The act of anointing has a rich history in the Christian faith. In the Old Testament, anointings frequently accompanied blessings and ceremonies which indicated a passing of royal power. The New Testament also refers to anointing. The title Christ itself means “the anointed one”; Christians are those who share in Christ’s anointing.
In addition, a specific occasion for anointing is described explicitly in James 5:14–16: Is any one of you sick? He should call on the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 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. 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.
This passage mentions several important acts which should be present in a service of healing: prayers of petition, anointing with oil, and confession of sin. Each of these are acts of humility, that place reliance not on self, but on God. They are also acts of faith, which do not doubt the power of God to affect healing. Finally, they are able to be communal acts, offered within the context of a community of faith.
Worship planners and church leaders should introduce such services of anointing with care, especially to congregations not accustomed to this practice. First, this clear scriptural directive in James should be noted and explained. In addition, the relationship of this act to the sacraments should be explained. In most church traditions, anointing is not a sacrament, even though it uses a physical element to demonstrate or symbolize a spiritual reality. The exact nature of this relationship will depend upon the sacramental theology of a given church.
Finally, the nature of the service should be explained to the congregation, an indication of those for whom the anointing is intended, and a description of the way in which the anointing will take place.