled out any physical mechanism for the patient's recovery. [9][10]


At the turn of the 20th century, the new Pentecostal movement drew participants from the Holiness movement and other movements in America that already believed in divine healing. There were many pastors and evangelists in the US, England, and other countries who believed in a God who healed the sick.

Most historians trace the beginnings of the Pentecostal movement to the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The revival was started through the ministry of an African American preacher named William J. Seymour, who was inspired by Charles Fox Parham. During the Azusa Street meetings, according to witnesses who wrote about them, blind, crippled or other sick people would be healed. The prayer room upstairs was decorated with crutches from people whose prayers had been answered. People flocked from all over the US and around the world to Azusa Street amidst reports of speaking in tongues and other spiritual gifts.

Belief in divine healing was generally accepted by participants in the Azusa Street meetings. Some of the participants would eventually minister extensively in this area. For example, John G. Lake was present during the years of the Azusa Street revival. Lake had earned huge sums of money in the insurance business at the turn of the century but gave away his possessions except for food for his children while he and his wife fasted on a trip to Africa to do missionary work. Certain people he'd never met before gave him money and keys to a place to stay which were required to enter South Africa at the dock. His writings tell of numerous healing miracles he and others performed as over 500 churches were planted in South Africa. Lake returned to the US and set up healing rooms in Spokane Washington, a city later declared the healthiest city in the US.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

During the 1920s and 1930s Aimee Semple McPherson was a controversial faith healer of growing popularity during the Great Depression.

Smith Wigglesworth was also a well-known figure in the early part of the 20th century. A former English plumber turned evangelist, who lived simply and read nothing but the Bible from the time his wife taught him to read. Wigglesworth traveled around the world preaching about Jesus and performing faith healings. There are reports of Wigglesworth raising several people from the dead in Jesus' name in his meetings.

William Branham is usually credited as being the founder of the post World War II healing revivals.[11][12][13][14][15][16] By the late 1940s Oral Roberts was well known, and he continued with faith healing until the 1980s. A friend of Roberts was another popular faith healer, Kathryn Kuhlman, who gained fame in the 1950s and had a television program on CBS. Also in this era, Jack Coe and A. A. Allen were faith healers with large a following, and traveled with large tents to hold mobile, open air crusades. In contrast Ernest Angley in Akron, Ohio made his fame on television.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Oral Roberts' successful use of television as a medium to gain a wider audience led others to follow suit. For example, Pat Robertson and Peter Popoff became well-known televangelists who claimed to heal the sick.[17]

Richard Rossi, known for advertising his healing clinics through secular television and radio, claimed he could demonstrate and prove God's power to unbelievers through indisputable miracles.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Christian Science

Christian Science advocates a reliance on prayer and a faith in God, rather than material means, for treating illnesses and other problems and challenges. It teaches that a faith in God and a sincere desire to really understand Him, described as boundless Life, Truth and Love, leads to spiritual growth, the healing of illnesses and to solutions to problems.

New Thought Movement

The New Thought Movement is a panentheistic belief system in which a form of faith healing, called "spiritual mind treatment," is practiced predicated on a belief that God is in everything, including medicine, and that the true nature of humanity is divine. Spiritual mind treatment connects thoughts and state of mind to physical well being, and may be performed solo or with the aid of a practitioner. Specific techniques, such as affirmative prayer and meditation, are utilized to align a patient with their true nature - called the Christ Consciousness by some practitioners, and the Divine Mind or God Consciousness and One Mind by others - to effect a mental or physical healing.[18] It is also advocated and utilized by New Thought practitioners; for example, the New Thought author William Walker Atkinson wrote a book on the subject titled Mental Therapeutics, or Just How to Heal Oneself and Others in 1916.[18] Because New Thought postulates the divine in everything, including medications and doctors, believers may use traditional medical approaches alongside spiritual mind treatments. This is a non-intercessory form of faith healing, as the mechanism of action is believed to be access to the inner spark of divinity and belief on the part of the patient that a healing is possible.[18]


