Tag Archives: healing

Medieval monasteries in the history of hospitals


It’s often the “just-right source” that opens up a topic for me, and as I teach it, for my students. In the Resources for Radical Living course, I will be profiling the history of Christian practices of medical healing (that is, not including “faith healing”). An excellent source on this topic just came to me via the wonderful almighty inter-library loan system (thank you Mark Nygaard in the Bethel Seminary library), and I’d like to share a bit of it with y’all. [For more of the story beyond what follows, see here and here.

Guenter B. Risse of the Department of the History of Health Sciences, UC San Francisco, provides fascinating insights into the many stages of medical practice within Christian communities from the earliest years of the church onward in his compendious book Mending Bodies, Saving Souls: A History of Hospitals (Oxford University Press, 1999).

To take just one example: I have seen it said in a number of places that the hospital was a medieval Christian invention. What follows are some excerpts from Risse on health care within medieval monasteries, from chapter 2: “Christian hospitality.” “Invention” is likely too strong a word to use of medieval developments in care of the sick–the Cappadocian father Basil the Great (330 – 379) was setting up something like ancient hospitals in Caesarea to address famine and disease in that city, and there were earlier pagan models that bore some resemblance to what later became hospitals. However, we can see from early on in Benedictine monasteries many of the rudiments of modern hospitals:

“From the start, providing hospitality and healing the sick became key responsibilities of European monasteries, reflective of both the inward and worldly missions they had assumed. As in the East, early Christian welfare in Europe targeted voluntary and structural paupers—there were few distinctions between them—as well as pilgrims. Continue reading

Signs and wonders: the charismatic power of early Christianity


Again a re-post, from the Christianity Today history blog. For a related posted on this blog, see here:

Signs and Wonders: The Charismatic Power of Early Christianity

by Chris Armstrong | January 7, 2009

When we teach about the early church, we frequently omit the story of spiritual gifts.

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Cessationism is the belief that the miracles of Jesus’ lifetime and the apostolic period happened solely to attest to the authority and inspiration of the apostolic writings, and that miracles and extraordinary spiritual gifts ceased after the writing of the apostolic documents was concluded.

As writers such as ex-Dallas Seminary professor Jack Deere have argued, this is a position with no biblical foundation. But it also has a problem with the historical record. That record shows clearly that the early church was quite active in the charismatic gifts at least through 200 AD. There was a decline in the 3rd century, and then again it became active.

Sadly, many writers and teachers who are not cessationist continue to give the impression that miracles and extraordinary gifts were phenomena limited to the apostolic period. The way the early church is usually taught, we hear much about martyrdom and persecution; much about Gnostics and Arians and doctrinal disputes; much about how bishops and clergy roles evolved, and how the apostolic tradition was passed down and the canon of the New Testament evolved. Continue reading

Evangelicals and psychiatric services


The following is part of a talk I was invited to give to a group of psychiatric residents (doctors-in-training) here in the Twin Cities a few years ago. The talk was on “the evangelical tradition,” and was intended to give these medical practitioners a sense of the beliefs of evangelicals, possible impediments to serving this constituency, and ideas of how to serve them better.

I have already posted other portions of this talk here under the titles “Basic, basic Christianity” and “Evangelicalism–a basic summary,” part I, part II, and part III. What follows is the final portion of the talk, which outlines issues that may face a professional providing evangelicals with psychiatric services, and ideas on how to serve (some) evangelicals better:

Now I’d like to turn the corner and address more directly some of the challenges that may come up in serving evangelical Christians from within the field of mental health care.

The insights that follow mostly come from my Bethel colleague Steven J. Sandage, Associate Professor of Marriage and Family Studies, Bethel St. Paul. Steve has served as clinician, psychologist, and chaplain in a variety of settings (community mental health, correctional, university) and currently engages in part-time clinical practice. He taught at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Medical College of Virginia as an adjunct faculty prior to coming to Bethel.

As Steve has related it to me, some evangelicals have a tendency to over-spiritualize—they frame problems as spiritual, not being able to think in an integrative way about the interactions of their minds, emotions, spirits, and the material world. They may refuse medication, for example, because they think this would show a lack of faith in spiritual truth or spiritual reality. Continue reading

Do Nigerian miracle ministries discredit the faith?


With charismatic gifts and miracles come abuse. It’s just like every other aspect of church life: Christians are still sinful, fleshly people, prone to use the things of God to forward their own agendas. In 2004, Nigerian authorities saw abuses within prominent television ministries in their country and moved to shut them down. What should we think about the high incidence of the miraculous in African countries? Should we dismiss it all as charlatanry? Or is God really doing physical miracles there?

Christian History Corner: Do Nigerian Miracle Ministries Discredit the Faith?
The spiritual dynamism of West African Christianity is now well known even in the West. Do credulity-stretching, highly publicized miracles discredit what God is doing in that region?
By Chris Armstrong

Recently Nigeria’s National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) issued a ban on the television broadcasting of miracles—specifically, those not “provable and believable” (though the NBC failed to provide guidelines for establishing proof). The ban is aimed at the many Pentecostal ministries in that country who air video of healing miracles to draw people to their meetings and to Christ.

My response to this sort of “news of the miraculous” in Africa is mixed. First, I get a small thrill—a little, inner voice saying “Yay!”—when I am reminded of how powerfully God has touched that continent, so that miracles of healing would become standard television fare. Second, I share in the skepticism that suspects some charismatic ministers broadcast such events—without adequately checking the genuineness of the “miracles”—to aggrandize their ministries and gain followers. Third, I am angry (with, I hope, a holy sort of anger) that the Devil continues, as he always has, to discredit by any means possible the work of the Holy Spirit—in this case, through exploiting the base motives of some leaders. Continue reading