The Adventist Physician—A Search for Identity

Our monthly viewpoint column.

HERSCHEL C. LAMP, M.D. Medical Secretary, Middle East Division

[Note: Your comments and constructive criticisms are invited. Whether it be praise or disapproval, our only re­quirement is that it be done in the framework of a Chris­tian spirit. All items under this heading reflect the per­sonal views of the respective writers and not necessarily those of this journal or the denomination at large.—Editors.]

IN PART I of this presen­tation an effort was made to show that the problem of physician recruitment for overseas service is a natural consequence of the church's failure to develop an active pool of denominational physi­cians who can be called upon to accept such mis­sionary positions. Three important factors were cited to help ex­plain why we have no ready supply of phy­sicians in the worker pool.

1.    The physician has no genuine iden­tity within the church organization; his role in the program of the church is blurred and indistinct; his position, insecure.

2.    The medical education of the pro­spective physician is not oriented toward a career in denominational service.

3.    The church has closed the door to career physicians by changing our sanitar­iums into community hospitals, which no longer offer salaried staff positions to phy­sicians. Consequently, the physician enters private practice where he is largely un­available for mission service.

Each of these points deserves closer study if we are to find an integrated solution to the problems of the medical missionary program of the church.

4. The Role of the Christian Physician in the Adventist Church.

This subject is the crux of the entire problem and demands our most earnest and prayerful consideration.

Every Seventh-day Adventist is called to be a witness for his Lord in whatever station in life he may find himself—farmer or merchant, laborer or professional man, The call to service is to all. It is not neces­sary for every Adventist Christian to be on the denominational payroll in order to tes­tify to others of his love and devotion to Christ and of his personal doctrinal beliefs. Many dedicated, self-supporting laymen at­test the truth of this fact by their earnest and effective soul-winning activities.

The specific worker who concerns us here, however, is the physician, and the pointed question we must answer regarding him is "Should the Adventist physician be a self-supported layman working outside the denominational organization or should he be a salaried gospel worker fully inte­grated into the organizational structure of the church?" On this crucial point Ellen G. White has given us an abundance of in­spired counsel, and it is best to let the testi­mony answer the question for us.

First, let us note the place of the medi­cal missionary work in the Lord's plan for the church:

Medical missionary work is the pioneer work of the gospel, the door through which the truth for this time is to find entrance to many homes.— Counsels on Health, p. 497.

I can see in the Lord's providence that the medical missionary work is to be a great entering wedge, whereby the diseased soul may be reached. —Ibid., p. 535.

Nothing will open doors for the truth like evan­gelistic medical missionary work. . . . Medical mis­sionary work is the right, helping hand of the gos­pel, to open doors for the proclamation of the message.—Evangelism, p. 513.

The medical missionary work is of divine ori­gin, and has a most glorious mission to fulfill. In all its bearings it is to be in conformity with Christ's work.—Medical Ministry, p. 24.

That this work is to be intimately linked with the gospel ministry is clear from the following:

Medical missionary work is in no case to be divorced from the gospel ministry. The Lord has specified that the two shall be as closely connected as the arm is with the body. Without this union neither part of the work is complete. The medical missionary work is the gospel in illustration.—Counsels on Health, p. 524.

It is the divine plan that we shall work as the disciples worked. Physical healing is bound up with the gospel commission. In the work of the gospel, teaching and healing are never to be sep­arated.—The Ministry of Healing, p. 141.

The gospel ministry is needed to give perma­nence and stability to the medical missionary work; and the ministry needs the medical missionary work to demonstrate the practical working of the gospel. Neither part of the work is complete with­out the other.—Counsels on Health, p. 514.

Then let no line be drawn between the genuine medical missionary work and the gospel ministry. —Ibid., p. 516.

The Lord's work is one, and His people are to be one. He has not directed that any one feature of the message should be carried on independently or become all-absorbing. In all His labors He united the medical . . . work with the ministry of the word. . . . Thus should the Lord's messengers en­ter His work today.—Ibid., p. 517.

There are none too many godly physicians to minister in their profession. There is much work to be done, and ministers and doctors are to work in perfect union.—Ibid., p. 335.

I wish to speak about the relation existing be­tween the medical missionary work and the gospel ministry. It has been presented to me that every department of the work is to be united in one great whole. The work of God is to prepare a people to stand before the Son of man at His coming, and this work should be a unit. The work that is to fit a people to stand firm in the last great day must not be a divided work. . . .

