Following a discussion thread in the Embracing God’s Mission course, I am prompted to ask about people’s experiences of healing ministries, if any, and what their thoughts are. For example, some people use Exodus 34:6-7 to teach that sickness can be a result of sins commited in past generations:
And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
Such ministries will teach that a person needs to confess and repent of the sins of their parents, grandparents and great grandparents in order to receive full healing.
Yet, in John 9:1-5, Jesus makes it clear that the man’s blindness was not on account of his or his parents’ sin. I find this a liberating truth, that removes responsibility for other people’s faults.
Sometimes these ministries are used not so much for physical healing, but to break generational patterns, such as repeated anger, relationship problems, or low self esteem, for example. Is there a Biblical basis for this practice in the church, or not?
I’m very intrigued by this question for a couple of reasons.
because I am not as familiar with a church-led prayer ministry that does this. (I come from a less charismatic background.)
because I have trained as a counsellor, and, in a way, we do this. We look back on and examine generational patterns. I suppose my parallel question comes along the way of engagement. How do we then engage with generational histories, even trauma. For history tends to repeat itself, does it not?
So, I’m curious if I one way of rephrasing your question would be: Is there a Biblical example for us in the present day to follow in our engagement with unhealthy generational patterns?
Hi @kathleen thank you for your response. I appreciate that you come to this from the perspective of a counsellor which is very useful and it made me realise I need to try and be more specific. I like the rephrased question you’ve put forward and would be equally interested to consider that further.
I think I feel more comfortable with a theology for examining generational patterns. For example, a mother who dislikes a part of her body and regularly comments on it might later have a daughter who dislikes that same aspect of her body because she’s been taught to look poorly on herself. There might be a generational inheritance of poor body image for example. Likewise, alcoholism may affect multiple generations and is now understood as being a genetic disposition.
My experience of some healing ministries is that it’s not just considering a generational pattern, but rephrases it as a generational curse. This idea often comes from the Exodus passage I quoted above in the context of Blessings and Curses. From this reasoning, if a person committed a sin, then a curse would enter their life. They might ‘inherit a spirit of lying’, or ‘a spirit of victimisation’, for example. This curse may be passed down the 3rd and 4th generations. In this context, a curse is something to be broken by prayer, specifically confessing and repenting. The idea is that once this prayer is done, the person will be freed from that curse. Now, I know it is within God’s power to break any chain He pleases, through any means. I raise the question because I have seen this method of prayer ministry held up as the way to obtain freedom. When I look at scriptures, Jesus healed in so many ways, there really was no ‘one size fits all’ when it came to healing. I haven’t read in scripture where a person had to list all the known sins of their fathers, say sorry for them, and then ask for healing. Yet, some healing ministries will go through a set format each time to break the generational curses and this is what I’m questioning.
I guess I’m also questioning the application of that Exodus passage in this context - whether this is done correctly or not, considering the words of Jesus in John 9 but also the words in Ezekiel 18:20
The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.
Is this what it means for history to repeat itself or are we looking at two slightly separate issues: patterns versus curses? Just to confuse things a bit, I do have a testimony that would support the idea of breaking an inherited curse from an earlier generation, but am curious as to your thoughts so far.
Hello again! Thank you so much for expounding more on the difference between pattern and curse, and I hear a lot of my own questions echoed in your own. Pattern and ways of being can be learned and repeated – even when people are actively trying to break the pattern! – but is there also an outside, spiritual element at play in certain circumstances?
I will say that I tend to believe that the curse is in the ‘inherited’ pattern…that the two would be synonymous. However, I also think it naive of me to think that this is always the case! Naive to think that there are no spiritual forces at play in this world. Scripture and the first-hand experiences of my more charismatic friends tell me that they are very much in play! You have your own stories by the sound of it. Would love to hear you experience if you wouldn’t mind sharing.
But as to your question about prescriptive prayer practices in light of these curses, I think I am with you in expressing skepticism that it is the way. I have known a few people who have stepped in to healing prayer spaces, and they attest to its power in breaking or releasing something that resulted in freedom. And, interestingly enough, a process akin to this is can be entered into in therapeutic spaces that have what’s referred to as a ‘transpersonal’ grounding. That is, there is a concept of a ‘sin of the father’, even several generations removed, that needs to be acknowledged, forgiven and the spirit of it released so that healing and restoration can take place.
But I do find it to be the case that Jesus was rarely formulaic. I say ‘rarely’ because two places that come to mind where he seemingly was formulaic:
when teaching his disciples to pray: “When you pray, say…” (Lk. 11:2-4)
when explaining to his disciples why they couldn’t cast out a certain demon: “This kind can only come out by prayer.” (Mk. 9:29)
In fact, I imagine the Mark passage is probably where this prayer approach gets it practical, Biblical grounding? Sidebar: interestingly enough, Matthew records Jesus telling his disciples that it was because of lack of faith (Mt. 17:20) while Luke leaves out their questioning altogether (Lk 9:37-43)!
