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ARTICLE: MEDICINE AND GOSPEL: the Right Relationship
  Faith, Pills, Miracles, Scripture, Remission, Doctors, Church, Cure, Wholeness.
    God's Normal Working
    Signs and Wonders
    Medicine and Gospel
    Medicine in the Old Testament
    Medicine in the New Testament
    The Word and the Messenger

MEDICINE AND GOSPEL: the Right Relationship


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Whenever there is any sort of growth in the Church's Ministry of Healing - whether it is experienced locally or elsewhere - there arises the question of its relation to medicine.

The early Pentecostalist churches, for instance, when they rediscovered the miraculous and dramatic elements of God's healing, tended to play down medicine. Some went so far as to imply that medicine is merely a human crutch for those whose faith is not strong enough to walk this life without it!

If you had faith God would heal you, they said; if you did not have it then he couldn't - and you'd have to rely on man: such was their message.

It was a serious error, and although there has been a deepening and a development in the Church's Ministry of Healing, this sort of thinking still persists - fuelled usually by American literature, cassettes or itinerant ministries which are not Pentecostalist at all, in the denominational sense.

There are some who still teach - or imply - that the measure of your faith is seen in your readiness to throw away your pills!

There is no space here to pursue the right place of faith in healing; I have done this in the article "Faith and Healing - the Biblical Teaching" on this website.

God uses our faith, but we must avoid the view that our faith can use God! Faith results in our having the grace to obey God; it does not force God to obey us.

'If you have faith you will be healed' is, as generally understood, quite unBiblical and can be pastorally disastrous. When those with 'faith' do not receive the healing they feel they have been promised, their last state is often worse than their first, since, in addition to their ailment, the so-called 'healing' ministry which they have received adds guilt to their suffering.

I know one well-known Christian leader who went through a great personal trauma when he realised that he had to wear glasses! He felt that there would be a discrepancy between what his hearers heard him teach, and what they saw! This shows the extent to which this sort of teaching can reach. The minister now wears glasses, and having faced something of the pain and paradox his teaching will no doubt have a little more depth and a little less popularity (since half-truths are always popular).


God's Normal Working (back to top)

It has always seemed to me that our attitude to dentistry highlights all the issues which are the subjects of this article. Those who advocate the 'if-you-have-faith-you'll-be-healed' teaching are likely to be inconsistent when it comes to their teeth.

Such beliefs should result in the Christians of faith assuming that God would heal their teeth, either by miraculous extractions or 'fillings' or by rendering both remedies unnecessary!

In practice, few, if any, take such a position in regard to teeth, even if they tend to do so in relation to headaches, backaches, stomach-aches, and the ailments of others.

The reason is because most of us have a deep understanding of dental health and are reminded very regularly of it. We know that in large measure it depends on our discipline; we know that we suffer when we ill-treat teeth. They are not long-suffering, but complain bitterly the moment anything is wrong! However much we dislike experiencing dentistry, we know, understand and appreciate the dentist's work.

Most Christians will not regard teeth as God's no-go area, but rather will expect and experience his grace and wisdom to help them treat their teeth well, and give them greater peace if, by nature, dentistry frightens them. Christians will probably pray for the dentist to be God's instrument (no pun intended!) of healing for themselves and others.

God, if they were asked to 'locate' him, would be envisaged as somehow 'within' the whole thing rather than distant from it.

The health and wholeness of our teeth is closely linked to our choices and our habits; to our discipline - or our lack of it!

If I have dwelt on dentistry it is because it is in this area that the overwhelming majority of Christians have found for themselves the right and normal relationship between faith and medicine. When they suffer toothache they recognise when it is their own fault, and regard dentistry as (in the most literal sense) a Godsend.

When we place God 'within' something, we affirm that God is normally in the normal. This is extremely important and it is the message both of Christmas and of the Cross.

God is not to be 'located' in the abnormal and the supernatural; that is where the pagans place him.

Signs and Wonders (back to top)
If and when we discover that God works miraculously, then we have learned another important thing about him.

There is, however, a trap. If we then focus on the 'signs and wonders' we tend mentally to 'locate' God just in the extra-ordinary, the super-natural and the ab-normal.

(I have written 'locate' in inverted commas since it is a mental, not a geographical, placing.)

If we make the error of 'locating' God primarily in the extra-ordinary, then the ordinary, the natural and the normal can then seem to be spiritually desolate and devoid of God. This is Bad News not Good News! It denies the Creation and the Incarnation, and undermines any conviction that God might use bread, wine, water, oil, touch or word to communicate himself to us.

This is the danger inherent in signs and wonders and why we are discouraged from seeking them. It is right that 'signs' should follow believers, but when believers identify God exclusively with them, then it is that believers start following the signs!

