Tuesday, June 22, 2010

#165-Prayer Cloths

Here's what is going to happen: Ryan Evans, our newest member of the SAL family (inducted as grammar nazi a few weeks back) is going to present his post about prayer cloths. I am going to post a point of rebuttal of sorts....that really gets more of the nuances of the thing....

Ryan Evans:

Growing up in the Apo movement there are lots of things that we do that I never thought about - prayer cloths being one of them. The prayer cloth story usually goes something like this: "a friend, family member, boss, spouse etc., couldn't make it to service to be prayed for', so we call for the elders of the church to anoint a cloth and pray over it and the person interceding on behalf of the non-present individual in need of healing, deliverance, salvation, then takes the cloth to the person that needs it. Usually, that's the end of the matter. Sometimes we might hear a praise report, but most of the time, it's done.

But lets fast forward a few years and look at a recent example. I'm in service (playing the keyboard), and the prayer cloth thing starts to happen. As faith starts building, an elderly gentleman in the back speaks up and gives a testimony regarding a prayer cloth. He stated that he had been sick and received a prayer cloth and was healed. So far, pretty standard stuff right? But then he says that every morning when he wakes up, he pins the prayer cloth to his t-shirt and as a result hasn't been sick in over three (3) years.

Now immediately warning bells start going off in my head, but people start shouting, the man was affirmed from the pulpit and euphoric happiness and joy started flowing and more prayer cloths were handed out. I was under the impression that God was the one who did the healing, but according to this turn of events, we now believe in sacred objects, amulets and/or idols. I would have thought this was a limited perspective, but based on the recent furor regarding HMH, I can see that I might be incorrect. I struggled to keep a straight face (I did) I started thinking about the implications of prayer cloths and how Apo's are usually pretty anti idols and anything else taking the place of God in our lives (I mean come on, someone says the word Trinity and we start screaming - there's only One right?) and was wondering how this seemingly acceptable yet totally counter-Apostolic teaching was so openly accepted; I thought of another friend who told me about his step-mother putting a prayer cloth under his bed to keep him from sinning (If I remember correctly it was a red prayer cloth that she got from a ladies conference. Maybe there are different properties to different colors/shapes/sizes?) Maybe we could just start handing out prayer cloths to everyone and we could avoid doctors visits, cancer and any sort of disease. Common cold? Done. Why? Cause we have prayer cloths under our beds and attached to our clothes.

All of this led me to do a little research regarding 'prayer cloths' and their biblical precedent. Turns out that God gave Paul the power to perform "unusual miracles." An example of this was when handkerchiefs or aprons that ha merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed and evil spirits expelled (Acts 19:11-12). A little further reading will show others trying to cast out evil spirits without much effect because, although the spirits knew Paul and Jesus, they didn't know the other men. Once again, pointing people back to Jesus and The Message, which seems to be the point of the 'unusual miracles.'

But this doesn't stop us, because we like our prayer cloths. And we intend on keeping them. As a matter of fact, there's a box of them just waiting to be anointed, so come on up and let the party begin! To those of you who are not affected by the mystical power of the cloth, I'm not sure what to tell you. Maybe yours got anointed wrong (although they didn't anoint them in the biblical account of Paul).

One last thing, let me just say that I completely believe in the healing power of Jesus - I've experienced it myself and have seen it too often to doubt its effectiveness and authenticity. What I'm suggesting is that some our practices get a little caught up in hype and emotionalism and we end up perpetuating traditions that are based on very little, if anything at all and potentially even detract from our Savior. But, with that being said, where else can you find funny stuff like this happening? Sunday service = good times.

Rebuttal from Joel Riley:

Now in general I agree with Ryan. I think prayer cloths can become idols. Just like my complaint with holy magic hair was that hair was becoming an intercessory device that either bridged power to the cross, or just hair on a female superseded the bridging power of the cross altogether, prayer cloths can also end up serving this process.

Look at this illustration I made, although vulgar, I think conveys the various roles of the prayer cloth (or holy magic hair) in terms of intercession:

Okay, while it may be hard to read (any bigger and it wouldn't have fit), know that the red box with gray writing in it says "Prayer Cloth" (you could substitute holy magic hair as well).

The only model I find acceptable for understanding of intercession is model C above. The first model (A) suggests one needs an additive intercessory device (e.g. cloth, hair) to gain access to the cross and thus infers a limiting on the amount of access one has to the healing power of the cross without the intercessory device.

Model B has all access to healing being understood without need for a cross. At most the cross serves as a symbol of the fact that we now have power to the kingdom through whatever intercessory device we choose to use.

Model C, although the most simplistic puts the entire onus of whatever access we may be fortunate enough to come by to the supernatural on that of the cross.

It is not that in model C, the cloth is without benefit. The healing is something that we cannot see in our physical perceptions. While we know the cross is the avenue by which healings can occur, we do not even see the cross, but can only have faith int. Thus a cloth could serve as a visual reminder of the power in the unseen. The power of healing does not come in or through the cross. But rather a courage to continue to persist in prayer for "a fixing" and to continue to have faith could be attributed to the cloth.

