Dr Donald McGavran was the founding Dean of the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary. His seminal books Bridges of God (1955) and Understanding Church Growth (1970, 1980) pioneered church growth research. This ground-breaking paper, was presented to the Christian and Missionary Alliance Missionaries at Lincoln, Nebraska in 1979.
The problem of church growth faces all of us. Many of us are working where we have had little growth. Wherever our churches are sealed off, ethnically, economically, or educationally, the people from other classes of society do not ordinarily join us. This very common problem affects not just the Christian and Missionary Alliance. You have less of it than some other missionary societies. This problem has faced me. For the last 25 years I have been thinking of this on the world scene. For 25 years before that I was thinking of it in the Indian context. So for about 50 years I have been considering this difficulty.
As I have been reviewing church growth around the world, I have seen that it frequently correlates with great healing campaigns. That is why I am speaking about Divine Healing and Church Growth. Where the church is up against an insuperable barrier, there no matter what you do, how much you pray, how much you work, how much you organize, how much you administer for church growth, the church either does not grow, grows only a little, or grows from within, not from without. Under such circumstances, we need to lean heavily on that which is so wonderfully illustrated in the New Testament, namely the place of healing in church growth. You remember the two villages of Lydda and Sharon where it is recorded in the book of Acts that all Lydda and Sharon turned to the Lord. Two whole villages in a day! When did that happen? When Aeneas was healed by Peter. This great in gathering was preceded by a remarkable case of divine healing.
American missionaries, who have grown up in a highly secular society, usually take a dim view of divine healing, considering it mere charlatanism. After long years of sharing that common opinion, I now hold that among vast populations, divine healing is one of the ways in which God brings ruen and women to believe in the Savior. Missiologists ought to have a considered opinion on the matter. They should not brush it off cheaply and easily. Administering for church growth in part means arranging the stage so that divine healing can take place. Look at the evidence of divine healing. Withold judgment until the evidence has been reviewed. There is much more evidence than I am able to present in one short address.
My considered recommendation is that missionaries and Christians in most populations ought to be following the biblical injunction to pray for the sick (James 5:14-15). When notable healings have taken place, great efforts should be made to multiply churches. When healings have taken place in your denomination or any other denomination, when the Pentecostals mount a great healing campaign, then say to yourself, “This is the time to strike, while the iron is hot.”
I now lay before you a few cases of divine healing that have come to attention from various sources. The first is a case of healing carried out by American Presbyterian missionaries. I quote a report from India about the operation of these ministers, visiting India for a brief period.
Everyday there was preaching in the evening and teaching in the morning. They lived with us as brothers. They visited and preached in 24 of the 278 churches we have. The work of the Holy Spirit was experiences throughout the preaching ministry. Reverend Little was blessed with the gift of healing power. All those who came to the gospel meetings with a rea.1longing for healing were wonderfully healed. Every night Reverend Little had to minister for more than 4 hours. People who were healed came forward and witnessed about their healing. Hundreds of people were healed. Thousands were able to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord. People were made whole physically, mentally and spiritually. Some of our pastors were healed from serious illnesses, including Rev. J. Thompson, Rev. S. Yesunesan, Rev. E.J. Victor and Rev. Moses Israel. Those who were suffering from chronic diseases were healed. A woman who was suffering from asthma for 21 years was healed. A man who was deaf for more than 40 years was healed. So many blind people were able to see. Lame people were healed. People who were suffering from bleeding were healed. Reverend Wilson shared how more than 2 weeks after Little and Wallace had departed, he would visit a church and find people still praising God for the healing they had received. He discovered that there were a number of Hindus who had received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour among the thousands who experienced salvation. It was customary for Dick Little to ask the people to renounce their gods before repenting .and accepting the Lord Jesus into their lives. Apparently a number received their healing as Christ Jesus came into their hearts.
The second come from the CMS Newletter. This is written by the General Secretary of the famed Church Missionary Society whose headquarters are just across the Thames from Parliament Building in London. Here is what is published:
Perhaps there is no more impressive example in recent years of healing than Edmund John, younger brother of the Archbishop ofTanzania, with his great healing mission over a 3 year period of ministry form 1972 to 1975. Not only were vast numbers of people healed, exorcised, moved to open repentance, led to or brought back to Christ in great gatherings, but also in quiet, ordered proceedings. All that happened was related to the central apprehension that Jesus is Lord; and amazing response for the lax Christians and the newly drawn Muslims alike. John’s death at the end of the astonishing blaze of ministry to his people left behind in many places a church spiritually and numerically strengthened.
