The Gospel of And
January 25, 2018
By Drew McIntyre
We live in a world of either/or, but the gospel demands an and.
At our best, Christians in the way of the Wesleys do not choose between caring for bodies and souls. To put it another way: spiritual healing and mental/emotional/physical healing are not antithetical. John Wesley famously instructed his preachers, "You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go always, not only to those that want you, but to those that want you most."
The same Wesley wrote and distributed the health manual Primitive Physick, visited prisoners, and educated poor children. The gospel demands an 'and' here, not an 'or.'
In a recent piece, Russell Moore put it this way:
The short answer to how churches should “balance” such things is simple: follow Jesus. We are Christians. This means that as we grow in Christ-likeness, we are concerned about the things that concern him. Jesus is the king of his kingdom, and he loves whole persons, bodies as well as souls.
Bodies and souls. The social gospel and the evangelical gospel. The spiritual and the material. However you put it, the 'and' is critical.
We live in a world that loves binaries and false dichotomies. Our various denominations and faith expressions tend to mimic this instead of challenge it. Some Christians are great at justice and mercy, while others exceed at piety and personal morality. Some denominations focus on changing the world, and others expend their resources to bring individuals to Christ.
The beauty of the Wesleyan way, at our best, is holding the 'and' rather than choosing between them. We read our Bibles and welcome the refugee. We pray daily and feed the hungry. On Wednesday we combat racism, and on Thursday we attend our Band Meeting. On the same Monday afternoon, we might invite our atheist neighbor to know Jesus, and show up at City Hall to challenge an unjust ordnance.
Again, the Southern Baptist Russell Moore strikes a better balance than many United Methodists today:
This mission is summed up in the gospel as a message of reconciliation that is both vertical and horizontal, establishing peace with both God and neighbor. The Scripture tells us to love neighbor “as yourself” (Luke 10:27-28). This is not simply a “spiritual” ministry, as the example Jesus gives us is of a holistic caring for physical and economic needs of a wounded person, not to mention the transcending of steep ethnic hostilities.
How is your congregation embodying this and? Are you caring for whole persons, or just their physical needs? Have you found ways to encourage spiritual wholeness, rather than just address bodily lack? The genius of Methodist spirituality is a concern for the healing of the whole person. We take both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment with utmost seriousness.
Jesus never intended us to choose between bodies and souls, because he came to redeem us totally: our physical and our spiritual nature, our individual lives and our communal lives.
To lose the and is to lose not only the Methodist way, but - more importantly - the way of Jesus.
Rev. Drew McIntyre is the pastor at Grace UMC in Greensboro, NC