Faith-Based Health and Healing – Part 8 – Illegitimate Spiritual Practices.

Alternative medicine as a whole is not rooted in any particular religious tradition, but some therapies are. A number of healing rituals and traditions are part of the Wiccan religion (also called “white witchcraft”). Eastern religions often view healing as dependent on the movement of “life energy” through nonphysical channels that coincide with the physical body. Native-American religion uses herbs as part of its healing rituals. In a number of nature religions, shamans contact spirit beings or guides to get advice on how to treat and heal those under their care. Should Christians be concerned about these practices?

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The current interest in holistic healing includes concern for spirituality, the meaning of which can be whatever the individual wants it to mean. What is important, this new approach says, is that a person be on some spiritual path.

Many believe that any therapy can be pursued for its potential healing benefits. All that matters, they believe, is whether it works.

And if others claim it works, it’s worth a try. This leads to a strong emphasis on “personal experience” being the deciding factor.

As the developer of Therapeutic Touch stated, “Therapeutic Touch works. . . . You can do it; everyone who is willing to undertake the discipline to learn Therapeutic Touch can do it. You need only try in order to determine the truth of this statement for yourself. So, I invite you: TRY.”

The problem that Christians should have with this approach is that the Bible tells us not to engage in certain practices.

Certain forms of healing are always wrong because they are accomplished via prohibited methods and have been consistently condemned by God in the Bible.

Many of these practices have been incorporated into certain alternative therapies. The most complete list of prohibitions is found in Deuteronomy 18:9–14, although each practice is prohibited in many other passages (see also 1 Corinthians 10:18–21).

Prohibited are divination, necromancy (channeling), mediumship, spiritualism, witchcraft, magic, and sorcery.

  • Divination covers a variety of practices used to discover information by supernatural means (Leviticus 19:26; 2 Kings 21:6; Jeremiah 14:14). Also included as divination would be tarot cards, the reading or interpreting of omens, crystal gazing, and any technique that attempts to discern information transmitted from the spiritual realm through natural objects. Divination includes direct attempts to contact the spirit world for information, as in the use of spirit guides and shamans.
  • Astrology is based on the same principles as divination but uses the stars to uncover hidden information. It is denounced as a waste of time in Isaiah 47:13–14 (see also Jeremiah 10:2).
  • Channeling, or necromancy, has become popular within New Age circles. It involves calling up the spirits of the dead. Isaiah specifically denounces this practice, and not because it doesn’t “work.” Rather, necromancy, as with all these practices, displays an attitude of rebellion against God by refusing to do things his way: “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a  people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (Isaiah 8:19).
  • Mediums and spiritists are those who possess the ability to contact the spirits of the dead (Leviticus 19:31; 20:6, 27; 1 Samuel 28; 2 Kings 21:6; 1 Chronicles 10:13–14).
  • Witchcraft is the use of magical spells and charms to obtain desires through supernatural or psychic powers. God makes his views about magic very clear through Ezekiel. “I am against your magic charms with which you ensnare people like birds and I will tear them from your arms; I will set free the people that you ensnare like birds” (Ezekiel 13:20; see also 2 Kings 21:6; Acts 19:18–19).
  • Sorcery is the ability to use magical spells, an ability usually obtained through contacting evil spirits. The prophet Micah brought this message from God to those in his day who dabbled in these occult practices: “I will destroy your witchcraft and you will no longer cast spells” (Micah 5:12; see also Galatians 5:20).

These practices are all condemned because they lead people away from the true God and entrap  people in false ways. The use of magic and charms to influence the future reflects a lack of trust in the goodness of God to bring about what is best in a situation.

Instead of trying to manipulate the future, we are called to trust in God’s trustworthiness.

The Bible clearly teaches that good and evil spiritual forces exist. Many today deny or ignore this teaching. Performing spiritual acts with good intentions and getting good results does not excuse being unaware of the source of the power behind those acts.

Scripture states that evil spiritual forces are powerful and dangerous and should not be dabbled with (Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 John 4:4).

