CHALLENGES AND PROSPECTS OF CHRISTIAN HEALING MINISTRY
Background of the Study
Christian healing represents “a specific mode of therapy which has been well cultivated since ancient times, being an offshoot of the Judaic tradition”. Most Dictionaries denote healing as an adjective derived from the verb, to heal, which means “to cure a disease or disorder”, “to restore to soundness”, “to make whole and healthy” (chambers 20th Cent. Dict). Thus, healing in its common sense usage would mean the removal of the factors that cause disease and infirmity. There is the religious or the spiritual aspect of healing which both the biblical and Annang traditions so must revere (Ps 42:11; 43:5; 67:2) in spite of advance in modern technology and medical science. Both the Judeo-Christian and Annang anthropology stress the fact that a human being needs healing as a socio-religious entity for his whole being. It is perhaps, in the light of this that one can understand the overall significance of Christian healing ministry as a sign of profession of faith. Hence, it is developed in the church as an authentic sign of witness of faith, and an occasion through which God publicly manifests His glory in the situation of His people. It is a moment of distinctive profession of faith.
Meanwhile, the search for faith healing seems to be presently dominating African Christianity. In Annangland, it has reached that magnitude whereby new churches, healing centres and prayer houses are being opened daily, all claiming the power to heal and work miracles. With the word of Udoette, “almost all the so-called prophets in the NRMs in Nigeria claim to have the gift of healing and ability to work miracle”. The new churches, ministries and centres so founded are usually filled beyond capacity by eager seekers for God’s immediate intervention in their lives. In a bid not to lose out on membership and to attract new ones, many of the older churches have incorporated miracle healing services into their programme of activities. Thus, as observed by Umoren, “many ‘healers’ have emerged, and whether in prikate homes or at public prayer assemblies, testimonies or “reports” of miracles abound”.
It is certainly not an exaggeration opining that most of these churches, healing centres and “healers” jostle for space in the media, at beeches, at street corners, and in abandoned buildings. They are also found at open spaces, in school halls, hotels, restaurants, rented apartments and passenger buses where they eagerly advertise their new-found power, and “make it happen” through all kinds of extraordinary manifestations. Their target groups are businessmen and women, the sick, the demon possessed, those in need of life partners and children from marriages (especially male children), pregnant women eager to have safe delivery, those who want financial breakthroughs, those who want to be delivered from sin and sinful attitudes, those who out of fear seek supernatural protection from enemies and unseen forces, the unemployed, workers who desire job security, those unjustly treated by others in need of God’s vindication, people in search of success and progress, travelers wary safety in their journey, those in search of lasting solutions to teething family, neighbourhood and communal problems. In short, people who have all kinds of need, whether spiritual or material.
Nevertheless, of all these needs, the search for good health in mind and body receives the highest attention. A common African adage which the Annang people have adopted states that nsongidem ade imo (health is wealth). Without good health, all other human needs count as nothing. Thus, most miracle seekers are in search of God’s miraculous intervention in one bodily ailment or another. For such people, it is no harm trying “this or that healer” if “the hospital or the other healer” does not bring them expected relief from illness or even some assurance against illness. So they go in search of miraculous healing anywhere they hear “it is happening”. Aware of the seriousness of this search for good health and in view of the generally poor state of health facilities in many parts of Annangland miracle preachers have readily made the sick their special target group.
It is certainly not an exaggeration to opine that, sickness and other forms of human sufferings have been present in human society and have become part of man’s concept of life. There has always been in the depth of man’s heart the burning desire to be free from all forms of human sufferings. There has been a serious effort by the modern man to combat and eliminate this problem. The society today is investing time and money more in the prevention of sickness as a means of evading it. Sickness has been a dominant phenomenon and it is not as if it is recent in the history of man. Large number of the sick approaches Jesus during his public ministry, either directly or through friends and relatives, seeking the restoration of health. The Lord welcomes their request and the Gospels contain not even a hint of reproach for these prayers. The Lord’s only complaint is about their possible lack of faith.
It is common in the scriptures to see Jesus surrounded by sick people of various kinds. He was never hesitant in curing them. He looked at sickness as an ailment that attacks both the body and soul of man and hence approached each that came his way as an integral entity. While he was always concerned to heal the sick in body, he invariably paid close attention to the mind and spirit of the sick man. So curing for Jesus has a lot to do with the faith of either the sick person or the faith of his or her relative or friends. “If you can! Everthing is possible to one who has faith” (Mk 9:23; Mk 6:5-6; Jn 4:48). No doubt, God has continued this healing ministry in his church through the prayers of the church presented in his ministers. The church has never ceased to ask for healing on behalf of the sick in her liturgy. The sacrament of anointing of the sick has been there to strengthen the sick. The instruction on the prayers for healing right mentions this concern of the church for the sick.
The church has never ceased to celebrate this sacrament for its members by the anointing and the prayer of its priests, commending those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise them up and save them. Making reference to the important part of the prayer used by the church for the anointing of the sick, the document confirms the intention of the church regularly expressed in her prayer for the sick. The church prays:
Make this oil a remedy for all who are anointed with it; heal them in body in soul, and in spirit, and deliver them from every affliction.
As it is reflected in this short prayer of healing for the sick person, the intention of the church in the celebration of this sacrament goes beyond the physical healing.
Before Jesus left the world to go back to his Father, he entrusted to his followers the mission he received from his Father and gave them the authority and power to heal the sick and preach the good news.
He summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and cure all kinds of diseases and sickness (Mtt 10:1; Lk 9:1-2; Mk 6:7).
The church from her time of commissioning has witnessed many people who are gifted with the charism of healing. The ministry of these healers should not be defined outside of the whole process of church’s healing ministry. Their healing ministry has to be part of the church’s profession of faith. That is why it must operate within the church’s guideline for her ministry to the sick. The church’s concept about human sickness must therefore be the foundational base for treating every case.