I am painfully aware that I am the guy who wrote Visit the Sick, thus naturally become the guy who is supposed to know the answer to this question. The fact is, I am still wrestling with it. While teaching through James in our inductive Bible study on Wednesday evenings, I was recently confronted afresh with James’ instruction for “The elders of the the church to come and pray over the sick, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). Despite the fact that there is clear instruction from Scripture on the matter, there remains a debate among faithful pastors on whether this is a practice that should remain in the modern church. In the midst of many positions people take on this issue, I have narrowed the debate down to 2 positions:
Medicinal Purpose: Some argue oil was used as a healing balm for those experiencing illness in the biblical context. Because of this, the anointing with oil was an effort to use modern medical means to aid in the healing process while praying with faith for God to heal. This position is especially convenient for those who want to argue against anointing with oil today, as oil is no longer used to treat sickness. This position can be summarized in coming to the hospital, supporting the doctors and nurses efforts to treat the patient with modern medicine, while you still pray in faith for God to heal according to his will.
Spiritual Purposes: This position would argue there is a New Testament connection with the Old Testament anointing of oil as a setting apart of someone for God’s blessing and Spirit to come. Specifically this position in the context of James means this practice should continue today asking God to show his favor upon the sick and bring healing as the elders pray in faith. Those who hold this position might be found walking through the hospital (possibly with other elders) carrying a small bottle of oil to anoint and pray for the sick.
There are many implications to hold either of these positions, which I plan to address in a future post. For now, I wanted to put the question to each of you to see how you are wrestling with the practical implications of this instruction and why you hold the position you do.
What say you?