Most of the points made in our discussion of what “health” is are taken from Dr Dan Fountains monograph “Health, the Bible and the Church,” written while Dan was a missionary in residence at Wheaton College back in the late ’80’s.
Dan was famous for saying health could not be defined easily or at all for that matter. But there are elements we can identify as being necessary for living a healthy life of wholeness. The first is the following:
Here is where there is growing agreement between those of the secular/humanist faith based groups and those of us who function from a Christian faith perspective. But herein also is a line in the sand of sorts. The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Within the “social” side of this equation I would imagine they would feel comfortable placing the “spiritual” side of the person. Many now talk about the “Mind, Body, Spirit” paradigm or the biopsychosocial-spiritual model of health. The Osteopathic medical profession especially likes to promote whole person care in the Mind/Body/Spirit mold. Even my own Allopathic profession is acknowledging the importance of the spiritual side of patients. Our agreement with all this is that we do indeed believe that wholeness or health does involve a spiritual side but for us this is a wholeness that proceeds from a personal and intimate relationship with God through Christ. Yes one can appear to be quite healthy and not believe in Christ as the savior of mankind. But those who refuse to believe in the saving work of Christ on the cross cannot know complete health and wholeness. There will always remain a distance between them and God their creator.
I think this also is where we would part with what has become the predominant opinion of many mainline denominational churches which make up most of the WCC. This uniqueness of Christ and His atoning work has been lost as a cornerstone of their existence. Wholeness in their opinion can be achieved equally in the spiritual realm for persons devoted to the Christian faith, Muslim faith, Hindu faith or any other faith system, including those of the secular/humanist faith. In the name of ecumenism, unity and “peace” many have sacrificed what made the Christian faith unique. Christ and Him crucified and resurrected. So in the end one can live a long, prosperous and “healthy” life but if in the end you have no relationship with the risen savior what good has it done for you?
The latter part of the statement has to do with God making us in His image, unique and gifted to contribute to the advancement of His kingdom on earth. This has been one of the greatest human tragedies throughout our history. A life lived apart from a relationship with our creator can indeed produce some amazing results. But this begs a very difficult question. If we do all in our power (let’s just say we provide access to good affordable healthcare to all by 2020) to accomplish some great goal but in the end most have still not heard and responded to the good news of Jesus the Christ and live eternally separated from God then what good have we really done? This again is a very clear distinction between our faith based work and that of ALL others. We believe that God has indeed created man, we are not just a creature of chance that happened over billions of years. Being created by a loving God we are also called to lives of service. To love Him with all our heart soul mind and strength AND our neighbors as ourselves also includes listening to our God to hear His calling on our lives. The Church, His bride, is made up of many different parts with innumerable gifts that are not being developed fully. This is true especially in the majority world where mere existence often depends on barely scraping out a living each day working fields or at some menial job which pays barely enough to sustain one’s family.
So what are we to do as His bride? I believe our churches need to do much more to help her members discover their God given gifts and calling and do all in our power to help them pursue those callings. Not only in the Church in the US but in the Church global. Could this be an effective “missions” strategy for some churches to pursue? I believe so. Can you imagine resource rich churches partnering with resource poor churches glocally (of course this means local and global combined) to help develop this type of ministry? It would require having assessment tools and then means of supporting those churches to help them help their members to accurately hear God’s calling and then supporting them in their pursuits. This would likely cause us to take a wholistic approach to our work in that we would be forced to assess what tools are or are not available for His people to pursue their calling. Are there schools to help educate them? Will there be jobs for them when they are finished and if not why not and what can we do about it? Now that’s a focus on health and wholeness.
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This is the blog for the Best Practices in Global Health Mission division of the Center for the Study of Health in Mission. It is a space for all who are interested in sharing opinions, ideas and best practices having to do with Christ centered health related ministry.