Reaching the secular mind through health ministry

Applying the principles of Scripture to issues of health provides an opening to human hearts

Gary D. Strunk is pastor of the Templeton Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church, Templeton, California.

Health ministry is doing whatever can be done to relieve human suffering, with the ultimate hope of accomplishing an even greater task sharing the gospel. It involves giving simple treatments to relieve pain and hasten healing. It includes imparting health information. It ranges from driving someone to swimming therapy sessions to being the "surgeon" who gives a new lease on life in the name of Christ.

What is the secular mind? It is a mind whose mainsprings of behavior are nonreligious. Many who attend church regularly are more secular-oriented than biblical-oriented. Their understanding of the origin of life comes from popular science rather than from the Bible. The clothes they wear, the food they eat, the friends they make, the way they think, are determined more by social norms than by consulting what is in harmony with God's will.

While the expression "secular mind" may conjure up images of the college-trained skeptic, it can apply quite readily to a blue-collar worker who nurtures a similar skepticism about God and religion.

Penetrating the secular mind

To the secular person the Bible seems wholly irrelevant. It contains nothing useful. It may have some poetry and a little history, but "everyone" knows its history is unreliable, and its poetry is fable talk about God. It speaks about God creating the world in six days and later destroying it with a worldwide flood. It speaks about parting the Red Sea. It portrays angels with flaming swords destroying armies and cities. Baffled by these, the secular person dismisses as myth the biblical portrayal of life, and tends to reject the Bible as unreliable.

Is there a way to reach such persons with truth as found in the Bible, and to show them that the biblical revelation is authentic and reliable? I think there is, through a careful application of our health message. Let me share my experience of how health ministry has opened the hearts of some of these secular persons.

I use a series of lectures designed especially for secular people. I begin by showing what science says, then show what God has already said.

For example, in an early lecture I show the epidemiological relationship between the eating of animal fat and coronary heart disease and cancer, with brief mention of other complications arising from animal fat in the diet. I cite recommendations from leading scientific organizations in the United States and from the World Health Organization. Their recommendations on how to prevent these diseases agree: avoid or drastically reduce the consumption of animal fats. The evidence is impressive. The audience is convinced. They see how much disease could be prevented by following the recommendations of these authoritative scientific bodies. Through this avenue they are prepared to appreciate what God told human beings centuries ago: "You shall not eat any fat, of ox or sheep or goat" (Lev. 7:23, NKJV).

We must catch and convey the significance of this text. In speaking of coronary heart disease and cancer, we are not majoring on minors. We are addressing and even challenging the leading killers in the Western world and in those countries that tend to copy these unhealthy trends. The health, economic, and national defense consequences of these diseases are enormous.

Just reading the text and then leaving it is not enough for its significance to register on the consciousness of the average audience. One needs to dwell on the text, to magnify its importance. I try to help an audience to grasp how much human suffering and premature death could be prevented by following the wisdom of Scripture. I tell how thousands of studies have been initiated to prevent all this disease. Millions of dollars have been spent. It's nice to have the data, but all we needed to do was regard the instructions already given.

It is the same when one comes to blood. "Moreover you shall not eat any blood in any of your dwellings, whether of bird or beast" (verse 26, NKJV). To drive home the point further, I show that God didn't say this just once. I read Leviticus 3:17: "This shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings: you shall eat neither fat nor blood" (NKJV).

To be effective, a presenter must believe that these instructions still apply in principle. They are not limited to "the Jews." The prohibition against eating animal fat did not merely have ceremonial implications. Al though the ceremonial or levitical aspects of these instructions were affected by Christ's arrival, the scientific and health implications clearly remain intact for everyone.

The first time I presented this talk (in Toronto), a Swiss banker came up to me and asked how he could become a member of my church. I explained that he needed to study the Bible to understand the steps he was taking. "Yes, yes," he said. "That's what I want. I want to study the Bible." Ever since World War II the problem of human suffering had driven him away from God. Now he understood the true nature of God. From the Bible he learned that God is a God of love and is not the author of suffering. Later we baptized him.

A few nights after my conversation with the banker, a Toronto director for the Victorian Order of Nurses rose to her feet and exclaimed, "Just think! If we had only obeyed what God has already written we wouldn't have all this suffering." She was also baptized later. Neither of these had been believers before.

In Bakersfield, California, I had given only six talks in the series when a pediatrician, who also had a Ph.D. in child psychology and an M.P.H. from the University of Oklahoma, stood to say, "This is the finest I have ever heard the Bible and science integrated." He borrowed a Bible and began reading it through. His wife told us she had never seen anything but a scientific journal in his hand.

