Body and Soul

May 31, 2024

Body and Soul

Photo by Rebecca Matthews on Unsplash

John D. Morrison

For many, it can seem strange for people of faith to be so concerned about the body. Isn’t faith a spiritual matter? Shouldn’t we be concerned about the soul, not the body? Admittedly, it is easy for the way we practice and discuss our faith as Christians to give the impression that all we are about is getting our souls out of this world to a better place.

Yet, at its best, the Christian faith has emphasized that God cares deeply for the whole person. Creation, redemption, and new creation all point to the value of both body and soul. God has created each person as a unity of body and soul. Christ Jesus himself took on a complete human nature, including a body and soul, in order to redeem in body and soul. When Christ returns to make all things new, he will physically raise the dead, reuniting their bodies and souls.

We find an example of this Christian concern for the body in a surprising place—puritanism. In a movement now better known for witch trials and scarlet letters, a pastor emerged at the end of the sixteenth century in England who emphasized the value of the physical body in the Christian life. Here, In a small village a few miles from Cambridge, Richard Greenham would become the preeminent spiritual counselor of his day and shape puritan pastoral practice for the next hundred years.

A remarkable feature of his pastoral ministry was the care he demonstrated for people as embodied beings. His incredible generosity to the poor reveals this side of his ministry. Greenham had a reputation for giving to the needy he passed on the roadside and for frequently giving alms to prisoners at the castle in Cambridge. He purposefully sought to live moderately so that he and his family would have more to give away. He also sought to use his influence in the community to address poverty on a wider scale. During a particular season of scarcity, he negotiated the price of barely down to a more affordable rate for the poor. On another occasion, he worked to create a co-operative where the poor could buy their grain at a reduced rate based on the needs of their families.

The importance Greenham placed on the body could also be seen in his pastoral counsel. In writing on caring for those “afflicted in conscience”—a term broad enough to encompass doubt, struggles with assurance of salvation, and even what we today would call depression—Greenham counseled caring for the body as well as the soul. Greenham recognized a problem in the way these cases were normally handled: “If a man troubled in conscience comes to a minister, it may be he will look all to the soul and nothing to the body. If he comes to a physician, he only considers the body and neglects the soul.” For his part, Greenham encouraged caring for both the body and soul: the soul with such things as Scripture, prayer, fasting, and words of comfort; the body “by physic, by purging, by diet, by restoring, by music, and by such like means.” Medicine, diet, rest, music, and the like could all be put to work to care for the person in need.

Greenham’s care for body and soul was rooted in the person and work of Christ: “Neither did he suffer in the body alone, but in the soul also. Whereby he showed that he freed not the soul alone, but the body also, because the body as well as the soul was guilty and punishable for sin. He rose not in soul alone, but in body also, whereby he brought grace, and restored holiness as well to the body as the soul. . . He ascended not only in soul but in the body also, because he would give glory to the body and the soul, seeing he had purchased them both.” Greenham cared for body and soul because Christ Jesus redeemed his people in both body and soul.

 

John D. Morrison (PhD, Southern Seminary) serves as the pastor of Christ the King Church in Hickory, NC where he lives with his wife Dori and their two children. 



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