The following post is a modified portion of a chapter from “Defining Deception.”
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? The majority of Christians these days try to be better by offering prayer for the sick to help them in times of hardship instead of turning to violent abuse. 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:
There are some times when you pray for the sick and you are apparently rough. But you are not dealing with a person, you are dealing with the satanic forces that are binding that person. Your heart is full of love and compassion to all, but you are moved to a holy anger as you see the place the devil has taken position in the body of the sick one, and you deal with his position with a real forcefulness.
If people didn’t get healed, he was sure to place the blame on the sick. Wigglesworth taught that everyone should be able to control their own healing. He blamed those who couldn’t rid themselves of sickness on their own sin and lack of faith. He declared, “Is healing for all? It is for all who press right in and get their portions.” To one sick woman he barked, “If you’ll get rid of your self-righteousness, God will do something for you. Drop the idea that you are so holy that God has got to afflict you. Sin is the cause of your sickness.” He also states, “There is a close relationship between sin and sickness . . . but if you will obey God and repent of your sin and quit it, God will meet you, and neither your sickness nor your sin will remain.” With no regard for biblical teaching on praying and trusting God’s will, God’s purposes through physical trials, and sanctification from unhealed sickness (Gal. 4:13-14; James 1:2-3), Wigglesworth confused and spiritually abused those who were sick and desperate by telling them they were the problem and he was the solution. He was especially aggressive toward anyone who approached him for prayer more than once. One poor man experienced public humiliation when he came to the altar and asked the faith healer to pray for him a second time because he wasn’t yet healed. Wigglesworth yelled, “Didn’t I pray for you last night? You are full of unbelief, get off this platform.” His method of placing the blame on innocent people for his own failed healing attempts, and his violent antics for trying to heal people, are still practiced today by many false teachers. Later on in the book, we’ll get an up close look a modern day preacher who, like Wigglesworth, assaults people when praying for their healing.
People merely searching for hope were devastated when men like Wigglesworth humiliated them with his shameful practices. Still, countless modern day Pentecostal and Charismatic preachers ignore the hard facts of history and consider Wigglesworth a hero of the faith. Regardless of modern sentiment, Wigglesworth was a charlatan who exploited the sick by teaching falsely about salvation, sin, and sickness. His legacy does not represent true Christianity nor the character of biblical leadership.
Those who wish to faithfully represent Christ must arm themselves with truth. The dark history of abusive false teachers is not where Christians should ever find their truth, or claim their heritage. Look to God’s word for timeless guidance – it will never disappoint.
 Robert F. Rea, Why Church History Matters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 23.
 Smith Wigglesworth, Ever Increasing Faith (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1924), 135–36.
 Ibid., 37.
 Ibid., 38.
 Wigglesworth, Ever Increasing Faith, 41.
 Julian Wilson, Wigglesworth: The Complete Story (Tyrone, GA: Authentic Media, 2004), 82–83.