During this period, from the late 1940’s to the early 1950’s, this movement began among American Pentecostals, but crossed all religious barriers as Christians and unbelievers alike came to experience the healing power of God. From the firsthand accounts I have heard, and from what I have read and seen on film, this period was marked by dramatic healings and miracles that demonstrated the power of a living Christ. I once heard a minister, who was featured in Gordon Lindsay’s The Voice of Healing periodical, say that during the healing revival, “The air was pregnant with the healing power of God” and that, “It was the easiest thing in the world to get people healed.”
But no sooner than my mind begins to feast on thoughts of how God’s goodness was manifest to so many, my thoughts turn to His severity. I think of the doctrinal excesses, the egotism, the outright (dare I say) sin that, in my opinion, provoked the judgment of God. I think of a disgraced minister found dead of liver failure in a hotel room because of alcohol abuse. I think of a man with an Elijah-complex bleeding on a Texas highway after a collision with a drunk driver; his injuries would eventually prove fatal, but even afterward some of his followers held out hope that he might rise from the dead.
We should not seek to relive the glory of these days without recalling their aftermath – not so we can add insult to injury, but that we may learn the valuable lessons history is trying to teach us. We must remember that when God provided us an historical record of the lives of the patriarchs, he left nothing to bear. What was naked and open to the eyes of the Creator remains known to this very day. God provided us an accurate record of the humanness of these people for our admonition. Despite the many exploits of the mighty men of valor, we see them in their true light – not as mythical gods – but as flesh and blood people whose lives, though marked by supernatural feats, were still hauntingly human. If we have romanticized the memory of the men and women we read about in the Holy Scriptures, we can be sure that God did not. He did not hide their faults, nor did He make excuses for them. He was merciful to them just as He is to us, and that was enough.
While we may assume it was easy for the Just Judge to expose the iniquities of those he honored, it is not so easy with us. To do so, in our minds, means dishonor. And to a certain extent, I believe we are right. We [Pentecostals] are like the sons of Noah who, when they learned of their father being drunk and naked in a tent, walked backward to cover him. We are not like that son who shamelessly published his father’s sins. But here a distinction must be made. We are not dealing with private matters, but very public ones. We cannot simply cover them up as if the world knew nothing of them. If we fail to acknowledge – not only the past sins of our movement, but the recurrent ones as well - we enable the same sins to be committed by successive generations. We know there will always be those whose intention it is to discredit the move of God, and who will be motivated by a spirit of divisiveness. They will use every opportunity to criticize and even ridicule the very ones God has appointed for His work. But this does not mean we ignore their criticism; even if comes in the wrong spirit, it may be at least partially valid. We should not allow negative criticism to dictate the course of our ministries, but neither should we be dismissive because we are not comfortable with facing what may be a reality. The challenge for us is to objectively look at our movement in view of the opportunities for revision, listen to criticism to determine whether it is valid, and be mature enough to rise above petty attacks, while maintaining the ministry of the Holy Spirit in power and purity.
With respect to Pentecostal history, the Healing Revival is important for a number of reasons. It popularized the use of television as a means of outreach; it exposed the greater Evangelical community to the message of healing, and it was instrumental in laying a foundation for the Charismatic Renewal that took place among both Catholics and mainline Protestants beginning in the 1960’s. What was once considered a fringe religious movement is now the fastest growing branch within Christendom worldwide. Jack Hayford, President of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, recently said, “If God had not, in His sovereign will, raised up the ministry of Oral Roberts, the entire charismatic movement might not have occurred.” While this statement speaks particularly to the legacy of Oral Roberts, I think it speaks even greater volumes about the movement that Roberts headed up.
Yet we must acknowledge that the innovation of televangelism, though it may have contributed the openness of non-Pentecostals to the Pentecostal experience, is not without consequences. We have a tendency to view things in black and white. When we weigh a matter and the balance favors good rather than bad, we look at it as good. Is it a good thing that the Gospel is going over the airwaves in many different nations of the world? Certainly it is, but the fact that the influence of television is such a prevalent means of communication is all the more reason for us to identify those areas where we may be sending the wrong message. We should be careful that we do not represent God in such a way as to entertain people. We should be mindful of the temptation to make merchandise of the people of God, and the materialistic tendencies of the broader culture that have become so common in many quarters of the Church. We ought to be on guard against the cult of personality, and any attitude in leaders that is contrary to the character of Christ.
As I ponder the condition of “Spirit-filled” ministers today – we Americans in particular - I must admit I am skeptical as to whether many of us are prepared to handle another cascade of that healing flow. I do not know whether we have adequately considered responsibility or the danger that comes with great moves of the Spirit. Powerful moves of the Holy Ghost seem to up the ante. With great demonstrations of God’s goodness come fierce exhibitions of His severity. I am not sure whether we fully comprehend the danger of exceptional spiritual endowments and the temptation of human pride to usurp the divine prerogative.