Faith Healers

By James M. Rochford

Televangelist faith healers have spread across late night television stations like gangrene, claiming to heal the sick and hurting. While the theatrics of these faith healers seem strange, many Christians wonder if there is any merit to this movement. After all, Jesus and the apostles healed the sick, why shouldn’t we expect such miracles today?

benny_hinn-india

Should Christians expect miraculous healings like this, or should we refrain from this sort of activity? Should we trust our money to faith healers?

Greed and Theft

While financial giving is essential to a vibrant walk with Christ (“Why Become a Giver?”), we openly and absolutely reject giving money to faith healers. Consider the greed and theft of several popular faith-healers today:

Peter Popoff:Randi writes, “Popoff was never shy about such matters [his affluence], delighting in showing off his wealth at every opportunity. His home in Upland (assessed at just under $800,000), which he put up for sale after I exposed his tricks on the Johnny Carson show in February of 1986, boasted both a walk-in vault and a jewelry display room measuring six by eight feet, with illuminated display shelves… Reports from inside were that Popoff had $2 million in cash stashed away in there against bad times, and had boasted about it… Popoff’s personal expenses included a monthly payment of $5,000 to one of L.A.’s most expensive interior decorators, to apply to his $300,000 bill for redesigning the Popoff residence… The Peter Popoff Evangelical Association paid the bill every month.”[1]

W.V. Grant:Randi writes, “The new Grant mansion outside Dallas cost $800,000, plus another $200,000 for the play area, outdoor night lighting, swimming pool, patio, and assorted electronic pinball machines, which Grant adores.”[2]

Oral Roberts: Regarding the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association, Randi writes, “It is a $500 million conglomerate that has become a major part of that city’s economy.”[3]

Fake Miracles

Secular investigators have repeatedly uncovered the fact that many popular faith-healers are completely fraudulent. For instance, investigator James Randi caught many faith-healers red-handed in trying to create fake miracles. He sent in his friend Don Henvick who dressed as a woman “Bernice Manicoff” to get healed.[4] Of course, “Bernice” was never healed, and only served to demonstrate the bankruptcy of various faith-healers.

Peter Popoff

Randi writes that Popoff was caught using a radio device to simulate the gift of knowledge and they spotted something in his ear.[5] They put a radio scanner to pick up the message. Elizabeth Popoff was saying, “Hello, Petey. I love you. I’m talking to you. Can you hear me? If you can’t, you’re in trouble, ‘cause I’m talking. As well as I can talk. I’m looking up names, right now. I forgot to ask. Are you going to preach first, or are you going to minister first?”[6] She went on to describe names, tables, afflictions, etc. Skeptical investigator James Randi exposed faith healer Peter Popoff for faking miracles (see video here).

W.V. Grant

W.V. Grant lied about going to college for theology. Randi writes, “Even Grant’s college degree is phony. He claims that he obtained it from ‘Midstates Bible College’ in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1972. He displays the diploma on his office wall. But Midstates wasn’t then and isn’t now registered with the Iowa Department of Public Instruction, as all parochial and public schools are required to be. It wasn’t recorded with the secretary of state’s office in Iowa as a corporation; nor was it listed in the county recorder’s office. It didn’t even show up in the telephone directory!”[7] Grant claimed that he used his excessive money to give money to Haiti, but this never happened.[8] The investigators at Primetime exposed faith healer W. V. Grant (see video here), discovering that his “ministry of miracles” were nothing more than old magician’s tricks.

Healing the blind? Faith healers will often “heal the blind” so that they can see how many fingers they are holding up. However, this is fraudulent. Randi writes, “It consists of Grant asking the subject to tell him how many fingers he is holding up, then placing the microphone before the subject’s mouth and at the same time saying the required number out loud, which the subject merely repeats![9]

Special knowledge? Faith healers will often have special knowledge of a person. For instance, Grant knew that a subject smoked Pall Mall cigarettes. However, Randi writes, “Close observation of the videotape of that show reveals that the Pall Mall package was visible through the white fabric of the man’s pocket. Grant had spotted this and used the information to his advantage.”[10]

Healing those in wheelchairs? In order to heal people in wheelchairs, the faith-healer never picks people who have a personalized wheelchair. These are people who are actually handicapped. Instead, they always pick from those who have the same type of wheelchairs, which belong to the auditorium. That is, when elderly people come walking into the stadium, an usher will give them a wheelchair to sit in, but they aren’t actually physically handicapped. Thus the faith-healer can spot such a wheelchair and pick a person who can already walk. Regarding one person who was “healed,” Randi writes, “The chair was supplied by an usher. He’d never been in a wheelchair before in his life.”[11]

