Anointing: the lost rite

You can renew your people's faith in God by using the anointing service for its intended purpose instead of reserving it for those on their deathbed.

Mark Owen is a pseudonym. The author did not wish to be viewed as an expert on anointing, but wanted readers to focus on anointing itself.

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven" (James 5:14, 15).*

Bill and Jennifer wanted to have a child, but something was wrong. Jennifer couldn't conceive. Her doctor discovered she had a growth that needed to be removed. But the surgery might leave her unable to have any children. Wanting to let God take charge of this situation, Jennifer quickly called the pastor and elders of the church to anoint her. She asked God to allow her and her husband the joy of having children. The anointing was a powerful experience that filled all with a confidence and the peace of knowing God was indeed in charge and would bless.

The surgery went well. Two years later Jennifer and Bill had a baby boy.

This is just one experience I have had in anointing services. It is not dramatic, but the joy of experiencing God's leading and miracles is exciting. Unfortunately, many are afraid of anointing. They have misunderstood it and avoided it.

Often when I ask people facing an illness whether they have considered anointing they get a serious look on their face and respond, "Am I that bad?"

Somehow in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, at least in North America, anointing has come to be viewed as a last rite for the gravely ill rather than the first step in turning to God with our health needs. Because of this, miraculous healings are few and far between in the church. Since we wait until the last moment in most cases, we see few results. Since we see few results, we hesitate to call for anointing and our faith in anointing fades. The vicious cycle leads to less and less faith in anointing.

Even though anointing is a rare event in many churches, there are some churches today that regularly practice this "lost rite" with amazing results. These churches teach their people to come to the Lord early in their illness for anointing; to place their care in God's hand before all else has been tried.

Within the past few years I have seen or heard of healings from ailments such as a brain tumor, aneurysm, eye problems, asthma, depression, and various other ailments physical, emotional, and mental. Typically people are astonished that they can be anointed for something other than a terminal illness.

What should we be anointed for? James says if anyone is sick. "Sick" includes many areas that involve our whole being. It includes terminal diseases, but it can also be for crippling diseases, back problems, depression, and mental handicaps. God intends us to bring our problems to Him in the anointing rite.

In the early Seventh-day Adventist Church our leaders used the rite of anointing frequently. As you read the life story of Ellen White you will find that she and her family were anointed many times for all types of ailments. It was their practice rather than the exception to anoint.

A few examples follow:

1. Coughing spells of Ellen White: "I followed the direction given in James 5, and asked the brethren to pray for me" (Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 97).

2. Illness of Henry Nichols White: The baby was very sick, close to death. James anointed him and prayed for him, "laying his hands upon him in the name of the Lord" (ibid., pp. 105, 106).

3. Leonard Hastings' baby: Infant about 8 weeks old cried continually. The Whites anointed the child and prayed over it and it was given peace (ibid., pp. 110, 111).

4. Sore on arm of Mrs. Temple: A large sore made her arm too tender to touch, so the Whites poured oil on it and united in prayer. The pain and soreness left the arm while they were praying (ibid., pp. 109, 110).

In churches that practice anointing the pastors and elders involved all talk about the special experience that the service is. The power of the Holy Spirit can be felt as prayers are offered for the special needs of the one being anointed. Tears often flow and each person anointed speaks of the inner sense of peace that comes. Even those who are not physically healed talk of a healing of their spiritual relationship with Christ.

Why, then, do so few choose to be anointed when they are ill?

Perhaps part of the reason is ignorance of the beauty of anointing. Most of our people don't understand what anointing is all about. Even our pastors don't understand it.

Recently a member from a district I previously served in came to me about his back problems. I told him he should go to his current pastor and request anointing. But when he approached his pastor, the pastor laughed at him and told him he wasn't bad enough to be anointed.

Pride may also have something to do with people not coming to be anointed. Many find it embarrassing to come before the leaders of the church asking for help with an illness. Perhaps they view illness as a sign of weakness, or perhaps they prefer to deal with it on their own.

I do know that some people believe that anointing isn't as necessary now as it was 100 years ago. They believe that we have such a good health system that they don't need to rely on this ancient rite. Besides, didn't God give us the health message so we could take care of ourselves? they reason. It is unfortunate that people put so much trust in health institutions and people that they lose their sense of dependence upon God.

Many intelligent people ask me, "Why do I need to be anointed? If God wants to heal me, He can respond to my prayers and the prayers of others. I don't believe that God wants me to call together the leaders of the church and take all that time to answer my prayer for healing. Is He that picky?"

I often explain that I don't have the answers, but I do know of a story in the Bible that helps me to understand why anointing is important and a key to healing. I remind the inquirer of the story in Numbers 21:4-9. There we read of the Israelites being bitten by the venomous snakes. They are dying. God tells Moses to:

"'Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.' So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived" (verses 8, 9).

This story makes no sense from a purely rational standpoint. There is no way that the snake on the pole could cure the snakebite.

In much the same way, anointing cannot make the sick person well. The ritual itself has no power.

But, in both of these instances, trust in God is the key. If God told us to do it, why do we question? A lack of trust keeps us from enjoying the mighty blessing that God offers us. A lack of trust meant death in the desert from snakebite. A lack of trust today keeps us from finding relief from illnesses. It keeps us from asking for a simple rite instituted in the Word of God.

Are you suffering from a sickness that you need to be anointed for? Why wait any longer? Read about anointing in James 5. Read the special chapter "Prayer for the Sick" in The Ministry of Healing, by Ellen White. Arrange for an anointing and allow the Lord to work in your life.

