The Church and the Calling to Pray for Healing

April 27, 2024

No matter where a church stands on the issue of cessationism, it should cultivate the biblical practice of prayer for healing.

This practice should be shaped by the Church’s confession regarding death and resurrection, and by the explicit command of Scripture.

The Church confesses that it is appointed to man to die (Hebrews 9:27). This means that in the final analysis, all healings in this life are temporary. They are not ultimate.

The Church also confesses the resurrection of the body. This means that, contrary to the hyper-spirituality common to some parts of the Church, the living God is intimately concerned with our bodies, and in fact infallibly plans to restore us to full and perfect health when it’s all said and done.

Like restoration from sin, liberation from illness and disease is partial in this life. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t serious about it. Just as we would not pray “Lord, if it be your will, remove lust from my heart,” we should not pray, “Lord, if it be your will, heal Jane from her multiple sclerosis.” The Lord has revealed his will, and it is liberation from both sin and ill health. The partiality attendant to that liberation in this life is not an implied reason to pray without faith or seriousness, with regard either to sin or to sickness.

James writes,

“Is anyone among you sick? 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 will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.

“And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous is powerful in its working.” [James 5:14–16]

What is in view here is not someone with “the gift of healing” going around. It is the elders of the local church; no special apostolic gifts are requisite. They simply take God at his Word and pray in accordance with his command.

Certainly, not everyone will be healed in this life. Paul, who says little in his letters about the signs and wonders present in his ministry, in fact was God’s instrument for amazing events that we would call miracles of healing (e.g. Acts 14:8–10; 19:11–12; 28:8; cf Acts 15:12). Yet even he left behind a beloved companion who had fallen ill (2 Tim 4:20). So even he did not have power simply to heal whomever he chose; and in any case, all those whom he did heal eventually died.

But that fact does not change the command or the ultimate promise of resurrection. We anoint with oil as a sign that we acknowledge that it is the Spirit who gives life to these mortal bodies (cf Romans 8:11), and although the full force of his resurrection power has not yet been displayed in them, he is nonetheless powerfully present even now, bearing witness to our ultimate hope.