The gospel of health

While some have made health the whole gospel, others have divorced it completely from the gospel Seventh-day Adventists can offer a unique blending of the two that will attract others to Christ.

Leo R. Van Dolson, Ph.D., is an associate director of the General Conference Sabbath School department, editor of the adult Sabbath school lessons and a contributing editor to MINISTRY.

The Bible doctrine of health is not a mere fringe issue that we can take or leave alone. Because Heaven impresses us and communicates with us through the physical mechanism of the brain nerves (see Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 347), spiritual well-being demands that the body that houses the mind and has so much effect upon its condition be kept as free as possible from the results of health-destroying habits.

Man originally was created in the image of God—physically, mentally, and spiritually (see Gen. 1:26, 27; Education, pp. 15, 20). When Adam and Eve fell into sin, the consequences involved every aspect of the image of God. Not only did death come upon the human race, but humans began to "deteriorate in physical stature and endurance and in moral and intellectual power" (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 68). The plan of salvation was established to "restore in man the image of his Maker, to bring him back to the perfection in which he was created, to promote the development of body, mind, and soul, that the divine purpose in his creation might be realized" (Education, pp. 15, 16).

Some view the salvation process as a sort of cosmic contest in which God serves as scorekeeper. Salvation, then, becomes a simple matter of Christ dying on the cross as our substitute, completely settling the score in our favor. That may be true in part, but God is much more than a glorified scorekeeper. The plan of salvation is designed not merely to-settle scores, but to restore the image of God in humans.

Not only is Jesus Lord, but He must be Lord of all that we have and are—Lord in every area of our lives. He is to be a complete Saviour. What we lost through sin in the beginning is to be restored as much as possible in this life through Jesus. Sometimes we forget that we are part of the most thrilling and exciting happening that the world has yet seen—the finishing of God's work on earth through human beings who love Him enough to completely submit their lives to Him.

The gospel of health

In its narrowest sense, the gospel message can be limited to the good news that Christ died the death that was ours in order that we might live the life that is His. Yet, Adventists recognize that in its fullness it becomes the good news that God, through Christ, has restored, and is continuing to restore, all that was lost through sin. We attach special significance to the "everlasting gospel" in the setting of the three angels' messages of Revelation 14:6-12. Here we discover that God plans to demonstrate the practical outworking of the gospel through the lives of His "saints . . . that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus" (verse 12), even in the midst of Babylon's final revolt.

This restoration takes place physically, as well as spiritually. Speaking of this, Ellen White states: "The Saviour ministered to both the soul and the body. The gospel which He taught was a message of spiritual life and of physical restoration. Deliverance from sin and the healing of disease were linked together."—The Ministry of Healing, p. 111. Should we teach any other gospel than that which Christ taught?

The servant of the Lord strongly urges us to link health reform, which she calls "the gospel of health," to the rest of the gospel message. "The principles of health are found in the word of God. The gospel of health is to be firmly linked with the ministry of the word. It is the Lord's design that the restoring influence of health reform shall be a part of the last great effort to proclaim the gospel message."—Medical Ministry, p. 259. The gospel commission itself, then, includes health and healing, as stated in The Ministry of Healing, page 141: "Physical healing is bound up with the gospel commission. In the work of the gospel, teaching and healing are never to be separated" (italics supplied).

Part of the three angels' messages

Not only is the health message "bound up with the gospel commission" but it ranks among the major doctrines that this church teaches. It can even be included as a definite part of the three angels' messages. Counsels on Health, page 49, states unequivocally that "health reform is an important part of the third angel's message." Divorcing the doctrine of health from the doctrine of the investigative judgment, the 2300 days, the sanctuary, the second-coming of Christ, the millennium, and the Sabbath can be compared to separating the right arm from the body. Yet, the health message is not to become our one all-absorbing theme. It is not the three angels' messages. "The health reform is as closely related to the third angel's message as the arm to the body; but the arm cannot take the place of the body. .. . The presentation of health principles must be united with this message, but must not, in any case be independent of it, or in any way take the place of it."—Letter 57, 1896; cf. Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 559; vol. 6, p. 327.

The one great object of the gospel of health, as well as the main reason for our strong emphasis on it, is its place in the development of Christian character. Since body and soul cannot be separated, health is essential for wholeness, and wholeness is the key to Christian growth. Rather than being a relatively unimportant side issue that one can take or leave alone, our health message is a basic ingredient in the healing, restoring, transforming process that is at the root of the preaching of the three angels' messages.

The temple of the Holy Spirit

We do not recognize our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit merely from a sense of duty or responsibility. The pleasure and excitement of belonging completely to God and being a part of His work in this world so fills our hearts that we want more than anything else to be completely His. We live for the joy of knowing the fullness of His presence as He dwells within us through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus introduced the figure of the body's being a temple at the time the Jews were challenging His right to cleanse the Temple of its money changers and profiteers. (See John 2:18- 21.)

Paul expanded the body-temple figure in a startling way as he told the believers at Corinth that the body has a significant part to play in God's plan of sanctification. Greek philosophy tended to depreciate man's physical side, holding that the soul must escape from the defilement of the material body. Paul refused to accept this concept, but portrayed the body as a sacred temple: "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor. 6:19, 20).

Paul's burden in this passage was not primarily the health needs of those to whom he was writing, but spiritual responsibilities, which are closely linked to the passions and appetites. His emphasis in this text was "Ye are not your own." Once we have accepted the salvation purchased for us by the loving sacrifice of Christ, we have no more right to use the powers of the body for selfish and sinful purposes than we have to use the tithe in that way. God is to be glorified in every use of the physical powers.

