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Agnes Sanford: Apostle of Healing and First Theologian of the Charismatic Renewal, Part 2, by William L. De Arteaga

Pneuma Review Summer 2006 Agnes-Sanford-photo[1]Part 2 of 2

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Discover Agnes Sanford’s important influence on the charismatic movement in this article by historian William De Arteaga.


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 was 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 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. Central to her understanding and theology was the concept that the Kingdom of God is manifest through prayer and power on earth, and is not just “other-worldly.”

Among the New Thought motifs that Mrs. Sanford appropriated was that Christian spirituality could be described as 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.

Central to Mrs. Sanfords’ understanding and theology was the concept that the Kingdom of God is manifest through prayer and power on earth, and is not just “other-worldly.”

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.

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Category: Church History, Summer 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: Discover the Real Spirit Behind the Charismatic Controversy (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015), and The Public Prayer Station: Taking Healing Prayer to the Streets and Evangelizing the Nones (Emeth Press, 2018). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He continues in his healing, teaching and writing ministry and is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook

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