Pentecostal Beliefs & Medicine
29 SEP 2017
The belief that Jesus' death on the cross provides divine healing of believers has been woven into Pentecostal teaching since the beginning of the movement in the early 20th century. In some cases, this has led followers to eschew medicine in favor of faith. Most Pentecostals, however, see no contradiction in taking prescribed medicine and trusting God for divine healing at the same time.
1 Divine Healing
Most Pentecostal denominations consider their teachings on divine healing to be among their cardinal (main) doctrines. They support this belief by pointing out that divine healing is attested to in the New Testament, both as part of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ and as part of the ministry of his followers after he had ascended to heaven. Much of Pentecostal belief hinges on the idea that the modern church should expect to experience the same kinds of blessings -- such as divine healing -- that the early church experienced.
2 Early Disagreements
Some early Pentecostals, including Charles Parham and William Seymour, taught that believers should eschew medicine and trust God for healing. In his newsletter "The Apostolic Faith," Seymour once wrote, "medicine is for unbelievers, but the remedy for the saints of God we find in James 5:14." Disagreements about whether medicine and faith were compatible abounded in the early days of the Pentecostal movement, but most Pentecostals considered taking medicine to be acceptable by the time the Assemblies of God was formed in 1914. One notable exception was the Pentecostal Holiness Church, which saw many of its leaders and churches depart over the issue in 1920.
3 Modern Pentecostals
Today, even the Pentecostal Holiness Church acknowledges that "God has given the gift of medicine to mankind as well as divine healing." The Assemblies of God, in the position paper on the use of modern medicine, say that their organization has never taken the stance that the use of medicine and faith in divine healing are incompatible. The overwhelming majority of Pentecostals agree with the conclusion of that paper: "Whether we are healed through the aid of medicine or supernaturally, the good gift of healing is from the Father (James 1:17)" and a similar statement made by the United Pentecostal Church International: "The good that medical doctors and medicines do is to be appreciated, for God is the ultimate source of all healing."
There are a number of small of Pentecostal churches, mostly nondenominational, that teach their members to rely solely on faith for healing. These churches encourage their members to forgo medicine and medical treatment. In some cases, such as the 2009 death of 11-year-old Madeline Neumann, this has led parents to refuse medical care for their children, leading to criminal charges. Most Pentecostal denominations are quick to distance themselves from such teachings.
- 1 Penn Medicine: Religious Diversity: Practical Points for Health Care Providers
- 2 Modern Medicine and the A/G
- 3 United Pentecostal Church International: Divine Healing
- 4 Washington Post: Outlook: When a Child Dies, Faith is No Defense
- 5 Purdue University: Refusal of Medical Treatment on Religious Grounds