Needed--A Larger View of Health Evangelism

SOMETHING seems to be holding back the full blessing of God on His people. Something seems to be keeping us from fully representing His love to a world greatly in need of such a demonstration. What must happen to our people to bring about behavior change? What will lead to a true conversion experience?

-director of the Center for Dependent Behavior, School of Health, Loma Linda University. He also serves as assistant professor of health sciences at the time this article was written

SOMETHING seems to be holding back the full blessing of God on His people. Something seems to be keeping us from fully representing His love to a world greatly in need of such a demonstration. What must happen to our people to bring about behavior change? What will lead to a true conversion experience?

Many Adventists do not seem to appreciate the part the health mes sage is to play in revival and reformation. We have been plainly told: "The selfish, health-destroying indulgences of men and women have counteracted the influence of the message that is to prepare a people for the great day of God. If the churches expect strength, they must live the truth which God has given them. If the members of our churches disregard the light on this subject, they will reap the sure result in both spiritual and physical degeneracy." — Testimonies, vol. 6, pp. 370, 371.

It becomes imperative, then, for us to carefully heed the counsel given us by God's messenger. "When the third angel's message is received in its fullness, health reform will be given its place in the councils of the conference, in the work of the church, in the home, at the table, and in all the household arrangements. Then the right arm will serve and protect the body."— Ibid., p. 327.

The third angel's message is the message of the imputed, justifying righteousness of Jesus. If we are to understand what health evangelism is really all about we must first grasp fully the deep meanings of Revelation 14. We must receive the third angel's message in its fullness, which includes God's plan for us physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually.

In order to correctly incorporate our health message in our evangelism, it is essential first to live it. This means that an ever deeper understanding of Christ and His righteousness must be developed in our hearts. Our first and most vital task is to search for a personal relationship with Christ. This transcends all the knowledge and stories we have about Christ, and goes to the very core of experiencing Him. Through this we sense in a most wonderful way that Christ loves us just as we are; that Christ loves the deviant, the alcoholic, the man suffering from poor health habits—just as they are.

He not only loves them as they are, but accepts them just as they are. How does this develop a deeper appreciation for our health message? Once we accept Christ, we begin to sense the value He has placed on us through His death. We see that we belong to Him, we are not our own. The great cost which Heaven paid through the blood of our dear Saviour will strike us with reverential awe. To preserve our minds and bodies in the highest possible state of well-being brings honor and glory to Him. This goes beyond health for longevity's sake— it comes to health for Christ's sake.

Once we have begun to feel the growing importance of this link between the third angel's mes sage and our health message, a very unusual promise is offered to us. "If man should overcome this temptation [appetite], he could conquer on every other point."— In Heavenly Places, p. 194. (Italics supplied.) Once the daily lives of God's people reflect an appreciation of these ideals, they will be ready to move out into health evangelism.

The Concept

Ministering to the needs of the world is the greatest challenge we are faced with. James 1:27 equates this with "pure religion." The way our health, temperance, and medical work have usually been applied to evangelism represents only a small area of what we are to do. Medical evangelism is only partly medical or health oriented. It is mainly service oriented.

"Many have no faith in God and have lost confidence in man. But they appreciate acts of sympathy and helpfulness. As they see one with no inducement of earthly praise or compensation

coming to their homes,

ministering to the sick,

feeding the hungry,

clothing the naked,

comforting the sad, and

tenderly pointing all to Him

[Christ]

of whose love and pity the human worker is but the messenger—as they see this, their hearts are touched. Gratitude springs up, faith is kindled. They see that God cares for them, and as His word is opened they are prepared to listen."—Medical Ministry, p. 247. Here we find a most unique picture of health evangelism or medical missionary work. It includes much more than large, well-organized health campaigns and packaged programs on health and disease. It involves all that can be done to serve the needs of mankind. The wonder of it all is that we have ample opportunity to begin health evangelism with the tools we have at hand. The essential ingredients are time, neighbors, a willing heart, and a trust in God to lead.

Thus the actual work of health evangelism lies in the broad framework of meeting the needs of people. Why, then, are the words medical or health used with the word evangelism? Clearly, the prevention and treatment of disease must be entwined in our efforts. However, the Christian ideal of service transcends the concern for the health of the body only, and includes the social, spiritual, and mental.