The third is from Bolivia, from a United Methodist. This man studied at the School of World Mission in Pasadena and went back to Bolivia a convinced church growth man. His letter is addressed to me personally. In it he says:
It is most striking that the district of our church which has really broken new ground in growth is our very own Lake District where we have worked for 16 years. This is the rural Aymara Indian district. This growth really began to gather momentum during our absence and has been strongest during the last year. So new is this that we do not yet have proper statistics on what has taken place. The mother church of the district in Ancoraimes, our mission station, has increased its Sunday morning attendance six fold. They hold week meetings that have usually average 250, this year have averaged over 600. For the first time in the history of our work, a majority of approaching consensus has turned to Christ in a single community, practically the whole village became Christian. This was shown dramatically on May 31, 1973, the traditional fiesta date, when the community celebrated their first community Christian Fiesta. Of the 170 families, 160 have turned to Christ; five our of six zones of the community, which is called Turini. The lay pastor of the Ancoraimes church, Juan Cordero, was the key man in this movement. Mum’s the word, please do not say anything about this. Dr. McGavran; mum’s the word on the following factor. Preaching has been accompanied by healing. Over and over this has been the case. The lay pastor has been practically mobbed on occasion, but he has stood his ground and has virtually obliged interested persons to hear him out on the gospel before he will pray for healings.
The fourth case of healing followed by growth is one in which the gift fo healing was exercised by a layman, a recent convert, not by the minister or missionary. In Tamilnadu, India, the Evangelical Church of India, planted by OMSI of Greenwood, Indiana, has grown from a few hundred in 1996 to more than fifteen thousand in 1982. During 1983 the church expects to plant fifty more churches – one a week.
After 1970 growth was accompanied by healings and exorcisms. What convinced multitudes to follow Christ was that with their own eyes they saw men and women healed by Christ’s mighty power. Evil spirits were driven out in His name. The Holy Spirit was at work.
The fifth is from the Mekane Yesus Lutheran denomination in Ethiopia.
Eighty three percent (83%) of our congregations give healing from illness and exorcism as reasons for their growth.
In summary, it is clear from these five cases and much more evidence that the growth of the Church has often — not always, but often — been sparked by healing campaigns.
There are 200,000 East Indians in Trinidad. In 1950 a couple thousand were Christians, the sons and grandsons of people converted by Presbyterian missionaries. Except for those, very few Hindus or Moslems then living in Trinidad had become Christians. In the late fifties there was a healing campaign, and when the educated Indian community, which had scorned Christianity, saw their own people healed in Jesus’ name, they said, “Here is power!” Hundreds became Christians.
The seventh case is a remarkable one from India. Suba Rao was the headmaster of a government school –a member of one of the middle castes and a wealthy man. He had laughed at baptism. He had hated missionaries. He had thought of the church as an assembly of the low caste.
One of his near neighbours and close friends fell sick. For two years his sickness was not healed and gradually wasting away. He went to many doctors to no avail. One night while Suba Rao was asleep, the Lord Jesus appeared to him and said, “Will you will go and lay your hand on that man’s head and pray in My name, I will heal him.” Suba Rao woke up and laughed, thinking, “What a funny dream” and went back to sleep. The next night the Lord Jesus stood by his side and said, “If you go and lay your hand on that man’s head and pray for him to be healed, I will heal him.” Suba Rao woke up; he didn’t laugh this time and he didn’t go back to sleep, but he didn’t lay his hands on the sick man either. He said, “That’s impossible!” The third night the Lord Jesus appeared to him. He got up at once and went to his neighbour. He laid his hand on the man’s head, prayed for him, and in the morning the man said, “I feel much better. Do it again.” the man was healed. Suba Rao threw out his idols. He started to read the Bible. He started a Bible study class among his neighbours. But he still ridicules baptism. He has not joined and church. But he proclaims himself a follower of the Lord Jesus. The healing of people in Jesus’ name became his chief occupation. Joining the church, which there is composed very largely indeed (98%) of the lowest castes of Indian society is, he thinks, an impossible (and perhaps an unnecessary) step for him. Still the Lora Jesus heals men through him (Mark 9:39).
