But surely God always wants to heal? Roger Sapp, Agnes Sanford and Morton Kelsey

In my last post: Say the Word and You’ll be Healed we looked at The Faith Confession Movement as being a bit like a toddler wanting instant results because they said so – or as theologians like to call it an underdeveloped eschatology.

One charismatic writer who did have an eschatology was Agnes Sanford.[1] However it is a very different eschatology to the one I will be advocating, but its outcome is striking. Writing in 1947 she is strongly post-millennial [‘things can only get better’], believing that the ‘manifestation of the sons of God’ are beginning within us. This transforms us into an army of ‘the children of light’ fulfilling God’s intentions on earth and culminating in an end to war.[2] Most significantly for this blog is her contention that if all God’s people in this life maintained con­stant concord with their creator, pain and sorrow would cease.[3] Death even would disappear. These are huge claims… so how you ask did she get there?

Sanford’s healing ministry can be traced back to the experience of seeing her son healed, after the simple laying on of hands by a travelling minister.[4] She deduced that God, who is both in us and all around us, has filled the universe with his creative activity. This has led to the twin remedies waiting to be discovered for almost every illness. One may be detected by faith, the other by the advancement of science. Both are bound by the inexorable laws that God has placed around. [5]

With her experience of her son being healed and her undoubted niceness we can see what she is against: an arbitrary, capricious God. She wanted a God who can be relied upon. As we saw in When a Healer Comes to Town this means she has to join the faith-confessionalists in maintaining the existence of spiritual laws, where the only variable is the human activity. Where she differs most markedly is very much to her credit. Firstly she does not invest words with creative power of their own rather positive words (and mental images) are simply aids to the healing taking place. Secondly, and of fundamental importance, she is prepared to accept responsibility as the healing agent if God’s healing energy is not properly released. The simple logic of this was that Jesus at times healed despite the faith levels of the recipient, thus a healer who properly conducts the power should be able to do the same – so don’t blame the sick person.[6] Finally she encourages persistent prayer.

In reading Sanford the impression gained is of an honest and sincere Christian woman who brought about a lot of good. Sanford remains particularly important because of the influence she had on Morton Kelsey. A prodigious writer, and eventually Sanford’s pastor, Kelsey’s works have been well attested to even by the likes of Stephen Pattison.[7] Like Maddocks (whom he influenced) he incorporated a Jungian perspective in this case into Sanford’s thought[8]. Hence the unseen reality which is God and pervades everything and preserves our emotional well-being, is also the reality which pervades all and enables our physical healing. The source of healing is then within us and available if appropriated by positive faith. In many ways this is a highly marketable message in a century dominated by self-help philosophies… If you can guarantee how God will behave then it’s up to you to meet the conditions… We get our control back.

A different angle on the above is a contemporary figure – Roger Sapp. Sapp presents no bibliography in his book, supposing that he can draw all of his influences direct from scripture and hence anchoring him in a tradition can be tricky.[9] However his response to the question of how to deal with those ‘with strong faith’ who haven’t been healed is informative.[10] His first two point’s concern the reliability of evidence that the person had this strong faith. He concludes that either the ill-person or the observer must have been mistaken. Then he questions the assumption that it is possible to have faith for healing and not be healed. This assumption itself produces doubt, is unscriptural and weakens faith in Christ the healer. It may in itself be the reason a person is not healed. And because ‘God is always faithful to fulfil all his promises when the conditions are met’ he believes that the very statement of this question leads people to blame God, and make him seems unreliable in matters of healing, thus again weakening faith for healing.[11] I’ll come back to Sapp in a later post as hearing him make these claims was the thing that provoked all my research into charismatic theologies, (and I believe it nearly splintered the New Wine Senior Leadership between those who thought he was God’s gift and those who thought he was off the chart).

The key problem though with Sapp, Sanford and Kelsey is this elevation of physical healing to such an important thing. Much of the methodology by which they arrive at these claims is driven from some (amazing but nevertheless limited) experiences and is seriously flawed. In stating the God is always willing and able to heal, healing can be seen as required of people who maybe suffering great emotional and physical stresses as well. The guilt this can impart may overall be detrimental to the entire healing process. You can end up doubly hurt –  a failure/wounded because I’m ill and a failure/wounded because I haven’t found the faith to heal myself.

——————————————————————————————————————————-

[1] Sanford had a Presbyterian background, and married an Episcopalian. Interestingly her Pentecostal, spirit-baptism experience post-dated her publication of her healing manual by 6 years.

[2] On an individual level people can resist dangerous animals an burglars too, by projecting God’s love into them.

[3] See in Knight p.

[4] Sanford (1949) pp. 14-15

[5] Rather the healing light works in much the same way as electricity, an analogy she keeps returning to. See pp. 14-15 e.g.

[6] The healer can improve by removing ‘blockages’ from their lives, and also by having ‘positive faith’. In the later case this includes not begging God for healing as that indicates mis-trust rather than true faith.

[7] Pattison (1989) pp. 46-48. Kesley’s analysis of institutional religion reducing the healing potency of the church has been particularly gripping, and all but sealed the end of cessastionalism (at least as far as the healing gifts go) as a viable option. Healing and Christianity (1973).

[8] In particular through his Psychology, Medicine and Christian Healing (1988).

[9] His methodology is different to most, as he focuses on imitating the ministry of Christ. He suggests the earthly Jesus exactly represented for us the Father’s will. Hence because Jesus ‘always healed’ [here he quotes Mt 4:23-24, Mt 9:35, and Mt 15:30-31 among many other text as examples] the Father is always willing to heal – see Sapp (2000) p.21. I’ll come back to him in a later post looking at the purposes of Jesus’ healing ministry.

[10] Sapp (2000) p.321.

[11] ibid. p.322.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s