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THE HEALING THEOLOGY OF AGNES SANFORD
The Inner Healing Movement refers to calling up suppressed or hurtful memories in order to deal with them.
by Pastor Alec Taylor
TRICK OR TREATMENT
here can be little doubt that the charismatic movement has promoted some strange ideas and introduced some bizarre practices into many churches. A system of counseling known as ‘inner healing’ or ‘healing of the memories’ is becoming a craze among many charismatic Baptist and Anglican churches. It is also gaining acceptance in the Imagesline Pentecostal denominations. John Wimber is also an advocate of inner healing practices. Most Christian bookshops display titles promoting inner healing, most coming from charismatically inclined publishing houses, but some from normally reliable publishers.
False teaching comes in subtle forms; it is not 100% error and it will make statements that are true. We must not be taken in when new ideas are overlaid with Scripture - the devil is an expert at quoting God’s Word. Those who oppose the doctrine and practice of inner healing are castigated for encouraging division in the church and for engendering fear in weaker and younger brethren. They are accused of slandering the servants of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. I hope that this article will enable you to see the practice of inner healing as not only unbiblical - but devilish and dangerous.
The Appeal of Inner Healing.
We are all influenced to some degree by our past experiences. Some experiences have been so dreadful that they haunt us and torment us for the rest of our lives. The person who was sexually abused as a child is often plagued with feelings of guilt and uncleanness. Their marriage may be spoiled or even destroyed because of the effects of the abuse that they suffered. William Cowper, the great poet and hymn-writer, suffered all his life from the harmful effects of being bullied at boarding school when very young. We live in a fallen world where life is tough and often tragic. We all carry the scars of the past to some degree or other. We may suffer from a variety of psychological and emotional hang-ups (inner healing practitioners call them ‘hurts’).
The inner healing counselor will tell us that these hurts are adversely affecting our Christian life, preventing us from enjoying victory over sin. They are responsible for our lack of power, our low self-esteem, our inability to witness or to speak in tongues, etc. He tells us that we need inner healing to free us from our hurts so that we can live a better Christian life. Rita Bennett, quoting husband Dennis, writes,
‘Inner healing is simply cooperating with the Lord to let him cure and remove from our psychological natures the things that are blocking the flow of the Holy Spirit’.
The Method of Inner Healing.
David Seamands divides the counseling process into three phases which ‘are not always distinct and sometimes blend together’ - a time of counseling; a time of special healing prayer; and a time of follow-up. The counseling session includes counseling and prayer time. The counselor will probe deep into the past life of the counsellee, seeking to uncover all the hurts and repressed emotions. The session is often very long and the counsellee’s life is bared. One friend remarked that after a ten-hour counseling session, he felt that he had been emotionally raped. He compared it with ‘a marathon session of the confessional in the Roman Catholic Church’. Where there are gaps in the information cleaned the counselor will often fill them in with so-called words of knowledge. Seamands writes, ‘I may point out some new insight or discernment from the Spirit.’ I have been told of some horrific suggestions (entirely false) which were supposedly given by the revelation of the Holy Spirit. One friend was told such a wicked lie in an inner healing session. She was told that the reason that she couldn’t relate to God as Father was that her own father was a rapist and a murderer during the Second World War. Far from healing any distress, such dreadful suggestions pile on the agony.
Seamands describes the time of special healing prayer as ‘one of the distinctives about the healing of memories. So that the Holy Spirit may actually touch the barriers to health, a full use is made of conversational prayer with emphasis on visualization, imagination...’
The use of the imagination or visualizing is not picturing a scene described in a book, or imagining how your new garden will look when you have laid the lawn and planted the flowers and the shrubs. It is an act of such concentration that reality is created out of imagination.
The technique is advocated by best-selling authoress Joyce Huggett. In a Radio 4 interview (October 1989) concerning her latest book Open to God she stated, ‘I think that there is tremendous value in using our imagination. This time last year I led a group in one of these imaginative contemplations as I call them, and I encouraged the group together to go to Bethlehem to be present at the birth of Jesus and I remember one woman saying to me afterwards, “It was absolutely amazing.” She said, “Mary placed the Christ child into my arms and I held him.” And OK, this was in her imagination, but I think what it engaged when we are using our imagination is our emotions, and what this woman was expressing was her desire to receive Christ into her arms. You just go into a deeper level of real worship when you engage yourself so fully in the gospel story. I think it is wonderful’ The interviewer asked her, ‘But is there a fine line to be drawn between that sort of imagination and fantasy?’ She replied, ‘There’s a fine dividing line, but I think what is happening is that our real emotions are being involved in our prayer when we are using our imagination in this way, and that’s why I’m encouraging readers to do it.’
