I wrote on this subject a few years ago and engaged in a helpful discussion. You can see that previous post and those many comments here. Yet, for a variety of reasons, I am thinking through this issue again and welcome your input. I am painfully aware that I am the guy who wrote Visit the Sick, causing many to believe I am the guy who is supposed to know the answer to this question. The fact is, I am still wrestling with it. While teaching through James a few years ago, I was confronted afresh with James’ instruction for, “The elders of the church to come and pray over the sick, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). Despite the fact that there is clear instruction from Scripture on the matter, there remains a debate among faithful pastors on whether this practice should remain in the modern church. In the midst of many positions people take on this issue, I have narrowed the debate down to two positions:
Medicinal Purposes: Some argue that in James’ day anointing with oil was considered a medical means to aiding the healing process that was to be accompanied by praying with faith for God to heal. Those who argue against anointing with oil today point out that oil is no longer used to treat sickness. A modern equivalent of this position would be to seek medical help while also praying in faith for God to heal according to his will.
Spiritual Purposes: This position would argue there is a New Testament connection with the Old Testament anointing of oil as a means of setting someone apart for God’s blessing and spirit to come. Specifically this position in the context of James means this practice should continue today asking God to show his favor upon the sick and bring healing as the elders pray in faith. Those who hold this position might be found walking through the hospital (possibly with other elders) carrying a small bottle of oil to anoint and pray for the sick.
Each of these positions carry many implications. For now, I wanted to put the question to each of you to see how you are wrestling with the practical implications of this instruction and why you hold the position you do.