In our opinion, it is naïve and unsafe to think or teach that Satan would not use his powers to heal  people, especially since healing is such an important sign of the Messiah.

Satan will resort to “good deeds” to deceive  people and draw them away from God. Jesus warned us, “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive even the elect — if that were possible” (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22).

Clearly, great discernment must be exercised before dabbling in alternative therapies with spiritual backgrounds.

It is never appropriate to use therapies that involve magic, contact with spirit guides or the spirits of the dead, or any attempt to manipulate spiritual powers.

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You can read more on this topic in my book, co-written with Donal O’Mathuna, Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook. You can find it here.

Also, citations to all of the studies quoted in this blog are found in the book.

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Additional Blogs on Faith-Based Health and Healing:

7 thoughts on “Faith-Based Health and Healing – Part 8 – Illegitimate Spiritual Practices.

  1. Sandy

    I think your post provides a lot of misinformation.

    1. Not all witches are Wiccan. There are witches of various religions, including Christianity.

    2. Witchcraft is the practice of harnessing and directing the natural energies innate to our world & universe. Yes they cast “spells,” but if you do your research you will discover that spells are basically prayers that sometimes use herbs, oils and incense. Much like they do in Christian churches during prayers.

    3. White witches do not consort with the Devil, and vast majority of witches do not even believe there is such an entity.

    4. Yes, the bible is filled with stories of divination, magic, etc. And if you know your bible, then you already know many of the men considered to be direct reports from God, choosen, or holy, also used these practices and were blessed.

    5. “The use of magic and charms to influence the future reflects a lack of trust in the goodness of God to bring about what is best in a situation.” Might I counter that God helps those who help themselves. If you believe in God, is it so hard to believe that God would bestow spiritual gifts on His children? Especially considering they are supposed to be in His image? God provides tools & knowledge for us to utilize in every part of our lives. Do you believe that God provides extensive tools and knowledge for agriculture, medicine, construction, etc… but not spirituality?

  2. Dr. Walt Post author

    Sandy,

    Thanks for writing and sharing your views and beliefs. And, excuse my delay in responding. I wanted to recruit the experience and wisdom of several men I admire, who are trained medically and/or theologically in responding to your challenges. So, here is our considered response to each of your five issues, starting with point one. We hope you’ll reply.

    1. Not all witches are Wiccan. There are witches of various religions, including Christianity.

    We would agree as it is certainly true that people who self-identify as “witches” or who practice witchcraft (defined by Oxford’s as “the practice of magic, especially black magic, the use of spells, and the invocation of spirits”) could identify with any of a number of religious traditions and many would never identify as Wiccan.

    However, the practice of witchcraft is soundly and consistently condemned in both the Old and New Testament Scriptures (i.e., Exodus 22:18, Deuteronomy 18:10, I Samuel 15:23, II Chronicles 33:6, and Galatians 5:19-20).

    Thus anyone practicing witchcraft would be in clear violation of Biblical guidelines. A person claiming to be a Christian might practice witchcraft, but would be doing so in sin – contrary to God’s will and commands as the Bible is clear that we are to not be any part of any form of spiritualism that does not have the Lord God (Yahweh Elohim) and Jesus Christ as its central core.

    For example, the book of Deuteronomy (Chapter 18) is clear that the Israelites were to stay away from all forms of spiritualism apart from the Lord God. Under the laws of Moses, a witch or spiritualist would be taken from the city and stoned. Also, Malachi 3:5 says that God’s judgment will be swift against those who practice such things.

    In the New Testament the practice of sorcery or witchcraft is referred to as the acts of the flesh and is an abomination to God (Galatians 5:19-20). It was because of this that those who now believed in the Christ burned their books of magic and potions. (Acts19:18-19)

    We’ll address you other points below.