The Application

God, in His wisdom, has seen fit to bring flexibility into evangelistic methods. Each worker joins the forces that encircle the world, contributing those talents God has given him. Those guiding and supporting our workers in this evangelistic outreach must maintain developmental latitude. "The scheme of salvation is not to be worked out under the laws and rules specified by men. There must be no fixed rules; our work is a progressive work, and there must be room left for methods to be improved upon. But under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, unity must and will be preserved. . . . The eye should not be so constantly looking to man, studying the plans which men devise; but rather seeking for a knowledge of the plans which are determined by the Source of all wisdom. Then there will be no danger of having plans for the work contaminated by flowing through impure channels. Look to God. . . . God calls to the church to arise and clothe herself with the garments of Christ's righteousness." --Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, July 23,1895.

There is much latitude when it comes to the exact steps we are to follow in medical missionary work. Its implementation and the details of its operation are to a large degree left up to the church and individuals to develop. How ever, two very general areas of planning are clearly outlined for us to follow. They are:

1. Use of personnel.

2. Methods of reaching people.

It is essential for us to be thoroughly acquainted with the counsel the Spirit of Prophecy gives us in each of these areas.

Use of Personnel

Our laymen represent the back bone and the bulk of manpower for health evangelism. "We have come to a time when every member of the church should take hold of medical missionary work. . . . The members of the church are in need of an awakening, that they may realize their responsibility to impart these truths." --Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 62.

Ministers, conference-sponsored health teams and church-based health teams are also to be involved, as indicated by the following: "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. (Italics supplied.)

Concerning the conference-sponsored health teams to work our larger centers, we are told, "Again and again it has been presented to me that 'there should be companies organized and educated most thoroughly to work as nurses, as evangelists, as ministers, as canvassers, as gospel students, to perfect a character after the divine similitude.' " --Ibid., pp. 541, 542.

There should also be church-based health teams. "Medical missionary work should have its representative in every place in connection with the establishment of our churches." --Welfare Ministry, p. 138.

The leaders in our conferences are to act as catalysts to help our churches develop such programs. They should provide ongoing education to the individual churches. In order to develop medical missionary teams that will function information so that the highest level of professional service and information will be available for use in their programs.

The challenge we face is that of actually sensing the need of lightening the burdens and woes of communities. Once we realize that health evangelism entails a broad area of service, then actual steps can begin in forming these training teams.

What specialty areas should these personnel represent? This is not sharply defined in the Spirit of Prophecy or the Bible. How ever, several specific categories of work are suggested in Isaiah 58 and the health books. We might list them as:

1. Nutrition

2. Temperance (specifically dealing with drug dependency)

3. Social Welfare work

4. Canvassing

5. Gospel ministry

6. Health education (generalist)

Methods of Reaching People

Our initial challenge is that of preparing the churches. Regular, organized efforts should be made to lift the churches out of the dead level in which they have been for years. We need workers who will set the principles of health reform before every church. "Christian ministers, physicians, teachers, have a broader work than many have recognized. They are not to minister to the people, but to teach them to minister."--The Ministry of Healing, pp. 148, 149.

The church is to serve the community. Door-to-door methods remain the major way to contact the public. This is borne out by the servant of the Lord. "It is not preaching that is the most important; it is house-to-house work, reasoning from the Word, explaining the Word. It is those workers who follow the methods that Christ followed who will win souls for their hire." --Welfare Ministry, p. 60.

"Christ prefaced the giving of His message by deeds of love and benevolence. Let these workers go from house to house, helping where help is needed, and, as opportunity offers, telling the story of the cross. Christ is to be their text. They need not dwell upon doctrinal subjects; let them speak of the work and sacrifice Of Christ. Let them hold up His righteousness, in their lives revealing His purity." --Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 228.

Summary

Every medical missionary worker must have as a prerequisite a true conversion experience and a clear understanding of the righteousness of Christ. These, in turn, develop a deeper appreciation for our health message and for health ministry and how to apply these personally and in the community. The major avenue our laymen must use as they labor for the Master is simple house-to-house medical missionary work. They are to be trained and motivated by health evangelism teams under the auspices of our conferences. Obviously, these teams need an advanced degree of training in order to be authorities in specific areas.

The challenge that now remains is, first, to train the teams that will rally our people to unite be hind this work; second, to devise door-to-door medical evangelistic methods for bringing healing of body, soul, and mind; third, to define what kinds of activities the churches should be capable of carrying out.

As we respond to this challenge, let us pray that our lives will be filled with an ever-growing burden that Jesus is soon coming, that every day's activities will be governed by a sense of His nearness, and that we will feel an ever-deepening dependency on His promises of help. "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength" (Isa. 40:29).

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-director of the Center for Dependent Behavior, School of Health, Loma Linda University. He also serves as assistant professor of health sciences at the time this article was written

May 1975

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