God's hand can indeed be seen in signs and wonders - over forty years ago my own crippled mother was instantly healed when she was anointed. But the Good News of the Gospel is not that God reveals himself primarily in the extra-ordinary, but has chosen to step into his Creation and work within it.

Medicine and Gospel (back to top)
All this about 'locating' God (not a terribly good word, but I cannot think of a better) goes right to the heart of Christian thinking about Gospel and Medicine.

  In short, if God is 'located' in the extra-ordinary then his healing will not be recognised in the ordinary, and medicine will be suspect.

If, on the other hand, God is 'located' within the natural then his hand will be seen within it and medicine will be affirmed and valued.

I must be careful not to be misunderstood. To 'locate' God in the ordinary, the natural and the normal is not to deny his activity beyond these categories - the extra-ordinary, etc. It means, rather, that God is seen to be so great as, on occasions, to overflow the normal. Christians who affirm him in the normal can more safely rejoice when they discern his hand in the abnormal, because their faith is rooted and grounded in reality.

When God is only seen in the abnormal, then history shows that this is a recipe for fringe extremism and imbalance, for distortion and for heresy.

But error is possible on both sides. God can be so located in the 'normal' that he is boxed-in by our thinking and the possibility of his acting in any way beyond our present comprehension is denied. He cannot act miraculously some folk insist, when it is really that their thinking cannot cope with miracles!


Medicine in the Old Testament (back to top)
If what I have written so far is basically true, we would expect to find in Scripture an affirmation of medicine.

In the Old Testament at least eleven different aids to healing are mentioned:
  • food
  • wine
  • water
  • salts
  • soda
  • soap
  • oil
  • balm (sedative)
  • fruit
  • leaves
  • bandages
    (For the references to the above, see the Bible button: Show Bible Reference(s) .)
The attitude to physicians preceding the birth of Christ could be very positive and can be seen in Ecclesiasticus 38:1-15. For example:
  Honour physicians for their services, for the Lord created them; (verse 1)

By them [the Lord's works] the physician heals and takes away pain; (verse 7)

My child, when you are ill, do not delay,
but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you.
(verse 9)

Medicine in the New Testament (back to top)
The following points regarding medicine can be drawn from the New Testament:
  1. Christ did not just magically dispense miracles.
  2. He is recorded as preparing for ministry, eg. avoiding crowds, getting the right team around him or asking about the illness. Show Bible Reference(s)
  3. He often questioned the sufferers about themselves, their hopes and their expectations. Show Bible Reference(s)
  4. He used not simply words, but natural means like spittle, mud, or touch and suggested water or food. Show Bible Reference(s) In his parable of the Good Samaritan (which for centuries has linked Church and Medicine) he affirms the use of antiseptic (wine), emollient (oil) and bandages, to say nothing of free transport, subsidised shelter, rest, food and care! Show Bible Reference(s)
  5. His ministry was not always instant in its results, and he is recorded as ministering more than once. Show Bible Reference(s)
  6. He often used his authority to give guidance about maintaining the healing received, and is recorded as engaging in follow-up. Show Bible Reference(s)
  7. He was happy to apply a saying about doctors to himself as Dr. Luke records. Show Bible Reference(s)
  8. The disciples' use of oil met with his approval even if it was not based on his example. (Since 'Christ' was God's Anointed One he had no need to symbolise himself.) Show Bible Reference(s)
  9. Luke was valued by Paul. (We would have no accounts of the Apostolic Church and Pentecost had Paul's doctor-friend not recorded them for us!) Show Bible Reference(s)
  10. Paul gives good medical advice to the frequently-ill Timothy. Show Bible Reference(s)
  11. The Spirit's 'gift of healing' is correctly translated 'gifts of healings' or 'gifts of cures'. It has a medical slant to it. Show Bible Reference(s)
  12. James teaches about the use of oil when praying for the sick Show Bible Reference(s)
    (see the article Anointing with Oil - in the Bible and Today on this website.)
  13. In Revelation, John looks forward to the time when the leaves of the trees will be for the healing of nations. Show Bible Reference(s)
  14. There are no Scriptural texts which suggest that spiritual growth should be marked by despising medicine. Show Bible Reference(s)
  15. Then, as now, there were the unhealed, even when Church and Medicine worked together:
    • It was at Malta, where Paul and Luke ministered to the sick of the island, that Trophimus was left sick. Show Bible Reference(s)
    • Paul's own 'thorn' was not removed while it was being used to break his pride. Show Bible Reference(s)
    • We owe the Epistle to the Philippians to the near-fatal illness of Epaphroditus. Show Bible Reference(s)
    • Although Paul commended the faith of Timothy it did not free him from illness. Show Bible Reference(s)

The Word and the Messenger (back to top)
In John 5 we read an account of a visit Jesus made to the Bethesda Spa at Jerusalem. It has been described as a 'first century hospital' because it was always crowded with the blind, the lame and the paralysed.

