What People Want From the Mainstream Church
To My Friends, especially my friends in the mainstream Church:
Let me share some thoughts about what Glenn Clark wrote in 1942:
There have been efforts to put vitality into the church from time to time that deserve thoughtful attention. One was the Unity Movement, started by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, with the purpose of putting into the orthodox churches the faith in healing of the Christian Scientist Church without forcing anyone to leave the church. They started as Monday night groups, as an aid and adjunct to the regular church, not as a substitution, but the church spurned them, criticized them, refused to co-operate or let them co-operate with them, so they were finally forced to set up separate churches of their own. The whole New Thought Movement is thus outside the orthodox churches, and a growing rival for its memberships. Twice I have addressed the International New Thought Meetings, but always as a guest speaker. (Two or Three Gathered Together , 1942, pp.32-3)
Clark is saying two things: First that the Fillmores attempted to bring a healing faith (which they received from Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, through her student, Emma Curtis Hopkins) to the mainstream church and, second, that the mainstream church reacted with spur, criticism and non-cooperation.
The healing faith Glenn Clark is talking about is not healing of the emotions but rather healing of the body. No one questions that faith can heal the emotions. But the church and many of us today find it difficult to understand how faith can heal the body. It’s been that way a long time. Thirty years ago John Sarno MD wrote,
The concept (of the mind-body connection) was dealt a crippling blow by the seventeenth-century philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes, who held that the mind and body were totally separate entities and should be studied separately. Matters of the mind were the concern of religion and philosophy, according to Descartes. The body, he said, should be studied by objective, verifiable methods. To a large extent Descartes’ teaching remains the model for contemporary medical research and practice. (Healing Back Pain, 1993, p.132)
For Descartes, the term “mind-body” was a problem. How could the mind, which is not physical, interact with the physical body? His solution was to separate the mind from the body. That gave freedom for science to proceed with medical discovery without theological restraints. But it completely severed any sense that the mind could heal.
Unfortunately, the church, predominately the Protestant church, bought into this belief, which is known in theology as Cessationism, the belief that spiritual gifts, such as healing, ceased with the Apostolic age.
Fortunately, we now have a richer understanding of the mind, largely due to Sigmund Freud’s assertions about the unconscious mind. Freud recognized that there were illnesses that hypnotism could alleviate but not cure. Sarno writes that Freud concluded,
[such] symptoms were the result of a complicated subconscious process in which painful emotions were repressed and then discharged physically. He thought that the symptoms were symbolic and represented a discharge of emotional tension. It was his idea that the process of repression was a defense against painful memories. (Sarno, 1993, p.134)
We now have a new understanding of the “mind-body” connection, largely based on the notion that painful and repressed emotions will express in some physical way, causing physical illness and disease. The symptom is physical but the cause is purely psychological. It’s source is the unconscious mind, not some abnormality of the body. We now know that the cure for many physical illnesses is not pain medicine but rather bringing the emotion out of the unconscious mind into the conscious mind. This has given rise to “wholistic” medicine, which treats the mind and body as one, based on scientific evidence.
Unfortunately, much of western medicine and nearly all of mainstream Christian theology continues to see “mind-body” as problem instead seeing “mind-body” as a medicine. Sarno concludes,
Why do contemporary physicians have trouble with mind-body concept? I believe it is because they see themselves as engineers to the human body. According to them, health and illness can be expressed in physical and chemical terms, and the idea that a thought or an emotion could somehow have an effect on that physicochemistry is anathema.” (p.138)
Sarno does not talk about mainstream Christian theology. But Glenn Clark certainly does, as is shown in the opening of this post. The reaction of mainstream Christian theology to Christian Science and Unity is, as I said, one of spur, criticism and non-cooperation.
I have written that Early Christianity proclaimed the “resurrection of the body.” (Credo, Chapter 22, Healing Services) That fell out of theological use with the medieval teaching that the soul is eternal, but the body perishes. And Rene Decartes’ teaching put the final nail in the coffin of what we declare to be Christian healing. What is new and represented by the re-emergence of spiritual healing today is that the body may be healed and healing may be accomplished through the mind. In other words, we are returning to the early Christian declaration about the healing of the body by spiritual means.
The bottom line is that people want to be healed, and they want to be whole. Further, they want healing and wholeness in this life, not the next life. If people are questioning the church’s teachings about the afterlife it may be because they question the church’s teachings about healing in this life. The mass of people are ahead of both the doctors and the church regarding the mind’s ability to heal the body. They want, as Glenn Clark asserted in Two or Three Gathered Together, a “Kingdom of Heaven right here and now.”
Sunday, October 1, 2023
Listen/Download Audio of this page