Monday, October 14, 2013

St. Agnes of Moorestown: Apostle of healing prayer to the mainline churches


In 1985 Dave Hunt, a lay cult watcher, published one of the most influential books of the 1980s, The Seduction of Christianity.[1] In that work he lambasted much of the leadership of the charismatic renewal for "seducing" the American Christianity with ideas and practices derived from occult sources. He attacked Mrs. Agnes Sanford and her writing with particular severity.  Hunt claimed that her syncretistic theology was little more that witchcraft and shamanism, and should be totally rejected by the Christian community.  Hunt was convinced that the ministry she pioneered, inner healing, was especially occultic and dangerous to Christians.[2]

In my work, Quenching the Spirit, I argued that such characterizations are destructive and untrue. Critics such as Hunt do not take into account the tragic situation within Nineteenth Century “orthodox” Christianity which labeled any form of healing prayer as cultic and heretical.  The consensus orthodoxy of the era stressed the doctrine of cessationism, which also declared the gifts of the Spirit as unavailable in the current age.  This theology combined with an unrecognized dependence on philosophical realism that came into both Catholicism and Protestantism from the late Middle Ages. The result was that the consensus orthodoxy of the era left no room for the role of the believer’s faith to move in healing prayer or in the gifts of the Spirit.[3] 

An overview of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries shows a pattern in which the Holy Spirit moved the Church away from its cessationism-realism based theology.  The Spirit simultaneously inspired different groups and individuals towards theologies that reincorporated the gifts of the Spirit. This allowed for a more active understanding of the role of mind, acting through faith in Christ, to activate the miraculous powers of the Kingdom of God. This was a move toward theologies based on moderate idealism, that is, that mind, with faith, can influence matter, as in healing and the miraculous, and away from theological systems based on radical realism where the Christian merely petitions that God act.[4]  A characteristic of faith-idealism is that physical evidence is of less immediate concern than the witness of the Word of God.

The shift from cessationist realism to faith idealism was a process that began in the middle of the Nineteenth Century and has yet to be completed.  The first example of faith idealism as a conscious theology was in the writings and ministry of Phebe Palmer, the famous Holiness evangelist who developed her "altar" theology which spread the gospel of Wesleyan total sanctification. For Mrs. Palmer the evidence of the believer's sanctification was in the Word of God, not in a person's physical actions.[5]  Later, the Faith-Cure Movement of the 1880s developed a similar doctrine in which healing was affirmed in spite of any immediate change in the health of the petitioner.[6]

Perhaps the single most important, and controversial, theologian of faith-idealism was the evangelist E.W. Kenyon. His work greatly influenced the theology and writings of Kenneth Hagin, and through him the entire charismatic movement. Dan McConnell’s work, A Different Gospel, strongly critiqued Kenyon's (and thus Hagin's) theology as syncretistic and occultic.[7]   McConnell attempted to show that Kenyon was mostly dependent on New Thought writers, and thus his theology was non-Christian and dangerous to the Church. However, in Quenching the Spirit I argued to the contrary and showed that influence by heretical movements has often forced Christians into a deeper encounter with truth.  This is a process common to the formation of orthodox Christian theology throughout Church history. [8]

In the case of healing prayer in particular, the heretical Idealist Cults of the 19th Century, the Mind Cure movement and especially Christian Science, forced many in the Church to reevaluate and ultimately reject cessationism.  Mrs. Agnes Sanford was among those who faced the challenge of the Idealist Cults head on and helped to transform healing prayer from a cultic activity to a normative Christian practice. She played a particularly significant role in moving many Christians within the mainline churches away from cessationism and into the pastoral practice of healing prayer, and introduced many to the gifts of the Spirit. Agnes Sanford (and her friend and colleague, Prof. Glenn Clark) influenced mainline Protestants towards moderat idealism in much the same way that  the ministry of Kenyon (and later Kenneth Hagin) influenced Pentecostal circles.[9]

Mrs. Sanford’ Heritage:

Agnes Sanford's father, the Rev. Hugh W. White, was one of the most distinguished American missionaries to China in an era filled with dedicated and self-sacrificing missionaries. Hugh White intended to be a pastor, like his father, but he felt a calling as a missionary to China and went there immediately after seminary.  Except for home leaves, he stayed there until his death in 1940. During his long service the Rev. White was forced to confront the inadequacies of cessationist theology in two major crises.[10] 

One of his trusted Chinese elders baptized an entire family that had recently been converted.  In this family the husband had two wives, as was the custom among the merchant class in China.  For the elder, there was no problem in this.  The elder recognized that 1 Timothy 3 takes into account this situation. Further, to have forced the husband to renounce one of his wives would have condemned the rejected wife to a life of prostitution.  Unfortunately, as clear as this issue was biblically, mission doctrine and policy forbade such baptisms.  The Rev. White backed his elder.  As a result was forced to leave his comfortable post and establish a new mission. 

The second crisis began when another of the Rev. White's trusted evangelical aides reported that on a round of the villages he had baptized two persons, received three new inquirers and "cast a demon out of old Mrs. Tsu."[11]   White was astonished by the reported exorcism – cessationist theology, the consensus orthodoxy of the times, claimed that demonic possession ended after Apostolic times. He accompanied his aid on his next rounds, and sure enough, the faith-filled layman ministered another exorcism in Rev. White's presence. From that time on Rev. White began collecting evidence on possessions and exorcisms, eventually ministering many exorcisms himself. 

