Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Miracles of Church History


            Is the age of miracles past? Did miracles cease after the apostolic age? I believe the answer to both these questions is an emphatic “No.” God has performed miracles throughout all of church history. God’s healing power works in every century, in every generation, and for every person who has the faith to believe for healing.
            I believe Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever; if Jesus healed when He was on earth, He will heal forever. If it is true that miracles have not ceased, there should be a record of healing testimonies during the last two thousand years. Upon careful examination, it is found that healing power has never been quenched except in the lives of those who stopped believing. Let us look at some healing testimonies through the centuries. 
            An early church father, Polycarp (A.D. 69-155) sat at the feet of John the Apostle and listened to his stories about Jesus. In a letter to the church of Philippi, he exhorts the elders of the church to pray for the sick. Why would he tell them to pray for the sick if healing had ceased?
            Clement (A.D. ?-95), a pastor of the church in Rome, wrote detailed instructions for ministers who visit the sick. He said, “Let them, therefore, with fasting and prayer, make their intercessions, and not with the well arranged and fitly ordered words of learning, but as men who have received the gift of healing confidently, to the glory of God.”
            Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165) was an influential writer, philosopher, and evangelist during the second century who was eventually beheaded by the Roman government for his beliefs. He emphasized that Christians “have healed and do heal.”
            Irenaeus (A.D.125-200) wrote a series of books combating false doctrine in the early church. He explained Christians “still heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up.”
            Tertullian (A.D. 160-240) ministered in North Africa. He recounts the healing testimonies of both distinguished men and common people who were cured.
            Healing was an important part of the church for the first two hundred years, but then a problem arose. Origen (A.D. 185-284) noticed that miracles were becoming less frequent. He mentions the abundance of miracles and supernatural events in the days of the Christ and the early Apostles, then he remarks “but since that time these signs have diminished.” Interestingly enough, he pinpoints the reason miracles became infrequent when he says there were no healings because of a lack of holiness among the believers.
            When Constantine made Christianity the state religion in 313, many joined the church for the sake of political advantages. This changed the focus of Christianity from being a movement which met in homes, to a structured movement that emphasized liturgy and the leadership of bishops. Only sacraments administered by ordained ministers were considered a source of grace. This caused the gifts of the Spirit in ordinary Christians to dry up. As a result, healings and miracles became less frequent in the hands of politically appointed priests and bishops.        
            Later a new movement arose called monasticism. These were groups of men who became monks in order to devote their lives to prayer. They lived simple, austere lives in order to focus on seeking God. Although some monks decided the amount of suffering one endured was a sign of one’s devotion to God, other monks earned a reputation for powerful prayers and miraculous healings.        
            For example, Anthony (A.D. 251-356) who is credited with starting the monastic movement, often prayed for the sick and delivered the demon oppressed. Athanasius (A.D. 295-373) writes of one occasion when many sick people gathered outside Anthony’s cave seeking prayer. When Anthony came out, “through him the Lord healed the bodily ailments of many present, and cleansed others from evil spirits.”
            Jerome (A.D. 347-420) writes about another monk, Hilarion (A.D. 305-385) who discovered a paralyzed man who was lying near his home. Then, “weeping much and stretching out his hand to the prostrate man he said, 'I bid you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, arise and walk.' The words were still on the lips of the speaker when, with miraculous speed, the limbs were strengthened and the man arose and stood firm.”
            Ambrose (A.D. 340-397), a bishop of Milan, healed a blind man and wrote “as the Father gives the gift of healings, so too does the Son give.”
            One of the most influential writers and thinkers in Christianity was Augustine (A.D. 354-430). In the early years of his ministry, he dismisses the supernatural from church experience. He makes a point “that the witness of the Holy Spirit’s presence is no longer given by miracles, but by the love of God in one’s heart for the Church.” However, later on in life he changed his mind and wrote about many supernatural events he experienced.
            In his classic work, The City of God, one chapter is titled “Concerning Miracles Which Were Wrought in Order That the World Might Believe in Christ and Which Cease Not to be Wrought now That the World Does Believe.” Augustine says, “For even now, miracles are wrought in the name of Christ.” Then, Augustine lists a few of the miracles he has personally experienced including: “healings from blindness, cancer, gout, hemorrhoids, demon possession, and even the raising of the dead.”
            Unfortunately, Augustine’s early opinions concerning the cessation of miracles strongly influenced successive generations of scholars. Even though he wrote about miracles in his later years, his early writings are largely responsible for the belief that miracles ceased.
            In spite of the spread of this belief, miracles continued in the lives of many believers. Benedict (A.D. 480-547) once prayed for a dead monk who had been crushed by a falling wall at a monastery construction site. The body was laid in his room and Benedict prayed earnestly for an hour. At the end of this time, the monk was raised from the dead and returned to work on the wall.
