Sunday, February 24, 2008

More thoughts on the social/spiritual divide

Many Salvationists currently (perhaps unconsciously) subscribe to a dualist position that sets our spiritual and physical existence as separate realities, often at war with each other. This thinking, based on ancient Greek philosophy, has very little in common with the Hebrew mindset that nourished Jesus and his teachings.

One of the unfortunate side effects of this widespread misconception is that it can lead to the devaluation of any work aimed at altering people's situation in the present. Particularly in the more affluent, Western societies, we can be easily tempted to concentrate on our internal, spiritual well-being and ignore the devastation which is being wreaked around us. Even those with the best intentions are left with a genuine sense of unease as they are unable to reconcile the social and spiritual missions of The Salvation Army. The result is frequently an affirmation that both ministries need to occur in parallel - though the relationship between them remains unclear.

An alternative, which I believe to be both scripturally sound and affirmed by the history of our movement, is to acknowledge the spiritual significance of loving actions. As Jesus tried to tell us, it is a deeply spiritual act to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked and care for the needy. When we do so, we reach out to Jesus, to God's presence in the poor. Our spiritual, physical and social realities find themselves united in compassionate response to our neighbour who is in need. Now how might this change the way we think about worship, evangelism, prayer, social service and social justice?

No comments: