LRE: Dr. Landless, when did you first develop an interest in medicine?
PNL: From my early childhood, my mother would always say to my brother, “You’re going to be the doctor, and he will be the preacher.” So I was going to be the pastor, and it was something I loved. I loved the church from childhood. My mum would pray, “Lord, make him to be a missionary in the four corners of the earth.” As time went on, and having read Ministry of Healing and Desire of Ages, I saw how intricately and inextricably the gospel and healing are linked. Wherever Jesus performed a healing miracle, mission came into it.
LRE: I understand that you had a private practice for a number of years and completed a number of specialties.
PNL: Yes. Our first appointment was in a church mission practice, which was a private practice but which belonged to the church. We drew a denominational salary out of the money earned and the balance went into church work. We completed a family practice specialty and did family practice for 11 years. Later I did specialties in internal medicine, cardiology, and nuclear cardiology. Internal medicine was part of the basic foundation in the medical school where I took my training in South Africa.
Health is not a right. Health is a gift. Health is not earned. It may be preserved; it may be cared for; it may be nurtured, but it is not something that is an absolute right.
LRE: What would cause you to leave an excellent medical practice and become a world health educator?
PNL: It’s a question that many people ask. Within four years of our first mission appointment, and shortly after medical school, I received a call from the union, and they said, “The committee has voted to ordain you to the gospel ministry.” This is something I didn’t expect. When one accepts that calling, it informs what you will do in the rest of your life. When the call came through to join Dr. Allan Handysides with health ministry at the General Conference, my initial response was, “No.” I was at the peak of a wonderful medical career but my wife had been praying, “Lord, give him focus.” He showed us in no uncertain terms that coming here was His will.
LRE: Why is it that you associate health ministries with stewardship?
PNL: Health is not a right. Health is a gift. Health is not earned. It may be preserved; it may be cared for; it may be nurtured, but it is not something that is an absolute right. It is natural to be concerned about our own health. However, if we look at Ellen White’s visions of 1848 and 1863, it doesn’t end there. The reason health visions were given is so that we can be of service to others. The revelations shown to her were not found to be palatable to her at first. She found them difficult to implement but she personally took the instruction seriously.
We often think that this issue of health is for ourselves. The gift of health has really been given for us to serve God. We are stewards of that gift—a gift to be shared with the community. Psalm 139 reminds us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Paul refers to this as the body temple. When God spoke to the children of Israel, He gave them health instructions. Interestingly, those biblical health instructions are still being validated today. In the ministry of Jesus, we see that He not only rebukes and encourages, but we also see a huge amount of time devoted to healing. And that’s what we’ve been called to do. We have been created for His glory; we have been created to reveal Him; and by definition, if we are Christians, we are created to be conduits of His grace to a broken world.
When you get a new car, you get a technical instrument. We’d be wise to look at the instructions on how to use it and get the maximum, the best 'bang for the buck,' out of it, by following those instructions.
LRE: Do we complicate spirituality by giving an emphasis to health principles?
PNL: We can. But God didn’t intend that to be the case. You will recall that Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, your right-doing…” They returned tithe to the very ounces of herbs, and so on, and they prayed on the street corners. Yes, we can make it complicated. However, that’s not the focus of a heart relationship with Jesus. We can make the focus vegetarianism, for example, instead of realizing that God has given us a recipe, as it were, a modus operandi. When you get a new car, you get a technical instrument. We’d be wise to look at the instructions on how to use it and get the maximum, the best 'bang for the buck,' out of it, by following those instructions.
LRE: Since you mentioned vegetarianism, “Is the church’s emphasis on the vegetarian diet something of the past? Is it something we should minimize?”
PNL: Not at all. The church’s emphasis on the vegetarian diet should be seen as a component of the health message. But by itself it’s not the health message. Jesus Himself said, “It’s not what goes into the body, it’s what comes out.” So we need to realize that spirituality is related to how we practice health. The advantages of being a vegetarian have been proven and become quite accepted in the scientific world, but that hasn’t always been the case. Dr. Mervyn Harding, when he was trying to get a paper published 40 or 50 years ago on this subject, had it refused by one of the top medical journals in the world. They said, “Vegetarianism will never be a feature in any scientific journal.” Such is not the case anymore.
LRE: Why the confusion about this in the church?
PNL: Unfortunately some within the church say, “It’s a list of do’s and don’ts and so on.” But it was never intended to be a list of works. Jesus said, “I am come that you might have life, and have it to the full.” It’s not only about being vegetarian. It’s resting adequately. It’s having positive relationships. It’s about being temperate in the amount of work or travel, the amount of water we drink, our social connectedness. These are all crucial components of the health message in the context of our relationship with Jesus.
It gives us energy, it improves our ability to discern, to understand truth, to relate, to do all these things. All of these are crucially important, but they need to be kept within the perspective of our walk with Jesus.
LRE: Are you saying that it’s not important what we eat.
PNL: No. We’re expected to be stewards of what He has given to us. Our health message was given to make a church happy, healthy and holy. That is why it was given. The health advantages of the church teachings were noted by Time magazine, by National Geographic and CNN and, of course, the scientific study on Adventists and their health has caught the attention of many. While the world talks about it, we sadly don’t apply it very consistently. The message was given not only to fit us for service. It assists us in having a close relationship with Him as well. It gives us energy, it improves our ability to discern, to understand truth, to relate, to do all these things. All of these are crucially important, but they need to be kept within the perspective of our walk with Jesus.
LRE: From our earlier conversation I know that you believe we must not limit health to diet alone.
PNL: Absolutely. Emotions, for example, are hugely important. There is more to promoting mental health to a depressed individual than simply saying, “Ah, pray more, do more exercise, eat more healthfully.” Chemical imbalances are something that are real. They’re not fantasies or people’s imagination. It is true, however, that a healthful diet, exercise, adequate sleep, trust in God, water, optimism, sunshine—all play a role in how we feel and in our emotions. Soon you’ll see in the mission book coming up in 2015, that there’s a strong emphasis on mental and emotional well-being. It does affect our health.
LRE: What is the greatest challenge facing the church regarding our stewardship of "God’s temple?"
PNL: I would love to see the church fully embrace this grace-filled ministry. I’d love them to see that this is not a list of do’s and don’ts. I’d love to let them see that we're not shackling ourselves by embracing the health message. We're being liberated! It’s being fitted for service, it’s being energized for living. We’ve been given all the building blocks, as a gift. We’ve been told about it—the nutrition, the exercise, the water, the sunshine, the trust in God, the air, the rest, temperance. We’re encouraged to be optimistic. We’re encouraged to make wise choices. We should look after, and be stewards of our environment, and then we need to have social support. So what would I love to see for the church? I’d love to see the church embracing this as the optimal gift that God has given to us, not as a restrictive box that we’re being forced into, and, rather, hearing Him say, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Then we shall experience a grace-filled and joyful life, even in our brokeness.