Executive leaders at the Assemblies of God recently affirmed the role churches and pastors have in faith healing.
George O. Wood, general superintendent of the Pentecostal denomination, said every church service should include a time when people are given the opportunity to be prayed for, whether it's for physical or spiritual healing.
But some of the Pentecostal leaders admitted to being hesitant at times to offer faith healing or prayers for healing.
"I find as a pastor, if I prayed for people and they weren't healed, I let that be a reflection of my spirituality," said James T. Bradford, general secretary of the Assemblies of God in a recent informal roundtable discussion. "I worried too much about what would they think about me as a pastor. They must think I'm not very spiritual."
But Bradford realized that he had to get himself out of that thought.
"I think we really have gotten hung up on why doesn't it (healing) always happen," he said. "So we're hesitant; we don't want to give false hopes to people rather than maybe reframing that and say[ing] 'no matter what we're always invited to ask abundantly [of God].'"
"I just have to obey the word," he added. "If they're not healed ... that had to at some point not become my problem."
The roundtable discussion – which also included Assemblies of God leaders L. Alton Garrison, assistant general superintendent, and Douglas E. Clay, general treasurer – comes after a number of faith healing cases involving parents whose sick children died of easily treatable conditions.
Most recently, Jeff and Marci Beagley from Oregon City were convicted in February for failing to seek medical help for their son. The couple had simply laid their hands on their 16-year-old son and prayed for him, but did not take him to the hospital. Neil died from complications from a urinary tract blockage. The parents were found guilty of criminally negligent homicide.
Wood is a believer of faith healing. He received healing himself when elders prayed for his torn retina.
"There's a lot of mystery about healing I don't understand," he said. "But I do know that I was healed in that moment."
Still, he's critical of those in what he calls the "hyper-faith movement" who essentially neglect New Testament passages that mention suffering and individuals who remained sick and never received the miraculous physical healing that others did.
"There are many persons who have lost their relationship with God because of the disappointment that has come as a result of the false hyper-faith teaching," Wood said.
Clay called faith healing one of the most confused and abused values among Christians.
There is a distinction, he explained, between faith healing and divine healing that people need to understand.
"Faith [healing] is my part to do what the Word says but not to be the actual agent of the physical restoration," Clay explained. "Divine healing leaves both the timing and to the degree in God's hands."
Supporting Clay's assertion, Wood stressed, "Our faith has to be not faith in faith but faith in God which brings us to divine healing rather than faith healing."
Founded in 1914, the Assemblies of God is one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in the country. The U.S. body has experienced 15 percent growth over the past decade and is currently nearing 3 million members.