Elders, Anointing, and Healing
It is absolutely one of most powerful things I have ever been involved in as an elder: the anointing and praying for the sick of our flock. The practice comes straight out of James 5. Happy believers sing. Those in trouble pray. And those who are sick call the elders to anoint them with oil and pray for them. This prayer of faith will make the sick person well. Their sins will be forgiven. We confess our sins to each other in order to be healed.
I have amazing testimonies I could share. Sickness overcome. Tumors gone. Surgeries that resulted in much better outcomes than predicted. And even among those who were not physically healed in the ways we asked, there are incredible stories to be told. In every case, those anointed had a deeper sense of grace and a peace for whatever was to come. Perhaps it is the connection to the forgiveness of sins. Maybe it is the complete surrender to the will and power of God. But it changes lives. Literally.
I did not grow up seeing this practiced. I didn’t even hear of it for much of my life. Which is strange when you think about it. After all, it is right there in James 5. When you are sick, call the elders for anointing and prayer. I do remember the occasional class comment on the anointing. It was usually that anointing with oil was cultural and to be understood as a practice for the first century church. Anointing with oil was a common medical practice, so the equivalent today would be to go to a doctor and also have the elders pray. It sounded smart and made sense. Except it didn’t. It was right there in James 5. Have the elders anoint with oil and pray.
The more our eldership talked about it, the more convinced we became that we should do as Scripture says. So we began anointing the sick of our flock. We talked about it, announced we were doing it, and invited people to participate. Some wanted prayers only without the anointing. And of course we still honored that. But we began doing anointings on a regular basis.
People often ask me about the process and details. Scripture is real clear about doing it but not so clear on the details, so we tried not to get hung up on those. We used extra virgin olive oil in small vials. Usually the process looked something like this.
The sick person, or one of their family members, explained what was going on. We read James 5. Elders (and often wives along with family and friends of the one being anointed) gathered around and laid hands on the sick person. As for the actual anointing, when I led them, I generally poured some on the forehead and made the sign of the cross with my thumb. Some elders poured oil on the head, while others rubbed it on the hand. We usually explained that the healing power was not in the oil but in Jesus. We did the anointing in the name of Jesus. We prayed for the sick. We presented them with the vial that was used and told them every time they looked at it to be reminded of what the Lord had done for them and how he had healed them.
It is powerful and life-changing.
I have experienced it personally when I was anointed before surgery for a melanoma. My kids and grands have been involved in anointings.
So if you are an elder, I would urge you to follow Scripture and begin anointing your flock when they are sick. Ask your elders to anoint you and your family when they are sick.
It changes everything.
Just like God said it would.