How does an Evangelical Christian come to terms with those who declare their Christianity to be solid, genuine and authentic when they believe in the mystic?
On many occasions in the past, I was asked when going to the coast on holiday or on church business to bring back a bottle of sea water for someone. I never did, because they spoke of the sea water as if it was some “miracle cure” or some lucky omen. Then you have people believing in drinking “holy tea” … blessed by a bishop and having spiritual qualities and possible protective qualities. I mentioned before witnessing a “priest” saying he has fresh holy oil that the bishop blessed that morning. He was going to “anoint” the patient with it. In all these cases, there is belief that spiritual and protective qualities accompany the sea water, tea or oil because it has been blessed.
We know the 23rd Psalm so well. One verse reads:
Ps 23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Anointing was an ancient custom practiced by the Egyptians and afterwards adopted as a practice by the Greeks and Romans and some other countries. Olive oil was the main ingredient, though sometimes it was used in its pure form and on other occasions it was mixed with costly, fragrant spices which were usually brought from far off countries. The anointing practice was used with the coronation of a king and the installation of a high priest … but it did not stop there. Anointing was also used as an act of courtesy and hospitality towards guests.
An example may be found in Luke 7:
Lu 7:46 “You did not put oil on my head”.
Jesus is speaking to a Pharisees called Simon because of his concern about a “sinful” woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears before drying them off with her hair … after which she anointed his feet with perfume. To the Pharisees, it was such a huge sin that a “sinful” woman do what she did … yet where was the custom of anointing the guest? Into this context, Jesus says:
Lu 7:46 “You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.”
The custom was for you to anoint my head with oil, yet she literally anointed my feet with expensive perfume.
Lu 7:47 “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
She walked away a saved sinner!
In the Old Covenant, we find many references to anointing. It was customary to anoint the head or face and even the house when visiting. It seems the only time this was not done was at a time of mourning. Anointing the face was a sign of joy. In Psalm 23 above, the psalmist sees himself as an honoured guest of Jehovah who not only prepares a table for him but in the most hospitable way anoints his head with oil and put a full cup in his hands. As James comes to the end of his book, he says:
Jas 5:13 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
The sick person of verse 14 might have sinned (verse 15), and the remedy is confession. The oil of verse 14 could be used as a general medical cure, for oils were used widely as medicines. Oil was used for just about every illness in the Middle East in those days. It might even have been to express concern as in demonstrating emotional care and support.
But in the bigger New Covenant picture, what does it mean? What does anoint with oil mean in Christianity? The physical anointing with oil in the New Covenant represents the spiritual anointing by the Holy Spirit. Often we neglect the importance of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. John writes:
1Jn 2:20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
The great blessing of the Ascended Christ is the gift of the Holy Spirit. His work is manifold! Firstly, He is the author of Scripture. Secondly, He accompanies the preached Word, giving it power and life. Thirdly, He convicts the hearers of their sin and need for repentance. Fourthly, He works in the heart making the gospel sensible to the individual. Fifthly, He enables faith through grace. Sixthly, He births the believing individual into God’s Kingdom. Seventhly, He educates and matures the saved soul preparing that soul for service and eternity. Eighthly, He keeps that soul within the safety of God’s love and family.
There are many other functions of the Holy Spirit, but these will suffice for now to show that the “anointing” (verse 20) we have is the Holy Spirit. He takes a dead soul and applies the salvific work of Christ raising that soul to spiritual life and, through a process of learning from the Scriptures over the years, equips you and shapes you into Christlikeness with an eagerness to serve Jesus’ Cause as you get ready to be with Him forever in His Glory.
Dear God, thank You for the Ministry of Your Holy Spirit who has applied the merit of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice to my account so that now I am Your child forever. It is by grace through faith and I thank You. Amen.