What’s the

considering alternative healing from a christian perspective. by Dr stanley arumugam
The lasT decade has seen a growing global interest in alternative healing popularised in the west by Dr Deepak Chopra. In 1998 alone, Americans spent 32 billion dollars on alternative healing. South African shopping malls and suburban homes have become new healing centres. Local book stores are stacked high with mind-body-spirit literature and magazines advertise a variety of alternative healing services. Even the traditional Sunday Service TV is replaced with a New Age spirituality in which all religions and alternative healing is offered without bias in a user-friendly manner. Hundreds of alternative healing products and methods are offered such as acupuncture, homeopathy, aromatherapy, Reiki, chiropractics, guided visualisation, psychic healing and shamanism. Some practices are natural, holistic therapies providing an alternative to clinical drug based treatments. Others have ancient mystical roots, whilst others bring healing and personal spirituality in a New Age unity. In the midst of this new awakening is a global multi-billion dollar industry promising alternative healing. Examining altErnativEs The Church’s response to the subject of alternative healing ranges from extreme rejection, labelling all alternative healing practices as

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eastern, New Age and therefore demonic to the other extreme of indifference. This is a complex topic requiring educated discussion based on biblical reasoning and deep sensitivity to those in and outside the church. How should Christians deal with alternative healing? The apostle Paul advised that we need to “examine everything carefully and hold fast to that which is good,” (1 Thes 5:21). At the same time as we are firm in defending our faith we do this with a spirit of gentleness and respect (1 Pet 3:15). In this journey we will start by examining the roots of western medicine; why there is a growing interest in alternative healing and how this new spiritual landscape can be a postmodern missionary ground for people seeking God in foreign places. WHAT IS ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE? This has no easy answer. In the last decade it referred to all treatments not taught to doctors of western (allopathic) medicine. However this definition is changing as 34 of the 125 medical schools in the US including Harvard now teach alternative healing courses in an emerging discipline known as complementary or integrative medicine. What is considered alternative healing in western society is an integral part of other cultures and traditions. Alternative medicine originates from the traditions of ancient cultures such as China and India. Larimore and O’Mathna in their book Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook give examples of ancient medicine. The Chinese had over 16000 healing preparations. In South Africa too, African traditional medicine is finding a respected place. Every ancient culture has a rich tradition of healing practice integral to these societies.

To what extent these practices are effective, or not, present a different discussion. Alternative healing is not regulated to the same standards of western allopathic medicine. Its practitioners are a mix of highly trained professionals to self proclaimed neighbourhood healers. Despite the limited scientific proof of effectiveness many people still seek out alternative healing reporting varying degrees of success. Their need for healing extends beyond clinical proof to deeper dimensions of personal and holistic wellbeing. WHY IS IT ATTRACTIVE? Modern medicine has made remarkable contributions to global health bringing under control once

Seeing is believing became the motto of the scienti c age
deadly epidemics such as small pox, yellow fever, leprosy, malaria and scarlet fever. Despite the success of biomedical medicine we paradoxically have an increase in health conditions not easily understood or treated by our modern scientific model. These include cancer, strokes, heart disease and mental illness. The age of Modernism replaced faith, customs, tradition, magic, witchcraft and sadly also the Church as a healing community with scientific rationalism. ‘Seeing is believing’ became the motto of the scientific age in which God was rejected.

In our postmodern age there is disillusionment with the promise of rationalism. There is a deeper hunger for personal spirituality and holistic healing. People are desperate to be heard, touched and compassionately ministered to without judgment or dogma or clinical precision. They are experiencing this in alternative healing communities. In the midst of this mission field, many churches are still offering quick fix positive thinking solutions, entertaining programmes and clinical efficiency; everything desperate seekers are running away from in modern society. We will examine a Christian response to alternative healing in a series of discussions over the next months. We will discuss what we stand for as Christians and not only what we’re against. In doing this we will systematically examine the major systems of alternative healing; understand how they work; what their roots are and their consistency with a biblical view of health and healing. We will also explore ways of discerning the many available practices. Most importantly we will constantly consider the restoration of the Church as a healing community. Dr Stanley Arumugam is a Counselling and Community Psychologist. He can be contacted at stanley_arumugam@ yahoo.com.

• I should examine everything and hold on to what is good. • God is the ultimate Healer. • “I am the Lord who heals you,” (Exodus 15:26).