Ellen White expresses this same concern: "Many seem to think they have a right to treat their own bodies as they please; but they forget that their bodies are not their own. Their Creator, who formed them, has claims upon them that they cannot rightly throw off. Every needless transgression of the laws which God has established in our being, is virtually a violation of the law of God, and is as great a sin in the sight of Heaven as to break the Ten Commandments."—Counsels on Health, p. 40.

That our health, happiness, and holiness depend largely on conformity to God's laws of life and health is evident in the basic law that underlies every other law—the law of cause and effect. Paul spells it out in unmistakable terms in Galatians 6: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (verse 7). As it has been said, "Sooner or later we must all sit down to a banquet of consequences." The menu on the con sequence banquet table is the result of what we have been storing there day by day.

Obviously then, we need the power and grace of God to bring our total life style into conformity with the laws of life and health. That is one of Paul's concerns in the book of Romans. He pleads: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:1,2).

The great goal of health is not health for health's sake, but sanctification and restoration to the image of God. "The sanctification set forth in the Sacred Scriptures has to do with the entire being—spirit, soul, and body. Here is the true idea of entire consecration. . . . True sanctification is an entire conformity to the will of God.... Jesus awakens a new life, which pervades the entire being."—The Sanctified Life, pp. 7-9.

The time is ripe

In 1905 Ellen White wrote: "Every gospel worker should feel that the giving of instruction in the principles of healthful living is a part of his appointed work. Of this work there is a great need, and the world is open for it."—The Ministry of Healing, p. 147. If the world was open for this message 80 years ago, it is even more so today when people seem to have an increasing interest in health. If you don't think so, just visit your local bookstore and note the number of books currently being produced on health topics, many of them focusing especially on the preventive aspects of medical care. Also, note how often you hear or see something on this subject on radio or television.

The Committee for an Extended Lifespan in San Marcos, California, released a data report at the beginning of 1980 predicting increasing interest in health on the part of the people of the United States. Among other predictions, they forecast a "wide swing among the youth toward healthful habits, including a great drop in smoking and a large increase in running." In support of this, they note that there has been a significant drop in smoking among college students in the past five years. They also predict an increase in medical self-help facilities, noting that "more books have been published on medical self-help in the past two years than in the previous ten." This field of teaching people to help themselves to discover health not only is one of increasing significance but should be one where Seventh-day Adventists can take the leading role.

What an opportunity the current emphasis on health and preventive medicine presents for an expanded medical missionary outreach! And health ministry works—it really does. It may take more time to see results than some other method of outreach but it reaches people who would not respond to ordinary methods. We should not be too surprised that it works so well when God's servant makes it plain that "medical missionary work is a sacred thing of God's own devising. . . . Those who will cooperate with God in His effort to save, working on the lines on which Christ worked, will be wholly successful."— Medical Ministry, p. 131.

The fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah is one of the great medical missionary chapters of the Bible. According to Ellen White, this chapter describes the place of the work of love and restoration in the last day evangelistic emphasis of God's church (see Welfare Ministry, p. 29).

Isaiah 58:6 and 7 include the following as types of work in which God expects His people to be engaged: 1) To loose the bonds of wickedness; 2) to undo the thongs of the burdens and let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke; 3) to share our bread with the hungry; 4) to bring the homeless poor into our houses; 5) to cover the naked; and 6) not to hide ourselves from our own flesh.

Notice how spectacular the results of this medical missionary work will be when we put God's plan into full operation. According to verses 8 and 9: 1) Your light shall break forth like the dawn; 2) your health shall spring up speedily; 3) the righteousness of the Lord shall surround you; 4) the Lord will answer your calls.

An extremely important condition to success is specified in verse 9: "If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness" (R.S. V.). * One of the chief faults of God's people today—a fault that medical missionary evangelism is intended to help rectify—is lack of concern for and interest in the needs of others. This indifference is especially manifested in a critical spirit. When a church is not a praying, working church, it tends to be a critical church. But this can be remedied by: 1) Pouring yourself out for the hungry; and 2) satisfying the desire of the afflicted (see verse 10).

The health approach, with its balanced emphasis on the restoration and well-being of the whole person, cannot help but improve the quality of experience of those being brought into the church through this means of missionary endeavor. The blending of the health approach with doctrinal instruction in an evangelistic campaign indicates that the people converted are well grounded in the total message of the church as a result of the holistic approach used.

If ever we are to reach every person on earth with the gospel message, we must reach people where they are, where their interest and needs are, gradually leading them to feel a greater need for Jesus Christ and building confidence in Him. God has given each of us certain interests, talents, and expertise that can be used to reach people for Christ in many unique ways. Jesus used "the gospel of health" approach to reach people. "By methods peculiarly His own, He helped all who were in sorrow and affliction. With tender, courteous grace, He ministered to the sin-sick soul, bringing healing and strength."—The Ministry of Healing, p. 23. When we follow His example by engaging in loving, unselfish ministry to the felt needs of those about us, our work "will not, cannot, be without fruit" (ibid., p. 144).

* Texts credited to R.S.V. are from the Revised
Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1946,
1952 ©1971,1973.

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Leo R. Van Dolson, Ph.D., is an associate director of the General Conference Sabbath School department, editor of the adult Sabbath school lessons and a contributing editor to MINISTRY.

August 1983

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