In his phenomenal work, Why Church History Matters, Robert F. Rea defines history as “the study of the past in order to understand the present and improve the future.” History teaches us valuable lessons about the good, the bad, and the ugly. It teaches us about the nature of the way things have been and how they came to be. These are certainly lessons we do well to learn because they remind us that even the best of men are still men at best. Furthermore, lessons from history provide us with the motivation to change the future, even when it’s painful to face the facts.
Unfortunately, and far too often, we tend to idealize past figures because death is the great equalizer and it’s considered poor form to talk ill of the dead. But where does that refusal of the facts leave us? Are we to simply brush over swaths of historical mayhem by saying, “Well, nobody’s perfect”? Is it prudent, or even Christian, to turn a blind eye to those who call violent abusers and scripture-twisting manipulators heroic? Denial is never an option when seeking the truth – in fact, it’s downright impossible.
At the risk of tearing down the sacred cows of the past we must be committed to giving our children a hopeful future – a future founded on biblical truth. Nobody is perfect, but Christians who proudly find their roots in certain erroneous theologies are in desperate need of a reality check regarding those who introduced those belief systems. Such beliefs and practices are found nowhere in the Bible.
If “history is the endeavor to provide accountability to the present in light of the past,” proper understanding of history is an imperative need. In light of that need, here is a historical faith healer who is still revered as a general of the Christian faith but need be known for what he always was.
Smith Wigglesworth (1859–1947)
Wigglesworth was one of the first to take faith healing to violent new heights. He is considered Pentecostal and Charismatic royalty these days, but that’s mostly because people are ignorant of his aberrant and unbiblical ministry tactics. For nearly two decades of my own life, Wigglesworth was one of my heroes because he represented audacious faith without any regard for the confines of religiosity and tradition. He was a reckless rebel and, just like Peter, was willing to jump over the side of the boat to walk on water and follow Jesus. That’s the kind of risk-taking that God always blesses, I often thought. That’s who I wanted to be!
Born before both Charles Parham and William Seymour, Wigglesworth outlived them both. Due to his long life span, he was perfectly positioned to almost single handedly impact the UK in the same way Parham and Seymour impacted America.
Wigglesworth focused the core of his ministry on signs and wonders like healing, miracles, and tongues. He taught that believers should refuse medical treatment for any illness. If not the first, he was one of the first in history to conduct his faith healing using methods other than laying on of hands—though he still touched them. According to Wigglesworth, sickness was demonic activity so he would physically attack the person as though they were the devil! Ignoring biblical teaching that spiritual warfare has nothing to do with flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12), Wigglesworth would punch, slap, or hit people in the place where they were afflicted. Wigglesworth explains his reason for assaulting sick people: