Faith and health are inseparable

Faith and health are intertwined in ways that neither the academy nor the congregation fully appreciates.

By Bill Wilson

Compartmentalization is the bane of authentic faith. When we begin to divide the realms of our life from one another, the end result looks very different than loving God with “all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”

We become a house divided, living an increasingly incongruent life. If our Christian faith does not impact our work habits, our marriage relationship, our diet or our anger management, what does that suggest? 
 
Our lack of spiritual integrity is costly. Others see clearly the hypocrisy that we cannot. The disconnect between embracing Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor” and being profanely rude to our child’s teacher does great harm to the kingdom.

On the other hand, when we begin to orient all of our life around the organizing center of Jesus Christ, an amazing transformation takes place. The gospel permeates every part of us, and we begin to experience that promised “peace that passes all understanding.” On those days, we stand as a compelling and positive witness to the person and presence of Jesus Christ.

This is a pressing issue for congregations as well. Congregations battle compartmentalization as we are tempted to retreat to our protected sanctuaries and devote our budgets and programs to the spiritual realm, while neglecting the earthly concerns of poverty, hunger, housing and health.

Instead, a congregation that practices a congruent faith will recognize that such concerns very much belong on the local church agenda.

The church has historically exhibited a deep passion for health care, for example. The founding of hospitals, clinics and medical missions are an important part of our story.

Jesus certainly showed us that he came to care for the whole person. Forty-two times he addressed physical human pain and suffering, more times than he delivered a sermon or teaching. No compartmentalization for him; he knew that there was no way to separate faith and health.

Has your church fallen into the trap of focusing on the overtly spiritual while giving only token attention to the physical needs of those around you? Healthy churches, of any theological persuasion, are concerned with all of life. Such an expansive focus leads us down the narrow path of embracing the whole gospel.

The broad way of indifference is a bustling avenue. The disciples consistently overlooked the blind, lame and paralytic, while Jesus saw them and stopped and touched and healed them. Far too often, congregations emulate those self-absorbed disciples and religious professionals of the day who were too busy to be bothered with stopping to help those in need.

Our medical center is increasingly focusing attention upon the interplay between healthy congregations and healthy communities. We believe that faith and health are intertwined in ways that neither the academy nor the congregation has fully appreciated.

For the medical community to neglect the spiritual dimensions of health and healing is foolish. For a local church to neglect the physical and emotional health of its community is to miss a vital opportunity to advance the clearly articulated mission of God.

Ellen Idler’s research has shown that active involvement in a local congregation is as good for one’s physical health as smoking is bad. That is quite an impact. The reasons are many and complex, but the end result is that healthy congregations are one of the leading causes of life in communities too often preoccupied with death.

That means that every congregation is potentially a catalyst for the transformation of the health of its community, as well as its constituents. Our connections and involvement in the daily grind of people’s lives are an extremely valuable part of the continuity of care that everyone needs.

What we do as a normal part of our life together is a remarkable spiritual, social and physical phenomena. Sharing food, actively caring for others, praying and bearing each other’s burdens are all life-giving and life-sustaining acts.

Missional congregations are discovering that one of the most valuable things we have to offer this world comes as second nature to us. We care for others. When we become intentional about that care and extend it to those around us, something remarkable happens: not only do we give life, we find our life. Jesus promised it would happen. Remember Matthew 10 and 16? “If you want to find your life, you must lose your life.”

To do this well, we must work diligently to break down the dividers we have allowed to separate us from our true calling. No more delegating a concern for health matters to others. We must embrace the whole gospel. Matthew 25 makes it clear that Christ-pleasing faith focuses on people in physical as well as spiritual need.

I pray that every congregation will give careful thought to how to engage the health needs of your community. As you begin to see them through the eyes of Jesus, start doing the things Jesus expects. When you do, new life and vitality will emerge: both yours and theirs.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.