I have seen evolutionists become creationists by hearing the lecture "Prizing Your Body." Once they realize the complexity of the structure and biochemistry within a single cell, especially the process of transforming glucose into energy in the mitochondria, and under stand the interdependence of the different organelles, they have confessed that such a process requires a brilliant Designer who had to bring life into existence rapidly or instantaneously. After one presentation, a Sunday school teacher exclaimed, "Then we really are created." Her response speaks volumes about the tensions some Christians live with in the light of their lack of information in these areas.

For us to maintain credibility and for the safety of the audience, our information must be medically and physiologically sound. It becomes even more believable when we as presenters act on it and are living by it.

By showing people what the Bible says about animal fat, about excess sweets, alcohol, lack of exercise, gluttony and lethargy, depression, stress, improper sexual behavior, and preventing the spread of infectious diseases, people come to see the Bible as useful. Useful is an important term in their value system. If it's useful, it's relevant and reasonable.

A legitimate ministry

Is health ministry a legitimate ministry? In the new earth there will be no sickness (see Isa. 33:24). Apparently, God's ideal state for His people is freedom from disease. Judging from the descriptions of the new earth, health will be more than the absence of dis ease. It will be an abundance of life, complete in all its dimensions physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, vocational, and any other aspect one can identify. Do we not teach that we begin our eternal life now as we accept Jesus as our Saviour and Lord? Then let us live out His desire for our good health now and share it with others.

Jesus devoted the greater part of His min istry to relieving human suffering, restoring health and sanity. Should not our ministry be patterned after His as nearly as possible?

God promised His people freedom from disease as they obeyed His commandments, statutes, and judgments (see Deut. 7:11-14; Ex. 15:26). He gave many detailed commandments as evidence of His care. While most of them are couched in religious terms for the sake of correct motivation, a rational cause-and-effect relationship exists be tween all God's commandments and good health. Obedience to God's laws brings better health. He protects His people from disease through the laws He has given. His laws are a great blessing to us. In fact, all of God's commandments reflect a personal and community health outcome. Hence John could wish: "Beloved I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth" (3 John 2).

The second great commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Any parent would affirm that love for children includes trying to keep them healthy and doing everything to get them well when they are sick. Love demands that we do no less for our neighbors. Thus helping people become well and stay well is by all means a legitimate ministry.

A ministry of love

Breaking down the cold walls of secularism may require more than giving health lectures. It may require loving ministry in the home. When I was pastoring in Mary land, one of my members lived next to a young couple who refused to accept her invitations to church or to let her pastor visit them. In time the health of the wife began failing, so they relented and let me visit. The primary cause of her poor health was dis appointment and friction in the home. When first married, they dreamed of raising their children on a farm. But making a living on a small farm was difficult in that area. In the light of this, the husband had to sell, move to a small house on the edge of town, and work long hours. In his disappointment and fatigue, he was destroying her and their marriage.

As we visited, I could see that the wife was suffering from a lack of exercise and physical stamina. I outlined a fitness program for her, writing it all out on paper. It took a while to work out the formulas and make sure she understood. Her husband was more fascinated with the process than she was.

During my visit their little boy came out of his room three times begging attention. He was obviously ill. Before leaving, I asked to see him. She ushered me into a dark, damp cubicle with a pallet on the floor and an obedient little boy shivering under the covers. He was feverish and couldn't breathe through his nose. Suffering from chest congestion, he hadn't slept for three nights. With permission, I took over. I opened the window to let in fresh air and dry out the dampness. I gave the lad hot fomentations and showed his mother how to do them. His chest muscles relaxed and he took deep, long breaths. With the very first towel, he began going to sleep.

I finished the treatment and offered prayer for healing. He slept all day until about 5:00 p.m. when his father phoned home. The little boy got on the phone and shouted excitedly, "Daddy, Daddy, remember that nice man that was here this morning? Well, he put some rags on my chest." That meant I had done a good thing. Just one useful visit, and the home that had been closed to the gospel opened wide for Bible studies.

Although we should be sure to recognize our limitations and understand that we are not physicians, a knowledge of physiology and hygiene, a little loving care, and prayer, and often the skeptical walls of the secular mind come down. Ministry to physical needs can open the heart's door. It happened during Jesus' time. It can happen now.

For copies of five health lectures designed
to persuade listeners with the Bible's timely
and useful health information, send $10.00
to A Model For Living, 470 Lysandra Court,
Templeton, California 93465.

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Gary D. Strunk is pastor of the Templeton Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church, Templeton, California.

November 1997

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