What do healings of this kind — repeated thousands of times — mean for us, living in the world today? “Like a comet blazing across the skies, this faith healer suddenly appeared among the small churches planted in this land in the last 20 years.” News notes to this effect have reached sending churches in America again and again in last 20 years, from many different lands and many different denominations. The biblical saga continues. In one congregation of none, under the faith healer’s prayers, marvellous cures occurred, crowds gathered, thousands attended, members of important wealthy families were cured, the press carried front page articles on the events. Night after night discarded crutches were gathered. Night after night the testimonies of the blind who now see, the paralyzed who now leap, the deaf who now hear were most impressive. Faced with the enormous power of the riser and reigning Christ, men and women in increasing numbers confessed Christ, turned from sin and other gods, were baptized and incorporated into new and old churches. A new era developed, churches began to multiply in many denominations. Baptists grew, Methodists grew, Lutherans grew, Pentecostals grew, and on and on. The evangelization of this country took a great leap forward. Events like these occurring in many lands have caused heated discussion among American Christians.
During the last 100 years, Western Christians have been heavily secularized and saturated with scientific thinking. They believe diseases are caused, not by God’s will, but by germs. And these diseases are cured by drugs; malaria by quinine, colds by Contac, atherosclerosis by open heart surgery. As Christianity has spread throughout the world, missionary physicians have proved enormously more effective than the mumbo jumbo of witch doctors, herbalists, faith healers of the animist world. The missionary doctor gave the patients penicillin and offered prayer to God for their cure. They were cured.
The Christian doctor would say it was not by unaided prayer but by using the medicine that God has given to mankind. This Christian interpretation of the healing process and the part played by unaided prayer and faith differs from the rationalists view, and yet it holds that, as a matter of fact, God does not act independent of physical means. That, my friends, is the atmosphere in which we all live. Secular man believes that there is no God; the causes of illness which can be measured and manipulated by men are the only reality. These causes can be physical, chemical or psychological.
To such 20th century thinking, faith healing is at best mistaken and at worst charlatanry. The faith healer is either a self-deluded enthusiast or a clever manipulator of men. If people claim to be cured, maybe they were not really sick in the first place, or have temporary feelings of well being induced by the excitement of the moment due to crowd psychology. The “healed” may even be planted t the faith healer to build up his reputation. The power of hundreds of thousands who believe alike and express their belief vividly is a real factor in human affairs and has been used by politicians. merchants, priests, and magicians from time immemorial. Westerners and Eastern secularists are highly sceptical about any power available to man other than what man himself generates by one mean or another, Faith healing causes lifted eyebrows and superior smiles.
To most people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, however; disease is inflicted by spirits. It is cured by super-human powers regardless of what people in America think.
Witches eat up the life force of other men. An angry neighbor casts an “evil eye” on a woman and she grows weaker day by day. A wandering evil spirit devours a baby and the baby dies. A demon causes an illness which no medicine can cure. Western medicine may help some people, but Africa is full of mysterious powers which the white man does not know, and only those who know the secret source of black power can heal African affliction. These evil powers must be overcome by superior powers.
In Spanish America the Curandero has great power. His incantations, potion, sacrifices, and medicines marvellously heal the sick. In Asia, Africa, and Latin America, perhaps 98 out of 100 persons believe that superior power drives out inferior power. In Europe and North America the impersonal, mechanistic system of scientism fails to satisfy millions. Therefore, they, too, eagerly believe I the occult, extra-human powers. Satan worship flousrishes. The mysterious influence of magic words, rites, robes, stars, yogis, and gurus fascinates many people in Europe and North America. Christians in North America and Europe have a special problem with faith healing. Why? Because their religion wars with their science.
Faith healing unquestionably occurred in biblical times. The New Testament Church rode the crest of a tremendous, continual manifestation of faith healing. One of the may passages reads as follows:
Now many signs and wonders were done among the common people and by the hands of the apostles, more than ever, believers were added to the Lord. Multitudes, both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and pallets, that, as Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with evil spirits and they all were healed (Acts 8:12-16).