He presented his finding in a book called Demonism Verified and Analyzed which was published in 1922.[12]  White believed that possession was a form of violent disassociation.  The possessing force was not a spiritually independent entity; it was more like a psychic force or idea.  Yet the exorcism itself was "real" in the sense that it was a form of rapid psychotherapy.  This theory may not be entirely satisfactory, but it was a pioneer attempt to integrate biblical revelation with modern psychology, and his book deserved more attention than it received.[13]

Rev. Hugh White's ministry taught his daughter Agnes, in her years of special impressionability, that certain elements of normative, “consensus orthodox” could be stubbornly unscriptural.  It also showed her that perfectly sincere Christians, such as the fellow missionaries who opposed her father, were all too ready to confuse consensus doctrines with biblical revelation

Birth, Education and Marriage:

Agnes White was born in the Chinese city of Hsuchoufu on August 15, 1896, the eldest child of six. She received "home schooling" from her mother that stressed the conventional topics of Bible stories, verse memorization and reading.  Mrs. White obviously did a good job, as she was able to encourage Agnes's talent for writing to the point that at age ten she sold her first piece of writing to the Shanghai Mercury. 

At age nine, during one of her father's periodic home leaves, Agnes attended a revival in rural Virginia and made a "born again" commitment to Jesus Christ.  By age eleven she was entirely dissatisfied with the conventional arguments that miracles were for the Apostolic Age alone. Later, as a teen-ager she became deeply depressed and bewildered over the denominational disputes over doctrines that split the American missionary effort in China, yet her commitments to Jesus and the Bible were unshaken.  In 1914, age seventeen, Agnes returned to the United States to finish her education.  She received a teaching certificate from North Carolina and subsequently attended Agnes Scott College for a year as an auditing student. 

 Agnes returned to China where she found a teaching position in Shanghai at a secondary school for missionary children.[14] In that city she met and fell in love with Edgar (Ted) Sanford who was an Episcopal priest and principal of another Christian school. They were married in April of 1923 and the first of three children arrived the next year. Soon  Ted moved his family to a post in the interior of China.  That station proved to be a harrowing experience as the young missionary family was caught in battles between warlords.[15]  After this the Sanfords decided to take a temporary leave from China so that Ted could get an advanced degree.  The year was 1925, and while in graduate school Ted felt a calling to go into the pastorate in America.  He accepted a call as rector to a small church in Moorestown, New Jersey, Trinity Episcopal Church. 

 Continuing Education in Moorestown:

 After the Sanfords settled in Moorestown they had their third and last child, John - later to become the distinguished psychologist and writer. When John was a year and a half old he developed a severe ear infection.  After several weeks of illness it seemed like John might die.  The rector of a near-by Episcopal Church, Rev. Hollis Colwell dropped by the Sanford residence to see Ted on church business, and learned of John's situation.  Fr. Colwell had read New Thought literature on healing, and by the time of his visit to the Sanford's he had developed into a practiced and faith-filled healer.  He laid his hands on John’s ear, after which the toddler promptly went into a deep sleep and awoke completely well.  In the days before antibiotics this was indeed a miraculous recovery.[16]

Fr. Colwell encouraged Mrs. Sanford to pray for the healing of others. At first Agnes was reluctant to do so. However, with Fr. Colwell help, she began to investigate the topic. He believed that a necessary ingredient of the healing ministry is an adherence to a strict health-food regime.  Apparently Fr. Colwell had read the works of the Episcopal healing and health food pioneer, the Rev. Robert B. H. Bell, and had taken Bell's dietary insights to an extreme position.[17] Agnes looked into this and read some of the health-food literature available at the time (1931).  In fact, for the rest of her life she adopted what would now be recognized as a moderate health food diet for herself and her family which avoided processed foods and stressed fresh fruits and vegetables.  However, she also discerned that although eating health foods was good, that could not be the foundation of either Fr. Colwell's or anybody else's healing power.           

Agnes then set out to find out as much about healing as she could, and at this stage made a critical decision.  She determined to compare whatever she read or heard by the standard set up by Jesus in the four gospels.[18]

This sounds very simple, but it did not prove to be so. First of all, I found that what He said went directly contrary to many of the explanations concerning religion that I had been taught since my youth.  For instance, I had been told that the age of miracles was past - yet I had seen a miracle...I also knew that there was no use in trying to understand what I had not experienced.  Therefore I set myself to find an experience of God's power.In order to do this, I laid aside temporarily all that I had been taught concerning Christianity.  I did not disbelieve it, I merely laid it on the table to be considered later.  And that is what all of us must do if we are to learn.[19]

 She began with reading Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures, but felt bewildered by the vocabulary and philosophical underpinnings of Christian Science (radical idealism), and laid it aside. Much more useful was the Christian New Thought writer Emmet Fox.  In his classic work, Sermon On The Mount, Agnes spirit found profound resonance.[20]  Here was a person who believed in the power of God and of scripture for the here and now - a common assumption of New Thought writers. Ironically this non cessationist view placed Fox closer to the plain and literal understanding of scripture the more orthodox and conservative Christians of the era.  Agnes's firm devotion to Jesus and her determination to use the gospels as her discernment anchor saved her from adopting Fox's Arien Christology - something that in any case is not manifest in the Sermon On The Mount.  She continued to look into the available literature of healing including the literature of the Unity School of Christianity. It seems that she did not encounter at this time the literature of the Evangelical healing revival of the 1880s. She also made contact with a small church in Philadelphia run by an ex-Baptist who had been expelled from her congregation for practicing Christian healing.[21] 

Fr. Colwell continued to urge Agnes to move out in faith and pray for the healing of others.  Her first attempt was a failure; she had prayed for a young man who had gone insane.  Years later she recognized that type of illness is among the most difficult to heal, involving much prayer, deliverance and intercession.[22] Her second attempt was totally successful.  This case was one of a young child dying of severe infection which stirred in her a special compassion, for it was infection that almost killed her youngest child. Agnes described that case in Sealed Orders:

But the time came when I felt strongly urged to march myself to a hospital and offer to pray for a child desperately ill with a streptococcus infection.  This was in the days before the miracle drugs, and the child had the infection in the heart, the kidneys, and the blood stream...

