Healing

Anointing of the Sick From Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church Bulletin

“Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15).
  • Many of us grew up when this Sacrament was known as “Extreme Unction”. Because of the name, we associated this anointing of the sick only with the “Last Rites” the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum (Holy Communion as ‘Food for the Journey’) – given to a person who was dying.
  • The Bishops at Vatican Council II restored this Sacrament to its original purpose as a Sacrament for the Sick – not just for those who are at the point of death, but also for anyone who was seriously ill. To help all better understand this, the name was changed to the “Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick”.
  • As a Sacrament, the best way to celebrate it is within the community of the Church – that is, with the family and friends of the sick person gathered around – and the sick person alert and able to respond in faith to the healing presence of the Lord in the Sacrament.

Because of this, if you know of someone who has a debilitating or life threatening illness, please call the parish office  303-455-0447  to arrange for a priest to visit and anoint the sick person. Do not wait until the person is at the point of death

The item above came from a Catholic church bulletin.  I have wondered about healing for a long time but have not come up with a consistent view of it that makes sense.  I hold what seems to be a handful of conflicting views. Although  I don’t see the Bible as being 100% clear on this and Christians hold different views on healing, this is my attempt to sort things out for myself.

Reaction

First, I agree that it does seem like a good idea avoid wating  until the point of death before calling the priest or elders.  It is interesting too that this idea is routine in the Catholic Church–just call up the priest they deliver!  In conservative Christian circles there is a question about whether or not God even heals people these days–one of those signs that have ceased.  If you are lucky your illness makes it around a couple of times on the ‘ol prayer chain.

Those prayer chain prayers can be troubling on one level too.  The prayers always seem to include something about giving the doctors wisdom and that the drug will do the trick.  What I like about the Catholic approach is that it is all about asking God straightway to heal somebody without any confounding doctor or drug variables.  It is exciting, like going for the long bomb in football.  I think sometimes we tend to discount God’s power and mercy by interjecting stuff about doctors and drugs in our prayers so they become short yardage prayers.  It bothers me to pray this way because,  if we are serious about asking God to perform a miracle, why would we throw that other stuff in?  It feels like such a prayer reveals some doubt and that the prayer, by including stuff about doctors, somehow is hedging a long shot bet. That kind of prayer makes God a mere helper in the worldly system we already trust in too much.

The counterpoint is that Jesus has a physical body, created the universe, and sustains it.  We should not be surprised if God were to use natural means to heal someone.  God may give a doctor some special insight about what to do and it would be reasonable to pray for such a thing.  If God accomplished healing this way it would still be miraculous only much less obvious from our point of view.  We should not minimize the earthly means available for healing either.  Charles Ryrie said that to disregard the human means available for healing and simply pray for a miracle is like praying for a harvest and then sitting back in a rocking chair refusing to plant or cultivate the ground.  Charles Ryrie says that it would be wrong of us to expect healing because we will all die from our last disease.  If healing were assured then we would never die because even the last disease would be cured.

James 5:13-15

My effort to make sense of healing begins with James. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:13-15).  We are told to seek healing here and why would we call the elders if it would be to no avail?  So we ought to know that we can be healed.

The reality is that most of the time healing does not happen for those we pray for.  I can say that I don’t have any personal experience where there was a clear undeniable miraculous healing.  Many claim to have been healed but the problem is that most  people who are healed were also taking some drug, or getting some other treatment from a doctor at the same time.  So it is impossible to say if it was the drug or God’s miraculous intervention.

Is Miraculous Helaing for This Age?

If James 5:13 stands alone then you would have to say that yes, miraculous healing could be part of our experience today.  I do not see anything in scripture that seems to limit healing to a certain time period or impose other constraints.

Spiritual Gift of Healing

One idea in the scripture is the idea that certain sign gifts will pass away.  Taken together, Ephesians 2:20 and Hebrews 2:3-4 indicate that miraculous signs were used for laying the foundation of the church, apply to the Apostles (those who heard), and used and to authenticate the message.  These gifts are spoken of in the past tense and gifts are not needed now because they are incorporated in to the completed foundation that we are presently building on.  This thinking seems to be confirmed in 1 Corinthians 13:8 where it says tongues and prophecies will cease.

The problem is that this passages doesn’t specify exactly what gifts will pass away or exactly when, other than to say that “when the perfect comes”,  they will pass away.  If “when  the perfect comes” means the second coming of Christ then this ceasing of gifts is still future and those gifts are still in place.  An alternative view is the “when the perfect comes” means revelation through scripture.  Since scripture is complete with the book of Revleation, there is no need to validate the message through miraculous signs and the sign gifts have passed away with the apostles.

