Sunday, April 15, 2007

Anointing with Oil

Anointing of the sick was referenced this morning at church. I wonder, what ecumenicity can I find in the subject?

"Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders [(presbuterous)] of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." James 5:14-15, ESV.

The Catholic view (as I am able to understand it, and briefly stated).
The "Anointing of the Sick" is one of the seven sacraments. It has as its purpose the conferral of a special grace on the Christian experiencing the difficulties inherent in the condition of grave illness or old age. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1527. Only priests (presbyters and bishops) can give it, using oil that has been properly blessed. Catechism, 1530. The special grace of the sacrament has as its effects: (and I paraphrase) uniting the sick person to the passion of Christ; strength, peace and courage to endure sufferings; the forgiveness of sins, if unable to obtain it through Penance; the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul; and preparation for passing over to eternal life. Catechism, 1532.

The Orthodox view (as I am able to understand it, and briefly stated).
The sacrament of "Anointing of the Sick" reminds us that when we are in pain, Christ is present with us through the presence of his Church. Oil is used as a sign of God's presence, strength and forgiveness. After prayers devoted to healing, the priest anoints the sick body with Holy Oil.

It is not limited to those near death, but to anyone who is sick in mind, body or spirit. The Church celebrates this sacrament for all of its members during Holy Week. Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald, The Sacraments,

Some Protestant views (as I am able to understand it, and briefly stated).
None but the Anglicans, to my knowledge, would account the James 5 anointing of oil among the "sacraments". Much of the google-able discussion of this passage analyzes the meaning of "elder", and not the meaning of the anointing with oil.

Presbyterian (PCA):
Whiles miracles described in scripture which validate a speaker's revelation have ceased along with revelation (since the closing of the NT Canon), "[t]he power of God in response to believing prayer to work wonders and to heal the sick cannot be limited (citing James 5:14)." A Pastoral Letter to the churches and members of the PCA, Second General Assembly of the PCA (1975),

Lutheran (LCMS):
"The LCMS does not have an "official position" on anointing with oil in connection for prayers for healing." Some suggest it was medicinal, and like today's medical efforts, should be accompanied by prayer. Others believe it was a symbol of the healing power of the Holy Spirit. As nothing indicates in James that anointing was to be a "means of grace" like the sacraments it is essentially a matter for Christian liberty and conscience. Anointing/Prayers for the Sick, LCMS Website.

It was the prayer that was the healing instrument in James 5:14-15. Healing and Faith.

If anyone has something more concrete from the Southern Baptists or other Baptist denominations, please let me know, but it seems like they take a normative protestant approach: the passage may be about old medicine, it affirms the power of prayer, it is interesting because it references the office of "elder" and it may be dubious to hold that the oil brought about some miracle.

"In the Assemblies of God we believe neither the laying on of hands nor anointing with oil is indispensable for healing, for often in Scripture healing takes place without either. But at times the touch of a praying person and the application of oil are an encouragement to faith, and such a practice is enjoined by Scripture." Laying on of Hands and Anointing the Sick with Oil. Cf. 16 Fundamental Truths of the Assemblies of God, Number 12 (noting that this healing is one of the four "cardinal" doctrines of the AG).

Interestingly, the Mormons have an oil anointing practice as well. But I don't have time to think about that.

What is a sacrament?
From Latin, Sacare, meaning "to consecrate".

Catholic - Sacraments are outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification (Catechismus concil. Trident., n.4, ex S. Aug. "De Catechizandis rudibus").

Episcopal - The Book of Common Prayer (p. 857) defines sacraments as “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.”

Reformed -
The sacraments are holy visible signs and seals, appointed of God for this end, that by the use thereof, he may the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel, viz., that he grants us freely the remission of sin, and life eternal, for the sake of that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross. Heidelberg Catechism, Question 66.

I welcome input on how I can change this post to better characterize any of these groups' teachings, or can add the teachings of any other group of Christians that I omitted (please give me some references/citations though).

How can we be united in the Faith on this matter? Can we be "one church" when we read James 5:14-15? cf. John 17:11b, "Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one."


Jim said...

You might take a look at the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, which doesn't have a problem with the idea that there may be more than two sacraments, depending on how you want to define them.

Thos said...


Thanks, I'm a bit familiar with the Lutheran view on sacraments, and agree with their understanding that much lies in the definition of "sacrament." If one views it as ceremony in which there is an actual conferral of Grace, it's hard to argue that a Christian wedding (for instance) shouldn't be viewed as a sacrament. But many would wildly disagree with me!

Peace in Christ,