Have a migraine? You may be struggling with guilt. Did you just develop a sinus infection? There is a good chance fear and anxiety are plaguing you. Does your grandfather have Osteoporosis? You may want to tell him that he is struggling with envy and jealousy.
It’s hard to believe, perhaps, but these kinds of diagnosis have come out of a long history of The Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) and the Advanced Training Institute (ATI), tracing back physical illnesses directly to specific sin problems. When I first encountered this teaching, I had just started my first semester with the International Ministerial Institute (IMI), and I was excited to prepare for the ministry under IBLP’s finest teachers. IMI started in its earliest days at the Indianapolis Training Center (ITC), and its purpose was to train ATI-reared men for the ministry. It was the closest thing that ATI had to Bible college or seminary, and since other Bible colleges and seminaries were thoroughly criticized by the Institute, the International Ministerial Institute seemed like a good fit for this young, aspiring pastor. I had recently entered the impressive, red-carpeted halls of the ITC and began my studies in topics like counseling, languages, and evangelistic ministry, when our studies were put to a dead halt by Bill Gothard himself. We were instructed to drop whatever pursuits we were currently working on and delve into this exciting new book that Bill Gothard was now recommending called “A More Excellent Way” by Henry Wright.
Henry Wright taught in his book that part of the benefits of a relationship with God was total health, and that every physical ailment could be traced back to a specific sin. In the book, he even includes an entire catalogue of diseases and their accompanying sins: Migraines are traced to guilt (pg. 142); sinus infections to fear and anxiety (pg 133); osteoporosis to envy and jealousy (pg 129); asthma can be traced to relational fear (pg 145); Crohn’s disease comes out of massive rejection, abandonment issues, and a lack of self-esteem (pg 109); Multiple Sclerosis comes from deep self-hatred and guilt (pg 111); Hodgkin’s disease and Leukemia are traced back to deep-rooted bitterness coming from unresolved rejection by a father (pg 126).
I initially approached this book with some hesitation, but I was young, and the author seemed to make a good case. He even used a few scriptures. These passages were stripped well out of their context of course, but it seemed convincing to me at the time. So I initially swallowed the teaching whole. I was hoping that soon I would be able to go back home and help some of my family and friends shake their health problems as they appropriately traced back their disease to their sin and simply confessed that sin.
We had divided the book up into sections of study and were to read, study, and report on the material. I was beginning to accept this teaching completely, until a major red flag came up while one of the other groups were doing their report on their designated section. I had not yet read page 97. However, when I heard their report, and read the words for myself, I was in for a shock. Here is what Henry Wright said in regards to root cause of Scoliosis:
"I’ll tell you, and I pray that you receive it, that Scoliosis, like Epilepsy, is the presence and the fruit of an evil spirit. You will not get Epilepsy healed, and you will not get Scoliosis healed unless you cast out an evil spirit.” (pg 97, emphasis his)
Upon reading and hearing these words in that classroom, I became visibly angry, and for the first time in my life I verbally questioned the teaching I was being fed from ATI. My brother has major Scoliosis, and I have a minor case of Scoliosis. I simply couldn’t stomach the ludicrous notion that my brother and I were demonized, simply because this self-appointed medical expert said so–with no medical, biblical, or even logical backing to his statements.
While Henry Wright’s book took this spiritual diagnosis of disease to a whole new level, tracing disease back to spiritual causes was not new in ATI upon my arrival to the Ministerial Institute.
One former ATI student said,
I was told the whole time I was in ATI by my parents that I must be full of bitterness. I ground my teeth, I had scoliosis, and many other health issues. There were things in my life that I could have been bitter over, but I have chosen to let them go and move on. Yet I was continually told how I must have bitterness in my heart that I didn't even know. Do you have any idea what it is like to think that something like bitterness is hiding in you, causing you physical pain, but no matter how hard you try, you can't find it to deal with it?!
Another student said that she kept herself from finding traditional medical attention because of her fear that her real problem was spiritual.
When I was at Sound Foundations at the Indianapolis Training Center in 2008, I could feel the vibes from some of my fellow students that I should be repenting of bitterness because I had major digestive issues and was trying to be on a special diet while I was there. My team leader even claimed to have been healed from some digestive problem by "repenting" from bitterness. Thankfully, I have since started a stricter diet and it has gotten a lot better. But this whole "way of thinking" and diagnosing people scared me into denying I was sick at all for many years. All through my teen years I was very sick and getting sicker by the day. But I denied it to my parents because I was so scared that if I was REALLY sick than it must be my fault, either because of a spiritual problem on my part, or because I was physically inferior--kind of like eugenics.
A former ATI student remembers that her parents, in a sincere attempt to discover the root cause of her multiple health issues, destroyed some of her favorite toys. It was a popular ATI teaching back in the ‘80s that certain toys can have demonic influence in your home, which then can be tied to health problems.
Another former ATI student, now herself a mother, shared the following:
When I found out that my 2-year-old daughter had cataracts, my mom told me to read “A More Excellent Way.” (She has been into that book for YEARS!) When she handed it to me, she said that she hoped I could find something that would help my daughter.
Apparently, these kinds of teachings are still going on in IBLP. You can find more information on this topic at IBLP’s website on total health: www.lifepurposehealth.com.
So what does the Bible have to say about disease? First let me say that Henry Wright and IBLP did get it partially right. They are right in saying that disease came into the world because of sin. It is part of the curse, something we wouldn’t have to deal with if sin never entered into the world. Sickness and death were a result of the rebellion of our first parents and will one day be forever taken away when sin is finally once and for all dealt with (Genesis 2:17; Romans 8:23; Revelation 21:4). The Bible also suggests that sin can indeed have an effect on our health (Psalm 28:3; James 5:14-16; Proverbs 7:22-23).
However, where Henry Wright and IBLP get it wrong, they endanger both physical and spiritual health. To say that specific sins result in specific diseases is well beyond our ability to judge. Take a look at how Jesus responded to a question from His disciples about sin and disease in John 9:1-3:
Now as Jesus
passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” (NKJV)
Many individuals in the Bible struggled with disease and physical ailments (even resulting in death), but no mention was made of the “sinful root cause” of their sin: Elisha in 2 Kings 13:14; Trophimus in Philippians 2:25-30; and Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 are just a few examples. In fact, to suggest that because a person has such and such a disease because they have such and such a sin can produce false guilt, mental anxiety, and spiritual doubt. It can also keep a person from seeking necessary medical attention.
Those of us who are struggling with disease need not try to trace it back to a specific sin problem. Are you dealing with sin? Of course you are. All of us are struggling with the problem of sin on one level or another. How do you find growing victory over a sin to which you are enslaved? Freedom from sin and peace with God can be found as you experience His grace by faith–and faith alone–in His finished work on the cross. The more we grow in faith and the more we understand grace, the more we experience the peace of God.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2
So how should a Christian who is struggling with disease respond? Ask for prayer, seek out medical attention, and then remember the words of Paul, as he also struggled with physical ailment:
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
Note: Jim Logan, after becoming the director of IMI in its second year, pulled “A More Excellent Way” from our class study schedule, personally claiming that it was “very unbiblical.” The International Ministerial Institute is still a ministry of the Advanced Training Institute, and as of 2011, young women are now welcome to receive the training.