The Church's Expectation of Medicine and Religion

IN THIS time of specialized medicine and of increasingly exacting spiritual ministry, very few individuals are qualified effectively to encompass both fields. This fact offers a challenge for Christian ministers and physicians to unite their special talents and continue the work of their Master who "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister."1

-An associate secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists at the time this article was written

IN THIS time of specialized medicine and of increasingly exacting spiritual ministry, very few individuals are qualified effectively to encompass both fields. This fact offers a challenge for Christian ministers and physicians to unite their special talents and continue the work of their Master who "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister."1 This union when effected is formidable and in many circumstances is unbeatable. It results in the ideal team, for it is prepared to meet human need at many levels with the capability of approaching the individual when he is most susceptible to the impressions of eternal truth.

The Ideal—What Should Be

From careful study of the Spirit of Prophecy we understand: 2

1. That ideally, in God's plan for the gospel work, no separation or distinction is intended or even envisioned between the work of the physician and the minister.

2. That the gospel of health and the ministry of the Word are to be firmly linked together and can actually be one as they were in the ministry of Christ.

3. That more can be accomplished for truth through this union than through the ministry alone.

This then is the ideal! Can it be reached? Or is it impossible? Even if it were impossible, should we not strive to reach the ideal? As Sir William Osier said, "To have striven, to have made an effort, to have been true to certain ideals, this alone is worth the struggle." But we do not believe it is impossible, for we do not believe God requires the impossible. Further more, we know it is not an impossible ideal, for we have seen it reached! And it works!

The Present Situation—What Is

As we consider the ideal we strive to reach it. This is as it should be. But somehow the nagging thought persists that in spite of all that is right and wonderful about our church and its ministries, our performance could be closer to the ideal and in some instances much closer. We have problems and they are problems that cannot be ignored. Let us point briefly to some of them, focusing primarily on the interpersonal relationships be tween ministers and physicians in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As we identify the problem areas we are impressed that the great adversary has seen in the medical-ministerial team a powerful agency for the gospel and has determined to neutralize its potential. We are also impressed that he is using human frailty to accomplish his devastating purpose.

Probably the most obvious and generally recognized problem hindering the full efficacy of the medical-ministerial team is frequent lack of real confidence be tween ministers and physicians. Some causes for this are to be found in our history. There are skeletons of the past projected onto the present: the fear of some among the ministry that the medical work will take over the church; and in the medical sector the fear of some that they will be used and controlled by the clergy. This fear can be identified at several levels in the church: at the level of the minister/physician relationship in the local church, up through succeeding higher levels to the highest level of institutional/organizational relationships in the denomination. At each level the result is the same ---disintegration of the team concept in the gospel work.

In discussions with various denominational leaders several factors were identified that, in our opinion, tend to undermine mutual confidence and consequently disintegrate the team concept in the physician/minister relationship:

1. A lack of commitment to spiritual goals. The physician may not consider himself a medical missionary and consequently his practice is limited to secular medicine. Because he is independent in an organizational sense from the church he may feel released from the spiritual ministry and consequently disengaged from the main purpose of the church. The minister may lack personal commitment to the gospel of health and/or show inconsistency between his preaching and his practice in this area.

2. The tendency to use the other partner in the potential team. The minister may seek to take undue advantage of the physician's community relations, his professional influence, and his money. The physician may tend to use the church as a shelter for his con science, an outlet for his ego. He may become overly conscious of his financial influence in the church, yet in fact invest very little in personal commitment to the ideals and mission of the church.

3. Misunderstanding due to differences in approach to life situations. Granted some exceptions, physicians tend to be technicians, while ministers tend to be philosophers. Physicians are trained to be precise and scientific in their thinking. Ministers may often allow for wider differences of approach to given problems. Physicians are accustomed to making independent and relatively immediate decisions. Ministers more frequently must work by persuasion and through consensus or committees which often takes longer.

4. Disparity in life-style. In North America most physicians are not in denominational employ and consequently are not on a fixed salary. The practical outworking is a significant disparity in life-style between the minister and physician. Theoretically, physicians have an unlimited income while the minister's income is fixed. Frequently the physician is obviously more affluent, with all this can imply in human relations. Even when he is a fully dedicated medical missionary the physician may appear to be able to enjoy the best of both worlds, while the minister, somewhere along the way, has had to make an either/or choice. On the other side of the coin, the minister's relatively less-structured daily schedule may often appear to the physician to afford him a much easier, less-tension-filled life. By comparison, the physician may feel that the minister has it easy.