Spiritualism is a religion which holds as a tenet of belief that contact is possible between the living and the spirits of the dead. For this reason, death, as an outcome of disease, may not seem as frightening to Spiritualists as it does to those who practice other religions. According to the 20th century Spiritualist author Lloyd Kenyon Jones, "This does not mean that sickness is unreal. It is real enough from the mortal viewpoint. The spirit feels the pain, senses the discomfiture of the flesh-body, even though the spirit is not ill." [19]

Spiritualism does not promote "mental" cures of the type advocated by New Thought; however, help from the "spirit world" (including advice given by the spirits of deceased physicians) is sought, and may be seen as central to the healing process. As with practitioners of New Thought, Spiritualists may combine faith healing with conventional medical therapies. As Jones explained it, "We are not taught to put the burden on our minds. We do not 'will away' illness. But -- we do not fear illness. [...] When we ask the spirit-world to relieve us of a bodily ill, we have gone as far as our own understanding and diligence permit. [...] We have faith, and confidence, and belief. [...] If medicine at times will assist, we take it -- not as a habit, but as a little push over the hill. If we need medical attention, we secure it. [19]


Efficacy and alternative explanations

While faith in the supernatural is not in itself usually considered to be the purview of science,[20][21] claims of reproducible effects are nevertheless subject to scientific investigation. A Cochrane review of intercessory prayer[22] found essentially no effect, and a recent study not included in the review found similar results for the effect of intercessory prayer on outcome for heart surgery.[23] The American Medical Association considers that prayer as therapy should not be a medically reimbursible or deductible expense.[24] Skeptics of faith healing offer primarily two explanations for anecdotes of cures or improvements, relieving any need to appeal to the supernatural.[25][26] The first is post hoc ergo propter hoc, meaning that a genuine improvement or spontaneous remission may have been experienced coincidental with but logically independent from anything the faith healer or patient did or said. These patients would have improved just as well even had they done nothing. The second is the placebo effect, through which a person may experience genuine pain relief and other symptomatic alleviation. In this case, the patient genuinely has been helped by the faith healer or faith-based remedy, not through any mysterious or numinous function, but by the power of their own belief that they would be healed.[27][28] In both cases the patient may experience a real reduction in symptoms, though in neither case has anything miraculous or inexplicable occurred. Both cases, however, are strictly limited to the body's natural abilities, with neither bones mended nor tumors abated in an afternoon.

Negative impact on public health

Reliance on faith healing to the exclusion of other forms of treatment can have a public health impact when it reduces or eliminates access to modern medical techniques.[29][30][31] This is evident in both higher mortality rates for children[32] and in reduced life expectancy for adults.[33] Critics have also made note of serious injury that has resulted from falsely labelled "healings", where patients erroneously consider themselves cured and cease or withdraw from treatment.[34][35] It is the stated position of the AMA that "prayer as therapy should not delay access to traditional medical care."[24]

Christian theological criticism of faith healing

Christian theological criticism of faith healing broadly falls into two distinct levels of disagreement.

The first is widely termed as the "open-but-cautious" view of the miraculous in the church today. This term is deliberately used by Robert L. Saucy of himself in the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?[36], Don Carson is another example of a Christian teacher who has put forward what has been described as an "open-but-cautious" view[1]. In dealing with the claims of Warfield, particularly "Warfield's insistence that miracles ceased."[37] Carson asserts "But this argument stands up only if such miraculous gifts are theologically tied exclusively to a role of attestation; and that is demonstrably not so."[37] However, while affirming that he does not expect healing to happen today, Carson is critical of aspects of the faith healing movement, "Another issue is that of immense abuses in healing practises.... The most common form of abuse is the view that since all illness is directly or indirectly attributable to the devil and his works, and since Christ by his cross has defeated the devil, and by his Spirit has given us the power to overcome him, healing is the inheritance right of all true Christians who call upon the Lord with genuine faith."[37]