    Walt Larimore, MD
    Dónal O’Mathúna, PhD, MA (theology and bioethics)
    Reg Finger, MD, MPH
    David Flower, MACE (Dallas Theological Seminary)
    Rich McGee, ThM

  3. Dr. Walt Post author

    Here, we’ll address your second point:

    2. Witchcraft is the practice of harnessing and directing the natural energies innate to our world & universe. Yes they cast “spells,” but if you do your research you will discover that spells are basically prayers that sometimes use herbs, oils and incense. Much like they do in Christian churches during prayers.

    We would agree with some of what you say, but we would need to know what you mean by “natural energies.”

    If you mean natural as opposed to supernatural, we would have to disagree. If that was the case, we would have ways of measuring these like electricity or magnetism or natural energies.

    If you mean “natural” as in they exist in the world, we would agree and would view them as spiritual.

    Prayer might be defined by some Christians in the way you state, but we look to how the Bible describes prayer, which is communication with God, not directing spiritual outcomes. Such uses of prayer and spells seek results and control, while Biblical prayer acknowledges the control of a loving God.

    Using spells, by whatever name, or any attempt to “harness or direct energies” is an appeal to a power other than God in Christ. To say that the casting of spells (harnessing and directing the energies of the universe) is equivalent to prayer is mistaken in the understanding of prayer — at least as explained by God’s word, the Bible.

    In addition, using spells amounts to what the Bible calls idolatry and it is consistently condemned throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, starting with the Ten Commandments.

    Prayer is directed only to the one and true God, “Yahweh”, never is it to summon the powers of the world. Prayer is not a casting of spells but is a conversation with God based upon a personal relationship with God through Christ.

    True prayer does not do any of these things you claim, but rather, submits all requests to the sovereignty of One Almighty God (Matt 6:5-15, Romans 8:26-27, I John 5:14-15, James 4:3).

    Walt Larimore, MD
    Dónal O’Mathúna, PhD, MA (theology and bioethics)
    Reg Finger, MD, MPH
    David Flower, MACE (Dallas Theological Seminary)
    Rich McGee, ThM

  4. Dr. Walt Post author

    Here, we’ll address your third point:

    3. White witches do not consort with the Devil, and vast majority of witches do not even believe there is such an entity

    We can accept your statement; however, that does not determine whether a devil exists or not.

    Furthermore, so-called “white witches,” which we understand that as meaning those who attempt to harness spiritual powers for good rather than evil, still appeal to a power other than God in Christ.

    Indeed, one of the Devil’s oft-used tactics is to dissuade people from believing that God exists or that Jesus Christ is God.

    Early in my practice as a doctor in a small town in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, I had a patient come to my office and as we talked she told that she had become a “good witch”. She talked about how at first she learned what she could of “white magic”, but after a time the magic got darker and more “black” in its nature. As I listened to this young woman, and her stories of the religion she had become part of, I could sense the darkness.

    She ended by saying that one night, as she was alone in her room, she cried out to Jesus Christ to save her from this evil. I tell you this because I have been face to face with what you refer to as “white magic” and “good witches”.

    The Bible does not make a distinction between a “dark witch” and a “white witch”, and you are right there were those that called upon these spiritualists throughout its pages, but never were these practices condoned by God or given honor.

    Interestingly, Ben Alexander, a former spiritualist medium who later came to believe in Christ, stated that most so-called spiritualist mediums were fake and never got in touch with the spirit world. (See http://www.sptimes.com/2004/02/20/Southpinellas/Bay_area_man_wages_wa.shtml).

    Nevertheless, this still does not make their activities legitimate from a Biblical point of view. In other words, it’s never right to do what’s wrong.

    Walt Larimore, MD
    Dónal O’Mathúna, PhD, MA (theology and bioethics)
    Reg Finger, MD, MPH
    David Flower, MACE (Dallas Theological Seminary)
    Rich McGee, ThM

  5. Dr. Walt Post author

    Here, we’ll address your fourth point:

    4. Yes, the Bible is filled with stories of divination, magic, etc. And if you know your bible, then you already know many of the men considered to be direct reports from God, choosen, or holy, also used these practices and were blessed.

    We hope you’ll write us back and let us know examples to support your claim.