5. Fear of being overshadowed. The minister is probably more susceptible to this than the physician. Community and social acceptance of the physician is almost automatic, while for a Seventh-day Adventist minister such acceptance is guarded 'at best. People will easily approach a physician because they feel they need his help. Very few feel they need a preacher. Consequently, in most cases the medical missionary can quickly exert greater influence. From the team standpoint, this can be a tremendous advantage, but from the standpoint of personal relations, it presents some potential problems.

6. Absorption in one's own profession. This often results in the exclusion not only of participation in the potential team but even of concern or appreciation for the other team partner in the potential team.

Without a doubt the adversary greatly fears the influence for good and for the gospel that is exerted when the minister and the medical missionary combine as a team. The above factors he uses effectively to keep the team split. What God would join, he characteristically wishes to tear asunder! Can we not thwart the enemy? Can we not as brethren rise above these problem factors and unite our ministries in the imitation of our Master's, and in obedience to what God has told us should be?

The Church's Expectations

What are the church's expectations of its ministers and its physicians? Based on our appraisal of the current opinions of denominational leaders we can state that the church continues to believe in the ideal exemplified by our Master: a medical and evangelical ministry with "no division between" 3 in which a perfect blend should exist, in which "ministers and medical missionaries ... go forth to proclaim the gospel message;" 4 a team in which the physician is to some extent an evangelist and the minister, a medical missionary. The church leadership believes:

1. That by following Cod's plan for medical-ministerial cooperation abundant blessings and success can be ours.

2. That the present problems and obstacles can be surmounted.

3. That the dichotomy which now exists can be caused to dis appear.

It also believes the ideal is being pursued and reached in some places by ministers and physicians who have discovered that God's plan really works. These instances are not overlooked, but they occur so rarely and so relatively few ministers and physicians are involved and so few churches and communities are benefited that it cannot be said that we are doing all we should do.

What then, should be done? Let us first be a little positively negative and state what we believe should not be done.

We should not point fingers. This would do no good. No one should point to another and say, "This is your fault." Nor should we point back in history and say, "This was their fault." Except for the lessons we may learn from the past, we should not dwell on "what they did back in 1900" or "what the brethren did in the 1940's regarding the medical workers' wage scale." What should concern us most is, What can we do now? What can the church do? What can the ministers do? What can the physicians do? How do we reach the ideal together? We are here today and the Lord is coming soon. What can we do now to develop the correct working relationship between us as ministers and physicians?

The first step must be to refocus the ideal in the minds of men. If any correction is to be made it must be made in the minds of men, for the problem is not with the ideal, with God nor with the church and its teachings. The problem is with--men with us.

We must reach up and learn learn what God has said about our life and our professions and how they can be used to carry His mes sage of salvation and eternal life in Jesus Christ to the world.

We must then apply what we have learned to the problems that exist and specifically to the problems identified earlier. For each individual the learning and its application will be different. The physician, for instance, may need to change his approach to the practice of medicine from practice only as a secular physician to practice as a medical missionary. The minister may find it necessary to reform his life and his preaching to present a consistent message in all aspects, including the gospel of health.

Both the physician and the minister may need to evaluate each other again through eyes of humility. By God's grace "there must be no room for rivalry and personal vanity among you, but you must humbly reckon others better than yourselves. Look to each other's interest and not merely to your own." 5

The minister may need to share more fully with the physician in his ministry for the church and in plans for the church's witness to the community. If so, he will endeavor to work with the physician as a partner in the perfect blend of ministry which, when properly combined, "is a most effective instrument." 6 For best results this should not be done as an after thought or an appendage to previously laid plans, but from the very beginning and in a relationship as coequal members of the team.

The physician may need to make a fuller commitment to service as a medical missionary and, as a co-equal member of a team, accept the same ideals of life and personal conduct as the minister.

The physician may need to be more understanding of his minister partner's approach to problems and of the often slow, even cumbersome, machinery of the church. On his part the minister may need to sharpen his thought patterns and working procedures for in creased precision in communication and greater efficiency in handling church business.

Both the minister and the physician may need to place less emphasis on the material aspects of life and greater emphasis on personal spiritual growth and commitment to service. This will result in less preoccupation with any real or supposed differences in living styles, and an ever-growing concern for the spiritual values of life and missionary service.

The minister may notice that the community and even some church members are reacting more easily and openly to the physician than to himself. Jealous humanity will cry for equal recognition, but sanctified judgment blended with humility will convince him that this situation is really a great asset and that in time and with patience he will share in the results of this team endeavor.

