Obviously, Tim Has Not Read Meredith

Tim Challies posted a brief for medical missions that could help anyone understand why a health gospel is not far removed from a wealth version:

2. You are able to proclaim the gospel at a time in life when your listeners are keenly aware that there are serious problems they cannot remedy in their own strength, and there are worrisome risks they must accept. They know they need God’s help, and they want it. . . .

4. Medical evangelism affords the opportunity to tell people about Christ in the context of helping them with no expectation of personal gain. It confirms that their well-being is your motivation in telling them the gospel.

5. Medical work gives credibility to the evangelist. It shows that he not only wants to help his listeners, but that he can help them. If the physical problem can be remedied, then what the physician has to say about the spiritual problem should be worth listening to as well.

On the flip side, someone might be prone to exhibit faith in order to win the attention of the physician. And sometimes missionaries may want to be thought of as compassionate or humanitarian. Whatever happened to mixed motives?

1. Patients strive diligently to come to you. You do not have to go to them, apologizing for invading their privacy or encroaching on their time.

3. You can evangelize a large geographical area–while traveling only a few miles from home. At Marrere, people came from all over the province and from an additional four states as well. Those five provinces represented half the nation.

Congregations and church buildings accomplish the same purpose, even if indigenous peoples who come to church may be interested in gaining the attention of the Western Christians and the benefits that follow.

6. Mission hospitals provide conspicuous testimonies before entire communities of the transforming work Christ accomplishes in Christians. In primitive cultures, the kind of medical care Christians provide stands in marked contrast to the carelessness and lack of compassion that often characterizes other care-givers.

Or, medical missions show the advances that come from studying bodies as natural phenomena. You don’t need a witch doctor to get well. You don’t need a Christian physician either. What you need is a good medical practitioner.

Why spiritualize medicine? And why, in the process, make the means of grace, word and sacrament, common or even inferior?

Meredith Kline’s logic in his minority report is still worth pondering for the ecclesiology on which it is based. Here is an excerpt:

It is now further to be observed that ithe church finds itself in conflict with the most important principles of biblical ecclesiology as soon as it adopts the traditional approach to medical missions, the approach recommended in the committee’s report. It would seem evident that a physician commissioned by the church to devote his full time to performing in the name of the church what is alleged to be an ecclesiastical function is thereby appointed as some sort of officer of the church. Which office he is supposed to occupy is somewhat obscure-the convenient title of “missionary” is bestowed on him and that covers a multitude of problems. Yet, his work does not coincide with that of any of the church officers as described in’the standards of government of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The committee’s report presents his ministry as one of mercy and presumably then he would be, in terms of the committee’s position, a specialized variety of deacon. . . . However, since there is no biblical evidence of deacons or any others practicing ordinaay medicine as an official ecclesiastical function, what the modern church has actually done is to invent the new office of the ecclesiastical medic.

But leaving aside the question of the medical missionary’s official status, there remains the fact that the function of medicine is, according to the committee’s insistence, a properly ecclesiastical function. Therein the committee would find the justification for its policy of medical missions. But if, operating on such assumptions, the church proceeds to commission physicians to practice medicine as an ecclesiastical function, the question at once arises: By what standards is this work to be performed and governed? The church may not abandon responsibility for the nature of the performance of any ecclesiastical function carried out in the church’s name. . . .

Unless, then, the church has lost the third mark of a true churdh and is prepared to disclaim responsibility for exercising disciplinary supervision over its medical work, it will be obliged to adopt a set of standards by which to judge of the medical qualifications of those whom it would appoint and by which afterwards to govern their labors. Such a code of medical practice is, however, not provided in the Word of God.

Presumably, the church will desire to practice medicine according to the present state of the art (that, indeed, becomes the fourth mark of the true church). It will then probably be the latest medical journals that are elevated to the position of standards of the church alongside the Bible. In any case, the Scriptures will no longer be the sole authority and rule in the government of the church. And, of course, there are not available to the church from any source standards of absolute authority and validity for the practice of medicine like the divine norms available to the church in the canon of Scripture for regulating the functions that are indispensably the church’s proper ministry. Thus, when the church usurps to itself from the sphere of human culture the function of medicine, it involves itself in the relativism, the uncertainties, and the fallacies of expert human opinion and repudiates the character of absolute divine authority that is the glory of its true ministry.

Nor is that the end of the dilemma for the church entangled in the medical profession. Such a church must also be ready to submit to the interference of the state in its own proper ecclesiastical functioning in a way clearly prejudicial to the prerogatives of Christ as Head of the church. For the missionary doctor has no license to operate in independence of the civil regulations governing the practice of medicine nor does he have diplomatic immunity from the sanctions of the civil court by which those regulations are enforced. Consequently, the church that commissions him must acknowledge the right of the state to interfere in its government and ministry so far as to determine who is and who, is not qualified to be appointed by the church to one of its own offices or ministries; to establish the particular procedures that the medical appointee must follow in fulfillment of his ecclesiastical ministry; and, in case of malpractice, to inflict temporal penalties on him for his official ecclesiastical shortcomings and virtually to compel his suspension or deposition.

Surely the church that submits to such state interference has thereby removed itself from under the exclusive lordship of Christ as King (in a special sense) of the church. And the church that insists that the practice of medicine is one of its proper divinely assigned functions has no choice but to submit to that kind of state control and in so doing to become guilty of giving unto Caesar that which belongs unto God. (Minutes of the OPC’s Thirty-First General Assembly, 54-55)

Another reason New Calvinists need a doctrine of the church (but won’t find one at The Gospel Coalition).

