The Health Care Debate, Early Church Style

There’s an interesting article posted at Christianity Today which discusses the role the early church played in the development of modern health care.

Contrary to common belief, early Christians didn’t shun the idea of administering medicine or believe that all physical illness came about because of demonic influence. In fact it was their belief in Imago Dei, that human beings were created in God’s image, that caused them to place a high importance on caring for widows, orphans, the sick and others in need. Such compassionate care was revolutionary in pagan cultures where the sick and burdensome were regularly left outside the home to die, and eventually led to the formation of some of the first hospitals and medical practices.

The best way to provide care to everyone in the country may be up for debate. We may argue over whether to prefer new regulation of insurers and health care providers or a government-run plan. The need to provide care for the poor, however, was settled centuries ago.

As the health care debate rages on in America, it’s good to stop and reflect on some of the driving principles which shaped the early church. Providing loving and compassionate care to those who were sick and unable to provide for themselves was as much a part of the mission of the early church as proclaiming the gospel. Hopefully we can learn from their example as we continue to seek God’s guidance on this important and hotly contested issue.

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15 thoughts on “The Health Care Debate, Early Church Style

  1. I remember taking a seminary class that talked about why Christianity became prominent in the third century, and some of it sounded like pure survival. They were helping to take care of each other when they got sick instead of leaving one another to rot in their beds. That being said, the institutionalization of that kind of care (either by hospitals OR the state) is truly the death of it. Simply put, you can’t buy love.. neither can it be legislated. Ah! Freedom.

    1. I guess, to that then, I’d have to say … The next time your neighbor’s kid gets H1N1 you should put him up in the spare bedroom?

      I don’t know if I buy the notion that institutional health care is the “death” of love and compassionate care. My mom gave her entire adult life to the care of her patients as an LPN. Caring for people is pretty much one of the core reasons most of the doctors and nurses I know are in the business. It certainly isn’t because they love the long hours or making those student loan payments.

  2. My biggest complaint with the whole universal healthcare argument is that if the Church would just do their job the government wouldn’t need to legislate.

    1. I think that’s one of those things that feels natural to say, but when it really comes down to it it’s not realistic.

      Unless of course your particular church has an abundance of brain surgeons, housing for chemo patients and room for a half dozen or so MRI machines (with qualified staff to operate them).

      We need hospitals, doctors, physical therapists, etc. There are some areas of hospitality (elder care, etc.) where the church has some great opportunity to improve. But if my son is in a horrible car accident, I don’t exactly want him to be airlifted to the nearest church.

    2. (Mike made that last comment, but…) I realize that there is good and bad in any form of healthcare… Christians are behind MANY of the world’s humanitarian causes and I pray that we continue…I pray we are not so blinded to only see within our four walls that we starve for lack of being whom God asked us to be…lovers of the un-loveable, forgivers of those who “don’t deserve” it, those who care for the orphans and the widows and those who see HOPE for ALL…including Christians who are so often slammed by their own…
      It is a hotly contested issue and people on every side have good points…I can’t control what will happen, no matter my opinion on the matter, but I can be one who cares for those beyond myself and I, too, wish we would do what those Christians did centuries ago and be the leaders in all of this…
      Good post…

    3. I’m inclined to agree w/Shane on this one (Man, I hate saying that…). I don’t think that realistically most churches are equipped to “do” medicine in today’s day and age. I don’t think that modern medicine and hospitals are a bad thing and I don’t think they’ve replaced the role of the church.

      I think the idea of social justice, welfare, etc… is a much better place to aim the argument of “If the church would just do their job the government wouldn’t need to legislate.” Feeding, clothing, and caring for people, the church can do, and has really dropped the ball in it’s calling to do so. Proving chemo, vaccinations, and preventative healthcare, I’m not so sure the church is equipped or called to do…

    4. I don’t think what Jenna is talking about is the churches AS institutions of health care (though some of the BEST hospitals in my area are associated with the Catholic church). The debate boils down to insuring that every American has access to healthcare. Which, I think we can all agree on, everyone should have. The question is HOW do people access that healthcare. I think what Jenna is trying to say is if the wealthy in our churches would start helping those monetarily (whether by helping those buy private insurance, or helping to pay bills), then those who need health care, but can’t afford it would then a) have it and b) see that as a grace from the church or a Christian, and not a right or handout from the government.

  3. i think a good place to start with reforming healthcare would be to require them to be non-profit organizations. one program in the us government that works very well (i know from working in it) is the refugee resettlement program. one of the biggest reasons i believe this program works so well is because the us government gives funds to 5 different non-profit organizations (like catholic charities, world relief, etc) to resettle refugees in the united states. the reason this is effective is because these charities do not have money as a motivator. they are most interested in the well being of refugees as humans.
    i really think that if health insurance companies were not for profit (like not able to be invested in) this would change the game in a dynamic way. hard to do i am sure.
    i have an uncle who is a high profile surgeon, he was talking to us recently about this whole debacle. he recounted being in a meeting with an executive from a large insurance company discussing policy, etc. he said one of the surgeons said, well we have to look out for the best interest of our patients, the exec.’s reply, ‘well i have to look out for the best interest of our investors’. that is the problem.
    so if somehow non-profits could be created and used as healthcare options (they already are in a lot of small instances, like churches banning together to insure themselves) i think this would cause great reform.
    giving it over to government who is still interested in bottom line dollars, they can’t help it, it will be a business just like atena, or horizon, etc. and have all the same problems in the end.
    all that to add that i think in a lot of ways as american christians we have come to rely too strongly on our governments and then the needs aren’t as severe as they were years and years ago. i tend to think that’s a dangerous direction.
    anyway, enough from me.

  4. For what it’s worth…

    Our health care provider (Preferred Care) was a local not-for-profit, but was recently bought out by an out of town for-profit (MVP). Our experience was that our health care coverage didn’t suffer for being not-for-profit, but it wasn’t significantly better either. Our costs are lower, but only marginally.

    I agree that a not-for-profit approach could be beneficial, but I honestly don’t see the emphasis on the bottom line being that much less than a private sector or government based system. I work for a not-for-profit. We’re very focused on revenue and remaining in the black. Otherwise we can’t keep doing what we do.

    But an NFP approach might be some kind of middle ground.

    1. just the fact that insurance premiums go to run a business that is traded on wall street, and then they don’t want to pay your claim seems so wrong. where as if it is a non-profit is using what they need to stay in the black as you said, pay their employees and keep running, etc. just the potential for corruption is a lot less, right?

      1. Possibly? I don’t know. And I’m not against the idea of bringing NFP’s into play more. Options are good. I’m just making sure that we’re clear that even in the not-for-profit sector having “money as a motivator” and being “interested in bottom line dollars” is still going to be a major factor.

        Even without a not-for-profit paying out dividends to investors they’re still going to make alot of (almost all?) decisions based on the bottom line. Which could affect some folks coverage, ability to afford coverage, costs, coverage for pre-existing conditions, long-term care, treatment options, etc. That’s all still going to be in play.

        I know investor dividends kind of feel like the big bad wolf in all of this, but let’s also remember that investors also provide much needed capital to health care providers as well, which helps keep costs down, helps fund comprehensive treatment options, etc.

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