After being nearly bled and drugged to death, President George Washington on his deathbed feebly requested that he, “be permitted to die without further interruption.”1 In the 18th century the scientific method was still in its infancy and the general populace was treated with a variety of very strong medicines, folklore cures and extended confinement in enclosed rooms. People had a diet high in meat, gravy and spices which often overloaded the system and led to weakness and premature death.
Early Adventism emerged from this backdrop and its first efforts in dealing with the sick focused on the miraculous. Otis Nickel, an early Advent believer wrote to William Miller concerning the miraculous healings which attended the young Ellen White.
Sister Ellen has been a resident of my family much of the time for about eight months. I have never seen the least impropriety of conduct in her since our first acquaintance. God has blessed our family abundantly with spiritual things as well as temporal since we received her into our family.
The Spirit of God is with her and has been in a remarkable manner in healing the sick through the answer to her prayers; some cases are as remarkable as any that are recorded in the New Testament.2
Adventists began to move away from a purely miraculous worldview on healing through the influences of a retired sea captain named Joseph Bates. He began one of the first temperance societies, became a vegetarian and also left off the drinking of coffee and tea, the use of tobacco and the eating of rich food and cakes. He became a Sabbatarian and was very influential on the developing views of James and Ellen White. In 1849 Bates wrote: “I find some places to hold a meeting with a few hungry ones. The pipes and tobacco are traveling out of sight fast, I tell you.”3
The pivotal vision on health came to Ellen White in 1863. “It was at the house of Brother A. Hilliard, at Otsego, Michigan, June 6, 1863 that the great subject of health reform was opened to me in vision.” (Review and Herald: October 8, 1867). James and Ellen White had gathered with others on the Sabbath to especially pray for James White who had been debilitated due to overwork. In this vision, which lasted about forty-five minutes, she writes:
I saw that it was a sacred duty to attend to our health, and arouse others to their duty. . . . We have a duty to speak, to come out against intemperance of every kind—intemperance in working, in eating, in drinking, in drugging—and then point them to God’s great medicine: water, pure soft water, for diseases, for health, for cleanliness, for luxury.4
Thus it seemed that God was leading the young church to combine their faith with a knowledge and application of right health principles. In order to spread these principles The Health Reformer began to be published along with the opening of a treatment center known as The Health Reform Institute.
With medical training and practice becoming increasingly specialized, the Church’s educational and medical institutions sought to equip its young people with the necessary tools to practice in the twentieth century. This led to a Loma Linda University Hospital approach to healing rather than the charismatic approach to healing which is practiced today by some Pentecostal churches.
Our Western view of a person as divided into separate components of body, mind and spirit derived mainly from Greek dualistic thought. On the other hand, the Hebrews believed that man was a physical, mental, social and spiritual unit. By God’s grace we are to maintain health that we may have the strength to serve God and others well and it is not meant to be a legalistic perfectionistic hammer to judge others.
Adventists teach and encourage their members and others to practice a healthy lifestyle and use the true remedies which God has provided:
Pure air, sunlight, abstemiousness, rest, exercise, proper diet, the use of water, trust in divine power--these are the true remedies. Every person should have a knowledge of nature's remedial agencies and how to apply them. It is essential both to understand the principles involved in the treatment of the sick and to have a practical training that will enable one rightly to use this knowledge.5
The church recognized early that medical missionary work would open a door to minister to those in need. Throughout the Bible, normally unapproachable people, such as Namaan or the Roman Centurion sought help from the prophet or Jesus when his or another’s life was in need. God’s healing often led to conversion and loyalty to the God of heaven. “I can see in the Lord's providence that the medical missionary work is to be a great entering wedge, whereby the diseased soul may be reached.”6
The exercise of compassion would open up the hearts of those who were sick in both body and soul. The way would then be opened to instruct them regarding the obligation to obey both the physical and moral laws of God.
A basic principle in health reform indicated that transgression of the laws of the human organism was a moral issue, and thus sinful, so that transgression of these laws could be considered as transgression of God’s law, the Decalogue. It as at this point that the integration of health reform into the third angel’s message took place, because its central theme summoned the observance of God’s commandments (Rev. 14:12).7
In other words, the obligation and benefits of obeying God’s laws governing health, would open up the way for individuals to discern the importance of obeying God’s great ten commandment law, including the seventh-day Sabbath. Just as Christ both healed and taught the people, the church has attempted to combine physical healing with gospel work. In this work the command in the Great Commission “to teach all nations whatsoever I have commanded you” is fulfilled:
And we should teach others how to preserve and to recover health for the sick we should use the remedies which God has provided in nature, and we should point them to Him who alone can restore. It is our work to present the sick and suffering to Christ in the arms of our faith. We should teach them to believe in the great Healer. We should lay hold on His promise, and pray for the manifestation of His power. The very essence of the gospel is restoration, and the Saviour would have us bid the sick, the hopeless, and the afflicted take hold upon His strength.8
The SDA Church, in obedience to the Great Commission, has an extensive missionary work that often was begun by self-sacrificing medical people. Time after time and in country after country, the ministering to the body has opened the door to minister to the soul as well. Preventive health programs such as the first and most successful stop smoking plan in the nation and other lifestyle programs have ministered to countless others.
Because of the Adventist understanding of Satan’s workings in the last days, they are particularly reserved in their judgment concerning signs and wonders. Note the perspective Ellen White gave to such activities in a letter she wrote in 1904 and noted in a book called Medical Ministry:
The way in which Christ worked was to preach the word, and to relieve suffering by miraculous works of healing. But I am instructed that we cannot now work in this way; for Satan will exercise his power by working miracles. God's servants today could not work by means of miracles, because spurious works of healing, claiming to be divine, will be wrought. For this reason the Lord has marked out a way in which His people are to carry forward a work of physical healing combined with the teaching of the word.9
The SDA Church over time moved from a purely supernatural base to one which also acknowledged the importance of the use of natural remedies in cooperating with God in the healing process. In The Great Controversy, she points to a time when signs and wonders will follow the believers.
Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to proclaim the message from heaven. By thousands of voices, all over the earth, the warning will be given. Miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and signs and wonders willfollow the believers. Satan also works, with lying wonders, even bringing down fire from heaven in the sight of men. Revelation 13:13. Thus the inhabitants of the earth will be brought to take their stand.10
Two challenges which might be discussed in connection with discipling the sick are:
1) In view of the fact that healthful living is a means to restoring ourselves and others to health, why should the perfectionistic judgmental attitudes of some towards health principles and the eat and drink anything goes practices of others be avoided?
2) Given my own background of being converted in a SDA hospital that had almost all Adventist employees, can a SDA hospital maximize its witness when the majority of the employees are non-SDA and do not share in the faith or lifestyle of the church?
1. D.E. Robinson, The Story of Our Health Message, (Nashville: Southern Publishing, 1965), page 13.
2. Arthur White, Biography of Ellen White, Volume I, (Washington D.C: Review & Herald, 1981-1986), pages 76-77.
3. Robinson, page 59.
4. Ellen G. White, Letter 4, (Washington D.C: Ellen G. White Estate, 1863).
5. Ellen G. White, Ministry of Healing, (Nampa: Pacific Press, 1905), page 127.
6. Ellen G. White, Counsels on Health, (Nampa: Pacific Press, 1923), page 535.
7. Gerard P. Damsteegt, Foundations of Seventh-day Adventist Mission, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), page 229.
8. Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages, (Nampa: Pacific Press, 1898), pages 824-825.
9. Ellen G. White, Medical Ministry, page 14.
10. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, (Washington D.C: Review & Herald, 1911), page 612.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5784