Christy Wimber on the church, healing, and wholeness this side of Heaven

Christy Wimber says she has had to "unlearn" a lot of church theology around healing(Photo: Instagram/Christy Wimber)

Christy Wimber grew up in the Quaker tradition before joining the Vineyard movement - her father-in-law is Vineyard founder John Wimber. She is a firm believer in God's healing power but has less faith in the church's interpretation. 

That's one of the reasons she has written her new book, Wholeness, published by Lion Hudson.  It's an exploration of mental health, how Christians should understand wholeness and healing, and where the church stands - or should stand - on these issues.

The book includes a chapter by the Archbishop of Canterbury's daughter, Katharine Welby Roberts, who has spoken openly about her own struggles with depression.

Christy speaks to Christian Today here about what she thinks healing should look like through the lens of our Christian faith and salvation.

CT: What prompted you to write this book?

Christy: I was raised Quaker and then Vineyard and we had an emphasis on healing but several years ago, the Lord began to get my attention about some of the ways we were doing healing and how they were more damaging than helpful and that shifted me a bit. It's been a whole process.

CT: What would you say has been damaging rather than helpful?

Christy: I think the 'Heaven now' approach is really damaging because it leaves no room for suffering - the approach where we are trying to fix people for testimony or triumph, or festival and event models where we tend to highlight those things.

I think that can be really damaging.

But also approaches that leave people out or which put pressure on the person praying - and the person receiving prayer for that matter.

I have come from that model, that's what we did, but in the last 10 years or so, it's become really popular and I think it's been taken to unhealthy places.

The truth is that we don't always get healed from what we are struggling with, whether it's a physical ailment or a mental or spiritual issue.

CT: So what is a healthy way to understand healing in the church?

Christy: That's why I wrote the book and I ended up going and studying healing again. You can't discount healing because it's such a big part of what Jesus modelled for us and one of His names is Rapha, which means 'Healer', and He is healing us all the time.

But I just think some of our manmade models and how we have interpreted healing in our own methods and methodology, this is what I believe is damaging. But Jesus' model is helpful! I absolutely believe in healing.

But I also believe in suffering. If you read the Scriptures and Hebrews 11, all the great mothers and fathers of the faith were promised so many things and never saw it this side of Heaven. Many of them struggled with their own weaknesses and sicknesses and mental health.

You can't take the Scriptures and say all is now because what we have now is not Heaven. I believe God is Healer and He is doing more than we realise and that His promise is that He will heal us, but He doesn't promise us when. This is what I believe the church has wrong most of the time.

I believe that we pray for now and ask for God to heal us now and we keep praying and maybe it will be tomorrow or next week or whatever or maybe it's when we die and we're with Him. Either way, healing's coming, we just don't know exactly when it's going to be, because it's a battle.

CT: You write in your book that some people struggle to come forward for prayer and help because it can be easily dismissed as a demonic influence.

Christy: Absolutely, because a lot of the time, the things we can't explain, we tend to categorise and label them. And I think that's where some of the damage is done.

And I think it also really depends on how you've been formed and your worldview, and what denomination you come from or the experience you've had in church. The more charismatic lean towards it being demonic while conservative evangelicals believe in suffering.

I believe we have to land somewhere in the middle.

CT: You also talk about shame being a big part of people's struggle with mental health. How does shame work against our healing?

Christy: Shame just keeps you isolated and you can't walk in wholeness if you are isolated. So many people live in shame because of what they are struggling with. For example, there are people who have asked God for healing and they're not being healed and so they feel like maybe they don't have enough faith.

There are countless people in the church who are stuck in addiction and they don't know how to get out. And when you're stuck in something and you don't know how to get out and you're afraid to ask for help because of the rejection or the retribution or whatever, then you tend to isolate and when you isolate, shame is just so empowered. The enemy really uses shame to keep people trapped.

CT: Where does faith in God come into our healing? What is the right posture for us to walk in every day as people of faith?

Christy: Well, the Bible tells us that faith is a gift so we have to receive the gift of faith every day. Every day I need faith to follow God and serve and love God. It takes God to love God! Faith is something God gives to us just to believe, even though we don't see the things that we would like to see. We can't even do that without God!

So I believe walking in faith is just asking God to give us the faith that we need for today.

For some it's 'help me to obey'. For others it's 'help me to get out of bed today', 'help me to trust you or to say no to this addiction'.

For all of us, it's something very different. But faith is the defining mark of the believer.

It's saying to God: 'I can't do life without you.'

CT: You say you have to "unlearn" a lot of what you have learned about healing over the years. What is the biggest thing you've "unlearned".

Christy: I've spent several years unlearning quite a bit. I've just been in a season where I feel like I've had to unlearn a lot of unhelpful theology that I don't believe is true.

But I believe that our theology should grow and stretch and change because our relationship with God is like that. If our theology isn't growing, we're not growing.

I've learned much more about mental illness, how complex the brain is, that not everything is spiritual or demonic. I used to believe that if you had depression and you lived that way then that was a choice and a weakness rather than brain chemistry. So I think those things have changed along the way and altered how I approach things.

And one area where this has happened in particular is with suicide. Countless people have come up to me to tell me about someone they love who has taken their own life, which is horrific, and people have told them that their loved one is in hell. I think that's bad theology and it's wrong for us to say who is going to be in Heaven or Hell. You have to be in a tremendous amount of pain to take your own life but that is what, as a church, we have taught.

CT: In your book, you write about how it's not so helpful for people with mental health issues to be told to read their Bible more. What would you say is a more helpful way to support people with mental illness?

Christy: I would say get educated, especially the church. But it's not only the church. Every leader should be getting educated on mental health and mental illness.

How can you serve effectively in something you are unaware of? I think getting educated about what someone is living with is one of the most loving things we can do because it's saying 'I care about you enough to try and understand what you live with'.

I find that very loving actually.

CT: You say in your book that Christians "won't see fullness on earth". What does fullness and wholeness look like for you in this life?

Christy: We need to know what healing is and what it isn't and there's a chapter in my book in which I address that, called 'If God heals, why am I still sick'.

What wholeness actually means is salvation. It means God saving every part of who we are and walking in the wholeness of that, body, soul and spirit. That's the most of what we encounter of God this side of Heaven.

But the fullness is in Romans 8. We won't see the fullness of everything until we have the redemption of our bodies when Christ comes again, whether He comes to get us or He comes again. That's when we will see the fullness of all that we are supposed to see, body, soul and spirit. That's where our hope lies.