    The clearest example we can think of in the Bible is Saul seeking divination from the woman at Endor. (I Samuel 28)

    He received his answer, and the Bible states that what he did was wrong.

    Another example might be Balaam (found in Numbers 22-24) which illustrates another man whose activities are no means condoned by God.

    God intervened in both those situations and made clear what His plan was, but He did not approve of the methods employed.

    There are scriptures that are a little tougher to deal with (Joseph using a cup for divination, for example, in Genesis 44) but in the Bible many individuals who are judged to be followers of God did things that God nowhere says He approves of.

    An interesting case in point is the story of Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8:9-25. After making a profession of faith in Christ, Simon continued to try to use the magical methods he brought with him from his pagan past to attempt to manipulate the Holy Spirit. This earned him a stern rebuke from Peter, whereupon Simon, humbled, said the only reasonable thing left for him to say: “Pray for me”.

    Walt Larimore, MD
    Dónal O’Mathúna, PhD, MA (theology and bioethics)
    Reg Finger, MD, MPH
    David Flower, MACE (Dallas Theological Seminary)
    Rich McGee, ThM

  6. Dr. Walt Post author

    Now, we’ll address your fifth and final point:

    5. “The use of magic and charms to influence the future reflects a lack of trust in the goodness of God to bring about what is best in a situation.” Might I counter that God helps those who help themselves. If you believe in God, is it so hard to believe that God would bestow spiritual gifts on His children? Especially considering they are supposed to be in His image? God provides tools & knowledge for us to utilize in every part of our lives. Do you believe that God provides extensive tools and knowledge for agriculture, medicine, construction, etc… but not spirituality?

    The Bible does not say, “God helps those who help themselves.” In point of fact, this saying, attributed by some to Benjamin Franklin, goes against central tenets of the Bible (e.g., see Romans 4:1-8).

    Humanity is capable of great things (because we are made in God’s image) and God does gift humans with great gifts.

    There are several descriptions of spiritual gifts in scripture (Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, I Peter 4) and nowhere is there any suggestion of a gift which consists of the use of magic and charms to influence the future or to influence God’s responses.

    In fact, this way of relating to God is more characteristic of the pagan worship of Greek and Roman times and is consistently condemned by New Testament writers (e.g., see I Corinthians 10:9).

    But, we are asked to use our gifts in the service of God and others, not primarily to help ourselves.

    To know what this involves, we need both God’s guidance (as given in the Bible) and God’s empowering (given by the Holy Spirit).

    These are gifts given to all men and women who are willing to receive them through Jesus Christ, not by casting spells or earning them.

    God helps those who turn to him for help, help that is available as a gift through the work of Jesus Christ, not us. Praying for forgiveness brings us into a relationship with God, which is what Biblical spirituality is all about.
    That is about learning to depend on and relate to a personal God on a deeper level.

    Yes, God has provided us with an extensive tool and knowledge when it comes to spirituality. He has provided His word “the Bible”, His Son “Jesus Christ,” and His Holy Spirit. Apart from this any view of the spiritual world is not of His making.

    As we see it there are three primary pillars to a witches world view:
    • Animism – that there is a life force immanent within all creation. Even you use the term “natural energies” as the source of casting spells.
    • Pantheism – that that not only is there a life force that is pervasive in the world, but the entire world (universe) is divine in its nature.
    • Polytheism – not only the belief that there are many deities (gods & goddesses), but there are a multitude of levels of reality (metaphysical). Thus giving way to a multitude of gods, goddesses, and religions that exist simultaneously, but also a world view of reality that would otherwise appear to be mutually exclusive.

    Each of these pillars, are counter to the teachings of the God of the Bible. He says that He is the source of Life, and that He is the only true god. All others are counter to Him.

    Walt Larimore, MD
    Dónal O’Mathúna, PhD, MA (theology and bioethics)
    Reg Finger, MD, MPH
    David Flower, MACE (Dallas Theological Seminary)
    Rich McGee, ThM

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