This past Monday our church team leaders met to discuss how to regather our people after two months of disembodied streaming and Zooming. The meeting in sum revealed that spectrum of postures and positions that every church is finding right now—some want to reopen, others prefer to wait for more certainty. Old news by now. (We’re going to meet this coming Sunday, so you know. We’re also going to unite through this and be fine.)
But what interested me most in the meeting proved to be one quick exchange—a crease in that rambling discussion, a kairos moment in my thinking that entered like the whir of a hummingbird, hovered for a moment, then vanished on invisible wings, taking my thoughts with it.
“Why do the elders want to regather now?” one of our team leaders wanted to know. An obvious but excellent question.
My instinctive answer, an instant later: “Because we NEED to” … I’ll stand by that answer. But just like I finish every preached message in the car on the way home, I’d like to complete it.
Our Present Worldview Crisis
Just as Bilbo Baggins in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings described himself as “butter spread over too much bread,” we all feel instinctively that something is wrong in the world, and we’re all somehow wrong in it. There’s a moral and spiritual haze in our dispositions—a certain cast covering our every action. At different times and places none of us has been certain whether or not we’re within or outside the law of the land. Even when legality is defined, the spirit of the law defies simple explanation. What does social distancing say about how we value people? Do we love others by running toward them or hiding from them? Does meeting as a church family mean we’re careless, or that we care about our community? What is the relative value of safety verses, say, courage? And, above all, what does love look like?
We’re not helped by looking to public figures. Dr. Fauci, head of the Center for Disease Control and a household name by now, strikes me as a nice man I’d like to have for my own doctor. He describes himself as “… a scientist [who] gives advice according to the best scientific evidence .” Our Wisconsin governor, before being overruled by the court, said, regarding models and case tracking, “… we follow science” . Christian leaders in the blogosphere have largely and deferentially followed civil authorities, citing Scripture like 1 Timothy 2.1-2 and 1 Peter 2.13-14.
Fine and well. God has made a world that can be studied, and Christians should love science. God has put government in place to protect, and Christians should honor civil authorities. But what does defining the crisis and our proper response to it in purely material terms say about the human person? If I am no more than a physical, material being quantified by empirical evidence, then I am no more than a potential virus-carrier. I owe you the debt of keeping my potentially diseased self away from you, so you can enjoy what scant years you have left in your own virus-free body—until we get a vaccine, or maybe forever.
Do you see what I mean by a worldview crisis? The virus is serious and bad, but it’s our truncated response that strikes most profoundly at the heart of what we believe ourselves to be as human persons.
So, what’s the right answer? What are we, exactly?
We are bodies and souls!
This answer is nothing new. It’s as old as Adam, really. But notice what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that we are bodies OR souls, or that we’re bodies WITH souls, or that we’re souls that happen to have a body in tow. I’m not saying that either the body or the soul is more important than the other. Or that we have a body now and will get a soul later.
None of that. I’m saying that we each have a body and and a soul NOW. And that this self-understanding is crucial to our understanding of who we are as human persons. It’s in keeping the two together that we live. It’s in seeing the two separated that we die. It’s in this understanding of who we are as humans that we grasp what a big deal resurrection is—Jesus’ first, then ours eventually. And it’s in seizing the significance of our being bodies and souls that we understand why we need to meet as a church family.
We’re in a global crisis. We get the trickle-down effect locally. In our Northwoods community, crime is on the rise. A grown man I met with last week broke down mid-conversation and simply wept. Even as I write this a total stranger drove in from Highway 13 just to find “someone to talk to.” People are starting to do crazy things. All this provides “scientific,” if you want it, evidence that we are doing enormous damage to peoples’ souls, because we are treating them as bodies only … But, what do we do about it?
For starters, we meet together as a church family. Meeting itself is our manifesto to God’s design in creating us as His image-bearers. In doing so we celebrate God’s wisdom in creation, … then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. It’s not just an imago Christi (“image of Christ”) thing (as though that weren’t everything). It’s an imago Dei (“image of God”) thing. No human being is excluded from the need for ministry to her soul. The great thinkers (I call them “great souls”) of our civilization knew this—the Tolkiens, the Lewises, the Chestertons. It’s the narrow thinkers—the Freuds, the Marxes, and the Nietzches—who followed their dialectical reasoning to destruction in the last century.
Now, when we regather Sunday we don’t meet flippantly or defiantly. When we come together we’ll recognize our bodies with common-sensical practices. This is no time for the holy kiss (1 Thess 5.26). We’ll be careful and respectful. But, we’ll also recognize that “soul ministry” is every bit as “essential” as searching for a vaccine.
And that’s because people are bodies and souls …
Let me know what you think about the idea. I hang out at [email protected]. I’d like to chat more about what this response means for the robust care of human persons in their entirely.