Healing irregular legs? Faith-healers often heal subjects of irregular legs, by causing one to grow longer than the other. However, this is a slight of hand trick, where the magician pulls out a show to make one leg look longer than the other. One lady “healed” by W.V. Grant was actually “healed” on two separate occasions and on the same leg! Randi writes, “She was understandably puzzled, because she had visited Grant during a previous crusade two years earlier, and at that time, too, she had been ‘called out’ and then Grant had seemed to lengthen that same leg by three inches! He had the bad luck to choose the same victim twice for the same stunt! …If both miracles had been true, Evelyn would have had to walk with one foot in a ditch in order to walk straight.”[12]

Benny Hinn

Dateline criticized the ministry of televangelist Benny Hinn (see video here).

Should we expect to see healings today?

Yes and no. We believe that God still heals people miraculously, and sometimes, this happens through people with this particular gift (see our earlier article “The Charismatic Gifts”). However, we should consider a number of observations with regards to biblical healings and modern faith healers:

First, generating false miracles doesn’t help the cause of Christ. Clearly, the overwhelming majority of faith healers are using magician’s tricks or manipulation to create fraudulent miracles. Paul warned us about men who were false magicians, turning people away from the truth (2 Tim. 3:8-9). Secular people can see this a mile away, but sadly, many Christians are too undiscerning to be able to spot this blatant falsehood.

Second, miracles are infrequent in the Bible. We often think miracles are frequent in Scripture, but that’s because these are all in the same book. We turn a page, and another miracle occurs. But in the narrative, hundreds of years may have passed in between miraculous events! For instance, Israel wallowed in slavery for 400 years without seeing any miracles. Moreover, Sarah gave birth to Isaac at an incredibly old age (which was an incredible miracle), but Abraham and Sarah had to wait a very long time to get the promise of Isaac (30 years). Even a powerful prophet like John the Baptist didn’t perform any miracles (Jn. 10:41). While the book of Acts contains many miracles, we need to remember that these events are the highlights of 30 years of ministry. Certain portions of salvation history are surely punctuated by more miraculous interventions of God (e.g. the Exodus, ministry of Christ, book of Acts, etc.), but these are far from normative. God seems to emphasize important points of salvation history with more miraculous interventions to grab our attention. This is why more people are familiar with the book of Exodus more than Esther.

Third, sometimes miracles can distract us from God’s message. For instance, followers of Christ sometimes pursued him just to get a free lunch, rather than caring about him or his message (Jn. 6:26-27). While God will validate himself through miracles (e.g. burning bush, prophecy, miracles of Jesus), he is also careful not to distract us from himself with miraculous acts. Many believers become so obsessed with witnessing miracles that this will dominate their relationship with God.

Fourth, God does heal people miraculously when he sees fit. James 5:14-15 explains that God will heal others through the prayer of believers today. It isn’t that God can heal. The question is when and why he heals. However, this teaching of Scripture is not emphasized as central to our mission as a church. In fact, in many of the cases of actual healings, the observers are often allergic to the praise and attention that is caused by the miracle. Instead, God’s main miracle is his message (the Cross).

Fifth, Paul outlines a proper view toward these charismatic gifts. In 1 Thessalonians 5:19, he writes, “Do not quench the Spirit.” If God is moving powerfully in healing miracles, we should be glad and thankful about this (v.18)! It isn’t our role as believers to be overly skeptical about miraculous activity. However, in the immediate context, Paul writes, “But examine everything carefully” (v.21). In other words, while we should welcome miraculous acts of God, we should also be discerning about alleged miracles, too. As Christians, we should be the first to identify false faith healers.

Sixth, there are various differences between biblical miracles and the “miracles” of the faith healers. We can see these below:

Difference between Biblical Miracles and Modern Faith Healers

Biblical Miracles

Modern Faith Healers

Jesus and the apostles healed “every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people” (Mt. 4:23; c.f. 8:16; 10:1).

Modern faith healers will only heal selective diseases—such as back pain or arthritis.

Jesus and the apostles brought people back from the dead (Mt. 9:18; 23-25; 10:8; Jn. 11).

Modern faith healers have never attempted something like this. This is an inconsistency in their position. If biblical miracles should be normative for today, why don’t they ever bring people back from the dead?

The miracles in Scripture were attested to even by non-believers. For instance, even Pharaoh’s magicians attributed Moses’ miracles to “the finger of God” (Ex. 8:19). Moreover, Jesus’ enemies didn’t deny his miracles; instead, they attributed his miraculous power to Satan (Mt. 11:24).

