Unorthodox Spirit Healings

The difference between God-centered and spirit-centered healings.

J.A. Buckwalter, Secretary, General Conference Religious Liberty Association

From earliest times to the present three ways of heal­ing are recognized in the source literature," affirms Paul Tillich of the Harvard Di­vinity School. "They are Re­ligious or spiritual healing, magic or psychic healing, and bodily or natural healing."

As Mr. Tillich further observes, these concepts are somewhat vague, and "there is a continuous confusion and overlapping of them. . . . Examples for the distinction as well as the confusion of the three ways of healing are abundant in both ancient and modern times." 1

Religion and magic are not synonymous, however. Neither are their respective heal­ing methods. It is imperative that some clear distinctions be made between divine healing and magical, parapsychological healing. Any emotional or functional im­provement or alleviation of distressing symptoms resulting from psychoanalysis, hypnotherapy, psychic therapeutics, or "spirit doctor" healings must not be con­fused with true faith healing divinely im­parted in response to prayer.

Divine healing presupposes the proper human relationship of dependence upon, and submission to, the transcendent power of an omnipotent God. Magical healing, on the other hand, is an exercise of inter­relationship between inherent finite pow­ers, or of intercommunication with spirit powers.

Spirit Healings and Hypnotic Therapy

Spiritualistic healing has enjoyed phe­nomenal growth in various countries of the world. Spiritualist hospitals, staffed by spiritualist doctors and nurses, have been erected. Spirit therapy has brought a mod­ern revival of occult healings. Its appeal, however, is not to Christ or to the Holy Spirit, but rather to the "spirits" of the spirit world. Spirit healing is now attracting the attention of medical science.

In England, Harry Edwards and other spiritualistic healers claim thousands of cures. Edwards says man can "invoke the aid of the spirit healing agencies through mediumship" and that "wiser intelligences than those of man are responsible."

Modern paranormal cures effected by means of invoking the powers of the spirits are but a modern counterpart of the prac­tices of the occult healers of ancient pa­ganism. Nor is this practice peculiar to civilization. The so-called heathen lands invariably resort to spirit healing. There is an ageless tendency, inherent in the insuf­ficient lives lived by a large segment of so­ciety, to run to the wonder-worker who promises cures by magical insight, or by virtue of mysterious prescriptions, or by the actual therapy of spirit entities.

The Dr. Robert Entity

J. Thomas, who says he has healed thousands of people is a trance healer who claims to be controlled by the spirit of the dead German physican who returns under the pseudonym of Dr. Robert. At the be­ginning of his healing seances, the me­dium, wearing a surgical coat, bows his head as though in prayer and goes into a trance, at which time the Dr. Robert en­tity takes over. A few sample excerpts from the conversation of this spirit doctor entity with several of his patients follow:

Dr. Robert entity: (To patient, a Mr. Ingham) "I am going to do what none of your earth doctors would dare to do. . . . I am going to open your stomach, then I will sew you up tighter than a Scotsman's purse, as you would say on earth! Oh, we like a joke! We have sense of humour on the other side. . . ." The spirit's parting counsel was: 'Send out a little prayer every night when you go to bed. If you hear one knock just say 'Good night.' If people tell you this is the work of the Devil, tell them he must be a very good Devil if he gets you better and then tells you to thank God for it. . . . Peace be in your heart, get well, thank God." 3

Robert: (To a physician patient) "I think we have very much in common, you and I; that is, getting rid of suffering." As he removed a slipper from the doctor's foot to massage it: "We'll put a nice little injection there. . . . This is from one doctor to an­other, eh? . . . When I have finished with you, you will walk out much better than you walked in. I am a very lively spirit when I get into the man's body!" 4

Robert: (To the panel group) "I can take power from any one of you who can spare it and put into the victim who needs it. Every one of you will feel as though you have been revitalized when you leave.

"There are many spirit people here also. . . . We have twenty-five spirit doctors working on this one. There are also students, nurses, helpers, message bearers, and hundreds of thousands of spirits help­ing." 5

In the case of the first two patients the medium made pseudosurgical hand move­ments or cutting movements as though in caricature of a surgical operation. The spirit guide before leaving closed the seance with a prayer. Thomas, the medium, seemed dazed as the "entity" took leave, and it was approximately ten minutes be­fore he appeared composed again.