            There are many fantastic stories of healings told about the years A.D. 500-1000. Most of these stories were used to prove the sainthood of worthy individuals. Many sick people traveled to the tombs of saints, or to shrines to seek healing. Churches often collected relics which were said to hold healing power. These relics included the bones of saints, pieces of the true cross, various shrouds, the head of John the Baptist, the tunics of saints, or other holy pieces of history which served as a point of contact for those believing for a miracle.
            New leaders arose who started the “traveling friar” movement. These men took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Just like Jesus’ disciples, they traveled and preached without taking any extra money or clothing with them. Many miracles were reported in their ministries.
            Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) healed the lame, the mute, the blind, and many others who came to him seeking a cure. One boy who had been deaf and mute from birth, began to speak after Bernard prayed for him. The crowds who witnessed the miracle cheered when the saint set the boy up on a bench so he could speak to them.
            Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a woman who flowed in the miraculous. When people came to her for prayer, she used different methods of healing as the Spirit led her. “Sometimes the medium used was a prayer, sometimes a simple word of command, sometimes water which, as in one case, healed paralysis of the tongue.” It was said that “scarcely a sick person came to her without being healed.”
            Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) was an influential force in Christianity who founded the Franciscan order of priests. The preaching of Francis was accompanied with signs and wonders. One time when he was preaching in Narni, he prayed for a man who was completely paralyzed. After Francis made the sign of the cross over his head, the man jumped up and began to walk.
            Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225-1274) once visited the Vatican. The pope proudly showed the saint all the treasures of the Church: the gold, the silver, the beautiful paintings, and the works of art. The pope turned to Aquinas and proudly said, “No longer can the Church say ‘Silver and gold have I none.’” Aquinas sadly looked up and replied, “And no longer can she say, ‘Rise up and walk.'” He knew the focus of the church had changed from heavenly power to worldly wealth.
            Aquinas was a man of great prayer. He has often been called a genius because of his knowledge, learning, and skill as a writer. Yet he also experienced many miracles in his ministry. One pope declared that Aquinas wrought as many miracles as there are articles in his famous book Summa Theologica
            Vincent of Farrier (1350-1419) was healed from an illness after seeing a vision of Christ and started his ministry as a result of his personal experience with the healing power of God. When he was preaching in the Netherlands, he prayed for the sick at a set hour each day because there were so many people seeking miracles.
            During the Reformation, a new emphasis was placed on the importance of God’s Word and on the faith necessary for salvation. The reformers preached a message which emphasized that healing of the soul is more important than healing of the body. But even Martin Luther (1483-1546) did occasionally pray for the healing of the sick. One time Luther’s good friend, Philip Melancthon, became seriously sick. Luther prayed earnestly for him and confessed all the healing promises from Scripture. Then, he took Melancthon by the hand and said, “Be of good courage, Philip, you shall not die.” The man was healed and quickly became healthy again.
            John Hus (1373-1415) was a leader of the Moravians who ignited one of the greatest missionary movements in history because of his dedication to prayer. One of the Moravian histories says, “It is...proved, both by facts and by Scripture, that there may always be [gifts of miracles and healings] where there is faith and that they will never be entirely detached from it."            
            George Fox (1624-91), a Quaker, kept a record of over one hundred miracles. One of the stories from his journal is about the healing of John Banks. The man had terrible pain in his right arm and hand. He sought a cure from doctors but none of them could help. Fox laid his hands on him, and a couple of hours later, the arm was completely restored.
            John Wesley (1703-91) who started the Methodist movement was a dynamite preacher who brought salvation to England. Wesley testified to having been healed supernaturally several times. On one occasion, he was stricken with sickness on a Friday and by Sunday, he was barely able to lift his head from the pillow. He relates, “I was obliged to lie down most part of the day, being easy only in that posture. In the evening, beside the pain in my back and head, and the fever which still continued upon me, just as I began to pray I was seized with such a cough that I could hardly speak. At the same time came strongly to my mind, 'These signs shall follow them that believe.' I called on Jesus aloud to increase my faith and to confirm the word of His grace. While I was speaking, my pain vanished away, the fever left me, my bodily strength returned, and for many weeks I felt neither weakness or pain. Unto thee O Lord, do I give thanks.”
            A powerless church is not what God intended. Jesus gave the original disciples the power to heal and this power has never been taken away from the church. It has been ignored, ridiculed, and doubted; but the power to heal has existed in every generation for those who will believe.


* For more detailed information on the history of healing, I encourage you to read the book by my friend, Dr. Eddie Hyatt, 2,000 Years of Charismatic Christianity