The second level of theological disagreement with Christian faith healing goes further. Commonly referred to as cessationism, its adherents either claim that faith healing will not happen today at all, or may happen today, but it would be unusual. Richard Gaffin argues for a form of cessationism in an essay alongside Saucy's in the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? In his book Perspectives on Pentecost[38] Gaffin states of healing and related gifts that "the conclusion to be drawn is that as listed in 1 Corinthians 12(vv. 9f., 29f.) and encountered throughout the narrative in Acts, these gifts, particularly when exercised regularly by a given individual, are part of the foundational structure of the church... and so have passed out of the life of the church."[38] Gaffin qualifies this, however, by saying "At the same time, however, the sovereign will and power of God today to heal the sick, particularly in response to prayer (see e.g. James 5:14,15), ought to be acknowledged and insisted on."[38]

Fraud and faith healing

Skeptics of faith healers point to fraudulent practices either in the healings themselves (such as plants in the audience with fake illnesses), or concurrent with the healing work supposedly taking place. One such notable critic is stage magician James Randi, who claims that faith healing is a quack practice in which the "healers" use well known non-supernatural illusions to exploit credulous people in order to obtain their gratitude, confidence and money.[17] For instance, in his book The Faith Healers Randi investigated Peter Popoff, who claimed to heal sick people and to give personal details about their lives. Randi exposed the fact that Popoff was receiving radio transmissions from his wife, Elizabeth, who was off-stage reading information which she and her aides had gathered from earlier conversation with members of the audience.[17] Randi also calls into question the value received for donations or other payments to faith healers.[39] Others, including physicist Robert L. Park[27] and doctor and consumer advocate Stephen Barrett[34] have called into question the ethicality of the sometimes exorbitant fees charged for what is at best a placebo.

