When she was a child, junior Hannah Schendel’s parents drove four hours from San Francisco to take her to a religious healing ceremony in Redding, California, Schendel said.
Schendel has scoliosis. Growing up, she said she experienced constant pain and still wears a back brace to bed every night. When she was 12 years old, doctors advised a six-hour surgery with significant recovery time that would leave her with a metal rod in her back for the rest of her life. So,her parents sought supernatural help at Bethel Church in Redding, California — a church that regularly offers physical miraculous healing.
“My spine has definitely been getting better,” Schendel said. “I’m not sure if that’s really from prayer or from the treatments I’ve been doing. I feel like it could be a little bit of both.”
Even though Schendel did not receive instant healing, she said shestill believes that God is capable of anything. Schendel never got the surgery her doctors suggested but pursued other medical treatments.
Over three-quarters of Pepperdine students identify as Christian, according to Pepperdine’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness. OIE records students’ different denominational identities. Students come from different denominations that each have unique views on how God works in the world as a healer.
Many students said they have prayed for physical healing but have experienced mixed results.
Infographic by Kylie Kowalski
Christian Denominations at Pepperdine
Falon Barton, campus minister for the University Church of Christ at Pepperdine and former editor for the Graphic, said views within certain Christian denominations can vary widely on specific topics such as healing from God.
The question that often divides Christians is whether God would intervene in healing without prayer, Barton said. Some people believe God’s will is done no matter what humans do, and some say His mind can be changed through prayer, Barton said.
There are times when God intervenes in special occasions such as with big miracles, but sometimes churches can mislead people to
believe that this means God only intervenes in special circumstances, not in daily life, Barton said.
“God can and, at times, does intervene in those ways,” Barton said. “Every breath we take is a miracle in the sense that God is involved in that process.”
Pentecostal Christians or “charismatic-leaning” Christians tend to believe in active participation and dialogue between the Holy Spirit and people, Barton said. These traditions see prayer as capable of changing God’s mind, and therefore, they assume God will intervene in their lives when He might not have before.
Pentecostal Christians emphasize the “Charisma,” or spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit — for example, speaking in tongues or the ability to heal, according to The Gospel Coalition.
Charismatic Christians can also belong to other denominations but share an emphasis on charisma, according to Christianity.org.
Pentecostal and charismatic Christians are more likely to embrace the Prosperity Gospel, a triumphalist theology that says God gives material wealth or prosperity to people who love God, Barton said.
“It can infect
any denomination because it is tempting,” Barton said. “It says that, if someone is wealthy, they must be blessed and favored by God. If they’re blessed and favored by God, they must be behaving in ways that are Godly and righteous.”
Prosperity Gospel thinkers also claim God will give good health to the faithful, and bad health will come to those who are not faithful enough, Duke University historian Kate Bowler wrote in “Blessed: A History of The American Prosperity Gospel.”
Roman Catholic Christians believe in miracles, but they believe they are not as prevalent as in the Pentecostal faith and require certain measures to attain, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. For example, Catholics believe that to become a saint, a person must perform two miracles.
There are over 10,000 saints in the Roman Catholic Church. Saints are not as prevalent in the Pentecostal faith, even though they still believe miracles happen, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
Pepperdine’s denominational affiliation is the Churches of
Christ. Pepperdine’s Churches of Christ Admissions Page defines the denomination as, “Autonomous, non-denominational congregations associated by common core beliefs as recorded in the New Testament.”
The Churches of Christ is similar to Pentecostalism because of their literal belief in the New Testament, but — compared to Pentecostalism — they downplay gifts of the Spirit, Barton said. Historically, the Churches of Christ tend to be very rational and intellectual in their approach to the Bible, she said.
Most Christians pray for healing but also for God to comfort them in their illness, Barton said.
Infographic by Kylie Kowalski
Churches of Christ Beliefs on Healing
Founder George Pepperdine was a lifelong member of the Churches of Christ, but today, only 8% of the undergraduate population identifies with that denomination, according to the OIE data.
Junior Joseph Bowman said he grew up in the Churches of Christ and originally developed his beliefs from his parents, specifically his father.
Growing up in Bowman’s church, there weren’t any occurrences of charismatic, open-ended, miracle-based healing, he said.
“A more Church of Christ perspective is to say that it is sinful to do those things [open-ended, miracle-based healing],” Bowman said.
Bowman said he no longer strictly follows the Churches of Christ beliefs. He personally believes all healing is possible, but his belief is that most charismatic, megachurch service healings are for show because of his traditional Churches of Christ roots.
“There’s a common trend [in the Churches of Christ] of praying for something a little more rational,” Barton said. “For doctors to be wise, for healing to be done if it is already in God’s will — that kind of thing.”
The Churches of Christ are autonomous, meaning not all members identify with the same set of beliefs, Barton said.
