As Pam and I attend this 3rd International Conference of the Order of Saint Luke, I will publish some notes about what I am hearing from the speakers and from God. This conference entitled “Christian Healing: God’s Promise to the Fragmented World” has inspired me. I want to write down and put to use what I am learning lest I forget.
Witness the Healing Power of God and His Spirit at Work
The first evening, we were introduced to the healing power of God and we heard witness to the work of OSL. The opening address and its response was led by the venerable John Scott, Warden for Ireland.1 He shared his own near death experience, and his vision of the OSL woman who prayed for him and commanded death to wait. Other OSL members responded with their own stories of healing and conversion. A large black woman from the Georgia, USA prayed in the Spirit for the healing Brian and Tom, those who were to speak. A man originally from Nigeria witnessed his journey from Africa to England, where he became a doctor, and finally to America, where he responds to God’s love with spirit and passion. We heard other powerful witnesses from Australia and Europe. I was struck by the power of God and the devotion of his servants who journeyed here.
The Church, OSL, and Healing in the New Age
The next day we were presented with a detailed survey of “New Age” healing and spirituality.2 In the UK, in Australia, and in American, studies have shown a dramatic increase in the search for spirituality and healing. Possibly associated with much greater stress experienced by affluent and educated workers, people are looking for spirituality and healing in holism, astrology, eastern medicine and philosophy, and paganism. They mostly are not looking for healing or spirituality at Church. People clearly believe that Christianity and the Church have little to offer. Further, many of these “new agers” are turned off by the dry ritualism and authoritarian structure of organized religion. The few who seek spirituality and healing at churches come away disappointed.
This is not surprising. Ministers and pastors are not trained in healing. Spirituality comes from personal life choices, beliefs, and discipline, not from an hour Sunday morning. Those seeking greater spirituality do not see spirituality in the Church or in Christians. They see controversy, dogma, and scandal in the Church. I believe they also see intolerance and hypocrisy.
Those seeking healing are not getting what they need from conventional western medicine. Doctors have little or no time to spend with patients. They treat the body as if it were a machine that needs to be fixed, not a person, and they focus on illness and not health. Alternative therapies offer hope from a trusted, caring provider. The practitioner offers time, understanding, and advice, and works with the patient to help the patient find healing.
So what can we, as Christian healers do about this? After the morning presentation, I certainly understood the problem much more clearly. I felt much of this, but the speaker clarified and focused my understanding, adding sociological research data and study results to my personal experience. But, what is to be done? The evening speaker talked about what he and his team are doing in Australia.
A response to New Age
Rev. Dr. Harold Taylor supplemented and affirmed the conclusions of Dr. Frost’s earlier discussion. The world is indeed fragmented, and is increasing in a desperate search for healing. Alternate medicine offers a broad selection of ingredients that one may use to deepen spirituality and aid healing. Christian healing is poorly understood, greatly distrusted, and held at a distance by those searching for healing.
Christians may respond by ignoring, embracing, opposing, or engaging this cultural movement.
Dr. Taylor presented some tools to analyze the techniques of, and communicate with, the practitioners of alternative medicine. First he helped us with the language of alternative medicine. Therapies may be classified as alternative, complementary, and “new age”.3 Even by the practitioners of alternative medicine, “new age” means fringe, and is seen as derogatory. Therapies may be classified as internal, external, inner-journey, and energy, and he discussed common resources used in all therapies.4 Dr. Taylor presented a 10 point list that helps explain why alternative therapy is so popular.5 He talked about how alternative therapy is viewed by health professionals, and then he came back to how Christians may respond.
Christians may respond by ignoring, embracing, opposing, or engaging this alternative/complementary/new age therapy and healing.
The tools Dr. Taylor presented are used to evaluate therapies.6 Anderson & Jacobson offer a grid based on history, faith, holism, science, and spirituality. Huggett offers a “Positive Approach to Complementary Therapies (PACT), based on prayer, 10 no-go areas, and questioning of the therapist. Taylor’s “Community of Hope” uses dialog focused on 5 areas: the practitioner, spiritual/biblical, historical, scientific, and consumer. Community of Hope is a mission ministry which attends new age festivals and dialogs with providers and seekers, approaching them where they are, with respect and love, and humility.
Dr. Taylor concluded with some guidelines for Christians seeking healing, and then he presented the Order of Saint Luke with a challenge. We need a better understanding of 1) the theology of healing, 2) healing energies, and 3) how we may dialog with healers and those seeking healing. The Order of Saint Luke could and should spearhead the training of healers and clergy within the Church, especially as related to alternative and complementary therapy.
