THE ANOINTING AND PRAYER OF THE ELDERS
In James 5:14-16 we see the laying on of hands in relation to sickness. In the case of sickness we are instructed by James to call for the elders of the church. The elders, rather than the members of the church who have the gift of healing, need to be called because the sick persons in this case need to be brought under the anointing; their case must be dealt with by the representatives of the church. The sins referred to in verse 15 are particular sins; they are sins against the Body. How do we know that the sickness here is a special kind of sickness and not ordinary sickness? If we know the remedy that a doctor prescribes, then we can deduce the type of illness that a patient has. Since the patient is brought under the anointing, we can safely infer that the patient’s sickness was due to a departure from the anointing. The Word of God plainly declares that many are weak and sick, and many have even died, because of the failure to discern the Lord’s Body (1 Cor. 11:29-30). James 5 presents such a case. If we are living in the realm of the Body, then we are always under the anointing of the Head. However, as soon as we take an individual line, we depart from the anointing and expose ourselves to sickness and death. The sin of the man in James 5 must have been the sin of detaching himself from the Body. If his sin was only a personal sin, he could have been forgiven by trusting in the blood and by confessing to others. There would have been no need to ask the elders to anoint him with oil. The elders’ oil cannot remove sin; only the blood can remove sin. Verse 15 says that he will be forgiven if he has sinned; however, the forgiveness is due to the elders’ prayer. Therefore, this sin is not an ordinary sin; it is the sin of acting contrary to the Body. As a consequence, there is the need to ask the elders of the church to pray for him and to anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord so that he can be brought back under the Head and into the Body.
Verse 16 says, "Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed." This verse tells us to confess our sins to one another. We have to confess to one another because something is wrong in the Body of Christ. The sphere of confession corresponds with the sphere of transgression. If I have only sinned against God, I must make my confession to Him alone. The sin in these verses is a sin against the Body. Since something has gone wrong in the Body of Christ, both the sick one and the elders have to take responsibility for it. The sick one has offended the Body, and the elders represent the Body. Therefore, the sick one has to confess, and the elders also have to confess. Note that confession is mutual. The sick one confesses, but the elders also confess. The sick one acknowledges that the sickness is a result of taking an individual position, and the elders acknowledge that they have failed in the matter of love and watchfulness; otherwise, the sick one would not have departed from the ground of the Body.
After the mutual confession, there is prayer. "Pray for one another." This means that the elders pray for the sick, and the sick pray for the elders. The result is that the sin is forgiven, and the sickness is healed. Mutuality is the characteristic of the Body. Do you see how the Body is highlighted in anointing, confession, and prayer? In the Body every member should have love and humility. Being outside the Body brings in not only physical sickness but also spiritual sickness. Those who are outside of the Body should see the importance of turning back to the anointing and turning back to the Body. It is through these turns that they will receive the help of the other members.
(The Mystery of Christ, Chapter 9, by Watchman Nee)