The Ministry of a Healing Church part 1

The Ministry of a Healing Church (Part 1)

This article is one of many on going attempts to probe seriously the meaning and validity of the unique ministry we have been called and commissioned to do as a healing church. We will deal with (1) the ministry of healing; (2) the ministry of healing persons; (3) the putting together of a healing ministry; and (4) the healing of ministry. . .

-professor of Theology and Clinical Ministry, Division of Religion, Loma Linda University at the time this article was written

GEORGE WEBBER, in God's Colony in Man's World, relates a painful but poignant account of a visitation incident experienced by one of the ministers of an interdenominational East Harlem store-front church. The mission-minded minister set out to call on all of the thirty-three families in a tenement building near the church. To his knock on the doors came the unvaried response, "Who?" Evidently the answers the frustrated pastor gave were not enough, for the doors remained barred. This "guarded" response raised the question for God's colony in East Harlem: "Who are we to knock on every door in Harlem? What really validates our authority to those inside?" In his attempt to answer this probing question, Webber asserts:

"The world has every right to ask this question, but too often, in its eagerness to win the world, the church gives the wrong answers or short-circuits completely the process by which it would maintain its own integrity. The primary credentials which a church can possess are simply to be the church, to reflect as fully as God makes possible the being and life of the people of God. In the world this can only show it self when the church, through its members and its own life, ex presses the servanthood of Christ. . . . When the church, by the mercy of God, is the servant of Christ and does its work in the spirit of a servant, it possesses the only possible credential." *

The implications of the East Harlem enigma in mission outreach are becoming more and more apparent for the Seventh-day Adventist Church today. Who are we to knock on the doors of "those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and tongue and people" (Rev. 14:6, R.S.V.)? What is the process by which we seek to maintain our integrity, our reason for existence?

For many years now we have been talking about the right church, and the right arm, and the right mouth for communicating the right message. In spite of some of our statistical and even personal successes, however, we have yet to put what we are and do together in enough of an integrated wholeness to speak with sufficient authority to unbar many, many, closed doors. Much of the world is still answering our knock with a probing "Who?"

This article is one of many on going attempts to probe seriously the meaning and validity of the unique ministry we have been called and commissioned to do as a healing church. We will deal with (1) the ministry of healing; (2) the ministry of healing persons; (3) the putting together of a healing ministry; and (4) the healing of ministry.

The Ministry of Healing

The whole story o,f the New Testament, with its wide variety of close-ups and cameos of Christ and Christianity, revolves around the theme of ministry. For a change, Someone had come not to be ministered to but to minister!

Ellen White comments: "Our Lord Jesus Christ came to this world as the unwearied servant of man's necessity. He 'took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses,' that He might minister to every need of humanity. ... It was His mission to bring to men complete restoration; He came to give them health and peace and perfection of character."— Gospel Workers, p. 41.

Whenever Christ's creative, transforming power breaks into human life, that power takes some definite form or structure. This is usually thought to be the Christian life as lived in a justification- and sanctification-saving sense. To be a Christian means so very much more than being saved! It means that the form of life and work seen in the life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ takes shape in saved man's life, individually and corporately. The life of Jesus took "the form of a servant'' (Phil. 2:7).

Thus it is that any and all kinds of men, women, and children are gathered and incorporated by the Holy Spirit into transforming, renewing, encounter and communion with Christ. Possessed and filled by redeeming love, they are compelled in gratitude to serve that love in the great mission of reconciliation and healing of the world.

This common possession of love and mission creates a community of ministry called "God's people." Note Peter's description: "You are a chosen race, a royal priest hood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9, R.S.V.). These "people" are Other- and other-directed. They deliberately find themselves among those who are sick, hurt, and in need, and in the most unlikely places ... in the church, or in the most irreligious community, and, in the most ordinary experiences of life. These people do not merely gather for worship and instruction, they scatter for service! They are a pilgrim people ever moving across time and space, participating in and making salvation history for the glory of God.

The whole dynamic for ministry is thus clearer when we see that Christ has not created a people, even a "remnant people," with an organized life, to which He adds a missionary task to be performed. Nor does the Lord create structures of ministry for the church that are designed purely as functions of church mission.

Once we were "no people," but now we are "God's people," Peter says. Once we had not received mercy, and forgiveness, and acceptance, but now we have. What we then do in response called ministry is in its purest sense spontaneous, free from all coercion and promotion either by individuals or institutions. As saved men and women under the direction of the Spirit, we extend the healing ministry of Christ in the church and in the world. Christ actually ministers the gospel through us!

The dignity and responsibility of such ministry rests on what Christ has done for us and wishes to do through us, and is to be carried on in lowliness and gratitude as supreme privilege.

As individuals, and as a church, gathered and compelled by love to ministry, we are not a homogenized mass of duplicate saints. We are each unique persons, and we fulfill a diversity of ministerial functions as the Holy Spirit gives and exercises His gifts through us. Whatever our education or training, or whatever talents or abilities we have, no man ministers for Christ in his own right and strength, but only in complete dependence on the Spirit of God, who gives to each Christian as He wills and sees best.

We are all "ministers," and we each have a distinct ministry, but we are not all evangelists, pastors, teachers, doctors, or prophets. Our gifts are only a part of the ministry of the whole body. If the whole body were the preacher's mouth, where would be the arm and hand to unbar doors? And if the whole body were the doctor's "right arm," are all of the weaker parts of the body then indispensable?

The whole direction of Paul's discussion of the gifts of the Spirit for ministry is toward unifying all of the gifts for achieving the goals of ministry—those of healing, reconciling, restoring, and preparing mankind to meet his God. In this sense, we are to use each of our gifts for the ministry of healing in both the church and the world. We are to be unique, healing persons.