            I was terrified.  I would as soon have walked up to the mouth of a cannon, or so I thought.  But the urge of compassion was strong, for I knew the child would die unless something intervened... Strange to say, as soon as I sat down beside the bed and began to talk to the child, I had no fear at all!  The venture seemed as simple and as natural as if I had been doing it all my life...  I laid hands on the region of the heart and simply asked Jesus to make him well, and then thanked Jesus because I knew he was doing it.  The next day the child's blood stream and heart were free of infection.  The kidneys took one more day.[23]

We should notice that already she was praying in the “moderate idealist’ style, thanking God for the healing even though no evidence was manifest. This case greatly encouraged her, and she began praying for others.  Soon she formed a lady's Bible study and prayer group which met in the parish chapel once a week.  This group developed great power in intercessory prayer and soon Mrs. Sanford was building up case upon case in effective healing prayer.  She also began acquiring a reputation as an expert in healing and began receiving invitations to speak publicly on the topic.  At first she would be invited by women's groups, as ministers would be deathly afraid of anything to do with healing, especially from a woman, but gradually she began to receive a few direct invitations to speak in the churches.[24]

Ministry at Tilton Army Hospital

By the outset of World War II she was well read, well practiced in healing and strong in discernment. Mrs. Sanford volunteered for service as a Gray Lady at Tilton Army Hospital at  Ft. Dix.  Every week she would spend a full day there.  Her assigned duties were to pass around a cart of comic books, magazines, candies and flowers for the wounded men in the hospital.  It was strictly and absolutely forbidden to pray for the men.  Soon however her compassion overcame her respect for the lawfulness of authority (Acts 4:18-22). Often she would place her hands underneath a copy of Life magazine (the largest magazine available) so that the authorities would not see what she was doing.

 Agnes later came to see this period in her life as the most fruitful one in her healing ministry.  God's healing power flowed through her to an unusual degree, partly because there was no publicity and partly because war wounds were not associated with personal sin of the soldiers.  Thus the healing power of God could flow without impediment from unresolved sin or unforgiveness. As she gained more confidence in this secret ministry she began to teach the soldiers how to pray for themselves and one another.  She had particular success in the "wet ward" where soldiers with infected wounds were often relegated to die slow deaths.  Not long after she finished teaching the men to pray for one another that ward was closed down with the soldiers discharged and healed.[25]  

 Just after the war ended Agnes was caught in the very act of praying for a soldier!  She was brought to her supervisor, a dedicated, orthodox Christian woman, who tongue lashed her as a dangerous heretic and witch, and dismissed her.  Agnes was shaken and hurt by this, but understood that she needed to forgive the nurse or her healing ministry would be weakened. The Lord turned evil into good.  Agnes then had time to return to her writing, and she wrote a best-selling novel about her experiences at Tilton Army Hospital, Oh, Watchman! [26]  She also continued a busy schedule of appearances at church healing missions and lectures. 

 The Healing Light.

It was during her ministry at Tilton Army Hospital that Mrs. Sanford wrote her first, and most successful book, The Healing Light.[27] The book was based on the notes she prepared for an adult education class that she gave during the war. It was written in simple language.  In fact, Mrs. Sanford read the text to her nine year old niece and would not be satisfied until the girl could understand it.[28]  The manuscript was finished in 1945, but it was rejected by the major trade publishers. However, several chapters were serialized in Sharing magazine, the organ for the Order of St. Luke, the Episcopal healing order.  Professor Glenn Clark, founder of the CFO camps, read the chapters in Sharing and  recognized their superior quality. He offered to publish it through Macalester Park, his own publishing house. It initially sold slowly, partly because Macalester Park was not listed in Books in Print, and thus had difficulty in distribution, but word of mouth soon overcame that handicap.

 The Healing Light might be termed the crown work of "Christian New Perspective," a term I give to Mrs. Sanford, Glenn Clark and others who borrowed from certain ideas from New Thought writers, but filtered out its unbiblical elements of New Thought.  That is, Mrs. Sanford appropriated many of the motifs, vocabulary and insights from New Thought writers, but using her biblical knowledge as filter, eliminated the unbiblical aspects of New Thought, such as its drift into radical idealism (evil is unreal, as in Christian Science) and its sub-orthodox Christology.

 Among the New Thought motifs that Mrs. Sanford appropriated was that Christian spirituality could described s a form of scientific endeavor.  This was the initial intent of Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science, and it permeated all New Thought writings. It was common to many movements and ideologies of the Nineteenth Century, such as Marxism and psychoanalysis. In Mrs. Baker’s writings and other New Thought systems of radical idealism, the end result of this quest was little more than a doctrinal mythology with an authoritative, convoluted syntax and pretentious vocabulary that aped the science of the times.

