I once had a doctor who notified me when his staff was to receive their annual flu shots. I was to come in a receive one then too. Why notify me? My doctor was a religious man who while not a member of my church or denomination called all his clergy patients in to get a free flu shot. Why? He said, “I consider you a health care professional. You visit patients in the hospitals and that makes you more at risk. You are needed by those patients.”
I appreciated what he said. And I believe he was right to consider clergy members and church workers “health care professionals.” It is a consideration many people including us forget. My present day doctor does not do this. I am just an old person who needs the flu shot.
The gift of healing is often neglected by the church these days. Yes, I know many churches have “healing services of worship.” Most Christians pray for the healing of another person. I know these things because I too practice them. What I mean is that the church has since its’ inception been given a ministry to heal. Most of the gospels’ stories of Jesus are about healing from illness, crippling afflictions, possessions, and even death. We call them miracles or at the very least mysteries. My congregation today celebrates healings. We still have a ministry of healing that we often neglect because in our culture we have “health care professionals” to whom we go for a variety of complaints and receive treatments. The church takes a position with regard to healing by standing back and praying the treatment works.
The whole argument over health insurance in our culture is about how we should limit and pay for the treatments the medical professionals give us. There is also an argument over whether we should have faith in God or scientific materialist treatments. There is another argument over church sponsored medical centers. And there is another debate over whether healing in the New Testament was simply miraculous or mythical while today we should trust the medical institutions for the treatment of disease. These arguments are of the “either/or” variety and debate how we should limit healing.
I do not believe the limit we have put on the gift of healing fits the gospel definition of it. Former Surgeon General of the United States C. Everett Koop argued that what is really missing in present medical practice in the US is “the care.” Patch Adams famously argues that “practicing medicine” is not the domain of medical professionals. The church once agreed with both of these views. Even in 21st century America the majority of examples of medical practice and treatment is done at home. Medical care is primarily done by family and friends. Neighbors may bring food to a sick person. Certain foods are said to help certain illnesses. Chicken soup is still a recognized remedy by most people. A family member or a trusted friend will often administer prescribed drugs to a patient. Seeing to the cleanliness of the patient and his or her room will be done by someone who “cares.” Please note the word. All too often we equate the word “healing” with the word “curing.” They are different words with different definitions.
The Gift of Healing is given to the church to be given to anyone who needs it. Yes, by all means, pray for healing. I believe that prayers can help us focus our care. I believe we communicate love both human and divine love through prayers. I once gave a new-born child in intensive care a blessing for healing. God allowed her to live. She is now five years old and a beautiful little girl. Christopher Hitchens journalist, atheist, and contrarian thanked people who prayed for his healing because he knew it meant they cared. When we are nearby a person who is ill we should not limit ourselves to prayer. We can help in some way. The church should show care. We should give the gift of healing.