Anointing with Oil

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When was the most recent "Anointing with Oil" practiced in your congregation? Of the seven ordinances mentioned in our Decrees for to Keep, "Anointing with Oil" is the least practiced in our congregation. In the three short years since I have been called to the work of a deacon, our congregation has witnessed four individuals experience Baptism, observed Communion and Feet Washing seven times, rejoiced in the Marriage of two couples, practiced the Christian Woman’s Veiling and Christian Salutation in every service, yet we have observed only one service of "Anointing with Oil. "Why?
Before answering that, I would like to consider the verses that teach "Anointing with Oil." As James closes his letter to the Jewish Christians, he addresses three situations common in our lives (Jas 5:13-15). First, he asks, Is any among you afflicted? Are you suffering stress and turmoil in life? Your remedy: Pray. Second, Is any merry? Are you rejoicing in God’s goodness to you? Then Sing! Third, Is any sick among you? Is your strength being taken by disease? Then call for the church leaders to come pray over you and anoint you with oil. The prayer offered in faith will give strength, and God will restore you. If you have committed sins, rest assured in God’s forgiveness.
When James asks the question is any sick among you, he uses a Greek word meaning feeble or helpless. The sickness in focus is a serious health issue. The sick person asks the church leaders to come to him. The "Anointing with Oil" was not intended for everyday ailments. David said in Psalm 103 that God Healeth all thy diseases. God cures us of the common colds - which we catch several times a year - without a special service. God designed this ordinance for chronic health issues.
There are three things that James writes shall happen as a result of anointing. He doesn’t say they might happen; these are promised by God. First, God promises that The prayer of faith shall save the sick. I find it fascinating that the Greek word translated sick in verse 15 is different from the one used in verse 14. Here, the Greek word means “to toil, (by implication) to tire.” Prolonged illness wears down our emotional and spiritual strength. Life looks bleak. God feels distant. Our prayers seem to rise unanswered. God promises that the prayer of faith will restore the spirit of the one anointed. God promises emotional healing.
Second, The Lord shall raise him up. Does this mean the one anointed will be restored to full health? That is one way God chooses to answer this promise. I have heard firsthand accounts of individuals miraculously healed. Praise God! There is also another way that God chooses to keep this promise; He may bring death. Death doesn’t mean that God’s promise failed. God has answered in another way. Scripture promises He will raise the dead!
1 Corinthians 15:52 uses the same Greek word: In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. This answer is painful, yet the promise is sure.
The third promise speaks to the spiritual condition of the afflicted. If he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. The Catholic Church has interpreted this to mean that any who receive this anointing is by it forgiven of all sin. They administer it to those who are in imminent danger of death to ensure their eternal salvation. This teaching contradicts other Scriptures. Romans 10:9 states, If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. Only faith in the blood of Christ will redeem our souls. No external rite can provide salvation. I believe James is addressing our human tendency to blame ourselves for the circumstances we are in. Maybe we brought on this suffering by our own sinfulness. Maybe we are too proud, or we committed a sin we don’t know about, or... The list can go on. We can begin to question the genuineness of our salvation. The process of "Anointing with Oil" resolves that doubt. We open our life to examination by God and our spiritual leaders (James 5:16). If specific sins come to mind, they need to be confessed and cleared. If neither the Holy Spirit nor our spiritual brothers see sin in our life, we can claim the assurance of salvation. We are not suffering because of our sin; rather, it is as Jesus told his disciples, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him (Jas 9:2).
There are philosophies today that promote the “spiritual powers” of anointing oil. Both ancient and modern medicine have recognized the benefits of olive oil in physical healing. However, nowhere does Scripture ascribe spiritual power to the oil to heal, protect, or bestow special gifts. It is significant that James says, “The prayer of faith shall save the sick.” The oil has no supernatural properties. It is the prayer of faith that restores the sick. This is the beauty of this simple ordinance: the physical "Anointing with Oil" represents the Divine touch on the life of the hurting brought by the prayer of faith. God may bring physical healing, but, more importantly, He guarantees spiritual and emotional restoration.
So, why is this special ordinance the least common in our church? The reasons are multiple. First, God has blessed most of us with good health. Yes, we encounter touches of the flu and stomach bugs, but God restores us. Second, suffering individuals may want their health needs to remain private. I can sympathize, but I believe our Brotherhood will be strengthened as we collectively lift each other up in prayer. Third, God has blessed us with modern medicine. The doctors’ discovery of antibiotics and improved health practices have drastically reduced the number of life-threatening illness. The flu that claimed more than fifty million lives one hundred years ago doesn’t present the same threat today. Will science relegate this God-prescribed remedy to the dustbin? Never. The child of God recognizes the One who created the laws of life. When infirmity crushes him, he desires the touch of his Restorer.