Healing and peace are the great goals of the gospel of Christ. These are the fundamental values of the preaching, teaching and spiritual reflection of the Christian Church. All churches should give glory to God by fulfilling these values. The sad truth is that evangelicalism, revivalism, and consumerism have steered Christian leaders away from what is called “church growth.” The result has been further fragmentation, ideological division, culture wars, and the transformation of the good news of the Kingdom of God into a political movement “to take lands for Christ.” We have no healing. We don’t have peace. And critics of Christianity have turned a deaf ear to calls from progressive Christians. How did we get there ?
Little minds want answers without questions. The strangest thing a church leader has to deal with is someone who won’t think beyond their childhood story. It’s not that little minds don’t like to be asked questions. They really hate asking them. Saint Luke speaks of the broad-mindedness of the inhabitants of Berea compared to those of Thessalonica who became jealous of Paul and Silas. Close-mindedness is a curse masquerading as wisdom and security.
Consumerism and revivalism appeal to small minds. “All I need to know is that I’m saved” will ring in my ears for the rest of my life. “Don’t try to teach us anything”, Will as well. It is the mentality that keeps people in economic and spiritual poverty. And it’s meant to keep others that way.
Many prayers made by churches are for healing. Someone we know is sick, in hospice, or failing due to age. The churches pray for such people. It’s a good thing to do. Praying in this way for another person demonstrates compassion. But deciding prayers will always heal if the person has faith is the opposite of compassion.
All four canonical gospels include stories of healing. People can be impressed with the power to destroy. Remember how the initial bombing of Baghdad in 2003 was called “shock and awe”. But people are grateful when the power to heal is demonstrated. No one is grateful that their home was destroyed in the name of liberation. However, they are grateful when their health is restored. The stories of healing in the Bible show us a different view of salvation (liberation) that people experienced under Roman conquest and rule. Emperors can’t really save the world. They can only destroy it. And they do.
Imperfect Peace and Healing
World leaders can bring imperfect peace with imperfect justice. The important fact to note is that they will only do so if they see their own interest satisfied by doing so. The Kingdom (or kin-dom) of God offers perfect peace with perfect justice for the sake of someone else. The auto-focus gets in the way.
Church growth strategies encourage people to be self-centered. What can we do to make the church stronger financially? How can we adapt the programs offered to the needs felt by the people around us? Will our ministries yield results for the body? Such questions are not answered in healing and peace. Giving glory to God is not the goal. When people don’t feel the need for healing and peace in their lives, they look elsewhere. Unbelieving evangelicals who turn to authoritarian politics are a symptom of churches losing sight of their purpose. They see authoritarian rulers as a way to bring some security and justice into their lives. It’s understandable in that light. Evangelical churches do not offer these things.
grace and peace
Saint Paul uses the expression “grace and peace” as a greeting in some of his letters. We often skip these words because we are looking for moral and theological points to cling to. But have all the struggles around the great controversies brought peace and grace? Of course not. Why should he? Winning the fight is seen as the way to attain grace and peace. We say, “We cannot wish grace and peace to people who hate the truth.” Oh good? Personally, I received a lot of grace when I had no idea what the truth was, let alone defend it.
Grace and peace are related gifts given for all of us. But, you will say, didn’t John say that we must not welcome people who do not bring the doctrine of Christ? (2 John) Anyone who intends to harm should be kept away. No one should wish them success in causing harm. Doing so is contrary to healing. But John didn’t help people decide for others what was right and wrong. (3 John) Wishing for grace and peace assumes the best (see 1 Corinthians 13 for a more in-depth meditation on this).
The Healing Goal of the Gospel
The gospel of Jesus desires God’s purpose. Healing the world makes the Kingdom of God exist. The church communities set up by Paul and the other Apostles are expressions of this healing. The practices Luke describes in Acts 2:43-47 and 4:32-37 sit alongside stories of miraculous healing and restoration. The practices are non-miraculous actions of the same offerings of healing and peace. They are also imperfect. But they are closer than anything to the perfection of the peace and unity of the Empire. Christian practice demonstrates the desire to bring healing, restoration and peace. Or it’s not a Christian practice.
What is the purpose of the gospel? To bring healing to the world. Healing and victory over evil brings the kingdom of peace our hearts seek. Walk towards him again. Live lives for healing and peace with everyone you can.