With inner healing, past hurts are relived with the counsellee often regressing back to childhood. Jesus is imagined into the hurtful situation, giving comfort and encouragement (Roman Catholic charismatics generally visualize Mary into the scenario). I quote a testimony from Rita Bennett:
‘I stated to the counselors that I hated my mother for not loving me. I spoke forgiveness to my mother and asked God to forgive me. Then we asked Jesus to allow me to see how he meant my mother to be through praying a creative prayer. First, Jesus held me really close and I could feel his love. Then he handed me to my mother, and she showered my face with kisses. I really liked this. Then she touched my hands, and I wrapped my fingers around her finger. Then she unwrapped my blanket and touched my legs and feet and stroked me all over.... Then Jesus took me and held me and burped me...’
Seamands confesses that this prayer time ‘can be somewhat frightening, and counselors must simply “hang loose in the Spirit” and be ready for almost anything.’ He goes on to write, ‘Don’t be surprised if, when counsellees re-experience a situation, they revert back to that time. Their voices may become like those of little children, and they may say and do things appropriate to that stage of life.’
One victim of inner healing confirmed that this happened in her experience. She regressed to childhood and found herself speaking in the voice of a two-year-old girl. She said that the experience was weird. Another friend found a man’s voice coming from her vocal chords. She was left a total wreck after hours of counseling. How can anyone who wishes to be faithful to Scripture sanction such dreadful practices?
Why We Must Reject Inner Healing Teaching.
A. It is not biblical.
Seamands writes, ‘It is of the most importance to understand that the healing of memories has a solid foundation in the Scripture, which is our final authority in all matters of faith and practice.’ That sounds good — but it is a foundation as firm as a lump of jelly, for Scripture is misused beyond recognition. It requires a fertile imagination to equate the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2) with the mind-bending practices of inner healing. Among their favourite Scriptures are John 14:27; Luke 4:18-19 and 1 Corinthians 13:11. The Lord Jesus does heal the broken heart, he does give his peace, but we do not need to look into good Bible commentaries to know that these verses haven’t the remotest connection with the practice of inner healing. How 1 Corinthians 13:11 can be used to justify regression and the healing of ‘the hurt child within’, I fail to understand.
Seamands admits that precise definitions of inner healing do not appear in the Bible, but says that, ‘We have a spiritual obligation to use every new insight and discovery in any area of life for God’s glory and human good.’ The problem isn’t whether we can benefit from advances in technology or science, but whether we can use techniques that not only are absent from Scripture, but deny Scripture. Paul’s letters to the churches reveal him to be a great pastor of souls. Those early Christians faced quite as many problems and trials as we face in the twentieth century. In all his detailed teaching, we fail to find a single instance of inner healing being described or taught.
It is not difficult to see why many Roman Catholic charismatics love the practice of inner healing. The teaching has little to say on the glorious doctrine of justification by the free grace of God, through faith. We stand righteous in Christ, we have peace with God, our guilt has been cleared and there is no more condemnation (Romans 5:1; 8:1). We are cleansed (1 Corinthians 6:11). We do not look to inner healing for peace. In Christ we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). He has dealt with our past and is with us in all our present difficulties and trials.
Bennett is on dangerous and blasphemous grounds when she uses Romans 4:17 to support visualization. God ‘calls those things which do not exist as though they did’ because he is our God and Creator. We must not try to ‘play God’ by seeking creative power through visualization. The Second Commandment forbids us from making any carved images or material representations of God. To visualize Christ, bringing him into our presence (however we imagine him to be) is a violation of the commandment.