Yes, Christians have a problem in the Western society. Their sciences war with their Christian faith. Divine healing was an essential part of the evangelization as churches multiplied across Palestine and the Mediterranean world. What are we Christians to make of all this? Is there something here that we can use?
Many educated Christians have been more secularized than they realize and are antagonistic to divine healing. They write it off as superstition and fraud; it leads people away from sound medicine and counts many as healed who are still sick. They say divine healing is a massive deception. They think that divine healing is using God for our own ends.
Some educated Christians say that in addition to the human mechanism and material means which God uses, He sometimes acts in sovereign power. He retains the right to act outside His laws which we know in order to use higher laws which we do not know. He ordinarily operated through His laws, but He is not bound by them. When it pleases Him, He intervenes. Such Christians hold that the best possible world is one in which most of the time a just and loving God rules through laws. But occasionally, when He sees fit, He uses a higher law. Such Christians view healings in the name of Christ as demonstrations of the power of God.
Some would add that the healings are a mixture of God’s acts and man acts, thus we see many incomplete healings, and failures of healings, due to lack of faith or sincerity.
Some hard-headed Christians, who would normally be highly sceptical about divine healing, have gradually come to accept healing campaigns upon seeing he great numbers who throw away crutches, plus those healed of deafness and blindness and cured of heart disease. They have seen large numbers of recent non-believers rejoicing at Christ’s power, singing His praises, hearing His word, and praying to Him. The facts overwhelm the hard-headed.
Finally, some Christians believe that God has called them to actively engage in healing the sick, exorcising evil spirits, and multiplying churches. They deliberately use the vigorous expressed faith in Christ which abounds in a healing campaign to multiply sound churches of responsible Christians.
All Christians ought to think their way through this matter and realize that here is a power which a great many of us have not sufficiently used.
Healing campaigns have occurred in Buenos Aires with Tommy Hicks in 1954 and Guayaquil, Ecuador, in the mid 60’s. The latter was a very interesting case. The Full Gospel Church had three mission fields with growing younger churches in Brazil, the Philippines, and Panama. In their other fields converts were not being won, congregations were not multiplying. In the late sixties in Guayquil healings took place in a small way. Immediately, a big tent was flown in from Los Angeles and pitched right where the crowd gathered. For the next six weeks every night in that tent faith healing followed the preaching of Christ. Twenty branch churches were planted in various parts of the city. Guayaquil became a mission field where churches multiply.
In South Africa there is an Indian community of about 800,000 that has been solidly opposed to the Christian faith. Very few Indians became Christians. About 20 or 25 years ago through a series of healing campaigns, two Pentecostal denominations began to grow among the Indians. One of those Pentecostal churches is now 25,000 and the other 15,000. They got their start in healing campaigns in South Africa. Healing campaigns are occurring today and they will occur tomorrow. They are a part of today’s context. When one talks about contextualization, healing campaigns should be mentioned.
Christians, especially missionaries and missionary societies, must ask, “What is the biblical response to divine healing campaigns? What do Christians do when faced with the excitement and faith-heightening of a divine healing campaign?” Many for the first time become able to hear the Gospel with the inner ear.
What ought we to do after a campaign when many decide to become Christian? The following answer was formed in my mind when I was in the Christian Missionary Alliance field in Ivory Coast, at Yamoussoukro. A church growth workshop sponsored by the Evangelical Churches and missions was being held. This amazing story was told by the Ivory Coast pastors and American missionaries gathered there to study the growth of their churches and to find ways of proclaiming the Gospel more effectively. It illustrates very well the problems and opportunities which healing campaigns bring.
The Church in Ivory coast was typical of many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Ivory Coast has about 4 million people with the Roman Catholic Church numbers about 30,000. The Methodist Church dates from 1924 and has 60,000. Seven small Protestant denominations, with a total baptized membership of about 11,000, have arisen because of the faithful work of American missionaries. They have a growing rate of 70% per decade, led by Ivory Coast ministers. About 100 dedicated American missionaries are helping these churches and are doing a multitude of good deed.