Again, I’m with you. It seems that what they’ve done is taken Biblical concepts – generational curse, confession of sin and prayer that heals – and brought them into engagement with one another. That’s not necessarily wrong, but I do think that one has to be careful when alwaysprescribing it. For, as you pointed out, Jesus himself (Jn. 9) provides a correction for the disciples who were prone to understand any malady as evidence of a generational curse. That man was a living parable. It was the Pharisees who were cursed/blind because of their sin, not the man! Though, I wonder if a case could be made that he was blind on account of the Pharisees sin??
I have no doubt that this could be a cathartic exercise, but I don’t know if it can necessarily ‘work’ in every case. For, again, Jesus does not seem to operate under the physical malady = moral failure paradigm. That formula may not work in some cases, quite simply, because there is no curse!
I realize I haven’t really added anything new to the convo, but I at least wanted you to know you’re not alone in your skepticism! I definitely think there’s a place for healing prayer, but it just needs to be approached thoughtfully and consensually.
Like you, I too have come across christian ministries that put a heavy emphasis on confessing and repenting for not only our own sin but also sins in our ancestry. Even as a young christian, I always doubted the practice of breaking generational curses though I was passively part of such group prayers. Over the years, I have gained a little more clarity on the issue.
The moment we accept Christ, Jesus sets us free from all curses.
Based on Rom 8:1 and Col 2:13-15 we can be quite certain that we are no longer under any curse as we put our faith in Christ. This was also true of any Israelite who repented and turned to Yahweh, because God promised His steadfast love in Deut 5:10 for a thousand generations! If there is steadfast love promised to a believer (Deut 5:10, Isaiah 54:17) there is no room for a generational curse both in the old and the new testament. The curse in Deut 5:9 snd Exodus 34: 6-7 that extends to 3rd and 4th generation then must only apply to those who have not yet turned to Yahweh God or Jesus. This interpretation is consistent with both Ezekiel 18 and Jesus’s words in John 9. But as @kathleen pointed out, we could still be living through some natural consequences of the sins and habits of past generations from our family of origin. For example: Karma based thinking is so wired into my being due to my upbringing as a hindu that even after 25 plus years of being a Christian when something goes wrong, my first tendency is often first to blame myself. As Christians we suffer from the consequences of unchanged habits but we are not under any curse from God. Sometimes God may let our sin as a believer lead to sickness ( 1 Cor 11:29-30), but even then our eternal salvation is assured (John 11:25-26). And sometimes as believers, God may allow the devil to oppress us for our sanctification to cause us to rely more on God’s power ( 2 Cor 12:7-9). So my thought is that bondage to sin or sickness do not imply a generational curse but more than likely a need for us to rely more on God’s power.
So is breaking generational curse a biblical prayer? If Christ has already removed our curses, why should we be praying for it? Furthermore, there seems to be no biblical support for the claim that we inherit generational curses or remain under the control of the evil one once we become a believer, so then what curse would we be praying about? Instead, the instructions from Rom 12 on living a holy life and preparing ourselves for spiritual warfare through Ephesians 6 may be more relevant. Also as described in James 5:14, all we have to do when we are sick is to reach out to others in the church to pray as prayers of a righteous person, i.e one righteous in Christ, have great power. When people do get healed after asking for breaking of a generational curse in prayer, it would be difficult to associate it definitively with the breaking of a curse. It is likely due to faith in God’s word or an occasion of the manifestation of the spiritual gift of healing ( 1 Cor 12:28).
I also want to add that many of the ministries that pray for healing using a variety of creative methods like repentance confessions by naming every sin you have ever been part directly or indirectly, breaking curses, binding spirits of sicknesses, often also believe that a victorious Christian should never be sick. But we know from accounts such as Job in the OT or Paul, Timothy and Gospel stories, that many strong believers fell sick.
In sum, I believe that there is a biblical basis for praying for healing but not for practices such as breaking generational curses in healing ministry.
I saw your second reply just as I finished posting my response. I am curious about this technique you described in therapeutic spaces. Could you describe more? What is the basis, Christian, psychology or something else?
Thing is, I’m pretty fuzzy on it, but I know it exists. As far as I understand it, it’s a generically spiritual engagement with generational guilt. Those who are therapists in the Jungian framework tend to interpret present things with consideration of ancestral history.
Thank you, this is a helpful way of looking at it. There are lots of solid Biblical elements that have been brought together. I guess the possible error or misapplication is when this is held up as a ritual to get healing. To be fair, the people I know who have engaged in this type of healing ministry are always expectant to see the Holy Spirit at work. In this sense, their openness to the Holy Spirit guiding things is not formulaic. I don’t have a problem with this at all, but I always hear different things about the confessing and repenting for ancestral sins which confuses me. Your insight from counselling practices is really interesting for me, that this concept isn’t just a niche charismatic idea, but one that is taken in other contexts.
