There have been times throughout Western history when people talked as though the spiritual mattered, and the physical did not. Soul = good; body = bad. The move to holistic viewing of the human person in community seems like a healthy move. How I treat my body impacts my soul, the condition of my heart manifests itself in my body. The ways we choose to relate with others shapes our being, etc.
It seems we may still be approaching the institutions in a dualistic manner; separating the body from the soul.
Consider the church: the body of the church may be thought of as the visible structures, institutions, gatherings, titles, positions, denominations, dogmas, etc. These visible realities give shape to this thing we call church. To reduce Christ’s church to these visible realities is more than reductionistic, it may boarder on ecclesial pornography. When Christ’s church is defined entirely in terms of the external the objectification of the church is nearly impossible to resist.
To focus entirely on the soul of Christ’s church is equally problematic. Such an emphasis highlights the Gnostic impulse. These invisible realities, or experiences often are the very things that drew us to God in the first place. When Christ’s church is defined entirely in terms of the internals the subjectification of the church is nearly impossible to resist.
We need a third way. “Body” and “soul” interanimate and interpenetrate one another. What we do with the visible “Body” of our churches shape the invisible “soul” of our churches; and our care for the invisible “soul” of our churches shapes the visible “body” of our churches.
In a CT article by Eugene Peterson, he credits Frederick von Hugel with: “the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There’s no life in the bark. It’s dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it’s p
rone to disease, dehydration, death.”
Often pastors enter vocational ministry, in part, because of some glorious “soul” connections in their own narrative and they want to help others experience such connections, only to discover that the bulk of their time is consumed caring for the visible or external structures. Pastor’s often want to fan the flame of the Spirit while often feeling like they are physical therapists doing rehab work on their churches after hip-replacement surgery. Until we surrender to the scandal of “particularity” as seen in the Christian doctrine of the incarnation we will resist conjoining our unique bodies and souls.
Body and soul together. Each one informs, reforms and transforms the other in an ongoing and iterative process. Ask anyone who is committed to holistic living all of life seems to war against such interconnectedness. May the Bond Of Love help us all.
Speaking of integration . . . I have hinted over the last few months that Mars Hill Graduate School is rolling out a new MDiv program that integrates text, soul and culture. Details are now coming available. Wait unitl you see the course listings . . . damn! They’re good.