Anabaptist Medicine

Just recently finished a very informative book called Examining Alternative Medicine put out by IVP, and thought it was so pertinent we are going to use it for a number of weeks in our Sunday evening men’s forum. Written by three Christian gentlemen (an M.D., a D.O, and a civilian), the book walks through a number of the available alternative medical practices available today. There is a chapter on Andrew Weil, another Deepak Chopra, a chapter on homeopathy, etc. The treatment is balanced, irenic, and in my thinking, preeminently fair.

The reason for working through this material is not to cause a flap or controversy between practitioners of different kinds of medicine, but rather to make sure the inevitable discussion occurs in a guided and edifying way. Too often these discussions occur in a way that leave husbands almost entirely out of the loop, or they erupt in a messy dispute when someone finally has “had it” and vents.

In some ways, medical choices are adiaphora, and need to be treated as such. But this does not mean that the sky is the limit, or that there are no confessional boundaries. This is a “principles and methods” discussion, but sometimes more is involved under the heading of principles than we sometimes admit. For example:

1. No medical practice should be acceptable for Christians if it is woven together with and inextricable from clear and overt paganism — whether the ancient Chinese chi version or the modern, technocratic materialist version.

2. No medical practice is acceptable if it requires an imperialistic approach to others. Sometimes otherwise innocent practices can unfortunately become a hobby horse (kite flying, chess), and other times an illicit practice reveals its inherent nature as a substitute “gospel,” which all others simply must believe. There are certain kinds of people who cannot “give it a rest.” Such a man is so in love with his bacon that he insists that everyone else must kiss his pig.

3. No medical practice which evades accountability and the possibility of falsification can be considered biblically sound. Those who compare themselves with themselves, St. Paul says, are not wise (2 Cor. 10:12).

With regard to this last principle, here is a pattern that I would suggest Christians use as a template as we pray and labor for the reformation of medicine (just as we labor for the reformation of everything else). I would use as an illustration the condition of the Church just before and after the Reformation. Broadly speaking, three groups developed — the established Roman church, the anabaptists providing the radical reaction to the corruptions of Rome, and the magisterial Reformers. Following this analogy, I believe we have establishment medicine (the AMA), the radical reaction to it (alternative medicine), and what we are in dire need of is a magisterial reform of the practice of medicine — and part of the reason this is so difficult is because the state is so heavily involved. It is getting increasingly difficult to just address one thing in isolation, because everything is connected.

As I critique alternative medicine (as I do, sometimes severely), it should never be forgotten that it was the hubris of the unbelieving and conventional medical establishment that set us up for this. Why has conventional or traditional medicine lost its moral authority among conservative Christians, pushing them toward the anabaptist option? The answers should be immediately obvious. The establishment cannot speak with moral authority any longer because of:

1. Abortion. I acknowledge that there are midwives out there who are not competent (and, of course, many who are). And I grant that there have been times when that incompetence has resulted in a baby or mother dying. And it is a tragedy when this happens. But, taking one thing with another, these midwives never try to kill the baby on purpose. But how many children have been deliberately killed by the medical establishment in this country alone? 40 million? It would not have mattered if the supremes had made abortion legal if all doctors had refused to perform them. But thousands of graduates of medical schools did not refuse. As far as believing Christians are concerned, apart from radical repentance, the moral authority of the medical establishment (on this issue alone) is shot.

2. Homosexuality. Materialist science has no reason to consider the human body as anything other than matter in motion. Consequently, certain things follow, especially in sexual ethics. Those Christians who know that the Bible rejects homosexuality, and who also know that the leading doctors in our medical establishment approve of it, feel like they have to take their patronage elsewhere.

3. Statism. The medical establishment needs to be understood as including all the regulations placed upon the practice of medicine by our political leaders. This has any number of dislocating effects, from costs, to availability of treatment, to insurance coverage, etc. The system is godless, and has had a profound impact on those who want to seek treatment freely.

For these reasons it should be clear that I am not arguing that reformation is unnecessary. I would recommend this book as a great place for Christians to begin their quest for a genuine third alternative. We need a magisterial reformation in medicine. We already have the anabaptist reaction, which I believe we need to call back. But doing this should not be considered as simply defending the status quo. That is not an option either.

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