The Anointing Service
The Anointing Service
Among one of the special services of the church is that of anointing the sick. In fact a reading of the Book of James would seem to encourage it. However, in recent times there seems to be a move in some places to anoint for every ailment, more frequently and even in mass. Therefore the following questions are asked: Are these practices in harmony with the Book of James and or even other scriptural references? What is the position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church pertaining to anointing for the sick? As such I reference two articles taken from the Biblical Research website by Herbert Kiesler and Angel Rodriquez.
Looking at James 5:13-18
Herbert Kiesler observes, “Until recently pastors and elders have performed an anointing service in response to a sick member's request. Only in rare cases have they suggested that the ill member consider an anointing service for divine intervention in his behalf. With the new approach it is no longer the sick person who calls upon the elders of the church to pray for him and anoint him with oil. Pastors or elders take the initiative and appeal to large audiences, inviting people to avail themselves of this rite in order to experience healing.”
Keisler contends that from a critical look of James 5:13-18, “The passage begins and ends with prayer. Furthermore, the admonition to pray runs like a golden thread throughout. From this one gets the impression that the author, James, a brother of our Lord, was a man of prayer. “ However, James' prescription for the sick in the congregation states, "If anyone suffers ill [kakopathei] among you, let him pray. Is anyone cheerful, let him sing a psalm" (vs. 13). "Is anyone ill [or delicate]? Let him call to himself the elders of the church and let them pray over him anointing him with oil" (vs. 14). Accordingly, Keisler concludes that there are two prescriptions: “First the ill person is to take the initiative to call on the elders of the church. In some cases the elder(s) may suggest to the ill person to consider the option of anointing, but then leave it up to the sick member actually to call on the elders of the church.”
The anointing service is to be conducted for believers, more specifically those who have accepted the third angel's message.
While the sick person ought not to hesitate to call upon the elders to intercede for him, his desire to be anointed should be motivated by the Holy Spirit. Since such an experience touches on the most intimate relationship of an individual with God, we hold that this service ought to be conducted in an atmosphere of privacy free from the group dynamics at work in large gatherings.
Since we are deeply concerned that this current trend of group anointings may draw its inspiration from charismatic circles, and since there is always the danger that such a practice may end up as routine exercise, we hold that ministers and elders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church should abide by the guidelines given to us in the Scriptures and in the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy. As we have seen, in one case of severe illness, Mrs. White deferred making a request for the anointing service for an extended time. This indicates her respect for the sacredness of this rite. She turned to the anointing service only as a last resort.
Therefore, we discourage the practice of making general appeals in large gatherings for people to participate in an anointing service. It does not fit the scriptural and Spirit of Prophecy pattern.
We suggest that pastors, evangelists, and elders consider the following procedure instead:
1. Elders meet at the home of the ill person or at his bedside in the hospital.
2. After a word of greeting one of the elders should read the passage James 5:13-18.
3. It is in order for one of the elders to briefly yet very gently ask the sick person whether he understands the meaning of the passage, the nature of his illness and whether he has made things right with God and his fellow men, including confession and reconciliation. He should be asked if he senses that the Holy Spirit is directing in this service and that ultimately God's will is to be done.
4. The sick person is then anointed with oil and the elders lay hands on the ill while one prays.
Anointing the Masses
Ángel Manuel Rodríguez also discourages the practice of anointing in masses. He argues, “There is no biblical support for the practice of anointing the sick in large or small numbers during public religious meetings. James made clear that this was a private religious ceremony. A misinformed practice of anointing could easily lead into an overemphasis on the miraculous and the emotional. When that occurs, the reliability of a religious experience is usually determined by a supposed encounter with the Spirit of the Lord, independent of the witness of Scripture. We are people of the Word, and we should continue to give it its central role in the life of the church. Faith and practice must be judged by the clear instruction of the Holy Scripture.“