Because I am a part of a healing center that practices healing in a way somewhat different from “conventional medicine,” numbers of people want to tell me what they believe about “alternative healing.”
On the one hand, there are those whom I describe as being “more conservative than God.” They would eliminate every approach to healing except for the direct supernatural intervention of God. Such people believe that to take medicine and to undergo medical procedures evidence lack of faith in God. Some add that counseling for emotional healing should also be shunned because it’s either Freudian or New Age. What is needed, these people believe, is simply to read Scripture and do what it says.
On the other hand, there are those whom I describe as being “more liberal than God.” They believe that because our healing center employs a multi-faceted approach to healing, we should be in favor of all manner of “alternative approaches.” Such people have perhaps read a magazine article celebrating the healing properties of some exotic plant or of large doses of this or that vitamin, and shouldn’t our healing center be championing such approaches to healing? Others have heard something on television that suggest we eliminate certain things from our diet that most people eat and shouldn’t we be similarly warning people against those foods? Still others deem as good virtually anything that is “spiritual” because “spirituality frees us from the constriction of scientific reductionism,” and don’t we agree?
How do we respond to this? I use two criteria to evaluate both those healing modalities that have been around for a long time and those approaches that have just cropped up:
First, does it work? One can believe that eating a can of beets a day will cure tennis elbow but where’s the proof? You might have seen your elbow problem disappear while you were frequenting that vegetable but how do you know your healing was more than mere coincidence? Have there been reputable studies conducted according to the rigid tenets of scientific experimentation, written up in scholarly journals and generally accepted by the readers of those journals? Have the studies been replicated?
Absent careful scrutiny we are at the mercy of snake oil salesmen and emotional naifs. How much money has been wasted on frivolous treatments and products that do no good and sometimes cause harm? How many people have been talked out of taking the medicines or of undergoing those procedures that often yield positive outcome? How many people have been scared out of eating basic foodstuffs for fear they are actually toxic? Though the scientific study of medicine and of nutrition is not perfect, thank God for the generally accepted norms that have been proven to work.
Besides gratuitous claims in the field of alternative “medical” or dietary products and procedures, there are similar assertions made in matters of religion. We’re told to follow the revelations of this or that guru, or adopt one or another new forms of spirituality, and then we’ll be healed. Again, how do we know this is for real? We can recall exposes decades ago of fraudulent “faith healers” who placed in their services people on crutches who, as the healer pronounced them well, tossed their crutches aside and ran around the church. Later it was discovered these people had never needed those crutches. We have seen people turn their backs on their families because of the control of some religious leader. We see how tragically some cults end.
More, does that suggested form of alternative spirituality truly make a positive, lasting difference in the lives of people? Does it really work? People who are either gullible or desperate or both are easy marks for spiritual flim flam artists.
And yet, God does heal in response to prayer to the Lord Jesus. Christian healing ministry has been a part of the church for two thousand years. Eighteen percent of the Gospels are devoted to Jesus teaching about or ministering healing. Some churches deem anointing with holy oil a sacrament (James 5:14). Many churches across the denominational spectrum have healing services.
Thank God that there is a growing body of scientific evidence for the efficacy of prayer to Jesus Christ to heal. Appendix 6 of my book Christian Healing lists some scientific studies. A much fuller treatment may be found in The Faith Factor by Georgetown University Professor of Medicine Dr. Dale A. Matthews.
So, as for evaluating alternative forms of healing, the first criterion I use is, does it truly work? Is there real proof?
The second criterion is, is there anything in a given healing modality that is contrary to the teaching of Scripture? If God has ruled something out, then I don’t want any part of it. No, we don’t want to “put limits on God,” but we must obey when God puts limits on us. To say no to what God rules out is not narrow-mindedness, it’s obedience and wisdom. The children of Israel were forbidden to indulge in occultic practices (Deuteronomy 18:9-14, Isaiah 47:13). It is not just an Old Testament prohibition. “Sorcery” is listed in Galatians 5:20 as a practice that keeps someone from inheriting the Kingdom of God (see also Revelation 22:15). We need to obey Him even if we don’t understand why He says these things.
There are two spiritual power sources in the universe: God and Satan. While both work wonders and heal, to tie into the powers of Satan is disobedient and dangerous. Satan masquerades “as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Therefore, many people do not know that when they call out to spiritual powers other than the God of Scripture it is Satan who is hiding in the shadows.
There was a “faith healer” in the mid-Atlantic states in the 1970s who would “channel the spirit” of her (dead) husband who had “passed into the spirit world.” He supposedly gave her information as to who was suffering from what ailment. She would then pray “spiritual power” down upon that person to be healed. Some, indeed, were healed, but the aftermath was often disastrous. Physical, emotional, spiritual and circumstantial problems would start to crop up a few years later in some of those “healed” under this occultic ministry. The late Arthur Greeley, a United Methodist pastor, told me how he worked with other pastors to help restore lives shattered through this “ministry.”