There is to be no division between the ministry and the medical work. The physician should labor equally with the minister, and with as much ear­nestness and thoroughness for the salvation of the soul, as well as for the restoration of the body...

It has been urged that because the medical mis­sionary work is the arm of the body, there should be a oneness of respect shown. This is so. The medical missionary work is the arm of the body, and God wants us to take a decided interest in this work.

Christ was bound up in all branches of the work. He did not make any division. . . .

The right hand is used to open doors through which the body may find entrance. This is the part the medical missionary work is to act. It is to largely prepare the way for the reception of the truth for this time. A body without hands is use­less. In giving honor to the body, honor must also be given to the helping hands, which are agencies of such importance that without them the body can do nothing.—Medical Ministry, pp. 237, 238.

The Spirit of Prophecy is even more spe­cific concerning the spiritual role of the physician:

The Redeemer expects our physicians to make the saving of souls their first work.—Ibid., p. 37.

The Christian physician is a minister of the highest order. He is a missionary.—Ibid., p. 147.

Especially do we need the help that the physi­cian can render as an evangelist. If ministers and physicians will plan to unite in an effort to reach the honest-hearted ones in our cities, the physi­cians, as well as the ministers, will be placed on vantage ground.—Ibid., p. 304.

Every physician can and ought to be a Chris­tian, and if so, he bears with him a cure for the soul as well as the body. He is doing the work of an apostle as well as of a physician.—Counsels on Health, p. 535.

Remember, my brother, that medical mission­ary work is not to take men from the ministry, but is to place men in the field, better qualified to min­ister because of their knowledge of medical mis­sionary work.—Ibid., p. 519.

The evangelist who is prepared to minister to a diseased body is given the grandest opportunity of ministering to the sinsick soul. Such an evan­gelist should be empowered to administer baptism to those who are converted and desire baptism.—Evangelism, p. 513.

The work of the true medical missionary is largely a spiritual work. It includes prayer and the laying on of hands; he therefore should be as sacredly set apart for his work as is the minister of the gospel. Those who are selected to act the part of missionary physicians are to be set apart as such. This will strengthen them against the temptations to withdraw from the sanitarium work to engage in private practice. No selfish motives should be allowed to draw the worker from his post of duty.—Counsels on Health, p. 540.

What About Private Practice?

Notice, physicians are to be sacredly set apart for their work to "strengthen them against the temptations to withdraw from the sanitarium work to engage in private practice."

In writing to a physician in perplexity about this very question of private versus denominational employment, Ellen G. White said:

Then One who has authority stepped up to you and said: "You are not your own. You have been bought with a price. Your time, your talents, every jot of your influence, is the Lord's. You are His servant. Your part is to do His bidding, and learn daily of Him. You are not to set up in business for yourself. This is not the Lord's plan." . . .

You are in an unsettled state of mind, and are tempted to do a strange work, which God has not appointed you to do. None of us are to strike out alone; we are to link up with our brethren, and pull together. . . .

Do not refuse to unite with your brethren, fear­ing that if you put yourself on an equality with them, you will not be able to do all that your own judgment might suggest. God's workers are to counsel together. Ministers, physicians, or direc­tors are walking in false paths when they regard themselves as a complete whole. Medical Minis­try, pp. 44-47.

"Not to Commercial Pursuits"

In writing about our training center for medical workers at Loma Linda, Mrs. White gave similar counsel: "It may not be carried on, in every respect, as are the schools of the world, but it is to be especially adapted for those who desire to devote their lives, not to commercial pursuits, but to unselfish service for the Master."­Ibid., p. 75.

This, then, is the inspired portrayal of the Adventist physician's intended role in the work of God in the earth. Is it not a no­ble one, a high calling? Both the physi­cians and the denominational leaders must realize that it is impossible to effectively implement the divine plan for medical evangelism while the physician is admin­istratively, economically, and charismati­cally isolated to such a large extent from the gospel team. God requires the undi­vided, fully consecrated, selfless service of the physician no less than He requires it of the gospel minister. How else can these explicit counsels be understood?