The reader's attention is called to sev­eral significant facts:

  1. There was no actual proof that the so-called Dr. Robert was who he claimed to be. The investigators had only his word for it.
  2. Strong powers of mental suggestion were used to condition the patients into believing they were improved. There was no actual evidence of any cure of any or­ganic disease.
  3. There was definitely a marked differ­ence between the healing methods of the spiritualistic trance healer, Mr. Thomas, and those of the apostles, who invariably put men in touch with the healing power of God, through the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
  4. Certain unsavory identification factors are apparent in the comments of the spirit healer: the joking way in which he re­ferred to tying up the patient's stomach "tighter than a Scotsman's purse"; the defi­nite reference to the "Devil"; and the im­plication that he must be "a very good Devil if he gets you better"; and the positive as­sertion of spirit possession in the remark, "I am a very lively spirit when I get into the man's body!"
  5. The remark of the entity that "there are many spirit people here .. . hundreds of thousands of spirits helping" is all too rem­iniscent of the Biblical accounts of demonic possession, such as that of the spirit who confessed, "My name is Legion: for we are many." The religious and magical his­tory of the human race presents many such accounts of spirit healing attributed to oc­cult and to divinely forbidden practices, and even to demonic powers.

Edwards' Spirit Healing

Harry Edwards, one of Britain's most widely famed spirit healers, operates some­what differently from the way Mr. Thomas does. When investigated he did not go into any trance, wore no surgical garments, and made no pseudomedical gestures. He ap­pears to be a quiet, forceful man who com­mands the will of his patients. To the in­vestigating group Mr. Edwards com­mented:

"I am nothing. This is beyond the wis­dom of man. Therefore it must be done by someone who is greater than man. This doesn't just happen. There is a law be­hind it and we couldn't work without the spirit friends. I have never studied osteop­athy" (Mr. Edwards had as his patient one of the panel who had a spinal difficulty), "but sometimes my hands absolutely vi­brate. I know it is definitely a power be­yond me."'

Mr. Edwards' reference to his hands ab­solutely vibrating recalls a reference in the writings of Ellen G. White, in which she sets forth the premise of demonic electrical currents as a means of counterfeiting di­vine healing. She speaks of those who "at­tribute their power to electricity, magne­tism, or the so-called 'sympathetic reme­dies,' while in truth they are but channels for Satan's electric currents. By this means he casts his spell over the bodies and souls of men."

Spirit healing, according to Mr. Ed­wards, is accomplished by the spirits and not by the mediums themselves: "It is all by the power of spirits that these changes take place." Again, it should be noted, there is a complete absence of any claim that these miracles are wrought in the name of, or by the power of, the Lord Jesus Christ, as were the miracles of the apostles in New Testament times. The healing power is attributed to the spirit agencies of the nether world.

"Wiser intelligences than those of man are responsible. . . . The healing forces . . . need intelligent direction. As man does not know the way to do this, their control can come only from discarnate sources. . . . Thus we have the modus operandi of how we can invoke the aid of the spirit healing agencies through mediumship. . . . Every act of healing demands independent, in­telligent direction. . . . The human mind cannot be responsible. . . . liVe are, there­fore, forced to the conclusion that the op­erating mind must be a spirit one; a mind that has acquired greater wisdom than man possesses. These spirit operators we call the 'healing guides.' "8

From London comes a fantastic story of the removal of a duodenal ulcer by a spirit entity purported to be a materialized discarnate spirit of Dr. Reynolds, who died more than one hundred years ago. After the medium, Mrs. Northage, became en­tranced in her cabinet and the surgical tools were in readiness, the materialized form of the Dr. Reynolds entity appeared. Those present described the peculiar hard tone of his voice. The entity wore a mus­tache and a beard.

He informed the patient that he would freeze the area of the body involved. El­laine Elmore in describing this phenom­ena said that the hands of the spirit seemed to disappear inside the patient's body. This spirit talked to Ellaine Elmore and informed her that he was about to bring "the ulcer through a temporary hole in the stomach." The ulcer specimen was analyzed in a Manchester laboratory and declared to be "an acute duodenal ulcer." The medi­cal authority performing the analysis was surprised at the freshness of the tissue and the fact that there was no trace of modern surgical methods having been used.

Spirit Healing in the Ancient World

The ancient pagan world had its spiritualistic healings. The Egyptian goddess Isis is said to have made physical appearances when performing cures, "openly manifest­ing her own apparition."

Ennemoser describes the demonology and sorcery that prevailed when Egyptian "priestcraft" became "the nurse of civili­zation," and the priests attended more to the "practical uses of medicine" than to the "observance of religion." The hospitals of Egypt were then the temples, and "un­known effects and appearances were looked upon as synonymous with magic." The mys­teries become the inner sanctum of "the sacred healing art." "That wonderful cures were often performed in the temples, is an undisputed fact."