Pastor Jacques Giraud, a French missionary tot he West Indies, arrived in Ivory Coast in March, 1973, to dedicate and Assemblies church building in Abidjan. As the meetings progressed, people began to be healed. The crowds grew and the meetings were moved to the stadium. Truck loads of people came from all parts of Ivory Coast. The papers were full of the event. The radio broadcast daily concerning it. Leading government officials and their wives flocked to the stadium. Pastor Giraud would tell of one of Christ’s miracles and preach for an hour on God’s mighty power to heal. Then he would say, “I don’t’ heal; God heals. I ask Him to release His power. Put your hand where it hurts and join me in prayer.” He would pour out his heart in believing prayer to God for healing. After a half hour of prayer he would invite those who God had healed to come to the front; crutches were thrown away, bent and arthritic persons stood erect, blind men walked forward seeing, scores and sometimes hundreds came, some hobbled, some limped, some saw ‘men like trees walking’ but they believed. God had given them at least a measure of healing. Thousands were also not healed.
After several healing sessions, Pastor Giraud would begin preaching salvation, repentance, atonement, and sanctification—straight from Bible preaching. A blind pagan from 600km north promised his fetish a sacrifice if he was healed. He went by bus to the Giraud meeting. At the meeting he saw for an instant, but then darkness returned. He stayed on and heard the gospel. When he returned home, he burnt his fetish and declared himself a Christian, saying, “I was not healed, but I heard the gospel and I am sure that God is the real power.”
This incident illustrates the truth that a healing campaign has dimensions far in excess of the healings. Groups of men and women seeing he power of Christ and hearing the message under favourable conditions declare their faith in Christ. Theirs in not an illumined faith but it is strong enough for them to burn their fetishes. They can be incorporated into existing congregations and formed into new ones.
After the Abidjan campaign in the very southern tip of the country, a high government official, who had been greatly blessed by the meeting, arranged for Pastor Giraud to hold a healing campaign in his home town of Toumoudi. He directed the leading government administrator there to arrange, at his expense, a place for meetings, and lodging and food for pastor Giraud and his party. A campaign similar to the Abidjan campaign was held. Radio and newspapers again broad- cast the huge nightly meetings. The next meeting, again on the initiative and expense of leading government officials, was held in the city of Bouake in late August of 1973. Then at Yamoussoukro, another campaign with Giraud was held. Pastor Giraud conducted healing campaigns in many towns and cities of the Ivory Coast.
Although he was a minister of the Assemblies of God, it is his practice to direct converts to the local churches and missions for shepherding. At Toumoudi he had the Alliance missionaries and ministers on the platform with him. He said to the people, “When you place you faith in Jesus Christ, call these men to baptize you and shepherd you.”
Reverend Fred Pilding, a missionary of the Christian and Missionary Alliance working in Ivory Coast fills in some details in the Alliance Witness, Sept. 26, 1973.
The crusade began in Bouake June 18th and continued for three weeks. Morning attendance averaged about 4,000. From 6 to 15,00 turned out in the evenings with a high of 25,00 one Sunday. The sick were seated on the grass on the playing field and all the others occupied the grandstands. As the evangelist presented Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever, people became aware of His continuing power today, through a healing receptive place. It became easier for them to trust Him as Saviour. A hunchback came to the meeting, grovelling in the dirt, under the influence of demons. The demons were exorcised in the name of Jesus and he was instantly healed. The next day he attended the meetings nicely dressed, perfectly calm, and gave his testimony. Whenever those who were healed testified, witnesses were asked to verify each healing. Pastor Giraud again and again cited Mark 16:15-18 as every believer1s commission and emphasized that in Christ’s name they were to cast out devils and lay hands on the sick and they shall recover. He refuted vigorously the title of healer. His ministry, he said, was to inspire faith in the gospel. “It is in the name of Jesus that people are healed.”
