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?
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.
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.
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.
Additional Blogs on Faith-Based Health and Healing:
- Part 1 – What does the Bible say about health?
- Part 2 – What Value Should We Place on Our Health?
- Part 3 – Devout Faith Helps but Does Not Guarantee Good Health
- Part 4 – Can Faith be Unhealthy?
- Part 5 – What Causes Sickness?
- Part 6 – Why God’s Response Isn’t Always to Heal
- Part 7 – Not All Healing is From God
- Part 8 – Illegitimate Spiritual Practices
- Part 9 – Life Energy and Medical Magic
- Part 10 – Medical Characters Condemned for Pursuing Certain Forms of Healing
- Part 11 – Look to the Bible, Not Inner Voices, for Guidance
- Part 12 – Biblical Principles on Which to Base Medical Decisions and The Power of Faith