I remember vaguely, about ten years ago, a preacher was coming to our church about once a month from near-by with a whole message revolving around prayer cloths and the power therein. Week after week people would line up to receive the cloths as they were prayed over and anointed with oil. The desire at such a point was not for more faith to believe in the cross, but rather somewhere in the process, the cloth become an object of mystical powers. Wherein, the cloth possessed the potential of divine influence. Most of that resulted in us in the church putting the prayer cloths in our wallets with kind of an understanding that in the absence of money, the prayer cloth would serve as a mystical father of the money that would eventually be flowing out of the wallet (Sadly, the sick kids in Africa were left without healing because they didn't have the money to afford such cloths). If anyone has any philosophical background, this whole concept of a prayer cloth is seeped in Platonism. Thankfully when we got a new pastor, we moved away from such pseudo-mysticism.

People may point to the story of cloths in Acts, but Ryan when he first proposed this topic, pointed out that Paul's shadow healed people too. Now I have seen people try and be healed via cloth, but I never seen someone claim that by touching their shadow one will be healed. So why be so inconsistent? If the cloth can heal, so can the shadow. But if we don't allow one form such as the power of the shadow, it would be inconsistent to allow for power in the cloth.

I guess my ultimate concern is this: The Catholic church has upwards of 5,000 Saints that a Catholic can pray to in intercession for a specific need (the Saint you pray to is determined by your genre of need, for example if you want to pray for an animal you pray to St. Francis). Thus, one doesn't pray to Jesus/God for the need. Rather, one prays to a Saint who then intercedes to a slightly less caring Jesus to convince Him to fix the need.

But if there is a place that I may differ slightly from Ryan (though I am not sure if he disagrees), is that through the whole Holy Magic Hair fiasco, I guess I am allowing for the possibility that "God honors faith." I haven't worked out exactly what this means and if I get access to the resources I desire, there will be much more on this idea in the future. It revolves around Hebrews 11:6, and it's just that if God is loving, and someone is innocently trying to pursue God, and uses a misguided approach to gaining a healing in their life, I do not know if God is going to be stubborn and stomp his feet because their mental understanding of the cross and how healings work is out of whack. Just as ambiguous as this point was, my understanding of the declaration is equally as vague, because with such an understanding, many more nuances have to be hashed out. So I am choosing silently exit the room. I guess perhaps in these scenarios of misguided prayers (praying via prayer cloth), the cross' power is so great it transcends such mental errors and works its power in spite of the ignorance.

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  1. Joel, I thought your point was pretty much the same as mine except for the 'God accepts faith' thing, which could be tricky, because it can be a slippery slope argument, but I do see what you're getting at. The problem could be where people do things that are counter to God's overall desires and principles as something for or to Him.

    For example, the Old Testament dude who sacrificed his daughter when he won the battle because he vowed to God he would. I don't think that God actually took pleasure or condoned that act.

    So where we run in to problems is when people do things that they think God would like that are not at all what He's looking for and could potentially be sin on the extreme end.

    So, faith is great, but there still needs to be some underlying principles that guide the actions that faith suggests. But then we get into the grace discussion and I'm a huge proponent of that.

  2. The brazen serpent soon became an idol which Hezekiah was forced to destroy .... as Catholics have relied on rosary beads and relics ... it seems there is a preservationist movement to reify extrabiblical traditions in the Apostolic ranks and create new doctrines such as in summoning angels through their hair.


    When photos like this one are condoned and tacitly approved of by posting on a org's official site with the following caption:


    This picture was taken at the Alabama’s Ladies retreat. Sis Patty Twyman took down her hair to summon the power of the angels over the prayer requests. Many prayers were answered.


  3. I think I find the overuse of prayer cloths as onerous as anyone else, but with that said, I'm of the mindset that it has more to do with the active faith of the group that has prayed over the cloth. From that, though, I do see quite a few shenanigans.

    It's similar in some regards to people who get healed at Benny Hinn's services (the ones that aren't carefully screened and brought on stage). As heretical and nonsensical as Hinn is, there are actually people who are healed, which I believe can only and should only be understood as the intersection of active faith and divine power. We all know God wants to and is willing to intercede in our lives if we have the active faith and desire for Him to do so. Hinn's service, then, is only the site, a sort of stage or prop where people can feel free to let their faith in God's healing power operate.

    This, of course, is problematic. Prayer cloths, long hair, and church services (not only Hinn's, but we might also include big Apostolic gatherings like camp, district meetings, youth congress), etc. have become talismans of a kind--intermediaries of divine power. Considering that we profess to have the holy ghost, the "comforter" (John 14:16 & 26) and yet still rely on such devices is reminiscent less of the original Apostolic church we claim to represent (at least what we know of it strictly from the Bible) and more of shamanism. Troubling, to say the least.

    Please understand I'm not doubting that God can and does work through things like prayer cloths. The power of faith is a non-issue; what is at issue is the misconception so many in our movement have over the necessity/use of formula and props for interaction with God.

  4. Acts 19:11-12King James Version (KJV)

    11 And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:

    12 So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.

    Prayer cloths are used to help for healing and to have deliverance of unwanted spirits.

    1. I thought proton packs got rid of unwanted spirits? There was a documentary about it in the 80's I believe.