How does one safeguard against false claims of miracles? (part 1)

A few years ago I was a delegate at a conference where the charismatic speaker – who subscribed to the belief that ‘everyone gets healed’ – asserted God’s miraculous power to heal was constantly evident and available in the present day. Although sceptical, I decided to make the most of the opportunity. Arriving at the conference there was a great sense of expectation from the 2,000+ leaders gathered there. Aside from a few theological objections voiced by some delegates in the first session, the conference went well and I felt buoyed by the end of the first day.

The next day, the speaker decided to give a practical opportunity for delegates to pray for any who person there who had a hearing problem. Informed that at the last conference, the speaker and his team had witnessed hundreds of people healed from their physical disabilities, expectation was great. And so after guidance as to how to pray – namely an instruction to periodically stop and test the person’s hearing by speaking to them at a range of distances to ascertain if they had been healed or not – the speaker encouraged us to gather in groups around people who had raised a hand to indicate that they were in need of prayer.

Around the conference centre, people began praying in earnest. I was part of a group praying for a middle-aged leader. As the session drew to its close, it was clear no immediate miracle was likely to occur for the person we had prayed for. Drawing the activity to a close, the speaker asked delegates to raise a hand if their hearing had been physically restored during the session. To my amazement, hundreds of hands went up in the air to indicate a healing had taken place. At once, a team was dispatched, who ran around the conference centre, counting the raised hands and shouting back numbers to the stage area.

As the total number of people that were reported as healed was read out to the crowd, the conference delegates exploded in rapturous applause. People were shouting and cheering. Caught up in the moment, I also applauded though several things were now troubling me. Not least my cynical observation of how fortuitous it was for the speaker who could leave for his next conference with another impressive number of healings to feed to a different set of eager delegates – leaders who’d be as equally amazed (in the same way we had been) to hear how hundreds of people had been healed at the previous event. I was also bothered by another issue as I was unconvinced of how many healings had occurred in those ten minutes before coffee but more of that in the next post where I will suggest an alternative explanation for what really happened that day and some safeguards we would do well to have in place.