If visualizing was the practice of New Testament Christians, it makes 1 Peter 1:8 difficult to understand, for those readers of Peter’s letter had not seen the Saviour (in the flesh or by visualization). The apostles were at pains to point out that they had seen and touched the Lord Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry (2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1, 3). In this respect they differed from the readers of their letters who had not seen the Lord. ‘We walk by faith, not by sight’ (or by visualizing) - 2 Corinthians 5:7. After the resurrection, the apostles did not attempt to use visualization to bring the risen Saviour in their midst. Thomas worshipped a real Christ, not a visualized Christ. The warning of puritan John Owen is very apt in today’s context of inner healing: ‘You have an imaginary Christ, and if you are satisfied with an imaginary Christ you must be satisfied with an imaginary salvation.’
B. We must reject inner healing because of its roots.
The problem is exacerbated when we discover the source of inner healing teaching. Carl Gustav Jung the famous Swiss psychologist taught that there is within each of us ‘a collective unconsciousness’. Jung had a spirit guide called ‘Philemon’ and he claimed that he was bringing up images from the ‘collective unconscious’. Agnes Sanford was much influenced by Jung’s ideas (which came from evil spirits) and ‘Christianized’ them, introducing visualization and inner healing to an unsuspecting church. Her son Jack studied at the C.J. Jung Institute in Zurich with Morton Kelsey, a charismatic. Hunt and McMahon gave detailed proof of the occult practices and strange teaching of people such as Agnes Sanford, Morton Kelsey, John and Paula Sandford, Richard Foster, and other teachers of inner healing and visualization. Can inner healing be anything but satanic deception which is being made respectable by certain church leaders?
C. We must reject inner healing because of its fruits.
Inner healing books give glowing accounts of people who found liberation through its teaching. We have no warrant to embrace a practice because ‘it works’ — the cults all claim that their religion ‘works’. We must reject all teaching that is not biblical. Where Scriptures are used to support such practices, we must ask ‘Is this what the verse and its context are really saying or implying?’ Those who have spoken to me of their experiences of inner healing counseling tell a different story from that which we find in the books. One young lady, who with the help of friends broke loose from a hostel where inner healing was practiced, wrote to those at the hostel, ‘In my opinion, these regular “counseling” sessions of young, vulnerable women alone, by an older man, are neither healthy nor safe. I believe that such practices can lead to a misplaced dependence upon the counsellor rather than upon the Lord Jesus. I have yet to see any positive fruit of such methods either within the hostel or elsewhere.’
Mary Pytches advocates the use of touching during counseling sessions. She writes, ‘Touching a counsellee may give him the support needed to explore a painful area of his life. In ministry it is good to sit alongside a counsellee holding his hand lightly or laying one’s hand gently on his arm. A gentle touch is just sufficient for him to know someone is there and ready to give him support and help whenever it is needed. Tenderness conveyed in a touch may also provide the trigger needed to surface the blocked feelings.’
When the counsellee is in a state of regression taken over by visualization, and not in control of themselves, the danger should be obvious. I know of two ministers who have fallen into adultery because of their involvement in counseling. I know that one does not have to be into counseling to fall into such sin, but inner healing techniques leave both counselor and counsellee very vulnerable. A friend was in a church that was completely destroyed by inner healing teaching. Such counseling led to the break up of several marriages. One of the elders of the church, whose marriage was falling apart, went to a man who was very extreme in his inner healing teaching. He was told that he was having problems in his relationship with his wife because the spirit of her deceased mother was inhabiting her. In visualization, they saw the mother’s spirit between two angels who told her to leave her daughter alone and go to a higher plane of learning. That is spiritism! Though it is true that inner healing teachers warn against the occult, they have fallen for Satan’s craftiness. He has allowed them to padlock the front door of the church, but the back door is wide open to his wicked doctrines.
Inner healing counseling claims to diagnose and then successfully treat the malady.
Many of those counseled are needy souls who are not saved. They are led to believe that they have peace with God through a psychological process (for that is what it is, apart from the occult connotations). Weak, immature Christians are left unable to cope with the normal pressures of the Christian life.
Inner healing fails to deal with real sin and real repentance.
It proclaims that our sin is because of Satan or past hurts that we have suffered. If you are an objectionable person, it is your sin. Don’t blame your sinful behaviour onto past hurts; others have also been hurt and they are fine Christians. The way of forgiveness is not by going back in your imagination to the past, but by turning to God in repentance and faith now in the present.
See Sin, Repentance and Salvation
The Better Way.
