Editor's Corner - The Power of the Health Message

by Phil Mills 
Physician, Guest Editor

Since the successful establishment of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, Seventh-day Adventists have been best known for two distinguishing characteristics, the Sabbath and an interest in health.

The Adventists’ positive approach was not simply to condemn society’s habits of life, but to offer something better. We made our original health outreach well known through health journals and books, public temperance lectures, and, under Dr. John Harvey Kellogg’s leadership, the development of a worldwide chain of sanitariums.

With Dr. Kellogg’s apostasy, the sanitarium work began to decline. World War I and then the depression accelerated the slide, but Adventist health outreach continued nevertheless on other fronts. The pioneering work of evangelist J. N. Tyndale combined health lectures with public evangelism and drew large, enthusiastic crowds. The College of Medical Evangelists (CME) trained physicians, nurses, and other health professionals. Its story is well known, and we won’t repeat it here.

For a short time CME offered a quick training for those interested in giving simple treatments and health lectures. One native-American graduate of this innovative program, W. D. Frazee, went to Utah. Combining health lectures with lectures on the sanctuary and prophecy, he became the first to draw crowds and gain significant numbers of converts in this Mormon stronghold. He went on to establish Wildwood Sanitarium which through the years has remained strongly committed to health education and promotion.

In later years among the sophisticated, reserved, and secular citizens of Boston, Harvard graduate student Mervyn Hardinge drew large crowds with his lectures on health and the Bible. Subsequently in Southern California he again drew large crowds with these lectures. Dr. Hardinge became the Dean of the School of Health at Loma Linda University and, along with others on the faculty, deeply influenced scores of health professionals concerning the importance of health evangelism.

In the early 1960s Dr. J. Wayne McFarland and Elder E. J. Folkenberg worked together as a very successful doctor-minister team in Southern New England. I remember these men well. I was just a boy, but they were our neighbors and I often had the opportunity to go with my dad to visit them. I will never forget listening with interest as they studied and prayed together to devise more effective ways to help victims of tobacco addiction. The final result of their prayers and study was the internationally acclaimed Five-Day Plan to Stop Smoking.

Over the years many other successful public health promotion programs have followed. Dr. Scharffenberg’s Heartbeat program has been well received. Weimar’s NEWSTART has been effective worldwide. Many other people, institutions, and programs could be mentioned. Most recently Dr. Hans Diehl’s CHIP program has proven effective in reaching the secular mind.

The uniform experience of decades of worldwide Adventist outreach confirms that medical missionary work is the most effective entering wedge to gain access to the people. Ellen White’s prediction has certainly proven true: “Health talks will be given, publications will be multiplied. The principles of health reform will be received with favor; and many will be enlightened. The influences that are associated with health reform will commend it to the judgment of all who want light; and they will advance step by step to receive the special truths for this time. Thus truth and righteousness will meet together” (Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 442).

In this special issue of ADVENTISTS AFFIRM we focus on health ministry. Jesus is the model for a sensitive and loving approach to others. He teaches us not only to preach it, but much more importantly to live it. While He “accepted invitations to feasts and gatherings, He did not partake of all the food offered Him, but quietly ate of that which was appropriate for His physical necessities, avoiding the many things that He did not need. His disciples were frequently invited with Him, and His conduct was a lesson to them, teaching them not to indulge appetite by overeating or by eating improper food. He showed them that portions of the food provided could be passed by and portions chosen. Christ went to these feasts because He wished to show those who were excluding themselves from the society of their fellow men how wrong their course of action was. He wished to teach them that truth was given to be imparted to those who had it not. If they had truth, why keep it selfishly to themselves? The world is perishing for want of the living Truth” (Manuscript Releases, 7:412).

We are to do as Jesus did. “While the principles of health reform should be presented, let the teaching be backed by example. . . . We must practice what we teach. When sitting at a table where meat is provided, we are not to make a raid upon those who use it, but we should let it alone ourselves, and when asked our reasons for doing this, we should in a kindly manner explain why we do not use it” (Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 462).

In this issue we introduce a host of first-time ADVENTISTS AFFIRM authors. You’ll notice several husband and wife teams have contributed—because healthful living is a family concern. Dr. George Guthrie, who has been active in health education for years, shares his insights that come from experience as a missionary, a teacher at the Loma Linda Univeristy School of Health in the nutrition department, and at present in a busy rural family practice. His wife Dena, a nurse, nurse practitioner, and formerly an instructor at the Loma Linda School of Nursing, is a major player in the international CHIP for Churches community health education program.

Cliff Korf, a physician assistant now heading up the clinical rotations for the Union College physician assistant program, shares his research and convictions. He is a recent convert to Adventism as a result of the Wichita, Kansas, CHIP health outreach program. His wife Lavetta, a home school mom, tells the story of their discovery of truth they weren’t even searching for.

Dale Leamon, senior pastor at Battle Creek, the original Adventist health Mecca, shares his testimony as a pastor. He speaks, not from the impractical ivory tower, but from his own experience in leading two large churches in establishing health outreach as a cornerstone of church ministry. His wife Yolanda, a nurse and midwife, co-edited this issue, behind the scenes giving encouragement and help with many articles. She is a spark plug behind the Battle Creek Lifestyle Health Center.

Dr. Gerard Damsteegt and his wife Laurel are well known to the readers of ADVENTISTS AFFIRM. They have been enthusiastic supporters of health evangelism. Dr. Damsteegt has felt the burden to convey the vision of health evangelism to his students at the seminary. His article traces the origins of our theology of health, and Laurel explores some practical implications.

New contributor Vicki Griffin, Ph. D., writes about wine, which has been making inroads into the church. In an unpublished research survey which I did some years ago, alcohol consumption within the church had risen as high as 11-15% of the respondents. (By contrast, smoking was at 5% and “recreational” drug use at 1%.) Caffeine consumption, by the way, was an alarmingly high 66%, even among a large, relatively conservative congregation in a city that at one time boasted a sanitarium and even a large Adventist school of nursing.

The article by Elder Jay Gallimore, who has written for ADVENTISTS AFFIRM before, provides a perspective from a church administrator. He is the Michigan Conference president. Elder Gallimore was instrumental in influencing my wife and me to move to Wichita to work with him. To our dismay, on our first Sabbath to attend his church, he announced his acceptance of a call to move elsewhere and preached his farewell sermon!

Amy Sherrard, a retired missionary, nurse, and health educator, rounds out the list of contributors. At 84 years of age, healthful living and the blessing of God have kept her vigorous and active. She still is giving powerful public presentations on health in addition to writing a weekly Bible lesson, My Bible First!, that many churches are utilizing for their children’s Sabbath School department.

Shakeela Bennett’s byline is not new to our readers. She reminds us that sometimes even those who are careful about health can experience a health crisis, which can then become a spiritual crisis. Mrs. Bennett shares with us a moving account of her own experience.

All of these writers model the health principles they teach. We appreciate the insights they bring from their own experience and research in the Bible and science.

I hope this issue will stimulate your thinking and your commitment. Today more than ever, as we near the coming of Jesus, it is important that ADVENTISTS AFFIRM the blessings of healthful living!