As far as my own experience goes, I have one story that would suggest that there’s something to confession and repentence for ancestral sins, but likewise it might be that God broke through but in a different way. All my life, until the age of 27, I experienced horrible demonic nightmares. They would be incredibly oppressive, and I’d feel the dark presence of the enemy in them, as well as being physically pinned down within the dream. I had an opportunity for prayer ministry, which I took. The two women praying for me asked if anyone in my family had been involved in the occult. I said that my grandmother had been involved in seances, tea leaf reading, tarot etc. One woman felt prompted by the Holy Spirit that we needed to ‘cut off’ the spiritual powers that my ancestor had opened a door to through her occult practices. I had to confess and repent for my grandmother’s sins in this process. They then prayed a prayer to close the 3rd eye in my life. I never had a nightmare like that since. I truly believe I was set free on that day. So that’s the process I went through. Whether that process was the means of obtaining freedom, or whether God worked on that day despite the process, I can’t tell. I know that God worked though!
Thank you, @lakshmi I agree, that we are set free by Jesus’ work on the cross and that our eternal salvation is always secured. I really appreciate what you’ve shared here too.
What I’ve heard in the past is that whilst we are set free, we’re not always “walking in that freedom”. This is where prayer ministries step in to help someone break anything that holds them back from freedom. I’d be interested if you’ve ever heard that take on things? I haven’t studied this theology greatly, but from what I understand, the curse isn’t directly from God, but from Satan. Is this possible? I feel fairly out of my depth now as I consider these things
This is a really positive way to approach things. I do think there could be a risk of becoming fearful about generational curses if something is wrong in our life. These passages should be a great focus in our daily life.
This is a whole other issue I’m confused about. Is binding spirits a Biblical concept? From what I’ve seen, it’s a separate practice to expelling demons. Binding is more of a ‘temporary block on their powers’ from what I can tell. I have yet to understand this from a scriptural point of view.
Hi Alison, this has been a topic I was pretty confused about for a while too😅 Admittingly, I still am.
I’ve been to quite a few healing ministries and what I’ve learnt is that, though Christians cannot inherit generational curses due the forgiveness of Christ and the indwelling of the holy spirit, satan still can have a stronghold over them. Therefore, resulting in a similiar generation pattern or problems that involve the spiritual realm.
Healing ministries are there to address particular spiritual issues but does not exclude the need for mental/ physical help such as counselling or medication.
Nonetheless, I’m still a little confused and reading everyones replies certainly helped😅
I wanted to respond after I did some more reading on the topic which unfortunately didn’t happen this week. So this reply is a little more of my own thinking on the topic.
First of all, thanks so much for sharing your own experience on being freed from spiritual oppression after prayer. I am so sorry that you had to endure it for so many years upto the age of 27! Praise God that you are free in the name of Jesus.
I too have had a couple occasions of intense spiritual oppression after becoming a Christian, one that was linked to my family’s faith and one that was not. In one of them, there was a very dark and heavy presence in the room and I felt pinned down and choked on my bed by some spiritual beings related to my family’s faith. In the name of Jesus I got a release as I prayed and it did not involve breaking generational curses. In the other, for about two to three days I just couldn’t get over suicidal thoughts. Finally, as I confessed in prayer that I overcome by the word of my testimony and by the blood of the lamb from Revelation 12:10-11, the suicidal thoughts ceased. Some of my friends would tell me that the reason for the oppression was because I may have opened a door to the enemy through sin in my life. I know that at the time of the first experience, I was young and would sometimes make spiritually immature decisions while at the the same time trying to reach my family for Christ. The second experience was soon after a community evangelistic outreach event by our small group much later in life and that experience marked the beginning of strife and division in our small group of over ten years, an interdenominational group. It is so sad. What I have realized is any work of the kingdom requires much prayer and sometimes there will be a lot of resistance from the enemy.
After reflecting on your testimony and my experiences, I believe that we can sometimes experience spiritual oppression because of trusting the Lord and being involved in Christian ministry. The evil spiritual beings from our family’s involvement may try to oppress us but cannot curse us (Col 1:13). We may be tempted to obey the evil one, but we are protected as we submit to Christ and no one can curse us (Isaiah 54:17).
I have certainly heard this. When they say we are not ‘walking in the freedom’ as Christians, is it because we are not using our freedom to glorify God OR is it because we are under a curse? One verse that comes to my mind is from Galatians 5:1. It is true we dont walk in freedom always but at least in Galatians, it seems to be related to the choices we make ( Galatians 3:10). And if he whom the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36) then it should include being freed from the generational curses from all sources. That’s just my thought.
A question for another time! I will have to study this further but it is an area that I want to understand better too. Some contexts of the verses that refer to ‘binding’ are in the context of Christian living and discipline.
Thanks for clarifying some more on ‘transpersonal grpunding’. I know someone who got into Family Constellation therapy, which seems to be a spiritual practice but what you are describing seems different. I worry about therapists who use scientific language to describe spiritual practices. When spirituality is practiced as a technique and promises spiritual experience I get worried because a moral God would be concerned about the moral state of our heart.