I was greatly moved by these talks. I believe that the Christian response to new age healing and spirituality has been poor. Yet I was not comforted by the reaction of the OSL, which seemed critical and suspicious. Surely healers must guard against evil, but I do not reject other healers because they are different. In Mark 9:38-40, the disciples came to Jesus appalled that others were healing and casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The disciples insisted that these others be stopped because they were “not one of us”. Jesus said No! “Do not stop [them]. No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” We should not condemn healers who are not part of our group.
Also, I was concerned by the very broad topic of Christian Healing being contrasted with specific alternative therapies. To address specific spiritual and physical needs we must use offer specific therapies and practices. Telling those who seek healing and spirituality to find it in “Christian Healing” or in Jesus Christ is not helpful. We need to be specific to have something to offer, and we need to offer specific and helpful alternatives if we believe our alternatives to be superior.
Fresh Expressions: The Healing Ministry in the Mission of God
The next speaker, Rev. Stanley Baxter, seemed to share my concern about apprehension and fear within the Church. Healing in the Church is limited, partly because parish priests are afraid to raise expectations. The healing might not work. Or it might work, and then what? Healing is O. K. as long as it is kept in its place: “the back vestry” or “the women’s chapel”. “Oh, you want healing. Go See Mary Sue. She runs the healing service on alternate Wednesdays.” ” You know the healers in the church: the ones who twitch. :-)” We are afraid of healing? We are afraid of healing that is not of God? We are afraid to believe?7 Fear is not of God. God calls us to be bold.
When we speak of healing, it seems we are always looking for a cure. Healing is not always about finding a cure. It is a process, like mission. It is a journey — a nomadic, wandering journey. It does not always result in what we were looking for, but if we follow God, we will find what he sent us to find. God ALWAYS answers prayer.
For a fresh expression, we must take a fresh look at our mission and ministry. We must take a fresh look at healing. We must listen to those seeking healing, and we should listen to other healers, even if they be (Lord-have-mercy) “new age”. We do not have all the answers, and it would be the pinnacle of hubris to think we could know the mind of God.
Even Jesus had his mind changed on occasion. At the wedding in Cana, when Jesus learns there is no wine, he tells his mother, “My time has not yet come.” Mary tells Jesus, “Oh yes it has!”.8 Near Tyre, Jesus met a greek woman whose daughter was possessed. At first Jesus refused to heal the daughter of a greek, but the woman replied, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus repented and healed the little girl.9
We must talk to, and learn from, each other, christians and non-christians, alike. We are all created in the image of God.10 God knows (all of) us from before we were born.11 I am convinced that God works through all his people, all his creation. All creation is God’s.12 I am convinced that God works for the good of his creation.13 So be humble and learn from your brother. Be humble and let God decide your course.
- The opening address and its response was led by the venerable John Scott, Warden for Ireland. Both original speakers, Tom Brown, warden for England, and his alternate, Brian, warden for Scotland, were struck down just weeks before the conference: Tom suffered a serious heart attack and Brian was involved in major car accident. We prayed for their recovery. They are both out of hospital and doing better. Praise God!
- The Rev. Dr. Rob Frost was our speaker. I picked up his book “A Closer Look at New Age Spirituality”, and I am really enjoying it. It can be found at his website or on Amazon.
- Therapies not recognized by the established medical system, usually because of lack of scientific validation
- Therapies recognized by the established medical system and used alongside traditional medicine
- Internal includes diet, supplements, or medicine. External includes massage, exercise, acupuncture. Inner-journey includes meditation, visualization, talk therapy. Energy and energy transfer includes chi, ki, prana, life force, etc. Resources are common and include touch, healing objects, and spiritual powers.
- I can’t believe I am typing the whole ten point list here, but it is important to the discussion, and I could not find any other published source:
- Natural treatments are attractive and feel more like self healing.
- Hope is provided when conventional medicine fails.
- A deeper healer-patient relationship is often developed, and it is based on respect and trust not control.
- The healer’s time, a listening ear is provided. Trust and mutual confidence is established.
- Possibilities are discussed, and the patient is given more choice rather than an expert opinion, i.e. “doctor’s orders”.
- Treatments are often based on ancient and traditional practices.
- Emphasis is placed on healing the whole person, not isolated sicknesses or injuries.
- Illness is used as an opportunity for growth, not just a condition to be cured.
- The healer shows an interest in spiritual and relationship issues.
- Personal responsibility for health and treatment is encouraged.
- Dr. Taylor recommend three recent books from which two of his systems are taken
- When I think of being afraid to believe, I think of the song, “If God had a face what would it look like/ And would you want to see/ If seeing meant that you would have to believe/ In things like heaven and in jesus and the saints and all the prophets.” — Joan Osbourne, “What if God was one of us?”
- See John 2:3-11.
- See Mark 7:26-30.
- See Gen 1:27
- Jeremiah 1:5
- See Psalm 119:91 and Col 1:15-20
- Rom 8:28