In comparison, Mrs. Sanford was far ahead of her New Thought contemporaries in understudying what true science was and was not.. Mrs. Sanford saw that true science was not a new system of doctrines, but a methodology of knowledge that involved exploration, testing, verification (and failure) and humility of spirit with which to attack a problem. Although this is well understood today, it was not so clear when Mrs. Sanford wrote The Healing Light.[29]  Mrs. Sanford wrote:

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.” The scientific attitude is the attitude of perfect meekness. It consists in an unshakable faith in the laws of nature combined with perfect humility toward those laws and a patient determination to learn them at whatever cost…Through the Same meekness those who seek God can produce results by learning to conform to his laws of faith and love.[30]

The title of her book, The Healing Light, points to the main thesis, that the healing power of God is light energy that is accessible to all who understand its lawful application in compassion and love. Agnes speculated that the healing light was the primal light that originated at the beginning of creation, and that this light is everywhere. On the practical level Agnes guides the reader on how to use the free gift of God’s healing light for healing.  This is done by visualizing God’s light flooding the afflicted person or area of disease. To many Evangelical and cessationist educated Christians this seemed like occult hocus-pocus. In fact, the use of light in prayer is alien to Western Christianity, but common to Eastern Orthodoxy, which has a highly evolved theology of light, especially in reference to contemplative prayer.[31] What is innovative about Mrs. Sanford's work it not that it urges the use of light in prayer, but its use in healing prayer.

 Among other advances in healing prayer that The Healing Light presented was Mrs. Sanford’s discovery on intercessory prayer for someone distant. The ex-Baptist minister who had previously advised her gave her the key to effective distance healing.

 When you think of someone, you always see the person in your mind. If you really believe he’s going to be well, you see him well. If he pops into your mind like your eyes saw him last, or like your friends tells you he is, all moans and groans and fever, that shows that your subconscious mind does not really believe he’s going to be well…When you pray for someone, dearie, you must learn to see him well.[32]

 This whole issue of the use of visualization also caused much controversy, especially in latter years when cessationist influenced Evangelicals such as DaveHunt believed that all visualization was occultic. This of course has no basis in scripture, and visualization prayer, as a form of devotional aid to Bible reading, has a long history in Christianity.[33]

In spite of the New Thought vocabulary of visualization and vibration, The Healing Light is biblically orthodox where it counts, in its Christology. In practical terms this meant that the “name of Jesus adds power to all prayer.”[34] Mrs. Sanford believed that it is only through the Jesus’s name that the great works of healing described in the Bible can be achieved.[35] Mrs. Sanford's participation in her husband’s Episcopal liturgy had given her an appreciation of the effectiveness of the sacraments in healing. She also discerned that the ordained clergy had a special anointing to heal.[36] Another indication of the biblical orthodoxy of the Healing Light is Mrs. Sanford’s understanding that God is both immanent and transcendent. “God’s light shines both within us and without us, and by learning to receive Him within we begin to perceive Him Without.”[37]

 This balanced, classical view of immanence and transcended had practical consequences.  She discovered that a prayer life of meditation (silence) and active mental prayer of praise, thanksgiving and petition was the way of optimizing ones ability to be a channel for God’s graces and light to others. This is different from most New Thought writers who stressed meditation, but neglected worship of the transcendent, personal God.

Another major contribution to the modern Christian theology of healing found in The Healing Light is healing prayer as evangelization. "Some may wonder whether it is right to pray in the name of Christ and by the power of Christ for one who might not be willing to accept Christ.   But after all, was it not that way when He was on earth? Did the nine lepers accept Him as Savior?"[38] In fact in her personal ministry at Tilton Army Hospital Mrs. Sanford followed the pattern of first praying for physical healing, then evangelizing.  It was an effective combination and a pre-cursor to the theology of "power evangelism" made famous decades later by John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship.

 The years immediately after the publication of The Healing Light were both hectic and most fruitful for Mrs. Sanford. Her speaking engagements in teaching missions and CFO camps multiplied. The healing missions were often in Episcopal churches where the pattern of a two or three day teaching with healing service and Eucharist had been developed earlier by John Gaynor Banks, founder of the OSL. However, the missions were by no means limited to Episcopal churches, and in the South, where Mrs. Sanford's work was especially welcome, the healing missions were given in churches of practically every denomination. CFO camps, where  of course non-denominational, with participants coming from every denomination of Protestantism (and after the 1960s the Catholics began attending).

 Baptism in the Holy Spirit:

By 1952 the success of Mrs. Agnes Sanford's first book, The Healing Light brought some unintended difficulties to her life. She was in demand as a speaker, and toured the US. and Canada in CFO camps and independent healing missions, while at the same time trying to raise a family and support her husband as rector of a busy Episcopal church.  She was exhausted yet felt an inner compulsion to preach the Good News that Jesus lives and heals in the current age.

 Providentially, Agnes had been scheduled for a healing mission in Tucson, Arizona.  It was canceled when she arrived, and she took time to rest and pray with two local women who were also in the healing ministry.  All three felt an exhaustion from their ministry and cried out to God for relief.  As they prayed for guidance, all three received the same direction, pray for "the Holy Ghost."   In obedience, the three women prayed for each other with the laying on of hands. The three were instantly healed of their exhaustion and other maladies and received an infilling of joy and peace. 

None manifested the gift of tongues.  They neither expected nor understood it.  After Agnes had returned to Moorstown. One of them, Mrs. Marion Lovekin, went to a local Pentecostal meeting and received the gift of tongues, and wrote Agnes enthusiastically explaining her experience.  Agnes wrote back saying she wanted no part of tongue speaking.  Mrs. Lovekin wrote again showing her the biblical basis for tongues, and challenging her to meditate on the issue.  Not long after, Agnes returned to Tucson and the three woman again prayed together.  Agnes lifted the "tongues" question to God in prayer:

            ...immediately I desired the gift of tongues with a great longing! 

            And in another moment I spoke as they had spoken, in words that

            the conscious mind did not understand...I felt as though the love

            of Christ, already in me, now moved down, down to a deeper

            level...(Sealed Orders, 221.)

