My memory of Berry’s lecture suggests that if there are miracles in the church they will be found in the roots i.e. in the small communities of the church. This was not true in the fifties in my experience unless it had to do with the anointing services.
When I moved to Tampa I had been taught that there were seven ordinances, one of them being anointing with oil as in James’s letter in the New Testament. As a young minister I had not been taught how this ordinance was to be observed. So when I was asked to perform the sacrament, I turned to the “little black” minister’s manual in my possession. To my dismay, there was not a word in the book to guide me.
I then did what was left for me to do; I turned directly to James 5:14-15 and tried to follow the biblical instructions. I asked several “elders” to go with me. We read the scripture. It seemed to me that we should encourage our faith by sharing testimony and insight, so I invited anyone who had anything to say along that line to speak. There was opportunity to confess sin.
Finally and most importantly, I asked the person who was ill what healing was most desired of the Lord. I felt we would not know how to pray unless we were given this information. Then several of us anointed the person with a bit of olive oil and prayed. I did not want act alone, or to be given any credit individually for answered prayer.
The requests were simple and the answers to prayer were as simple.
- I want the nerves around my eyes to relax so they don’t squint and prevent me from reading my Bible. (Afterward he read his Bible incessantly)
- I want to go to church once more to give my testimony. (She did)
- I want to live long enough that I will see several of my children come to faith and be saved. (He did.)
- I want my fear of death to go away. (It did.)
Our daughter remembers an anointing that involved only members of the Tampa ministry and our spouses, eight persons in all. She says it was emotional, with much hugging. The healing was relational.
Were these miracles? I’m not sure, but I have this story to tell. I was present in Wichita, Kansas, on July 25-30, 1995 when the present Confession of Faith from a Mennonite Perspective was adopted. I noticed that anointing with oil was not mentioned in the confession.
Between sessions an opportunity for anyone not yet satisfied to meet with the chair of the committee that was doing the writing. I went to that meeting and suggested that anointing with oil should be included in some way. The committee chair was from a segment of the church where such anointing was neither taught nor practiced.
In the next session the Confession was approved and the committee was asked to do the final editing. The final document we use now has the following statement “The church continues Jesus’ ministry of healing. The church may be a channel for healing through the service of prayer and anointing with oil.
I do not know how widely the church practices anointing with oil today. I do know that within the last six months the pastoral team of the College Mennonite Church invited any one in the congregation burdened with such things as an illness, a worry, or unresolved problem to come forward and be anointed with oil. There were many responses. It was not exactly what James had in mind, perhaps. But, the Old Fool agrees with Berry that the nutrients of faith flow up the trunk from the roots to nourish the leaves of the tree that is the church.