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

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 Phoebe 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 moderate idealism in much the same way that the ministry of Kenyon (and later Kenneth Hagin) influenced Pentecostal circles.9

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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: 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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