 Agnes spent several days in deep prayer and praise, although still did not quite understand what had happened.  Within a few weeks, on a healing mission in Florida, she stayed with a Christian woman who had the gift of tongues for years. The woman was able to resolve her theological and biblical reservations, and after that Agnes utilized tongues daily in private prayer. She also used the gift of tongues while writing, discovering that form of praying helped her avoid errors by giving her a "check” in her spirit if she wrote anything contrary to the Word.

The first work Agnes wrote in this manner was Behold Your God (published in 1958).[39] This was her first attempt at serious theological reflection since The Healing Light of  1945.  It came after two novels, which Agnes termed her "teaching parables," and two children's books. Mrs. Sanford's brother badgered her for something more "meaty" and suggested a commentary on the creeds.  Agnes felt this was a word from the Lord and she began work on Behold Your God.  It developed as an extended commentary to The Healing Light, demonstrating a considerable deepening of her thought. The references to the creeds were reduced to incidental after thoughts.

 Like The Healing Light, Behold Your God was simple in language and humble in its presentation.  Mrs. Sanford admitted, for example, to being befuddled by the theological discussions of the Holy Spirit that dealt with a filioque debate that separated Christendom in the Eleventh Century. Yet her understanding of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, as well as her understanding of the spirit of man were both pioneering and profound.

 By the time Mrs. Sanford wrote Behold Your God, she had witnessed wide varieties of healing, from demonic based spiritualism, to Christian Science and metaphysics, to authentic Christian and Spirit-filled healing.  In her understanding, godly spiritual healing could come at any one of three levels, which she related to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity[40]  At the first level, any  person who believed in one God, and who prayed believing would be granted some healing power.  This was true regardless of whether or not one was a Christian.  This position, which some Christians believe is impious, is biblical.  The healings in the Old Testament all took place not because of faith in Jesus, but because of faith in God as healer (Jehovah-rohi).  Agnes saw the contemporary equivalency of Old Testament healing in those in the Christian Science and the Metaphysical Movements who had strong faith in God, though they saw nothing uniquely divine in the person of Jesus. However, once a person believed in the divinity of Jesus, and made a commitment to His Lordship, the person was elevated into a healing power double that of the Old Testament position.  The third and highest level of healing was reached when a believing Christian accepted the person and baptism of the Holy Spirit and received the gift of healing.  Mrs. Sanford's insight makes clear the sad situation of the contemporary world, Metaphysical believers can be healers, while "born again" Christians, who believe in cessationism, are often completely ineffective as channels of God's healing power.

 Mrs. Sanford saw the practice of positive thinking and visualization (holding a desired goal in the imagination) as having similar levels of power. Visualization is God-given and available to any believer in God.  The power of visualization and positive thinking are increased when a person becomes a Christian and adds the name of Jesus to his prayer-visualizations.  A third level is reached through the power of the Holy Spirit.[41]  Agnes looked at the biblical evidence and saw a pattern that explains this:  Jesus taught first faith  (i.e. positive trust expectancy) to his disciples and only revealed his divine nature later in his ministry.[42] (Behold Your God, 35-36). 

This concept of "levels" of spiritual power was broadened to explain the relationship between the powers of the soul (the "psychic" powers) and the powers of the Spirit-filled human spirit.

            The Holy Spirit does not do violence to our natures, but only increases

            and develops in us gifts that are already potential to our natures.  Some

            people have natural-born spiritual sensitivity, and if they use them only

            in the realm of meditation and spiritual living, avoiding seances, Ouija

            boards and automatic writing, the gift can be greatly used in God's

            service. (Behold Your God,  146.)

Agnes believed  that certain natural powers of the soul are increased when a person becomes Christian and fulfilled with the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  For example, the gift of prophecy is a spiritualized fulfillment of the soul's ability to perceive non-material realities, often  manifested in pre-cognitive dreams.  Similarly, the gifts of wisdom and knowledge are increments of powers of the soul to make intuitive judgments. This is a modern version of the traditional Catholic doctrine that "grace perfects nature." It was later used by Catholic theologians of the renewal to explain to fellow Catholics the gifts of the Spirit.[43] This understanding of the gifts is contrary to that of many other Pentecostals and charismatics, who base their understanding of the gifts of the Spirit on Calvin's doctrine of "total depravity."  In this theology the human soul was so ruined by original sin that anything "psychic" is sinful.  This position - popularized by Watchman Nee and well established among Evangelicals, Pentecostals and charismatics - does not make biblical sense.  It makes, for instance, the prophetic dream of Pilots wife a psychic and sinful experience, quite contrary to the biblical text (Matt. 27:19). However this theology is so set among evangelical and a majority of charismatic circles that when Dave Hunt and other critics of Mrs. Sanford call her theology “psychic” and “occultic” because of its nature-to-grace basis, the accusation felt “true” it spite of its biblical contradictions.

The School of Pastoral Care:[44]

On of the most important achievements of Mrs. Sanford during the late 1950s was the founding of the School of Pastoral Care. She and her husband Ted were deeply grieved by the destructive nature of the instruction provided by the major seminaries, which resulted in pastors who knew little of effective prayer and nothing of healing or exorcism.[45] The Sanfords wanted a place where pastors, medical professionals and seminarians could be taught the spiritual dimensions of healing and effective prayer and integrate these with in their professional ministries.

 Although the Sanfords loved the institutions of the church missions and especially the CFO camps, both these had limitations. They attracted few ministerial or medical professionals, and because they were open to all, had the problem of slow learners or persons too deeply wounded or neurotic to receive much instruction. To remedy these shortcomings the Sanfords founded the School of Pastoral Care. It was based out of Westboro, Massachusetts, their “retirement” home, with Ted as first director and administrator. The Episcopal diocese of Massachusetts provided their retreat facilities for the School.  The first School began in October, 10, 1955, lasting from Monday to Friday. The audience was limited and screened to include only pastors, medical professionals and seminarians. The participants at this School, and the ones following came from prctically every denomination of minline Protestantism. The program taught effective prayer, prayer for physical healing, inner healing and deliverance. The staff for this and all subsequent school included an ordained minister, a medical professional (physician or nurse) and a lay person experienced in prayer and bible teaching. Like the CFO camps, time each day was spent on practicing with each other the lessons of prayer and healing.

