Tag Archives: Jesus and medicine

What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? Jesus and Health Care II (What If– 14)

As was the case with science and research, the basic insights and structures that make modern medicine possible were birthed in a context of Jesus’ followers and influence. Since the story is not widely known, let me review a few key examples. The world’s first vaccine (for smallpox) was invented by Edward Jenner (1749-1823). Through this single medical advance Jenner may have directly saved more lives than any other person in history. In his own words, he confessed the motivation for his work was his relationship with Jesus: “I am a follower of Christ. I am a tool in the hands of God.” Another well-known health care pioneer was Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), an English social reformer who was also the founder of the nursing profession. She wrote, among other things, “Christ . . . came into the world to save sinners . . . to deliver men from sin and its consequences.” Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), a French chemist and microbiologist, led the way in understanding the causes and prevention of disease, laying the foundation for public health and much of modern medicine. Joseph Lister (1827-1912), a British surgeon, pioneered antiseptic surgery. Both Pasteur and Lister were fervent Christians. And the name of the “Red Cross” speaks eloquently to the motivations of its founders. As in other areas of science, the key developments in medicine were motivated by Jesus.

The same can be said for the concept of the modern teaching hospital. In the United States, the best research hospitals were founded mostly by Christian denominations or by groups of believing Christians. The original research hospital, Massachusetts General (a clinical arm of Harvard Medical School today), was founded by a pastor named John Bartlett. Bartlett had a passion for the poor and the neglected of society, motivated by Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus said: “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” At that time (early 1800s) most medical care was done in people’s homes, with doctors making “house calls”. This meant that quality health care could only be afforded by the wealthy, who could pay not only for the visit but for all the doctor’s travel time as well. No location in the Boston area provided round the clock care to the general public. Bartlett reasoned that if you could gather a group of doctors in one place, the poor and the underserved could travel to that place and receive affordable care. And so Massachusetts General Hospital opened up in 1821.

In Baltimore Maryland, a number of years later, a Christian named Johns Hopkins founded a teaching hospital that combined clinical care with education and research, possibly the first true teaching hospital. The motto of Johns Hopkins Medical Center (now called simply Johns Hopkins Medicine) is: “The truth will set you free.” As noted earlier in this series, that was one of the most famous sayings of Jesus. Like Pastor Bartlett, the original Johns Hopkins was motivated by Jesus to advance the science of medicine. In fact, the top ten research hospitals in the world by most accounts were all originally staffed by Christian-educated medical doctors. Most of these ten are readily recognizable names: Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic. Johns Hopkins Medicine, Massachusetts General, University of Michigan Medical Center, University of California at San Francisco Medical Center, UCLA Medical Center, Cedars-Sinai, Stanford University Medical Center, and New York Presbyterian Medical Center. Nine of the ten were founded by committed Christians. The tenth, Cedars-Sinai, was founded by Jews, but even that hospital was largely staffed by committed Christian doctors. There are many hospitals in the world that were founded by people of other religions or no religion. What is significant is that these ten are the “seed” research hospitals that created the medical breakthroughs that all hospitals seek to emulate today.

While the United States and these ten hospitals have led the way in medical research, mission hospitals around the world have been founded by committed Christians of many denominations to continue the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus in nearly every place. Not least among these is the extensive cohort of Seventh-day Adventist mission hospitals that were inspired by Jesus through the writings of Ellen G. White. Many of these are among the most respected medical establishments in their respective countries. The crown jewel of Ellen White’s vision for “continuing the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus” is Loma Linda University Health in southern California. With assistance from LLUH, not only are SDA mission hospitals being strengthened in their mission, but some ten medical and dental schools have risen up in far-flung places like Mexico, Argentina, the Philippines, India, Peru, Chile, Nigeria, Rwanda, and more. And so Jesus’ influence on the medical profession and its clinical counterpart continues.