Syncretism (that is, the mixing together of Christianity with various other religious beliefs and practices) may sound ecumenical and “tolerant” but it is as foolish as mixing wholesome food with poison to have “a broader diet.” To be more liberal than Scripture is not wise, loving, or kind; it is harmful and can be cruel. (See the book by Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison, The Cruelty of Heresy.)
What about Therapeutic Touch, Reiki and things like it?
Should we practice these modalities or allow others to practice them on us? We have to ask:
1. What is the philosophy behind them? The belief is that the unwell individual has “negative energy” within him or herself and that such energy can be removed by a practitioner or healer. But is there such a thing as “negative energy”? Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst concluded, “the energy field was probably nothing more than a figment in the imaginations of the healers” (Trick or Treatment. Corgi, 2008, pp.267-8).
2. Does rearrangement of energy fields actually work other than as a mere power of suggestion? A 2008 systematic review of clinical studies came to the conclusion that “the evidence is insufficient to suggest that reiki is an effective treatment for any condition. Therefore the value of reiki remains unproven.” (Lee, MS; Pittler, MH; Ernst, E (2008). “Effects of Reiki in clinical practice: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials” in International Journal of Clinical Practice 62 (6): 947–54. The American Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/ManualHealingandPhysicalTouch/reiki and the National Center for Complement-ary and Alternative Medicine http://web.archive.org/web/20081115162836/http://nccam.nih.gov/health/backgrounds/energymed.htm have also found that there is no clinical, scientific evidence supporting claims that Reiki is effective in the treatment of illness.
3. Did Jesus do anything like this? Jesus sometimes simply bestowed a healing (Luke 6:10); cast out demons (Mark 9:25); addressed a person’s sin (Mark 2:5); and ministered “inner healing” (see below). There is no evidence that He “rearranged energy fields.” If this is real and to be part of how we minister we would have Scriptural examples of it. Jesus was careful to identify the power behind His ministry as the God of the Bible, and the means to accessing that power, prayer. Because “rearranging energy fields” relies on powers that are not the God of Scripture, Christians should not indulge in such a practice or allow it to be ministered to us.
Beware of a “hyper spirituality” that rules out things God accepts .
On the other hand, there is a (false) “hyper spirituality” that some adopt thinking it makes them Christians of a higher level. Let me give a few healing modalities that some “hyper spiritual” Christians wrongly would rule out.
Conventional Medicine. When Timothy developed stomach troubles, Paul told him to take some wine (1 Timothy 5:23). We now know that the moderate use of fermented red wine can be therapeutic for stomach ailments. Additionally, Luke is called “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). There is no evidence of Luke ever being told to renounce medicine and simply pray.
Herbal Medicine. This is the use of herbs for their therapeutic or medicinal value. There is nothing demonic about herbs. The question is, has a particular herb been proven to work? Many have, but do not accept the assertion that a particular herb is therapeutic without proof.
Manipulative Therapy. This is treatment used by physiotherapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, and osteopaths to treat musculoskeletal pain and disability. It changes the anatomy or position of bones, muscles or ligaments rather than addressing any so-called energy field. Those practitioners who combine manipulative therapy with New Age practice are doing so on their own.
Where conventional and herbal medicine and manipulative therapy often go wrong is when they are used in a reductionist way; that is to say, when each is deemed to be the only modality a person needs.
Counseling. We note times Jesus had sessions with individuals whom He drew out in conversation. He helped the woman of Samaria to think through things about her life choices and her deepest needs (John 4:7-26). A negative evaluation of counseling is appropriate when counselors try to help counselees become comfortable with whatever they are into, irrespective of whether their behavior lines up with God’s will or not. But that’s not the model Jesus gave.
Inner Healing. Peter denied Jesus three times (John 18:17, 25, 27) by a charcoal fire (18:18) as a rooster crowed (18:27). After Jesus rose from the dead He met with Peter and gave him three times to affirm faith in Him (John 21:15-17). This happened at breakfast (John 21:15) when the roosters would still be crowing and this happened by a charcoal fire (John 21:9). Jesus knew each of these three items — three statements about Christ, the distinctives of a charcoal fire, and the crowing of roosters — would be triggers to personal sadness and ministry ineffectiveness in Peter’s future unless He brought Peter inner healing and restoration. Inner healing can go wrong when it is not centered in Jesus and when it purports to invent reality. But done as Jesus did it such a ministry can be quite effective.
I say to those “hyper spiritual” Christians who reject all of medicine, counseling and inner healing, embrace the fullness of healing as it is exemplified in the Bible.
So, do I subscribe to alternative healing? Yes, if it works and if it is of God. +