Back to Issue

The Bottom Line

Getting it Right

Bill Knott

01/20/2010

“We’ve missed our opportunity,” the speaker said with grim finality. “Through the gift of the Spirit of Prophecy in the nineteenth century, Seventh-day Adventists had an unparalleled chance to lead the world into principles of healthful living. And we have largely squandered that opportunity,” he concluded. “Others are now preaching the message once given to us.”

I winced in my chair from both the discomfort of an overlong meeting and the punishing we believers were getting from the front. Like all generalizations, his criticisms of this movement’s 145-year record of health promotion were at moments both true and false. And like so many others now mounting the pulpits and podiums of Adventism, he seemed content to diagnose both the message and the movement as terminal. His solution, if it could be called that, gave a prescription of hospice care for the Adventist health message. “Go gently into that good night,” he appeared to be saying. “It will all end with a whimper.”

It may simply be the contrarian in me—or it may be some bit of Spirit-supplied optimism and hope—but I am unwilling to write or publish the obituary for the Adventist health message just yet. It is a unique and willful kind of myopia that can ignore the millions of persons who have found both healing for their bodies and salvation in the last century and a half through Adventism’s emphasis on the whole person. Any candid assessment of Adventism’s contribution to the wellness of the world must surely include the persons with leprosy, HIV/AIDS, malaria—diseases of every kind—who have found the Saviour at their bedside in the person of a believer committed to them and their health. Neither can I easily dismiss the ministry of tens of thousands of dedicated believers—many of whom I know—who even now labor in outpatient clinics, acute care hospitals, wellness evangelism, and lifestyle education centers just because they believe they are building the Lord’s kingdom one well body at a time.

There can be no doubt that we have frequently failed to take full advantage of the opportunities the Lord brought us through the special insight given to this people in the Spirit of Prophecy. Beset by a caution that has often had more to do with our pride than the Lord’s honor, we have sometimes used a megaphone when the message deserved full amplification on radio, television, and the Web. We have sometimes equated success in health ministry with the building of more institutions instead of the building of whole persons and whole communities through Christ-focused health evangelism.

But the times they are a-changin’. This summer’s remarkable Global Conference on Health and Lifestyle, sponsored by the General Conference Health Ministries Department, brought together administrators, clinicians, and lifestyle educators in Geneva for a five-day focus on redrawing the paradigm of the church’s health ministry. The Adventist Review’s own special 64-page special June 25 issue, “Good Health—More Than an Apple a Day” (http://www.adventistreview.org/index. php?issue=2009-1518), illustrated a new synergy emerging between the various branches of this movement’s health ministry—showing that excellent, evidence-based care can be paired with top-quality wellness education in leading men and women to Jesus Christ. New Review contributors—Hans Diehl, Neil Nedley, Martina Karunia, and Wes Youngberg—joined long-time health ministry leaders Allan Handysides and Peter Landless in emphasizing the vital connection between physical health and spiritual well-being. Expect more in the months to come.

When our health ministry has lagged, it has usually been because it disassociated body health from spiritual wellness, as many secular health promotions do today. But where it has succeeded—and is succeeding—it finds its manifesto in these inspired lines:

“The Saviour made each work of healing an occasion for implanting divine principles in the mind and soul. This was the purpose of His work. He imparted earthly blessings, that He might incline the hearts of men to receive the gospel of His grace” (Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, 20).

That’s a model for Adventist health evangelism that offers just the right balance of correction and encouragement. Bill Knott is the editor of the