 In the first years Ted and Agnes were invariably the main instructors, with one of their medical friends rounding out the team. The School was founded after the Sanfords had experienced the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and as a result the curriculum incorporated the Baptism of the Spirit and its role in healing.  The School began to multiply in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1956 two branches were begun in Texas and Ohio. One was begun in Austria in 1961, and this was followed quickly by others in England, Canada, Holland and New Zealand.  The Canadian branch was particularly influential, and for a period the Anglican hierarchy in several  Canadian diocese used the School as part of their priest's continuing education program.

 Mrs. Sanford as First Theologian of the Renewal

 The Charismatic Renewal broke out in 1960, triggered by the publicity surrounding the Rev. Dennis Bennett's "tongues" incident at his Episcopal Church in California..  It reached its crescendo in the mid 1970s.  In the beginning years of the Renewal many of Mrs. Sanford's books served as the primary theological inspiration of the movement.  The Healing Light was as its first healing textbook.  Two other books were also influential,  Behold Your God,  published two years before the Renewal began, but circulated among Mrs Sanford's following at CFOs and denominational churches, and The Healing Gifts of the Spirit, published in 1966 while the Renewal was in full bloom.

 From the very beginning of the Renewal there were some who believed Mrs. Sanford's theology was "far out" and occultic.  Besides the “strange” nature-to-grace theology,  critics would point to her belief in the "pre-existent spirit"  as proof of her unorthodoxy. Significantly, the  concept of the pre-existent spirit is clearly indicated in both the Old and New Testaments.  For example in Jer. 1:5, God addresses  the prophet Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you."  (Note also: Eph. 1:4 and 2 Thes. 2:13.) The idea seems heretical to contemporary Christians because it was ruled off the theological agenda as in the Fifth century by a Byzantine Emperor who fancied himself as a great theologian, and wanted to discredit the earlier theologian Origen.  His prejudice became part of the  theological consensus of the Medieval Church and went unchallenged during the Reformation period.

 The Rev. Ted Sanford died in 1960, and five years later Agnes moved to Monrovia, California, to be close to her children. From there she continued her teaching and speaking  ministry and wrote her last books, including her autobiography, Sealed Orders.  In California she developed what might be called her "nature" ministry, which involved praying for the non-human created order.  This is a ministry ignored by most Christians and entered into only by few persons such as St. Francis and George Washington Carver.

 In a story related to this author by Mrs. Barbara Schlemon,  Agnes was scheduled to give a healing lecture in a nearby town, and the minister who was to drive her found her in her home amidst her house plants with arms upraised and deeply in prayer.  He asked Agnes what she was doing and she said "I'm praising the Lord with my prayer group, and they are doing a better job!"  Psalm 96:11-12 would support this unusual


            Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;

            let the sea resound, and all that is in it;

            let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.

            Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;

            they will sing before the Lord, for he comes, (NIV)


Agnes wrote a powerful book on this aspect of her spiritual life, Creation Waits (1978). In it she gives multiple examples of her experiences with nature prayers.  In her view, the secret to prayer power in this areas is standing in the authority of a child of God:


            "It is far more effective to talk directly to sea or sky, wind or storm,

            than simply to ask God to do this or that.  We are God's agents upon

            this earth.  When praying for people we ask in His name and by His

            power, because we so often lack the necessary understanding of the

            people for whom we pray.  In praying for nature, however, it is more

            effective to speak directly to wind or storm or tempest. That, after all

            is the way Jesus stilled the storm. "Peace, be still!"[46]

 Pat Robertson, of "The 700 Club," used a similar prayer and command to veer a hurricane away from the Virginia coast.  His prayer, although successful (the hurricane suddenly turned out to sea) became a point of ridicule and a negative factor in his 1988 presidential bid. Needless to say, Mrs. Sanford’s nature ministry to nature seemed especially “far out” to more traditional, cessationist influenced Christians and added ammunition to the charge that she was a shaman. 

 Mrs. Sanford’s later theology was quite insightful and prophetic. She felt many charismatics were immature, and divisive of the unity of the church as a whole.  Her book , The Healing Gifts of the Spirit (1966) was written in the early years of the Renewal and there she warned her readers that receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit was "strong medicine."  A person who has a weak self-concept, or a poorly disciplined Christian life, may have serious problems handling the energies of the Holy Spirit[47] She was particularly leery of the value that the new charismatics placed on the gifts of tongues. Especially  destructive, she believed, was their doctrine of "initial evidence," derived from the older Pentecostals.  She saw that this belief often produced nothing more than subconscious babble, an opinion often mentioned among charismatic leaders, but rarely written.[48]  

Mrs. Sanford was particularly concerned about the damage caused by imprudent ministries of exorcism.  For a period in the 1960s there circulated a teaching that any personality fault or sin was due to a demonic spirit.  Thus people were being delivered from "spirits" of smoking, over-eating, criticism etc.  Agnes insisted that exorcism should be the ministry of last recourse.  She had witnessed damage done to persons who were put through charismatic exorcism rituals when in fact they needed counseling or inner healing.[49] Eventually her suspicions of the Renewal softened. From her home in Monrovia, she learned to appreciate the "Jesus  People", those most exuberant, hippie children of the Charismatic Renewal, and her heart went out to them. Her last novel, Route 1, (1975) shows the Jesus People in a positive light.[50]

Just how much her speaking engagements and writings helped to bring the Charismatic Renewal out of its initial immaturity and theological naiveté is one of those things that is impossible to quantify.  She personally spoke to thousands in that decade, and touched many more through her books.  She was especially influential in the Episcopal and Roman Catholic branches of the renewal.  This should not be taken to mean that Mrs. Sanford was the only person of the 1960's who had a mature theology of the Holy Spirit and gifts of the Spirit.  In fact, the Renewal was blessed from the very beginning with outstanding leaders who had excellent theological training and insights.