One comentator on spiritual gifts said that those who say that the gift of healing has ceased suffer from hermeutical myopia.  I understand that point of view and there doesn’t seem to be enough information in scripture to state with certaininty that this spiritual gift has ceased.   The scripture is clear that miriculous sign gifts were part of the foundation but it does not say that they were only for the foundation.  However, the case for considering these gifts to be limited to the foundation time period is convincing and the effects of human corruption cause me to think that these gifts are for the early church.

Another question that comes to mind is, if and when the gift of healing ceases, does that event nullify the instruction to call the elders if you are sick?  I think that it is safe to say that the foundation has been laid and the need has past so it is reasonable to conclude that the gift of healing is not operating at present. I don’t think that this cancels out James 5:13-15, however, and it does not mean that God does not perform miracles today.  This might be splitting hairs but going to the elders is not the same thing exactly as calling up Fred, who has the gift, to get your cold fixed.  Since Fred doesn’t exist in today’s church we go to the elders who pray with us for healing.  God still performes the miracle but the elders do not necessarily have the gift of healing so it seems like a little different process that is at work.  Miracles have not ceased but the spiritual gift of healing for the church in this age has ceased.

Perspective

It is important to keep healing in perspective too.  A lot of the passages that talk about healing really are not talking about physical healing.  Most of the passages in the Bible related to healing are talking about healing the spiritual gap between man and God brought about by sin.  Even healing of the land in the OT was a result of people returning to God in repentance and God restoring His relationship to His people.  Physical healing of the human body in the Bible, and, for the church today, is not the main thing.

Faith

Faith seems to be involved in healing but I have never liked the idea of blaming the victim by saying that the reason he/she was not healed was because of not having enough faith.  I think a person demonstrates sufficient faith just by asking God with a sincere heart.  You have to allow that God may have another purpose for a person’s life that does not involve healing.

Corruption

There are troubling anecdotal stories and not to reverent reactions that nag at me and cause me to ponder:

  1. I used to watch Oral Roberts on TV when I was a kid because nothing else was on Sunday morning.  He always had this part at the end where he would heal people of just about anything. They would come up on stage and he would put his hands on them and pray that the sickness or what ever would leave them.  He would ask if things were better and, if not, he would do it over again until the person said yes he was better.  It was a good show but I always thought it was fake.  I think he got people to say they were healed though sheer force of personality and the demand qualities of the situation.  A lot of them really didn’t look healed as they struggled in their broken bodies to get off the stage.
  2. I think that the Toronto Blessing business is probably a modernized  version of that whole Oral Roberts scam.
  3. Christianity Today had an article last month about a lady that was healed from some dread disease by going to a healing service in Toronto as part of the Toronto Blessing happening. She went to Mozambique and has a ministry healing people.  It is said the she has even raised people from the dead and Christianity Today seems to back her up saying that some of these healings have been validated and statistical studies indicate that this is not by chance.
  4. There is a fountain in Spain  that puts out water blessed by saint so and so.  Catholics and other people make long treks there and claim to be healed by the water, but really, how does a person know that it wasn’t the drug they were taking on the side or just the placebo effect?  This story was covered on 60 Minutes and could have been in some other country, I am uncertain of the location.
  5. If the Catholics need a fountain for healing, that tells you that the priest thing isn’t working very good.  After all, it would be a lot easier just to call the priest than make a trek to Spain.
  6. There was that pool in the NT where you could get healed if you were the first one in after the angels disturbed the water.  If that was real in the NT, then I suppose God could allow a similar deal now.  That would seem to legitimize the healing water from the fountain  in Spain.
  7. I read an IVP book on the Holy Spirit once and it talked bout how missionaries in South America would witness and  people would speak in tongues.  The tongues were the kind where people would speak in one language and others would hear in their language.  Their take seemed to be that spiritual gifts were still operating but perhaps only in areas where the gospel has not been heard yet.  That would help explain the Mozambique healings if they were God’s work.   If that it works that way in Mozambique and in South America, why don’t we you see these gifts at work in abundance at Baptist church plants in the US?

Miracles  accompany a meassage and validate the message or point to God.  The message that comes with most of these alledged miracles is often not Biblical truth, seeks to advance a ministry, person, or saint, and includes a powerful request for money.  Since the message does not honor God or truth I think these things are mostly noise and a product of human corruption.

Even if God does perform a miracle it seems like it is hard to confirm.  The healing miracles in the Bible seem to be instant, clear of physician intervention, and beyond natural means.  I just don’t see that these kind of miracles are happening now.

Practical Action

With all of that in mind, the practical action plan on healing is:

  • Keep taking the drugs.
  • Follow the doctors orders.
  • Since I think that the gift of healing isn’t operating today, I would skip Fred and call the elders instead.
  • If you do call Fred in desperation at least check out the message that comes with his ministry and avoid corruption.  Your witness may count more than the healing in the big scheme of things.
  • Pray for healing.
  • Have the elders bring oil.
  • Include the stuff about doctors and drugs in prayers for healing.
  • Be ready to accept that God may have other plans that do not involve miraculous healing.
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