Some will doubtless counter these state­ments by citing Adventist physicians in pri­vate practice who are making an excellent contribution to the church, not only in their generous financial gifts but also in their personal involvement in church af­fairs and soul-winning activities. To such observations I can add my own list of per­sonal friends and classmates who are among this consecrated group of lay work­ers. But I must say, neverthelesss, that even though many of our physicians have effec­tively demonstrated a fine Christian witness in their private practice of medicine, it was not, I believe, the original plan of God that they should be so isolated from the medical program of the denominational or­ganization. Had the divine plan been fol­lowed, a much more effective, more wide­spread, and more lasting witness could have been possible, and many of the church's present problems in our medical work could have been obviated.

How the doctor's present economic in­dependence came about is not entirely clear to me. However, in informal discus­sion groups in which I have participated I have learned that the general consensus of denominational administrators is that ex­pressed in the October, 1965, MINISTRY ar­ticle, "How Our Sanitariums Became Hos­pitals and Why." The answer—personal aggrandizement, covetousness, and materi­alism. Any objective observer cannot help entertaining some suspicion about a type of worker who will work for the church if he can "run his own show," be exempt from denominational administrative poli­cies, and have financial independence. Might not other highly trained and gifted workers be able to better their material status in life by divorcing themselves from denominational employ?

Ecumenical Movement Among Doctors and Ministers

In these prophetically foretold days of ecumenism and rapprochement among var­ious religious bodies it is perhaps not inap­propriate for us to consider that there is a need for serious dialog between our minis­terial administrators and our denomina­tional physicians. How wonderful it would be if the initial overture to such discussions on the Christian physician's role in the unity of the church would be made by the physicians themselves. The responsibility, the burden, to testify to their wholehearted fealty to the work of God rests with the physicians themselves. They must express their willingness to render a self-sacrificing, totally committed life of service to the church before any definitive steps can be taken to alter the present relationship be­tween the physician and the denomina­tional organization. The divinely ap­pointed plan will not, indeed it cannot, be forced upon them. It can only come from the physician's own desire for identity and fulfillment in an exalted calling.

2.   The Role of the Training Center.

In the nearly 14 years since I finished my medical training at the College of Medical Evangelists many changes have taken place, not the least of which is the improvement in the curriculum of the Division of Reli­gion. In reading the list of courses cur­rently offered in this department, I find it quite apparent that a large variety of po­tentially meaningful courses are available to the student to help him realize the full potentials of his Christian witness.

I do not know whether these religion classes present the role of the Christian physician as I have defined it in this paper. It was certainly not so presented in my school days, but this could be accounted for by the fact that we had no courses or classroom discussions on the specific Spirit of Prophecy counsel regarding our medical program as presented in the books Medical Ministry, Counsels on Health, Counsels on Diet and Foods, Temperance, and the sec­tion entitled "Medical Evangelism" in the book Evangelism. Perhaps this has changed too. I do not know. I trust that it has, for these books are the foundation of our health message and must be studied if right principles and objectives are to be under­stood.

3.   The Adventist Medical Institution.

If we are to inspire men and women to a lifetime career in denominational medical practice we must have places for them to work. As it appears to me, this means sala­ried physicians and closed-staff institutions. How this is to be achieved is a thorny prob­lem. This paper cannot begin to be ex­haustive in suggesting answers to all the perplexities involved in returning to the divine plan, but it can express the confi­dence that doing God's will can never be an impossibility. One rather simple sugges­tion may be in order. A new medical in­stitution, small but complete, can be built with full denominational support. This model institution should have a 100 per cent Seventh-day Adventist staff, including career physicians who have expressed their desire to join in such a project. I am sure that men and women will rise to such a challenge. With consecrated effort and prayerful study such an institution will suc­ceed. Loyalty, dedication, and self-sacrifice are contagious. Others will rally to the pro-°ram and more such institutions can be built. I firmly believe that if this plan is followed, our critical shortage of nursing personnel will be solved too. Nurses and other medical workers will respond to the appeal to work in a thoroughgoing Ad­ventist medical institution.

Then when this goal shall have been achieved—dedicated career medical evan­gelists working in denominational institu­tions after the Lord's design—we shall have an ever-present supply of workers who will be willing to serve not only in the homeland but in the far-flung mission posts as well. And this brings us back to the solution to the problem with which we began.

Time is short. Let us arise to the task.

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HERSCHEL C. LAMP, M.D. Medical Secretary, Middle East Division

March 1967

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