After the Toumoudi meeting, groups of converts from 81 villages around Toumoudi sought out the Alliance missionaries and ministers, begging them to come and make them Christians. After the Bouake meeting, responses were received from over 100 villages. A hundred and forty cards were filled out from one small town alone. From one village near Bouake 10 cards had been received. The missionary went to visit this village. Seeing him, one of the men who had been healed rushed off to get some of the pagan village elders. While waiting, the missionary said to the children, “Do you know Pastor Giraudls song?” Immediately they broke into joyful singing, “Up, up with Jesus, down, down with Satan, Alleluia!” People carne pouring out and the missionary preached and then asked, “How many will follow God and leave their old ways?” More than half immediately said, “We will.” In another village the Chief said, “Fetish is dead, we shall all become Christians.” The pastors and missionaries were faced with great opportunities. The challenge was to take advantage of this enthusiasm, which could dissipate rapidly, and channel these people into ongoing responsible churches of Christians who know the Lord and obey His word. Nothing like this had happened in their experience in the Ivory Coast, and they were naturally fearful, lest the excitement prove transient as it very well might.
What are Christians to make of faith healings and exorcisms? Missionaries, other church leaders and evangelists all over the world face many different situations, populations, oppositions, and opportunities. In some places mission is very largely good works and proclamation of Christ which very seldom .is followed by open acceptance of Jim as Lord and Saviour. In other places multitudes are accepting Christ and becoming members of multiplying congregations. In places the entire work is carried on by national pastors and their comrades. In other places, the missionary is the chief agent. He recruits, trains, employs, and deploys the national pastor and their comrades. In other places, the missionary is the chief agent. He recruits, trains, employs, and deploys the national evangelists and pastors. each of these men -missionaries and pastors -face a unique situation.
In view of all the evidence, missionaries in training in the (rapidly multiplying Schools of Evangelism and Mission now found in many parts of the world must ask themselves:
WHAT PLACE OUGHT WE TO GIVE TO FAITH HEALINGS AND EXORCISMS?
It would be foolhardy to attempt a single answer which would be equally true for all pieces of the vast mosaic of mankind. But certain truths may be emphasized.
First, God does give a few Christians the gift of healing. This is the clear statement of Scripture, and the convincing witness of history. It would be both unbelieving and foolish to disregard the massive evidence. It would be unscientific, if you please, to close one’s eyes to the facts of faith healing. It would be unChristian to deny those parts of the Bible which tell us clearly that on occasion, in response to faith, God does heal in miraculous ways. Biblical faith requires faith in miracles. If we cast them out, we cast out the whole Bible, or adopt a system of hermeneutics which destroys while it interprets.
Second, many healings in Christ’s name are incomplete, temporary, or even contrived. The facts are clear. Some faith healers are charlatans, and do it for the fame or money they receive. But this fact must not destroy our ability to see that God does heal in response to faith and prayer.
Third, when healing in Christ’s name has gone on and has attracted wide attention, multitudes can hear the gospel and many will obey it. This is the convincing witness of the New Testament and of modern history in many parts of the world, including the Western World. God wishes us to recognize white fields. When the disciples were saying, “No one will believe. The harvest you speak of is four months off. We are just sowing the seed or ploughing the field,” it was exactly then that the Lord Jesus said, “You are wrong. Lift up your eyes and look on the fields which are white to harvest. Pray God to send labourers into the ripe fields.” Pastors of congregations, missionaries at work in new populations, executive secretaries of mission boards, professors of missiology – all ought to practice and teach that healing campaigns are frequently accompanied by periods of great receptivity. It is required of Christians that they recognize these periods and multiply congregations in receptive populations.
Fourth, God’s man is sometimes faced with highly secular company of Christians who do not believe in faith healings or any other miracles, and who would be put off by any advocacy of them. They would turn away from something which, to them, seemed impossible. Facing such an audience, what should God’s man do?
He should do what thousands of ministers and missionaries have been doing during the past century. He should commend Christ in ways which that audience will accept as commendation. He should recognize that faith healing claims will turn some people away from Christ. When God sends him to minister or to evangelize to such people, he must present the gospel in terms which they understand and which raise up no insuperable obstacles before them.
I would hope, however, that even to this audience some of the facts of faith healing could be and would be presented at suitable times. As modern secular Christians give themselves utterly to Christ, and as they accept the full authority and infallibility of the Bible, they will come to the place in which they too will believe that with God nothing is impossible
Reproduced with permission from MC510: Healing Ministry and Church Growth class notes, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1983, a course taught by John Wimber.
© Renewal Journal #17: Unity (2001, 2012) renewaljournal.com
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