The right arm of the gospel—a phrase commonly heard in Adventist circles—is a work that has been too long neglected and underestimated. In a talk given by Mrs. White in the sanitarium at St. Helena’s chapel, she plainly stated, “There is to be no division between the medical missionary work and the gospel ministry. Medical missionary work is to be to the third angel's message as the right arm to the body. Both are to work in harmony. Then the salvation of the Lord will be revealed” (Sermons and Talks, Volume Two, 141-2). Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we, as Seventh-day Adventists, understand what “medical missionary” work refers to, and what it does not.
At the birthing of what was named the College of Medical Evangelists (now known as Loma Linda University), this same little lady gave important counsel of what the training for medical evangelism should and should not consist. California had just established new and rigorous requirements for physicians to be licensed to practice medicine and surgery, and the schools established to train these licensed physicians should be chartered. One could imagine the burning questions facing denominational leaders as they were in the process of establishing an educational institute to train medical evangelists. Some of the main questions absorbing their minds were whether or not to offer training that would enable students to become licensed physicians according to State Board requirements, and how exactly the college could provide this training. God, in His infinite love and mercy, did not leave the church to be fumbling without answers for long.
Light was provided through the channel that God had so often used to give guidance to His people. In the collection of Loma Linda Messages, we read thatd Mrs. White was interviewed by a committee to help hammer out these tough questions. The committee asked whether the school should be thoroughly equipped to train students to pass the State Board examinations to become fully licensed. Her response may surprise some:
The light given me is, We must provide that which is essential to qualify our youth who desire to be physicians, so that they may intelligently fit themselves to be able to stand the examinations essential to prove their efficiency as physicians. They are to be prepared to stand the essential tests required by law.... And whatever subjects are required as essential in the schools conducted by those not of our faith, we are to supply. (18)
The answer was a definite, ‘Yes!’ In light of this counsel, the leaders set out to do this very thing. In the haste to come into harmony with State Board requirements, it would seem that they glossed over other portions of counsel that Mrs. White gave, being more in the form of warnings. Before the above counsel was given, Mrs. White was asked whether it would “militate against our dependence upon God” to secure a charter from the government to train legally qualified physicians. In response, she stated plainly, “No, I do not see that it would.” Yet, she did not stop at that, but continued with positive warnings, such as those entwined all throughout the counsels to the college: “Only see that you do not exalt men above God. If you can gain force and influence that will make your work more effective without tying yourselves to worldly men, that would be right” (15). Counsels such as the following were frequent:
I am instructed to say that in our educational work there is to be no compromise in order to meet the world's standards. God's commandment-keeping people are not to unite with the world, to carry various lines of work according to worldly plans and worldly wisdom….Our people are now being tested as to whether they will obtain their wisdom from the greatest Teacher the world ever knew, or seek to the god of Ekron. Let us determine that we will not be tied by so much as a thread to the educational policies of those who do not discern the voice of God, and who will not hearken to His commandments (16).
I could go on and on about how she warned against uniting with worldly men, using worldly methods, having the students train under worldly physicians, and depending upon worldly powers for influence. Space and attention capacity for articles would not allow me to delve too deep into details, but there is an excellent book that I highly recommend titled D’Sozo written by Dave Fiedler (a friendly fellow), detailing what happened with Loma Linda and the famous split between Dr. Kellogg and the General Conference, and how all of this has hindered the Loud Cry of the gospel (and thus the Lord’s return).
When one hammers out the counsels presented in the Loma Linda Messages, and in the history of Battle Creek with Kellogg, and what is well documented in books like D’Sozo, it is not hard to see what God’s ideal was for the college at Loma Linda. In an account of Mrs. White’s first arrival to Loma Linda, we may catch a glimpse of what God intended that college to be:
The work at Battle Creek is going down…. We are farther from the true picture of medical missionary work than when we first began. God never designed that our work should blossom out in the great professional and commercial way in which it stands before the world today [referring to Battle Creek]. We have educated bedside nurses [this is mostly what we do now]. He intended that we should educate missionary nurses to go into the homes of the people…ministering to the people, singing gospel songs, and giving Bible readings [studies] (J.A. Burden, Story of Loma Linda, 91).