The Ministry of Healing Persons

The Swiss psychiatrist Balint nostalgically probes the secret of the "old family doctor" who was rarely paid but greatly loved. His conclusion is that the doctor him self is an extremely powerful drug, and those who use it relieve more suffering than has yet been re corded by the most powerful drugs in the pharmacopoeia. The family doctor knew this to be so and he prescribed himself in generous doses.

Today, however, the galloping advances of medical discovery have changed the shape of medical care, even the care given by the "good old family doctor." Personal care, by and large, has changed to community and highly professional care. Men and women of the medical profession are denounced for not taking a more personal interest in their patients. It is true that in an age of specialization with the inherent danger of a fragmentary approach to individuals, patients tend to be cured or buried, without ever revealing their identity except on office and hospital forms.

In reality we probably have something of a continuum between the horse-and-buggy doctor with his well-intentioned but woefully inadequate means of practice, who is a dignified citizen of the community, respected and loved as he dispenses what medicine he knows with healing compassion, and the medical scientist who has all the latest tools for his diagnostic and therapeutic armory, but can only warm to, and speak in glowing terms of, a balanced endocrine system or of amino-acid complexes. Each doctor must consult with his own conscience and practice, to determine where he is on the continuum.

The same specter of impersonalism hovers about all vocations. We all, by our carefully conditioned, twentieth-century detachment, tend not to touch people in other than scientific, coldly materialistic, and utilitarian ways.

It was not so with Christ. It must no longer be true of us!

In the Gospels the one distinctive thing about Christ's healing ministry is the dramatic power of His person. He said of Himself: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound" (Isa. 61:1, R.S.V.).

Commenting on this verse Ellen White notes: "Christ came to heal the sick, to proclaim deliverance to the captives of Satan. He was in Himself health and strength. He imparted His life to the sick, the afflicted, those possessed of demons. He turned away none who came to receive His healing power. . . . And when virtue from Christ entered into these poor souls, they were convicted of sin, and many were healed of their spiritual disease, as well as of their physical maladies. The gospel still possesses the same power, and why should we not today witness the same results? . . . He [Christ] is just as willing to heal the sick now as when He was personally on earth. Christ's servants are His representatives, the channels for His working. He desires through them to exercise His healing power."—The Desire of Ages, pp. 823, 824. (Italics supplied.) The above text and commentary rightly understood and applied afford a kind of "sacramental" analogy that can help us see more precisely the nature of our minis try as healing persons.

"Christ came to heal the sick, to proclaim deliverance . . . "There was never a question in Christ's mind as to what He was about. His ministry was to the needs of the whole man. He understood perfectly the cause-and-effect relationship between the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual in illness and health. He did not compartmentalize His ministry into clinical and spiritual dimensions. For Him there could be no "healing" of illness in the truest sense unless and until men had been delivered from sin.

The Christian doctor is responsible for the souls as well as the bodies of his patients. The Christian minister is responsible for the bodies of his parishioners as well as their souls. The Christian church is responsible for the bodies and souls of the world. We have no other mission, we must use no other method.

"He was in Himself health and strength. "In his book The Trouble with the Church, Helmut Thielicke warns preachers to live in the house of their own theology so that what they say and do will have credibility. While God did not choose us as His people because of any piety we might exhibit, it surely follows that knowing what we know of the truth of God, as that truth touches all of living and life-style, we ought to reveal a qualitative spiritual experience that is without question. Quite apart from our own knowing at a given moment what our "health and strength" are, anyone who sees us and knows us should be able to sense the working of divine power in us.

"He imparted His life to the sick, the afflicted."Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief while on earth. He felt the agony and pain of the sick and revealed an empathy and sympathy that we can only approach through our union with Him by the Holy Spirit.

The life of the healing Christian is sacramental, because it is a life lived in and by the Spirit. From the time of Pentecost whenever a per son or a church has been imbued with the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the power received has profoundly influenced the bodies and minds of other men. When the Spirit is in control of our lives by faith we are clear channels for the healing power of God to flow through.

In the New Testament alone the Spirit is referred to nearly three hundred times. The one word with which "Spirit" is continually associated is "power." The life we impart to the sick and afflicted flows out from us as the Spirit coming into our own energies and capacities expands them and works through them as we minister. We are laid hold of by One greater than ourselves. We face situations and persons, we speak words, and we accomplish things that in our own strength would be utterly impossible. The Holy Spirit seems to mix and mingle His power with our own. All of the fruits of the Spirit are a reality in experience as divine fullness flows through us to others.

All this is mystery, but it is most certainly not myth. It is a spiritual fact that when a Christian's life is such that Christ can go with him to the sick there will come to their lives the conviction that the healing Christ is present in and through that Christian. He is in fact a healing person.

Christ "turned away none who came to receive His healing power" (The Desire of Ages, p. 823). From the number of times this thought appears in the book The Desire of Ages it seems evident that Christ's sensitivity to every person, regardless of condition or situation in life, is intended as a clear revelation to us of the scope and extent of our ministry /as healing persons. We have all had our share of crocks, neurotics, and hypochondriacs whom we have diagnosed and dismissed as untreatable. These are the people Jesus seemed to come nearest to, because they needed Him more. He had come to heal and impart His life to the sick; these desperately needed to be touched by His life.

The lesson is obvious. True healing ministry will find a way to take people right where they are, in whatever situation or condition they may be, and will help them in any way possible. That will take some putting together, which we will deal with next month.

(To be continued)

* George Webber, God's Colony in Men's World (New York: Abingdon Press, 1960), p. 108.

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-professor of Theology and Clinical Ministry, Division of Religion, Loma Linda University at the time this article was written

March 1974

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