We all suffer the consequences of living in a fallen world; the Christian is not exempt from suffering. Even the most superficial reading of the New Testament shows that the Christian life involves conflict, struggle, trials and tribulation. The apostles taught ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22). ‘Tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance character; and character hope’ (Romans 5:3-4). The early church thrived under rejection and triumphed in difficulties. The apostles did not give way to despair in suffering, they rejoiced (see Acts 5:40-41; 16:22-25; Romans 8:17-18; 1 Corinthians 4:9-13:2. Corinthians 4:7-10, 16-18: 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2:2; 3:2-4). We need a robust Christianity, thoroughly grounded in the Word of God. We will then be better able to cope with life’s hurts as we enjoy present fellowship with the Lord.
We also have to recognize that there are many people in our churches who are scarred from bitter experiences. We must not pretend that those needs do not exist because we are ‘Reformed’ or ‘sound.’
Our churches must be caring churches where the love of Christ is known and felt - not in theory, but in practice. The ministry of encouragement and counseling from the Word of God is vital in the life of every local church. The charismatic movement is bankrupt of true spirituality and sound theology. We must be ready to receive those who come out of the movement disillusioned and shattered. They may well have suffered at the hands of inner healing counselors. They need to be accepted and welcomed among us so that we can help them unravel the confusion and the mess in which they find themselves.
We must not be intimidated by ‘big names’ who support the practice of inner healing. Let us be bold in contending earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
(For... inner healing)
Mary Pytches - A Healing Fellowship (Hodder)
Rita Bennett - How to pray for Inner Healing for yourself and others (Kingsway)
David Seamands - Healing of memories (Scripture Press).
(Against... inner healing)
Dave Hunt and T. A. McMahon - The Seduction of Christianity (Harvest House) especially pp.123-136; 171-188.
Dave Hunt - Beyond Seduction (Harvest House... pp. 200-15.
Peter Masters’ The Healing Epidemic (The Wakeman Trust) which contains an excellent chapter which refutes inner healing practices.
The Healing Theology of Agnes Sanford
“... perhaps the woman who has had the most adverse influence on modern Christianity was the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries to China, Agnes Sanford.
Agnes epitomizes the chief concern of this article. Although reared by parents who taught her the Bible "from Genesis to Revelation," she was never satisfied with what God had to say. Dr. Jane Gumprecht is an evangelical Christian and medical doctor whose background growing up in a Religious Science cult (Unity Church) enabled her to write a very insightful book (Abusing Memory: The Healing Theology of Agnes Sanford), which we offer. It addresses Agnes's many New Age and otherwise biblically erroneous teachings. Jane writes,
Sanford was a free spirit. Her rebellion against orthodox Christianity led her to rely on personal experience over what God says in His Word. Several times in her books she expressed the thought, "experience comes before theology."
Sanford's preference for the experiential led her into worshiping in a Buddhist temple (which she conjectures resulted in her own demonization); teaching occult visualization; promoting Jungian psychotherapy; believing that Jesus became a part of the collective unconscious of the human race; characterizing God as a "Force"; seeing the makeup of the world in terms of thought vibrations; and claiming that through visualization we can create virtue in people, forgive them of their sins, and heal them, all from a distance and without their knowledge. In Sanford's The Healing Light, she explains to a non-Christian mother how visualization in the name of Jesus can help her transform her troublesome youngster into the child she wants her to be.
Sanford's many books and School of Pastoral Care spread her false teachings and therapies throughout the church, greatly influencing leaders such as Richard Foster, John and Paula Sandford, Morton Kelsey, Francis MacNutt, Ruth Carter Stapleton, Leanne Payne, Karen Mains, Rita Bennett and David Seamonds. Agnes single handedly began the Inner Healing movement, with its terribly destructive healing-of-memories techniques. This not only became a chief therapy of many Christian psychologists but was highly promoted by the Vineyard Fellowships, initially by Kenn Gulliksen, the movement's founder, and later by John Wimber, who recommended the writings of Sanford and her inner-healing disciples. Most recently, many churches of the Foursquare denomination, founded by "pastor" Aimee Semple McPherson, have been fostering Sanford's unbiblical methods through Cleansing Stream, a rather costly inner-healing program utilizing videos, workbooks and a "spiritual" weekend laden with psychotherapeutic encounter-group methods.” (Women of the Faith by T.A. McMahon )