Today we read James chapter 5, which contains two blockbuster theological revelations.
First, the anointing of the sick:
14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Read carefully what this says … if someone is sick then call for the elders of the Church, the Greek word is Presbyter which is the root of the word Priest. They will pray over them and anoint the sick person w/ oil. And this prayer WILL SAVE the sick man and if he has committed sins HE WILL BE forgiven.
Think about that, this means that someone who is sick, possibly w/ fever, delirious, near death and possibly even unable to speak will be saved by this sacrament. The verse doesn’t say anything about the sick person needing to do anything on his part. The sick person doesn’t even have to verbally ask for the anointing with oil or indicate they are repentant from their sins (although the desire to repent and be reconciled with God is presupposed). It is just the Church, taking one of its members, into its arms at their moment of greatest need.
Here we should take a second to say what a sacrament is … a sacrament is a thing that actually does what is symbolizes, and they are all over the Bible. Baptism with water – washes away sins. We saw the laying on of hands for Conformation and Ordination in the book of Acts. And of course, we say the breaking of the bread (or the Eucharist) in Matthew and Acts.
This sacrament of anointing with oil to heal the sick was instituted by Jesus. Tomorrow we will begin the Gospel of Mark and in Chapter 6 we will see:
12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons AND ANOINTED WITH OIL many who were sick and healed them.
Thus, this anointing of the sick is not something James made up or is telling the faithful to do as a symbol. James is instructing them in the way he was instructed by Jesus. This shows James has certain priests or assistants under him and he is instructing them in the same manner as Jesus. This implies hierarchy and the passing on of authority.
Look at what else James says:
19 My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
What does it mean to “wander from the truth” and then to be “brought back”. This clearly means that someone who knows the Gospel and is saved can be lost! James says such a person is a “sinner”. Clearly, just b/c you have become a Christian, that doesn’t guarantee that you will never sin again or stay true the Gospel. The Holy Spirit may certainly have indwelled you but you still have free will. You can still be unresponsive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and you can still fall into error. But the Good news is that the person who has fallen into error can be brought back. Again this forces us to face the ultimate question – How do we know truth from error?
Fortunately, as we have seen many times, the Bible says the Holy Spirit will speak definitively through the Church and thus we can know the true Gospel from the teaching of the Church and from Sacred Tradition (as Paul said in Thessalonians).