In the last decade, Barton said there has been a trend of reconnecting with the historical roots of the Churches of Christ. The movement started with the famous August 1801 Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky, where 20,000 people came together for a communion camp meeting, and many demonstrated visible displays of the Holy Spirit such as crying, shouting and falling down, according to Christian History Institute.
This trend has resurfaced belief in a more active role in the Holy Spirit, Barton said.
Bowman said he believes God can heal and emphasized Jesus taught humble prayer. He cited Matthew 6:8, which reads: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
Bowman has prayed for sick family members and received mixed results, he said.
“I believe prayers are always answered,” Bowman said. “Just not always in the way that we think.”
Other Christian Beliefs about Healing
Over 36% of Pepperdine’s undergraduate population identifies as nondenominational Christian, according to Pepperdine’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness.
While Schendel’s family turned to a more charismatic church for healing her scoliosis, she said she considers herself nondenominational.
Schendel said her family also prayed continuously when her grandmother had cancer, but ultimately, her grandmother still died.
Schendel said she believes the whole concept of religion is faith and believing in something you can’t see. She believes in God, even though she can’t see Him.
“I definitely think that God can heal someone,” Schendel said. “He can take away pain and sickness if He really wanted to, but I just personally have not seen it in my life.”
Senior Austin Gromer said his parents raised him a nondenominational Christian. Now that he is older, he no longer is practicing and is searching for what he believes, he said.
Gromer said he believes that, if God exists, He gave humans free will, so He would not interfere in human lives in regard to healing. Gromer said believing in Christianity — or another faith — can make people feel better and, therefore, become better, especially mentally.
“It’s nice to feel loved, and when you’re able to talk to somebody, be it God or whatever, it kinda makes you feel better,” Gromer said.
Parker Waters, Seaver alumna (’23) graduate and nondenominational Christian said she prayed to God for healing when she had difficulty navigating her autoimmune disorder in high school.
“I believe He [God] healed me,” Waters said. “There’s no other answer in my mind that makes sense instead of God. We had no answers. We had no idea what was happening. The rate and speed of how fast I went into remission — they’d [the doctors] never seen it before. And so, I fully believe it was God.”
Waters entered remission after one and a half years of treatment — much quicker than the expected five years. Conventional medicine healed her, but Waters said she believes God had His hand in her healing.
Pentecostal Christian Beliefs about Healing
Pentecostals embrace the concept of physical healing in the 21st century, Barton said.
Pentecostal Christians also believe God still performs miracles and healings, whether Christians pray for it or not, Joshua Reichard wrote in Of Miracles and Metaphysics: A Pentecostal-Charismatic and Process-Relational Dialogue.
Bethel, the church Schendel’s parents took her to in Redding, believes God intercedes in human lives on Earth as a physical healer. Schendel said, to encourage healing and miracles, they hold healing services.
When secular people disregard miracles and healing from God by considering it naturalistic or not to have happened, it makes some Pentecostals hesitant to follow conventional medicine, Candy Gunther Brown wrote in Pentecostal Healing Prayer in an Age of Evidence-Based Medicine.
Schendel said she saw a lot of unique occurrences at Bethel. People with various diseases and injuries joined her to be healed. She saw one man praying for his leg, which never grew to its full length, to grow.
“I remember seeing it happen,” Schendel said. “I don’t know if I fully believed it. I don’t know if in that moment the person’s leg actually grew longer or if it was placebo.”
Conventional medicine and Christianity
Conventional medicine is the traditional healthcare that exists in the United States to treat diseases. A commonality between some Christians in the popular denominations at Pepperdine is that God works as a physical healer and can use this medicine to do so, according to Barna and Pepperdine’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness.
“Just like you can have a miracle that medicine can’t explain, you can also have a miracle medicine can explain,” Bowman said.
Bowman said he believes medicine comes from people, who come from God. He also said he thinks people who don’t rely on medicine and only on God are a little naive.
Kaiya Treash, sophomore evangelical-leaning Christian shares similar beliefs with Bowman. Treash said she developed her beliefs at an early age from her mother.
When Treash was 4, her mother had cancer, she said. Treash said her family prayed every day that her mother would recover, and eventually, her mom did. Treash and her family prayed, but her mother also relied on medicine and chemotherapy among other treatments to recover.
Treash said she attributed her mother’s recovery to both God and medicine.
“Just because we pray doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use conventional medicine,” Treash said. “They can work simultaneously.”
Treash thinks God is capable of anything and fully believes that God can intercede and heal physically. Treash said she believes healing rooms and megachurch services can be positive but can be performative at times — when those doing the healing try to take on the role of God.
Due to misunderstandings, some people may label Christians as anti-science, but this isn’t always the case. Faith and medicine co-exist among many Christian denominations, Treash said.
Waters said she also believes that God is involved in conventional medicine — things in medicine that don’t make sense are attributable to God.
“I believe God and science go together 100%,” Waters said. “I don’t think it’s one or the other. I believe that science makes God look a lot cooler and that God makes science look a lot cooler.”
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