Did the Apostolic Church Use an
Anointed Cloth?

by
Keith Hunt

Some organizations within the Sabbath keeping churches of God have a practice of sending out anointed cloths or aprons to people who are not living within driving distance of one of their ministers. They claim this practice is sanctioned by the example of the apostle Paul in Acts 19. But is what Paul did an example for the rest of the Church of God to follow? Was the reason that it is mentioned at all to instruct the church as to what to do if people did not have a local minister to call upon in time of sickness? Let's be willing to re-look at Acts 19 and see if it really says what some have claimed it said. We could be in for a surprise.

First, let's realize that Jesus said nothing about anointed cloths. There is no word of instruction from His lips that ministers from the Church of God should anoint cloths and send them out to the people in a manner and practice that has become somewhat of a tradition among some of the churches of God.

You certainly cannot find anywhere in the gospel where Jesus ever resorted to sending out anointed cloths. He never set us an example to do such a thing. He did heal the sick, and at times used certain physical techniques, such as putting clay on the eyes of the blind, but nowhere did He ever use, or instruct to be used, in some general practice, anointed cloths.

Secondly, in all the writings of the Apostle Paul -- 14 whole books of the New Testament -- there is not one word about anointed cloths. No instruction of any kind to any minister, deacon, local congregation, or other apostle, about the use of anointed cloths. What is said about it in Acts 19 is not Paul writing about it, but Luke (the writer of Acts)!

Thirdly, no other writer of any book of the New Testament ever comes close to saying anything about the Church using anointed cloths in some general, across-the-board, practicing manner, in its healing ministry. You cannot find any verse that says something like this: "When there is no minister for people to call upon for anointing in time of sickness, they should request an anointed cloth." Such instruction, or anything close to it, is not to be found in the New Testament.

It would seem that whole organizations have developed a traditional practice that has no foundation in scripture. Oh yes, Acts 19 is usually given to support such a general practice, but that passage does not say what people think it says. Let's look at Acts 19:11-12, and be willing to read what it says, adding no more, nor trying to make it say what it doesn't say.

"And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them" (Acts 19:11-12, KJV).

Luke is writing, not Paul. Luke says God did what? Bring in a new teaching about how the Church should use anointed cloths? Tell Paul how to instruct the Church on what to do if people didn't have a minister to come and anoint them when sick? No! Luke wrote, "God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul."

This was not a "run of the mill," general Church practice in anointing the sick. Not at all! God was performing, by the apostle Paul, special miracles!

No other person in the New Testament is recorded to have been able to perform this type of special miracle, that Paul was able to perform. Paul, and Paul only, is recorded to have sent out aprons to heal the sick -- not Peter, or James, or John, or any other person. Only Paul.

Notice further: Is there anything in these two verses that say the aprons were anointed with oil? No, there is not! They did not have to be. Just the apron from Paul was enough to heal, because these miracles were special miracles.

Now, a very important point. Do the anointed cloths that are sent out today in a general way to the sick always result in healing the physical sickness? No, they do not! Many do not recover from their illness. Many still die of their cancer, etc.

Now notice carefully: Does Luke say that only some, or a few, were healed? The aprons were sent to the sick "and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them." Yes, the sick were healed! No maybe or perhaps, no "some" or "few" or "many," but a positive statement, "the diseases departed from them." They were all healed that received those aprons. And why not? Those healings were special miracles that God wrought through Paul.

THE SINCERE BELIEVER

I do not condemn those people within the body of Christ who practice sending out anointed cloths to their sick brothers and sisters. They were taught by someone who did not correctly understand Acts 19:11-12, who did not see that what Luke was recording was how God performed special miracles through Paul -- a statement by Luke of historical fact about a particular healing miracle, and not instruction for the Church regarding the use of anointed cloths.

I do think that we should be willing to change our practices when a verse we base our practice on does not endorse our practice at all. It's all a part of a willingness to be corrected and to "grow in grace and knowledge" as God's word says we should.

Someone, somewhere, tried to put together James 5:14 and Acts 19:11-12 to form a practice of sending out anointed cloths to the sick, when no such practice was ever done or taught by the apostolic Church as a whole.

Those individuals within an organization who believe God has instructed the general use of anointed cloths when He has given no such instruction, may be healed, because they are sincere in belief and faith -- God is looking at the heart and attitude, and not at the technical knowledge they have or do not have.

So if there is no minister who can come and anoint you with oil when you are sick, in accordance with James 5:14-15, what can you do? The answer is in verse 16: Tell others about your affliction -- ask them to pray for you.

God does hear the prayer of the righteous and He can heal the sick, without the use of any anointed cloths.

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Editor's note: This topic would be a good springboard for discussion and feedback from our readers. We'd like to hear from our readers regarding the use of anointed cloths in their experience in the church of God. I personally have been healed, and have seen others healed, through the use of the cloth. Yet we know that it isn't the cloth or the oil that heals, it is God doing the healing, through the stripes of Jesus Christ, according to the measure of our faith when we ask for healing, based on God's plan for us at that time.

I can imagine the following sequence of events: At some point, someone tried sending to a distant sick person a cloth that had been anointed and prayed over, and the person was healed! It was attempted a second time, and again the person was healed! From that time on, many cloths were prayed over and sent out, and many were healed as a result. It seems to me that if someone had tried it, and nothing happened, the practice would never have gotten started. But our God answers prayer! It was God's decision to honor the faith of the one who requested the anointing and the one who prayed over the cloth.

In the first stages of our spiritual growth, we often needed something physical we could look to and touch and handle. Unfortunately, many of us spent 20 or 30 years in the "baby" stage in the corporate church, looking to clergymen and anointed cloths, rather than to God, who actually did the healing. Now, many of us have grown beyond the cradle of the corporate church, and no longer need the "security blanket" of a cloth, because we have learned to rely directly on God our Savior to answer our prayers and heal our infirmities. It's a growth experience for a group of people meeting together (all "lay people," with no clergymen among them) to kneel down, and as a group lay hands on someone to ask God to heal that person, and the person rises whole! It wasn't the pastor or the cloth, after all -- it was God healing whoever He chooses to heal!

We'd like to hear from our readers about their experiences regarding anointed cloths and healings.