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Agnes Sanford: Apostle of Healing and First Theologian of the Charismatic Renewal, Part 1, by William L. De Arteaga

Mrs. Sanford’s 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 force 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, he 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

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Category: Church History, Pneuma Review, Spring 2006

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include, Quenching the Spirit (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), and Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He and his wife Carolyn continue in their healing, teaching and writing ministries. He is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook AnglicalPentecostal.blogspot.com

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