Ennemoser further observes that "the earliest men who had made themselves ac­quainted with the constitution of man were accustomed to pay particular attention to soothsaying, and to cure diseases by its aid." And again, "priests were consecrated who practised religion associated with the heal­ing art."" Modern spiritualistic healing is actually a psychic regression to an archaic age.

Healing by Prayer

Genuine faith healing is inevitably asso­ciated with healing through prayer. Divine healing in response to prayer may result from the individual's own personal heal­ing relationship with God, from a congre­gation's corporate prayer of faith for a sick person, or from the elders of the church praying for a person, particularly when the service of anointing with oil accompanies the prayer. The oil, representing the healing power of the Spirit of God, indi­cates God's anointing, forgiving, and heal­ing presence. The Holy Spirit enters into the sincere prayer experience of the in­dividual Christian (Rom. 8:26).

The proper procedure in requesting healing by prayer is set forth by James (James 5:14-16). He admonishes the sick to call in the elders and have them unite their prayers for healing with the applica­tion of the anointing oil in the name of the Lord.

The holy trnction of anointing with oil is a New Testament sacrament (Mark 6: 13), associated with confession and forgive­ness of sin. It incorporates first spiritual healing, then physical healing. The relation of sin to sickness is recognized, and it is understood that the right healing condi­tions between man and God result only when man's attitude is one of humble peni­tence, confession, and reception of God's healing gifts.

Throughout history there have been oc­cult healers who have phrased great reli­gious truths or half-truths, or even heresies, into magic words and formulas. They have attempted by the incantations of ritualistic magic to utilize paranormal powers for the fulfillment of human desires. This effort to impose the human will upon supernormal powers completely ignores the Christ atti­tude of true prayer. Jesus said, "Not my will, but thine, be done."

Modern man needs a clearer perception of the vast difference between the dynamic experience of true prayer and the magical, mechanical trickery of occult incantations and repetitions of psychic formulas.

Testing the Healers

Any faith healer who ignores the reality of death and looks for his healing power to supposed disembodied spirits is no longer practicing faith healing but sorcery and magic. The source of the authority and power of such a faith healer is not scrip­tural, for it is familiar spirit centered rather than God centered.

Another test relates to the quality of the spiritual experience established by the healing procedure. In true healing the pa­tient is led to profess a personal faith in Christ as the master healer, and receives by faith the healing impartation of the Holy Spirit of God.

God-centered or Familiar-Spirit-centered Healing

The failure of any Christian community to distinguish between God-centered, Christ-centered divine healing and the par­apsychological phenomena of spirit heal­ing may ultimately lead to that commu­nity's placing its trust in spiritualism rather than in Christianity. Such failure not only enables many charlatans to take advantage of sincere people but stimulates spurious fanatical healing movements which have the unfortunate reaction of driving people away from the vital relationship between true faith and true health as taught in the Scriptures.

True faith healing can never be removed from its center of reality—the person and work of Christ and the healing power of God. It never descends to the forbidden and foreboding level of sorcery in an at­tempt to harness the resources of the in­finite to satisfy finite ends.

The healings known to apostolic Chris­tianity were God centered and Christ cen­tered, and never spirit centered. Those in the New Testament who were honored with the "gifts of healing" were deeply spiritual men and used this special gift for the benefit of their fellow men, and to the honor and glory of God---and always in the name of Jesus. The mystic occult pow­ers of mediumistic spiritistic healings, and the varied forms of mass hypnotic healings in which the devotees undergo tremendous emotional trauma, are as far removed from divine healing in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ as earth is removed from heaven.


1 Paul Tillich, "The Relation of Religion and Health," in Simon Doniger, ed., Healing: Human and Divine (New York: Association Press, 1957), p. 185.

2 Harry Edwards, The Evidence for Spirit Healing (Lon­don: Spiritualist Press, 1953), pp. 12, 13.

3 Into the Unknown, Report of an investigation into psychic forces by a panel of independent experts (London: Odhams Press, Ltd., 1950), p. 115. (Italics ours.)

4 Ibid., p. 120. (Italics ours.)

5 Ibid. (Italics ours.)

6 Ibid., p. 127. (Italics ours.)

7 Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1946), p. 609.

8 Harry Edwards, The Evidence of Spirit Healing, pp. 12, 13. (Italics ours.)

9 Joseph Ennemoser, The History of Magic; trans. from the German by William Howlitt (London: Henry G. Bohn), vol. 1. p. 353. (See also pp. 231, 232.)

10 Ibid., p. 357. (Italics ours.)

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J.A. Buckwalter, Secretary, General Conference Religious Liberty Association

August 1958

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