Reiki or ‘Rapha’?
Informed evangelicals are both passionately for and against alternative therapies, that’s why we need to carefully examine the multitude of available practices. By Dr stanley arumugam
There is a caTegory of alTernaTive healing known as ‘complementary medicine’ which can work effectively with conventional medicine. Certain practices are forbidden in the Bible, including divination and consulting psychic mediums (see Leviticus 20:27) but the majority of alternative therapies fall into the third broad category of the “new age’ which is quite blurry and requires handling with care. Applying Two TesTs Test 1: science; this is the foundation of modern medical practice and suggests that any practice that is not open to rigorous research and verification is unconvincing and at worse quackery. This test is a good way to provide protection to patients through clinical trials before any practice or drug therapy is approved. However, the problem arises when practices that fall outside of rational science are rejected as though science is the ultimate test of credibility. Many alternative therapies fall into this category and are subject to this scientific bias. Christian prayer is also scientifically unverifiable and often issues of faith are discarded by scientific rationalism. We would argue that science is not required to prove the Bible. Similarly we have to be careful not to make a blanket rejection of alternative therapies because they cannot be rationalised by science.


Test 2: The Bible; what is the worldview of the alternative therapy and how does it guide an understanding of illness, healing and God? We know that healing is not just a function of the medication prescribed by the doctor or the therapy model used by psychologists or the oils used by a therapist. Healing is a function of the relationship between practitioner and patient; it’s the shared understanding of healing (belief system) and the experience of care and compassion. I remember as a child when I had a fever, my mother would usually give me an aspirin always with a prayer for my healing. My healing was a combination of the pharmacological properties of the tablet and more importantly it was an acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as the real source of healing. In using conventional and alternative therapies we need to ask who the source of healing is. Is it Jesus Christ, a universal energy or self? Genuine healing is from God and always leads us to God. Most alternative therapists are caring, sincere and concerned about your whole being – body, mind and soul unlike practitioners of conventional medicine. However, check the label before you buy! This applies to alternative therapies just as it does to conventional medicine. Dr Robina Coker (Alternative Medicine, Monarch) suggests the following questions as a starting point for investigating a therapy: • Do the claims for this therapy fit the facts? • Is there a rational scientific basis for the therapy? • Is the method or the principle behind the therapy effective? • Does the therapy involve the occult? • What is the therapist’s world view? Three CaTegories There are so many practices and some fall into more than one group making biblical discernment more necessary.

Alternative Healing Category
1. Complementary medicine e.g. naturopathy, ayurvedic medicine

Core Features
Provide sound advice in lifestyle issues of diet, exercise and stress.

2. Scientifically unverified e.g. herbal remedies, Chinese acupuncture 3. Life energy therapies ‘New Age Healing’ e.g. Reiki, therapeutic touch, psychic healing

Mixed reports of effectiveness. Practitioners not making overt spiritual linkages. Healing is essentially balancing energies in the human being and universe – spiritual roots inform practice (Taoist and Hinduism)
Buddhist founder passed down. Recently one of my Christian friends joined a Reiki class wanting to learn to become a healing practitioner. She was initially welcomed in the eclectic group of new age seekers but soon was criticised for her faith in Christ. She also experienced spiritual discomfort in the group as classes progressed and she eventually dropped out. Of all alternative therapies the US Catholic Bishop’s Conference on Doctrine in May 2009 made a clear pronouncement that Reiki is not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence and should not be promoted or provided in any Catholic institution. Call for DisCernmenT Indiscriminate use of alternative therapies which are clearly incompatible with Christianity may leave a person vulnerable to spiritual, emotional or physical harm. To help you examine specific therapies carefully, I highly recommend a free internet resource prepared by the Evangelical Christian Alliance Handle with Care. A Christian Introduction to Alternative Medicine. May God grant us the wisdom to choose carefully, leading those in need to the ultimate Healer of our body, mind and soul – our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

a CriTiCal look Of all the alternative practices, life energy therapies need to be considered with great care and caution. Defining features include: 1. Practitioners believe that life energy flows throughout the universe with different names such as ‘Chi’ (Chinese) and ‘Prana’ (Indian). This is NOT the energy of the Holy Spirit. 2. Human beings are composed of energy systems. 3. Disease is believed to be the result of imbalance or blockage in the energy flow between the universe and the individual. 4. Life energy can be directed to the offending illness and bring healing. New Age adherents believe that life energy is in essence God. Many ideas that are the roots of energy therapies are based on pantheism or Eastern mysticism. The reality of Christ as the ultimate source of healing and as a distinct Divine being (not an extension of the universe) is rejected. WhaT abouT reiki? One of the most popular life energy therapies is Reiki. To become a Reiki Master, the student needs attunement or initiation. This requires a spiritual transfer from the Master to the student, the same energy from the 1800’s Japanese

Holistic Healing
The Church should function as a healing community. By Stanley Arumugam