On numerous occasions, Mrs. White warned against seeking the god of Ekron in regard to the health work. This is a direct reference Ahaziah, the king of Israel, who was sick, and he inquired of the god of Ekron whether he would recover. Rather than seeking the Lord, and following His ways, Ahaziah resorted to the world’s methods. The god of Ekron is tied to spiritualistic practices in healing, such as healers that use so-called channels of electricity and magnetism (White, Counsels for the Church, 319-20), but there is a far more subtle and deadly way in which the god of Ekron is sought among God’s people today. In referencing the course of King Ahaziah, Mrs. White wrote:
Many are unwilling to put forth the needed effort to obtain a knowledge of the laws of life and the simple means to be employed for the restoration of health….When sickness is the result of their transgression of natural law, they do not seek to correct their errors and then ask the blessing of God, but they resort to the physicians. If they recover health, they give to drugs and doctors all the honor [many do this today] (Counsels on Health, 455-6).
In verity, in this little paragraph is contrasted the healing methods and wisdom of the God of Israel and the worldly methods of the god of Ekron. God’s methods are simple, affordable, necessitate teaching the laws of health, sparsely use drugs, and training generally does not require years of medical school. The world’s methods are full of complexity; they are expensive, mostly do not strike at the roots of the problem, heavily lean on drugs, and necessitate years of medical school. The equipment used for healing should also be of the same caliber:
Move slowly, Brother Burden, and do not trust to men who suppose that they understand what is essential, and who launch out in spending money for many things that require experts to handle them….There is danger of spending far too much money on machinery and appliances which the patients can never use in their home lessons. They should rather be taught how to regulate the diet, so that the living machinery of the whole being will work in harmony (Loma Linda, 178).
In light of these things, how have our medical institutions fared? Over and over, we are counseled that hydrotherapy and the herb of the field are to be used to help nature overcome disease and to cleanse the system, while drugs are not to be used, and we are to trust neither in expensive machinery nor in affiliation with worldly associations to give us influence. We are told to stand as examples of true health reform. We are to teach the people to live in accordance with the laws of health, to abstain from flesh meats and from every article of food and drink and habit which shortens life.
As one who has worked in one of our premier hospitals, I know the condition of our medical institutions. One is hard-pressed to find many differences between our institutions and the institutions of the world. Our hospitals dispense the same drugs as other hospitals do; they serve flesh meats and other unhealthful articles as others do (not “unclean,” though); they charge the same exorbitant prices for admission as others do; and they have the same costly and elaborate furnishings and equipment as others do. Many who work in all levels of the corporate ladder in our institutions, from the entry level worker, to the executives, do not share the Adventist faith. It is not hard to see which path those who have gone before have taken. Don’t read me wrong. There are many godly workers in our medical institutions that are doing what they can and know, but corporately, we have failed.
Hospitals, physicians, and what we commonly know as nurses, definitely have their place—with acute, or critical, care. When there is an emergency, it is a tremendous blessing to have a hospital nearby. We should be grateful that if a limb is almost severed, or bones broken, or any other life-threatening emergency happens, that we have emergency rooms to go to. They have saved many lives. Our hospitals do an excellent job treating critical care patients and performing surgeries—just like other hospitals do in America. And it was for this that the college at Loma Linda was to train “for the special preparation [meaning, not the common] of those of our youth who have clear convictions of their duty to obtain a medical education that will enable them to pass the examinations required by law of all who practice as regularly qualified physicians,” that they would not have to go to worldly institutions (Loma Linda, 432).
A prosthetic arm appears like the real arm. It is similar in form and color, and may even do a little of what the real arm can do, but it can never do all the real arm can do. The right arm of the gospel was meant to bring the people to their Creator through the simple agencies of nature. But this has largely been replaced with a dummy arm that can never bring the health and healing and honor to God that these remedies can, because the god of Ekron has been sought through exalting worldly methods. God’s methods are so simple and practical that everyone in the churches would be able to use them if they would so choose, and they do not need credentials to practice. We should remember that “our people are now being tested” whether they will believe in the God of heaven or trust to the god of Ekron. Will you pass the test? God is yearning to work through His people.