And talk to your church body about anointing. Encourage the people to follow the instructions in James 5. (You may copy the box on the following page for your church members.) Enjoy the anointing service and watch as God works miracles in peoples' lives.

Isn't it time for the Seventh-day Adventist Church to experience the power of the Holy Spirit through anointing services?







Guidelines for persons desiring anointing
Mark Owen
Should I call for the elders?
Call whenever you have an illness
that you want to take to the Lord for
His healing.
Many feel that they should ask for
anointing only after they have ex
hausted every other possibility and are
on their deathbed. There is nothing
in the Bible that says this: It says: "Is
any one of you sick? He should call the
elders of the church to pray over him
and anoint him with oil in the name
of the Lord." James 5:14
It is a great blessing for the church
elders to minister to those in need.
We realize that every little illness is
not cause for anointing, but we read in
the book Counsels on Health, page
457: "Why is it that men are so unwillig
to trust Him who created man and
who can, by a touch, a word, a look,
heal all manner of disease? . . . Our
Lord has given us definite instruction,
through the Apostle James, as to our
duty in case of sickness."
Even though your need may be
treated by doctors, bring it to the Lord
Whom should I call?
The pastor or your elder.
I feel like I am bothering the pastor
and the elders by asking them to take
time for an anointing service.
This is a common feeling, but an
anointing service is not a bother at all.
They are here to serve you. They care
about you and want you to live life to
its fullest. And they gain a blessing
from this service too!
Who will be at the anointing?
The pastor, elders, and sometimes
their spouses. Others may be there
who are being anointed as well. You
may request special friends to accom
pany you and pray for you.
Where will the anointing be held?
Generally at the church or the per
son's home. There are cases when the
anointing is held at the hospital.
What if I caused my illness?
Most illness is caused by lifestyle
and habits. God is willing to forgive
any sin. We must confess and allow
God to put away any sin that might
have caused the affliction. Psalm 107
describes God's grace at work. It says
that because of transgression sinners are
afflicted and draw near unto the gates of
death. But verses 19 and 20 add: "They
cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he
saved them from their distress. He sent
forth his Word and healed them."
If I am healed, can the illness return?
If you have knowledge of a certain
habit that brought about the illness and
you return to that habit, then many times
the illness will return.
Stay in tune with the Lord and His
leading for your life, and your healing
will be secure.
What if I am not healed?
First, remember that you have done
what the Bible says to do by calling for
Second, realize that God sometimes
chooses to heal in stages. Many have
been healed gradually. Some have lost
their pain. Others have found relief
through doctors and their care. Some
have gone through surgeries. Some have
not been healed on this earth; they will
have to wait until heaven.
The elders don't question the sincerity
of the person if there is not a physical
healing. They know that on every occa
sion some blessings are received. You will
experience these blessings!
Do I have to disclose what my illness is?
You do not have to mention specifi
cally why you wish to be anointed. The
pastor and elders will respect your pri
vacy. The elders will need to know what
your general needs are to help them know
how to pray for you.
What will happen at the service?
First there will be time for talking and
sharing. The pastor will talk about
anointing and what it means. Then you
will have a chance to share your reason
for requesting the anointing. When it is
time for prayer, those conducting the
anointing will kneel in a circle around
you. All in the circle will say a prayer for
healing, with the pastor closing by pray
ing and touching your forehead with oil.
After the pastor's prayer, you will be
given opportunity to ask the Lord for
healing. Sometimes a song or two will be
sung to close the service.
Why does the pastor anoint with olive
Oil represents the Holy Spirit. Olive
oil was used for anointing in Bible
Do I have to be sick with an illness to
be anointed?
No! People have been anointed for
depression, bad habits, mental prob
lems, handicaps, anything they feel
Satan is bothering them with.
How should I prepare for the anoint
ing service?
Psalm 66:18 says, "If I had cher
ished sin in my heart, the Lord would
not have listened." All known sin
must be confessed and allowed to be
put away by the Lord. God cannot
bless you in your sins. In your recom
mended reading you will read: "If any
who are seeking health have been
guilty of evil speaking, if they have
sowed discord in the home, the
neighborhood, or the church, and
have stirred up alienation and dissen
sion, if by any wrong practice they
have led others into sin, these things
should be confessed before God and
before those who have been of
fended. . . .
"When wrongs have been righted,
we may present the needs of the sick to
the Lord in calm faith, as His Spirit
may indicate" (The Ministry of Heal
ing, p. 229).
If you feel like you cannot gain vic
tory over a sin problem, this can be
made a subject of prayer in the anoint
ing service. Jesus can heal every need.
Put your trust in the Lord and His
grace. If your faith seems weak, it will
be strengthened during the service.
God wishes you well more than you
wish healing!
Besides searching your life for sins
and confessing them, please study and
read the following: James 5:13-16;
Psalm 107:17-20; "Prayer for the
Sick" in The. Ministry of Healing;
Psalm 66:18; Psalm 41:10.
If you have any questions or con
cerns, please call your elder or the pas
tor. In the meantime, continue to
search your heart and spend time in
prayer and study.
"Dear friend, I pray that you may
enjoy good health and that all may go
well with you, even as your soul is
getting along well" (3 John 2).

*All texts in this article are from the New International Version.

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Mark Owen is a pseudonym. The author did not wish to be viewed as an expert on anointing, but wanted readers to focus on anointing itself.

September 1989

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