If you have been tracking along with us at The Echo Life, you might know that we had a very interesting conversation last week with a reader who claims we are very “unbiblical,” in our promotion of holistic stewardship. This was a great opportunity for us to explain our motives and heart for this blog. I urge each of you to read our explanation here.
It must be understood that we are having a very specific conversation that only covers one aspect (stewardship) of the broader walk of faith. This is not to highlight one area over another, as if it were more important, but to draw attention to a topic that has been ignored for far too long.
In becoming established, it is good to give proper answers to real concern. Sometime ago I wrote this article that considered the concern that we might be perceived as playing fast and loose with our beliefs, not staying grounded in the Scripture, which most certainly should be our foundation. I knew it could be a concern since our focus for this blog is so narrow and is so often ignored in many of today’s churches. Some tend to think, “Well, if I ain’t heard it preached, it ain’t biblical.” I wrote this to show how we derived our ethics for this continuing conversation called “The Echo Life” from our understanding of the narrative of Scripture, and I think it is time I share.
Very often, the reader will find that much of what Shane, Richard and I will have to say will more than likely be applied ethics and not explication from biblical exegesis, although I hope much of that will continue to happen (especially from Rev. Reams). In other words, we might say that the Christian life can benefit from “such-and-such” or should look like “so-and-s0” and a typical response might be, “Where is that [explicitly] in the Bible?” In all honesty, we might have to admit that it is not explicitly stated in one verse or section, if that is what you always look for in forming your Christian ethic.
While the Bible does, at times, speak against obesity and laziness and for taking care of the temple, which is the body, it is often more concerned with eternal matters. The Scripture writers did not spend an exorbitant amount of time speaking about diet, fitness, medicine, wellness or the like. If we only spoke from those verses or sections of Scripture that explicitly talk about wellness, this blog would run its course before it even gets started.
While we recognize the bigger picture, that does not give Christians the right to ignore the “smaller” things. In fact, it is when we get the big picture, that we have been given undeserved life through Christ, that we begin to see how important the small things become.
Certainly, an explicit statement upon a way to live is a surer axiom to follow than an idea derived from applying what we know about the purpose and trajectory of Scripture; however, this does not negate the fact that, at times, we must apply what we know.
For example, the Bible says nothing about abortion in an explicit sense, but it says enough implicitly that we feel well capable to make an applied ethical decision on the matter, and we have just as much resolve to protect unborn life as we do in, say, not taking the name of God in vain. In other words, we can make educated theological applications from the broader story given to us in Scripture.
As Wesleyan-Arminian ministers, the three of us have a very high regard for the whole story of the Scripture, a story that runs from Creation to New Creation. We see God moving the whole of creation back towards redemption. Could the physical be included in the process, even now? Certainly God wants everything to return to its optimal use, even creation. So, what does that mean for us who find ourselves in between Creation and New Creation? Should we simply wait around, or is God calling us to be a part of His story?
We see this in the spiritual realm in our call to deepening sanctification, a process of the redemption of the spiritual character of individuals. We know that many Christians fully embrace sanctification; even though many do not necessarily think the process will ever be fully realized until after death, through glorification.
Why do I bring this up? It is because I think many will ask the question, “What’s the point of taking care of a body that is to pass away, that will not be made perfect until after death and resurrection?” Could we not ask the same question concerning the point of sanctification, especially to those who believe it is only “entire” in eternity beyond? Why strive for holiness if we must wait until the radical moment of death?
This sort of thinking led some to claim that Christians shouldn’t attempt to avoid sin, for we are incapable and only God can make us whole and not until death will this be so. If this were so, the Antinomian proclaimed, then to make any effort to follow the Scriptural command to “be ye Holy,” would be an insult to God. The ancient church called this heresy, yet the thinking persists in many ways in today’s culture.
The sort of thinking that dismisses creation care, the sort of thinking that suggests that “it,” meaning our bodies and/or the earth, don’t matter because God will be the one to restore them in the future, is the same sort of thought that led to the heresy of antinomianism. Christians must see that we are part of God’s means as the church to do good things. Standing on the sidelines allowing sin, death and decay to have their say, is to ignore our calling to be His means of grace to the lost and hurting world.
This heresy pointed out that we cannot be perfect in this life, that sanctification will not have its hold fully until death and glorification. Therefore, proponents of this heresy argued, it is pointless to try and avoid sin. Instead, we should simply embrace it.
And so it is with the neglect of Creation. The Bible is clear that the created order will have to undergo an awesome transformation, a passing from death to life. New Heavens and New Earth will not be formed simply by gradual progress of people becoming better and better, as the evolutionary optimist would suggest. Instead, the whole creation groans for God’s redemption. It is His redemption that makes the difference, and this will not happen until the eschaton.
With this in mind, many well-intentioned Christians will argue that there is then no point to take care of what will pass. So, what is the proper way to form a biblical view of our bodies and our creation in the midst of confusion?
To answer the question, I am going to use a little applied ethics for you. Buckle up…
It seems that the story of redemption includes human disciples as a means to spread the Gospel, the most famous section of the ‘Great Commission’ quote being “…make disciples…” In fact, in its original Greek, this is the only imperative in the larger commission statement. Why is this making of disciples done?
We are made disciples so that we may represent the Kingdom of God. We are ambassadors of the Kingdom, and ambassadors have to represent something of their Kingdom so that persons know what they are trying to say. We cannot simply say, “The Kingdom of God is like…,” we have to demonstrate it. Word and deed. Time and time again the Bible tells us that through our holiness others will know of God’s holiness. In other words, by appropriating a Kingdom character, we will be affective disciples.
Now, hold that in your mind, and watch this video clip with Bishop N.T. Wright
Again, we are affective disciples when we allow God’s grace to allow us to live out a Kingdom character…
Ask yourself: How should I represent God as His servant? Should I dismiss Holiness because I will not be whole until glorification? Or, should I live a life of self-denial so that I can be a part of a community that is a “light upon a hill”? Should I disregard the Creation because my sin brought it to brokenness, or should I respect the very handiwork of God, even though I messed it up?
Moreover, consider this: if we are ambassadors of the Kingdom, and we are to show people what citizens of the Kingdom are like, should we not then represent something of the reality of the Kingdom? If in the Kingdom, as Wright points out, we are to be good stewards of what God has given us, does it not follow that we should reflect that here?
We will be stewards in the life to come. So, here is my application, the ethic by which we at The Echo Life are called to speak about: To represent something of a Kingdom reality here and now for the benefit of those around us (our neighbor in need), we would benefit greatly by showing excellence in stewardship. We might as well get used to it now, if we are going to be doing so forever.
If we degrade our bodies with all sorts of abuses including over consumption, laziness and general neglect, we are not being great representatives of stewardship. If we have nothing else, we have our bodies. Let us begin representing the Kingdom by taking care of ourselves. There are times we must sacrifice for a greater good, even giving up our health and wellbeing for others, but until then, we have the chance to use our bodies for the Kingdom.
Understand this, because we must be quite clear, lest we are accused again of being out of focus: The only way you can enjoy this call to be a good steward is if you have already become a citizen of the Kingdom of God, a child of God, a ransomed being, bought by Christ. Until then, this ethic will get you nowhere; it will only be a filthy rag. However, and here is the key, once you give your life to Christ, nothing you do by the power of the Holy Spirit is a waste. So, the ethic becomes this:
You are His children; now go and live as His people.
I believe this applied ethic upon wellness is Biblical. It is implicit, but Biblical, and it is not so scary after all.
Rev. Tab Moore Miller