MANY PEOPLE FROM WITHIN AND outside of the Church have become disillusioned with modern medicine and are now exploring alternative therapies. There is no absolute one response to this subject; some therapies are beneficial and others clearly biblically forbidden. It seems that holistic healing is not a New Age invention but a lost witness of the Church. HOLISTIC AND NEW AGE One of the tenets of the new age movement is holism – ‘the whole is

greater than the sum of its parts.’ Holism views human beings as a complete entity of body, mind (soul) and spirit. This is perfectly a biblical perspective as described in the Word: “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Thes 5:23). Yet, it is much neglected in the approach of modern medicine which separates the human body, soul and spirit. Sadly the Church has done the same in separating the soul and body from the spirit. The Church is often

mostly concerned with ‘salvation and spiritual care.’ Other human needs are outsourced to the medical doctor (body) or to the psychologist (soul / mind). This is not a biblical view which considers human beings as an integrated whole in the image of God. Our holistic needs in body, soul and spirit do not vanish because we ignore them. If they are not met in the Church, people may seek a New Age experience. Could it be that the Church has sold its holistic healing birthright to the New Age Movement?


The New Age healing movement is renowned for its open mindedness. This is a space of non-judgment where wisdom from different sources is considered in an integrated manner. People are treated with care and compassion; not processed in clinical lines either in the doctor’s waiting room or in dogmatic church prayer lines. Sadly many local churches have lost their mandate as a healing community. Searching and needy people are coming to the church with the hope of finding healing for body, soul and spirit, and often only experience a clinical

ultimate healing is the restoration of our relationship with God through salvation. A HOLISTIC JOURNEY The woman with the issue of blood healed by Jesus is a great illustration of holistic healing. She was ill for 12 years with a haemorrhaging disease. (Matt 9:20-22) By the time she heard of Jesus, she was a deeply desperate woman. The Bible says she had tried different alternatives available to her in her Jewish context. She tried doctors and other alternative healers practicing customary healing. In desperation she explored all available options. In the process of her prolonged illness, this woman not only experienced the pain and discomfort of her physical condition. Over time she also experienced the scourge of social and religious isolation. In a Jewish context she was marginalised first as a woman, then by virtue of Levitical prescriptions which considered her condition unholy and grounds for social exclusion. Here was a lonely woman who lost all her money, dignity, sense of community and also felt rejected by God. When she came to Jesus in the pressing crowd she believed, based on her Jewish teaching, that if she could only touch the hem of a Rabbi’s garment she would be healed. She clearly had a desperate faith but was wrongly informed, not knowing that this Rabbi was the Son of God. As she touches Jesus she is physically healed. Jesus responds to her physical healing by calling her out of the crowd and restoring her social dignity as a woman and a child of God. Amidst the consternation of His disciples and other followers, He opens the door to her holistic healing of body, mind and soul. She joins Him, not as the beneficiary of a miracle worker, but a redeemed disciple of Christ.

The woman with the issue of blood teaches us several lessons about biblical healing:
1. It’s holistic – including body, soul and spirit. Sometimes we come to God with a deep need in one or more of these areas. Ultimately God is concerned about our whole wellbeing. Health is not just an eradication of illness. We can have perfectly groomed bodies but lack spiritual wellbeing. Similarly we can have spiritual sense but lack common sense in being good stewards of our bodies or entertain distorted thinking about God, ourselves, health and illness. 2. In community – healing is not a private, mystical experience. God performs His healing work in the context of community. Almost half of the healing accounts of Jesus are attributed to the faith of those around the sick person; friends, father, mother, brother and sister. Our healing restores us as whole beings and also serves as a testament of God’s healing grace. Our healing is not only for our good but for the glory of God as a sign of hope to others. 3. In partnership – God works in and through human agency. Healing is not a self – help endeavour. In our healing journey we are invited to participate with and depend on others who care about us. God can and does work through friends, family, pastors, doctors, psychologists and alternative healers. 4. Towards God – our healing is not an end in itself but brings us back to God. It’s a visible demonstration of the ultimate nature of God as Healer. It is also a reminder of God’s redemptive work and restoration. One day we will need no healing, until then God gives us glimpses of our inheritance in Him.

“Holistic healing is not a New Age invention but a lost witness of the Church.”
spirituality. The church is not just a place for preaching but also of discipleship, pastoral care, teaching and service; a place where the family of God is lived out. A HEALING COMMUNITY Many believers are disillusioned and harmed spiritually and physically through quick fix formula healings. Sound biblical teaching on health and healing must be provided. The local church must be a place where biblical principles and lifestyle issues are clearly addressed and people are encouraged to seek out with wisdom the healing ministry of the local church and other agents of healing in the wider community. At the centre of our understanding of health and healing is the recognition that Jesus Christ is ultimately the Lord of Healing. As we recognise Christ as our Healer, we recognise that His healing should not be limited to the physical only but is for our whole being. Our


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