14 thoughts on “Obviously, Tim Has Not Read Meredith

  1. I’m willing to grant MGK has a point that should be considered, especially in an era of tightened belts and mission creep.

    I’m a bit more reluctant to balk (as MGK clearly does) at the majority’s justification, by denying medical-mercy is legitimate diaconal service. It may well be that TLC is not a typical church-supplied assistance. But prior to the distribution of food to widows in Jerusalem, couldn’t the same thing have been said about groceries? “How is waiting tables the proper domain of the church? We should never have started doing that!” No, they recognized that this was the kind of service that could be done, and better by a branch of ministry dedicated to mercies.

    OK, so should the church only give diaconal medical mercy to the widows (and orphans, let’s be generous) on The List? Can we give anything (material) to anyone who isn’t a member of the church? Ever? Anyplace?

    Whether we have (or continue to have) medical missionaries seems to me a purely practical question. Where is the evidence that the church has spent those $$ well? Look hard, don’t just judge superficially. Has this labor objectively made the ministry of the Word marginally more effectual? How has the mission itself felt about it? Just deacon-around?


  2. It bothers me that a lot of mission work is done under this modus operandi of bait and switch. Not sure that I would use a Muslim hospital or a Hindu school if circumstances were reversed!


  3. Bruce, Paul does give qualifications for which widows are eligible for diaconal ministry in 1 Tim. 5.

    Medicine and food are different and including medicine in a church’s ministry — as Kline argues — raises any number of challenges for ecclesiology. Since table service (not bottle service) is actually in the Bible, it’s a whole lot easier to justify. In which case, the majority report wasn’t exactly convincing. Maybe we need another attempt.


  4. Another attempt, maybe so. I do not object.

    Still working here. We have Luke, the missionary doctor. Did he only provide his services to the missionary team? Did he bracket those services, and charge Timothy for his medicinal wine? Is it possible his physic opened a few doors to gospel opportunity?

    Again, it seems like a practical question to me, and based more on the perceived need of some particular mission field or primarily the need of those missionaries in a rustic setting, which then may spill over into the community. If we thought Luke was a necessity on every journey, that would be a serious problem in my view.

    I’m against every dollar (and cent) spent outside the simple requirement for genuine church-support of a sole, laser like focus on gospel missions. If a field is “full,” open another field before thinking up new projects for flush missionary budgets. I’m against mission creep, and metastasizing agencies or functions perpetuating their own raison d’être.

    Should the church still be supporting Japan from the CFM, rather than seeking another doc for Uganda? Or supporting MJ in Uruguay, instead of outlays on some other expense? These are the burdens of the secretaries and decision makers, following the guidance given through the church and her reports.

    It’s been 55 years since the 31st GA, a full generation. So maybe the question can be reargued.


  5. A great thought provoking piece, which is arguably about the clarity of office in the church. You wouldn’t read this anywhere else. Sweetness and light seems to be the underlying rule for many blogs, whereas OL reminds me of that wonderful Mancunian, Morrissey – a tangy counterpoint to the prevailing herd mentality.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is where I think Kuyper’s distinction between the *institutional* church and *organic* church is helpful, and I think what Kline is basically arguing here. Should the church as institution – the OPC, PCA, etc – directly engage in medical mission? I think not – I agree with Bruce that the focus should be on the Gospel. On the other hand, should the organic church – the universal body of individual believers – engage in medical missions? Absolutely! So the Church should definitely engage in medical missions and other forms of mercy ministry, and even *ahem* social justice ministries, but not under the auspices of a denomination or any particular church.


  7. @Ali
    So Stephen didn’t pray enough?

    Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

    Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly…For to this you have been called…

    While we are to love our neighbor, it is not at all clear that this entails working for social justice. There are no NT examples, and the priority of the gospel is the world to come. Campaigning against gun control or for a higher minimum wage is fine, but it is not the proper role of the church and it isn’t a gospel issue. It’s not necessarily sinful to not be interested in these issues or have a different opinion on them.


  8. Bruce, “Again, it seems like a practical question to me, and based more on the perceived need of some particular mission field or primarily the need of those missionaries in a rustic setting”

    Invoking “perceived needs” it seems is how the PCUSA justified sending out agriculturalists and physics professors since non-Christian societies needed better farming and universities. I don’t think you are a liberal. But how do you refrain sending out all sorts of scientists when you start sending medical ones?


  9. VV, “should the organic church – the universal body of individual believers – engage in medical missions? Absolutely!”

    But why limit medicine to Christian auspices? Why not support the United Nations?


  10. Darryl,
    To me, farms and schools sounds like social gospel, trying to heal the environment in the name of religion.
    (So…, should we be drilling wells in Karamoja? Only as good neighbors, IMO)

    Whereas, the mission of the church is to reconcile sinners to God, healing the soul. The body isn’t “environment” for the soul, but its agency and interface with the environment. Broken body, maybe no communication, hence no gospel reception. But not every mission field will need a medical tool.

    The latter seems to me like “cup of cold water” theology; while the former is “busybody” theology.


  11. DGH – I never said medicine should be limited to Christian auspices, but the UN can’t be everywhere. In August I’m going on a medical mission to a rural village in West Africa to do surgery. Only Christian medical groups have been to this location previously. Isn’t that a valid way to use the gifts God has given us?


  12. What would Reagan say to Challies? ………..’Well, there you go again!’……..
    I’m n’ Kline to agree with Meredith.


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