However, by the late 1970s many charismatics were becoming leery of Mrs. Sanford's theology.  Some were unconvinced that the ministry of inner healing had any biblical warrant, more  believed her theory of the pre-existent spirit was "far out" and cultic. As the Calvin-Nee theory that all psychic activity was inherently demonic became part of charismatic/evangelical consensus theology, Mrs. Sanford's more "Catholic" theology of the levels of spiritual powers was also seen as erroneous. Thus even before the caricature of Mrs. Sanford appeared in Dave Hunt's The Seduction of Christianity many leaders of the Renewal were distancing themselves from her and her theology.

Mrs. Sanford went to be with the Lord on February 21, 1982, Transfiguration Sunday.  She was full of vitality and curiosity to the very end.  A week before she died she planned to go up in a two-person glider and had been excited about it.   To her daughter and to several close friends she said, "You know, I might not come back.  I might just keep right on going!"[51]  There seems no doubt that she knew she would continue to a higher place.

Mrs. Sanford's Place  in the Charismatic Renewal:

There is little doubt that in spite of the controversies she generated, Mrs. Sanford was indeed the first theologian the charismatic renewal.  The Healing Light, issued as a Logos International  paperback, became the healing text book of the early charismatic movement.[52]  She decipled many of the leadership of the charismatic renewal, including a handsome young priest named Francis MacNutt who met her at a CFO camp and eventually passed on the core of her teaching to the charismatic movement with his vastly influential works on healing.[53]

 The tragic rejection of Mrs. Sanford's theology by large sections of Evangelical, and charismatic leaders is a sad case of the persistence of theological conservatism confusing denominational theology and prejudices with true heresy.  In every case I have outlined in this paper Mrs. Sanford took solidly, and literal biblical positions that were declared "heretical" not because they contradicted scripture, but because they were expressed in New Thought vocabulary and would not fit into the mold of cessationist influenced Evangelical theology.  Mrs. Sanford and her work reminds one of the great Third Century theologian, Origin, who pioneered the discipline of Christian theology. He was rejected as a heretic by more conservative and often ignorant critics and his writings anathematized. It is only in recent decades that Origins monumental contributions to Christian theology and his fundamental orthodoxy have been appreciated.[54]  It took over a millennium to begin to clear Origen's name and appreciate his true role in Christian history. Hopefully Mrs Sanfords achievements and fundamental orthodoxy will not take that long to be reestablished.


The noted Pentecostal scholar Dr. Jon Ruthven wrote a very positive review of my book, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal. You can access it HERE.

The book may be purchased on Amazon, either print or inexpensive Kindle HERE You can purchase the print version at a discount from the publisher HERE

Just released is my first book of  plays. Pentecostal (and Anglican) Plays (and Postscripts). It includes two plays and their postscripts.

The play, “One Day at St. John’s” depicts what everyday life can be like in a church that practices the gifts of the Spirit and the healing/exorcism ministry as normal. Among the events that occur in the course of the play are the healing of a waitress who was scalded with hot coffee, an exorcism (led by a layman) and the “laying of a ghost” to rest.

Pentecostal (and Anglican) Plays (and Postscripts) can be purchased HERE at Amazon.

The second play, “Joseph ben Jacob,” explores Joseph, husband of Mary, as the dream interpreter, master carpenter, and father of Mary’s other children. It helps explain why Joseph was able to discern correctly his dream about Mary’s first-born.

The postscripts examine the controversial aspects of the plays and focus on two false early gospels which distorted the meaning of the true Gospels. The “Proto-Gospel of James” claimed that Mary was “every virgin” and never had other children, and the “Gospel of Nicodemus” cancelled the true meaning of Jesus’ “descent into Hell” and his ministry there as described in 1 Peter 3 & 4

Watching God Work: The Stuff of Miracles by [DeArteaga, Carolyn Koontz]

My wife has written a funny and inspiring story of how she transited from a cessionist and Baptist to a Spirit-filled Believer. The book has many stories of our three decades of ministry together.  It may be purchased HERE.