In this situation the physician may have problems with his own humility, but humility and a balanced view of his role in the team will keep him from misusing his innate advantage at this point. He will be supremely satisfied in the expanded experience of helping to offer healing not only for men's bodies but for their souls.

Up to this point we have referred mainly to relationships between the individual ministers and physicians. We have looked as it were at the final product. But how does the church get that product?

Should we publish articles on this topic in the Review and Herald, in The Ministry magazine, in the Alumni Journal, or in Spectrum? This could and probably should be done, but would probably have only relatively short-range results.

Or should we urge all ministers and physicians to read the "red books"; the ministers, Medical Ministry, and the physicians, Gospel Workers and Evangelism? This would be good and if every one would apply what he read there undoubtedly would be a marked change for the good.

Or should we organize more ministerial-medical retreats and area councils where these concepts can be discussed and localized specifics planned? This also would be helpful and where this has been done regularly much progress has already been made.

Certainly we should continue to include medical missionary workers in the staffing and councils of the church at all levels.

Yet if we are serious in our acceptance of the medical-missionary team approach in the work of the church, it seems that through medical and ministerial education we may assure the greatest long-range progress toward the ideal. As a beginning we make three suggestions which would require little if any additional material resources and no change in existing structures within the church.

First, we suggest increased communication between the faculties of our professional schools at Loma Linda University and the Theological Seminary at Andrews University. The lines of communication already existing should be maintained, and should be strengthened for this particular purpose. Communication should be structured in such a way that contacts can be on a continuing and natural basis, not problemoriented. The purpose should be to develop and maintain teaching approaches in the ministerial and medical area that will prepare ministers and physicians to assume the proper relationship to one an other and to the church in the practice of their profession.

Second, we suggest a continuing and regular contact between church leadership and the faculties of LLU professional schools and the Theological Seminary. Such contacts should not be administrative per se, nor limited to administrative channels but should be direct. They should be for the purpose of discussing objectives, philosophy, and teaching approaches as they relate to the church and its total program. They should not be crisis- or problem-oriented.

Third, we suggest introduction into the curricula of the LLU professional schools and the Theo logical Seminary instruction oriented to the minister-medical missionary-team concept. The content should be weighted in favor of the clinical and field aspects of this concept the practical. The aspiring physician would learn how to relate medicine to the spiritual needs of men, how to win souls, how to work in a minister-physician team and how to re late to the church organization at the local and general levels. Like wise, the aspiring minister would learn how to relate his ministry to the physical needs of men, how to recognize the physical and mental sickness of humanity, and how to work effectively with a medical-missionary teammate.

If we truly believe the instructions given to us by inspiration, can we do less? This statement keeps haunting us: "I want to tell you that when the gospel ministers and the medical missionary are not united, there is placed on our churches the worst evil that can be placed there." 7 Conversely, what a blessing the union of these two areas of missionary endeavor can be to the church!

Dr. Wayne McFarland told me about his visit with one of his classmates, Dr. Edmond Good, LLU-SM Class of '39, who is a practicing physician in New York City. Said Dr. Good, "If I see this patient needs more than an injection or the removal of a gall bladder and if he has something in the field of guilt or worry or fear that is eating away on him, or perhaps if his home is not happy, I tell him, 'You know, I think you need more than this medicine. You need an opportunity to talk things over with somebody who understands this type of problem. I have a special clinic that I run with a clergy man. We have it right here in my office. If you'll come on such-and-such a night, you will be with a group of other patients and we will try. to find an answer to this problem that is really bugging you and produces your migraine, your ulcers, or whatever it happens to be.' " In his church, Dr. Good can point and say, "You see that row of people there? Those are all patients of mine! And those three people there? Those are my patients too." Could any minister ask for a better teammate?

Could any physician ask for greater satisfaction?


1. Matt. 20:28.

2. Medical Ministry, pp. 250, 259, 263; Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 111; Ibid., vol. 9, pp. 169, 170.

3. Medical Ministry, p. 237.

4. Evangelism, p. 397.

5. Phil. 2:3, 4. From The New English Bible. The Delegates of The Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1970. Reprinted by permission.

6. Medical Ministry, p. 240.

7. Ibid., p. 241.

Advertisement - Healthy and Happy Family - Skyscraper 728x90

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus
-An associate secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists at the time this article was written

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - Southern Adv Univ 180x150 - Animated


Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - NAD Stewardship (160x600)