Jesus goes to a lame man Show further information who had not been able to avail himself of the water's therapy for nearly forty years (whether because he had tried and failed, or because deep down he had given up any desire for healing). Jesus heals him but later follows up his ministry with further encouragement and advice, and apparently leaves the rest.

We might ask, 'Why did Jesus not stay and minister to the rest?'

St. John gives us the reason -
  In these lay many invalids - blind, lame, and paralysed - waiting for the stirring of the water, for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water;... Show Bible Reference(s)
The truth of this account lies not in whether the 'Angel' could have been recorded on videotape or not; the truth lies in the author's great theological affirmation that it was ultimately the Lord God who was at work behind the healing properties of the pool.

(The fact that some manuscripts omit this, points towards its authenticity, since difficulties are usually eased in transmission rather than invented!)

The writer is saying that, at the Pool, the healing work of the Lord God was active -
  1. through his Son,
  2. through his Creation.
The departure of Jesus did not leave the rest without God's healing. God's healing was available to them. In fact his choice of ministry to just the one man was to make God's healing available to the one who, in modern terms, had the prescription but never seemed able to get to the chemist!

To return to our earlier themes; the teaching is that God is active in nature as well as super-naturally; within the normal as well as ab-normally; within the ordinary as well as in the extra-ordinary.


God's Healing Works (back to top)
Christians believe in -
  God the Father who made the world,
God the Son who redeemed mankind,
God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the people of God.
This short creed shows three related but different activities of God -
  1. Making and sustaining the world: 'CREATION'
  2. Rescuing and saving us: 'REDEMPTION'
  3. Making Christ's followers Christ-like: 'SANCTIFICATION'
The Healing Ministry of Medicine is closely linked to (a), while the Healing Ministry of the Church is closely linked to (b) and (c).

Medicine is a human discipline based on a scientific understanding of God's healing laws in nature (the so-called 'Laws of Nature').

It is not necessary (however desirable) for a doctor to acknowledge the divine source of these laws, any more than an X-ray specialist need know the source of the rays he/she uses. The primary task of the medic is so to know the rules that he is able to apply them to maximum healing advantage.
  • Medicine primarily applies the lessons revealed in Creation;
  • The Church primarily applies the lessons revealed in Redemption and Sanctification.
Since medicine is co-operation with and understanding Divine Laws, so the term 'divine healing' has, by and large, been rejected as a description of the Church's ministry, lest it imply that Creation is not God's sphere of working, or that God's activity is limited to the Church!

Unlike Medicine, the Church's distinctive ministry is not repair prior to eternal death, but rescue prior to eternal life!

Medicine's ministry says much about our roots and what we are growing away from; the Church's distinctive ministry has much to do with our destiny and what we are growing into.

Medicine may fulfil its goals here because it is of Creation and this life. The Church's distinctive ministry has Redemption as its goal of which only the first-fruits are tasted here. Show Bible Reference(s) That is partly why the Church's healing ministry always continues to have the mystery and pain of the Cross within it.

General Booth's dictum reminds us not to 'locate' God in the super-spiritual. The 'social' and 'spiritual' Gospels are not alternatives but facets of the one Good News.

When Christians under-value Creation it is likely to arise from their 'Forgotten Father' syndrome.

The British Medical Association has said -
  'As man is body, mind and spirit, and health depends on the harmonious functioning of the whole man, so the task of medicine and the church is inseparable; co-operation thus comes into line with Christ's charge to his disciples to heal and preach.'
We are 'body, mind, and spirit' but they cannot be divided like the shell, white and yolk of an egg.

When Christ was once confronted with a lame man he viewed him both medically and spiritually, and knew that for his healing he needed the forgiveness of sins as well as the ability to walk.

Wholeness is the blossoming of our creation, our redemption and our sanctification: and heaven is the goal of all.

This is the medical term for when the symptoms of illness disappear for a while, although the person remains ill. Pain killers are to give the relief of a 'remission'. Excitement or concentration can sometimes give a temporary remission of pain.

When the symptoms do not return, then it is a real cure/healing.

This distinction should be used by Christians. A remission is a great blessing for which we can thank God. To call it a 'cure' before a permanent relief has been experienced often leads to dishonouring God, alienating the medical profession, and bringing disappointment to the sufferer.

Time will tell. Wait and see, so that you honour God by affirming what he has done rather than dishonour him by claiming what he has not done!

There is a sense in which even the greatest miracle of healing - e.g. the raising of Lazarus - is little more than a 'remission', for every healing has to give way to death.

It is death which enables us to see most clearly the roles of Medicine and Church, for our view of Life depends on our view of death.

Death is the fulfilment of our Creation, of our Redemption and of our Sanctification. As Charles Wesley wrote -
  Finish then thy new creation:
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see they great salvation,
Perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love and praise.

Copyright John Richards 2003, but waived for users of

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