By contrast, secular investigators have repeatedly debunked the miracles of faith healers. These are demonstrably false.

 

How do faith-healers get away with this?

There are multiple reasons for how and why faith-healers have been so successful:

First, faith-healers “blame the victim.” Critic James Randi writes, “Today’s faith-healers impose a heavy potential burden of guilt on their victims. People are told that any failure of the healing magic is due to lack of their faith. They, not Jesus or the healer, must take the blame.”[13] The faith healer is never incompetent or a fraud. Instead, they blame the sick person for having a lack of faith. Therefore, if a person isn’t healed, whose fault is it? Talk about kicking a person when they’re down! Not only are they sick with cancer (or some other ailment), but they are also faithless too!

Even in NT times, miracle workers weren’t always able to heal. For instance, even the great apostle Paul writes, “Trophimus I left sick at Miletus” (2 Tim. 4:20). He couldn’t heal Timothy’s “frequent ailments” (1 Tim. 5:23) or sickly Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25). Even Jesus was not always able to perform miracles in Nazareth (Mk. 6:5; Mt. 13:58). This does not mean that faith fills Jesus with power (like clapping fills Tinkerbell with life!). Instead, Jesus wasn’t able to heal in these places because he knew that more miraculous activity would only damage their already hardened hearts and their stubborn lack of faith.

Second, the first amendment has led to corruption in religious circles. Regarding financial accountability in the American church, Pastor Dennis McCallum rightly observes,

Because of the first amendment to the U. S. Constitution (that the government will not pass laws involving religion) American churches are free from normal requirements for disclosure like those applying to businesses. Churches can keep their books secret, and even the government cannot audit them if they refuse. Unfortunately, this well-intentioned law has resulted in the church being the most unaccountable institution in America. Churches have become the perfect venue for criminals and con men to ply their trade while remaining unaccountable and even remaining tax exempt! Paul’s standard—being able and ready to prove where the money goes—is long forgotten in many modern churches.[14]

Likewise, secular investigator James Randi writes,

The amounts of money asked for and received by religious figures are enormous. Moreover, it is banked tax-free. The IRS has declared that all such money—except for the preacher’s declared personal income—is exempt from taxes… Churches do not even have to apply for recognition of their exemption.[15]

Third, Christian leaders often lack the discernment or the courage to expose false teaching. For instance, Paul Crouch Jr.’s father ran Peter Popoff’s show on TBN. Randi writes, “When my colleague David Alexander, an investigator for CSER, suggested to Crouch Sr. that he should have told his TV audience of Popoff’s methods, Crouch showed no interest at all. Crouch might have felt ethically bound to warn his viewers but decided to commit what we might call the sin of silence. TBN chose not to protect Christians from being exploited, and Popoff was allowed to work his TV game for many years.”[16] We find such weakness appalling!

Conclusion

God still works miraculously today, and as believers, we should welcome the miraculous acts of God. But modern faith healers have exploited both the Bible’s teaching on miracles as well as the many desperate believers who have come to them for healing and hope. This sort of teaching should be rejected by Bible believers and openly exposed—both for the sake of those being taken advantage of and for protecting Christ’s name in the public arena.

Further Reading

Gaffin, Richard B., and Wayne A. Grudem. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: Four Views. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub., 1996.

This book offers four different perspectives on the question of charismatic gifts.

Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987.

This is a secular critique of faith healers by a skeptical investigator.

Stephen Barrett M.D. “Some Thoughts about Faith Healing.”

Barrett is a medical doctor, and his article is a scathing attack against faith healers of various stripes.

McCallum, Dennis. Members of One Another: How to build a biblical ethos into your church. New Paradigm Publishing. Kindle Edition. 2010.

See chapter 19 on financial accountability offers keen insights into how believing churches can become financially accountable.

 

[1] Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987. 66, 67, 68.

[2] Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987. 72.

[3] Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987. 183.

[4] Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987. 152.

[5] Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987. 147.

[6] Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987. 148.

[7] Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987. 101.

[8] Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987. 118-121.

[9] Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987. 105.

[10] Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987. 105.

[11] Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987. 106.

[12] Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987. 116.

[13] Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987. 37.

[14] McCallum, Dennis. Members of One Another: How to build a biblical ethos into your church. New Paradigm Publishing. Kindle Edition. 2010. Kindle Location 2772-2777.

[15] Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987. 61.

[16] Randi, James. The Faith Healers. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987. 49.