[1]Dave Hunt and T.A. McMahon, The Seduction of Christianity (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1985).
[2]Ibid., see especially chapter 9 "Shamanism Revived." In tthis paper I will not cover Mrs. Sanford's development of the ministry of inner healing. I hope to present that contorversial topic at next year's SPS confrence.
[3]William  De Arteaga, Quenching the Spirit (Lake Mary: Creation House, 1996).
[4] William De Arteaga, “Confusing the Roots With the Fruits,” Ministries Today 9 (July/August 1991), 56-62, and Quenching the Spirit, passim.
[5]Charles Edward White, “Phoebe Palmer and the Development of Pentecostal Pneumatology.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 23 (spring/fall, 1983): 198-212.
[6]The classic work of the Faith Cure Movement is: Carrie F. Judd’s, The Prayer of Faith (Buffalo, N.Y.: H. Otis, 1882).
[7]D. R. McConnell, A Different Gospel: A Historical and Biblical Analysis of the Modern Faith Movement (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1988). Subsequent intensive research by Dale H. Simmons, published in his book, E. W. Kenyon and Postbellum Pursuit of Peace, Power, and Plenty (Lanham, MD: Scare Crow Press, 1977) and Geir Lie in his article “The Theology of E. W. Kenyon: Plain Heresy or Within the Boundaries of Pentecostal-Charismatic “Orthodoxy”?”  PNEUMA 22 (spring, 2000) 85-114, have shown that Keynon’ was influenced mostly by Holiness theology, not New Though.
[8] De Arteaga, Quenching the Spirit, chapter 13. My position is based largely on Harold O. J. Brown’s Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy From the Apostles to the Present (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., 1984) and Leonard Verduin’s, The Reformers and their Stepchildren (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1964).
[9] The role that Glenn Clark and his CFO played in challenging cessationism and preparing the way for the charismatic renewal is described in my article “Glenn Clark’s CFO: The Schoolhouse for the Charismatic Renewal,” PNEUMA (spring, 2003) forthcoming.    
[10] The Rev White’s trials with cessationist orthodoxy in China are mentioned in Mrs. Sanford's Sealed Orders, (Plainfield: Logos Intternational, 1971), and extensively described in her autobiographical novel, The Second Mrs. Wu  (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1965), which gives a detailed description of her years at the
mission station in Hsuchoufu.
[11] A description of this incident is found in The Second Mrs. Wu, 209.  See also: Agnes Sanford, "Prayer of Healing," Tape #140-A, Ft. Myers: Lord's Own Tape Ministry, n.d.
[12] Hugh W. White, Demonism Verified and Analyzed, (Shanghai: Presbyterian Mission
Press, 1922).
[13] It is informative to see the similarities between Rev. White's view of possession and exorcism and the view of M. Scott Peck, whose books on evil have become best-sellers.  See especially Peck’s chapter 5, "Of Possession and Exorcism" in his People of the Lie, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983).
[14] Agnes Sanford's novel, The Rising River, (New York: J.B.Lippincott, 1968), contains autobiographical details of this period of her life. 
[15] For a glimpse of this high-adventure, see: Edgar L. Sanford, God's Healing Power (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1959), 155-159.
[16] Sealed Orders, 96-98.
[17] Fr. Bell’s major work was: The Life Abundant: a manual for living, (Milwaukee: Moorehouse Publishing Co., 1927).
[18] Sealed Orders, 102-103.
[19] Agnes Sanford, Behold Your God (St.Paul: Macalester Park, 1958), 2.
[20] Emmet Fox, The Sermon on the Mount: a general introduction to scientific Christianity in the form of a spiritual key to Matthew V, VI and VII (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1932).
[21] See: Sealed Orders, 103 ff. for a description of the works she read in her first years of her healing ministry.  
[22] Agnes Sanford, The Healing Power of the Bible, (New York: Pillar Books, 1976), 54.
[23] Sealed Orders, 110-111
[24] Ibid., 141.
[25] Ibid., 178-188.
[26] Agnes Sanford, Oh, Watchman! (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1951).
[27] Agnes Sanford, The Healing Light (St. Paul: Macalester Park, 1947).
[28] Taped interview with Dr. Harry Goldsmith, August 1983. Dr. Goldsmith was severely wounded as a young soldier in W.W.II, healed by Mrs. Sanford’s prayers at Tilton, and became her life-long friend.
[29] Compare her basic understanding of science with the seminal work of Sir Carl R. Popper, especially his technical The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Science Editions, 1961), and the more readable Conjectures and Refutations: the growth of scientific knowledge (New York: Basic Books, 1962).
[30] Healing Light, 21.
[31] See for example: George A, Maloney, The Mystic of Fire and Light: St. Symeon, the new theologian (Denville: Dimension Books, 1975).
[32] Healing Light, 145
[33] Quenching the Spirit, chapter 17, Visualization and the Christian," and Brooks Alexander's masterful article "Mind Power and the Mind's Eye,'" SPS Journal 9, no 3, (1990), 8-20.
[34] Healing Light, 64.
[35] Ibid, 128
[36] Ibid., 94.
[37] Ibid.. 77
[38] Ibid., 139.
[39]Agnes Sanford, Behold Your God (St.Paul: Macalester Park, 1958).
[40]Behold, 136-137.
[41] Compare with Brooks Alexander's essentially similar position in his "Mind Power And The Mind's Eye," SCP Journal 9 #3, (1991) 8-20.)
[42]Behold, 35-36.
[43] Rene Laurentin, Catholic Pentecostalism (Garden City: Doubleday, 1977), 134.
[44] The Sources for this section are; a taped interview with Dr. J. Howard Rhys, former director of the School of Pastoral Care (Aug. 13, 1983) as well as his article, “The School of Pastoral Care,” The Living Church, 162 (May 30, 1971), 8-9. The web site for the School is:
[45] Agnes’ heartfelt prayer for the renewal of the seminaries is found in her devotional work, Twice Seven Words (Plainfield: Logos International, 1971), 93.
[46]Agnes Sanford, Creation Waits (Plainfield: Logos International, 1978), 16
[47] Healing Gifts, 14.
[48] See: David du Plessis, "Mr. Pentecost Looks to the Future," Charisma (May 1985), 95.
[49] Healing Gifts, 144, ff.
[50]Agnes Sanford, Route 1 (Plainfield: Logos International, 1975).
[51]Story related to author by Mrs. Sanford's daughter, Mrs. Virginia Clark, in telephone conversation in Aug. of 1986.
[52]Healing Light (Plainfield: Logos International, 1972).
[53]See the introduction of Francis MacNutt's, Healing. (Notre Dame: Ave Maria, 1974).
[54]See the seminal work by Jean Danielou, Origen, Trans. by Walter Mitchell (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1955).

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