See also


  1. - Passage Lookup: Mark 5:26-27
  2. includeonly>Booth, Craig. "Faith Healing -- God’s Compassion, God’s Power, and God’s Sovereignty: Is a Christian permitted to seek medical assistance and to use medicine?", December 2003. Retrieved on 2007-05-01.
  3. John 6:2
  4. John 4:48
  5. Mat 12:38
  6. Luke 9:38-43
  7. Faith healing: The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  8. Lourdes: The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  9. How Lourdes Cures are Recognized as Miraculaous ZENIT International News Agency, 11 FEB. 2004. Retrieved Dec. 14, 2007.
  10. Lourdes: A History of its Apparitions and Cures by Georges Bertrin (author) and Mrs. Philip Gibbs (English language translator), 1908. Reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, 2004 ISBN 1417981237
  11. Dictionary of Christianity In America (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990) p. 182.
  12. Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988) p. 372.
  13. Anderson, A., An Introduction to Pentecostalism (Cambridge University Press, 2004) p 58.
  14. Harrell, D.E., All Things Are Possible: The Healing and Charismatic Revivals in Modern America (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1978) p. 25.
  15. Hollenweger, W. J., Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide, (Hendrickson Publications, 1997) p. 229.
  16. Weaver, C.D., The Healer-Prophet: William Marrion Branham (A study of the Prophetic in American Pentecostalism) (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2000) p. 139.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Randi, James (1989). The Faith Healers, Prometheus Books. ISBN 0-87975-535-0 page 10.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Dumont, Theron, Q. [pseudonym of William Walker Atkinson. Mental Therapeutics, or Just How to Heal Oneself and Others. Advanced Thought Publishing Co. Chicago. 1916.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Jones, Lloyd, Kenyon. Healing Forces.1919; reprinted by Lormar Press, Chicago, 1948.
  20. Gould, Stephen Jay (1997-03). Nonoverlapping Magisteria. Natural History 106: 16-22.
  21. includeonly>Flamm, Bruce. "The Columbia University 'Miracle' Study: Flawed and Fraud", Skeptical Inquirer, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, 2004-09. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. "The "faith" in faith healing refers to an irrational belief, unsupported by evidence, that mysterious supernatural powers can eradicate disease. Science deals with evidence, not faith."
  22. Roberts, L., I. Ahmed, S. Hall (1997-10-20). Intercessory prayer for the alleviation of ill health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 4. DOI:10.1002/14651858.CD000368.pub2.
  23. Benson, H., Dusek JA, Sherwood JB, Lam P, Bethea CF, Carpenter W, Levitsky S, Hill PC, Clem DW Jr, Jain MK, Drumel D, Kopecky SL, Mueller PS, Marek D, Rollins S, Hibberd PL (2006-04). Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: a multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer. American Heart Journal 151 (4): 934-942. PMID 16569567.
  24. 24.0 24.1 H-185.987 Prayer Fees Reimbursed As Medical Expenses. American Medical Association. URL accessed on 2008-01-17.
  25. includeonly>"Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Cancer Patients: Faith Healing", Moores UCSD Cancer Center. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. "Benefits may result because of the natural progression of the illness, rarely but regularly occurring spontaneous remission or through the placebo effect. "
  26. Carroll, Robert Todd faith healing. The Skeptic's Dictionary. URL accessed on 2008-01-16.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Park, Robert L. (2000). Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud, 50-51, New York, New York: Oxford University Press.
  28. includeonly>"Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Cancer Patients: Faith Healing", Moores UCSD Cancer Center. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. "Patients who seek the assistance of a faith healer must believe strongly in the healer’s divine gifts and ability to focus them on the ill."
  29. Flamm, Bruce L. (Fall/Winter 2004-2005). Inherent Dangers of Faith Healing Studies. Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine 8 (2). "Faith healing can cause patients to shun effective medical care."
  30. includeonly>Flamm, Bruce. "The Columbia University 'Miracle' Study: Flawed and Fraud", Skeptical Inquirer, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, 2004-09. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. "It is often claimed that faith healing may not work but at least does no harm. In fact, reliance on faith healing can cause serious harm and even death."
  31. Randi, James (1989). The Faith Healers, Prometheus Books. ISBN 0-87975-535-0 page 141. "Faith-healers take from their subjects any hope of managing on their own. And they may very well take them away from legitimate treatments that could really help them."
  32. Asser, Seth M., Rita Swan (1998-04). Child Fatalities From Religion-motivated Medical Neglect. Pediatrics 101 (4): 625-629. PMID 9521945.
  33. Simpson, W. F. (1989-09-22). Comparative longevity in a college cohort of Christian Scientists. Journal of the American Medical Association 262 (12): 1657-1658. PMID 2769921.
  34. 34.0 34.1 Barrett, Stephen Some Thoughts About Faith Healing. Quackwatch. URL accessed on 2008-01-17.
  35. Randi, James (1989). The Faith Healers, Prometheus Books. ISBN 0-87975-535-0 page 141. "These [discarded medications] are substances without which those people might well die."
  36. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? ed. Wayne Grudem, 1996. ISBN 0310201551
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Carson, Don (1987). Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14, 156, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516: Baker Book House. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "carson" defined multiple times with different content
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 Perspectives on Pentecost: New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit by Richard Gaffin, 1979. ISBN 0-87552-269-6 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "gaffin" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "gaffin" defined multiple times with different content
  39. Randi, James (1989). The Faith Healers, Prometheus Books. ISBN 0-87975-535-0 page 141. "[Some] faith-healers have been less than careful in their use of funds sent to them for specific purposes."


  • Dr. Matthias Kamp, M.D.: Bruno Groening - A Revolution in Medicine. A medical documentation on spiritual healing. Grete Haeusler Publishing, 1998, (Chapters 1 - 4)
  • Louis C. Henderson: The Gift of Healing is Yours. Glenmore Press, 1956.

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