Health and salvation: we’re in this together

30 Mar

World Health Day is April 7th. The Baptist World Alliance has released this helpful and challenging paper, Committing to being centers of health. It would be good to consider what it means for local work-places, streets and communities, and for each of us, to take an active interest in what promotes a wholistic sense of health. We are in this together. We have more and more information about health, but in some ways we do less and less about it. Here’s the text of the BWA paper:

Washington (BWA)–Health is more than physical health. “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” says the World Health Organization (WHO).

We posit that it also includes the spiritual.

Healing and health were central to Jesus’ ministry. He healed the blind, the deaf, the dumb, the crippled, and he reached out to communities where healthcare was absent or inadequate. The sick sought him out, even if it was merely to touch the hem of his garment (Mark 5:25-34).

Jesus healed not only the physical person, but paid keen attention to the spiritual as well, demonstrating that forgiveness and reconciliation are keys to wholeness and health (Mark 2:1-12).

Salvation is itself healing, as the word in the original Greek (sodzo) can also be rendered to save, deliver, protect, heal, preserve and make whole. E. Anthony Allen, a psychiatrist and Baptist deacon, says “the conception of salvation involves a transformation of our total being to become whole persons – not only in spirit, but also in body, mind and social relationships.” Salvation, Allen declares, “means a total or whole-person change through Jesus Christ. This also…is what health and healing are all about” (essay in Ministry Perspectives from the Caribbean, 2010).

The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) has long recognized this. “We hold the conviction that our ministry to people should be holistic, inclusive of the all important spiritual, and also the physical and moral,” a 1982 BWA resolution reads. This spiritual health goes beyond a sense of peace and contentment. It is more than a primary coping resource on the journey of recovery and healing from addiction or depression and other physical or mental maladies. It speaks to meaning and purpose, and refers to ultimate aims and goals that should go beyond self, focusing on God and the things of God.

The BWA has sought to confirm the mandate of a commitment to salvation and health in the aforementioned 1982 resolution. “We encourage our peoples to coordinate their activities in the area of health with the work of the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund and other international agencies which are seeking to achieve ‘Health for all by the Year 2000.'”

“Health for all by the Year 2000” was an attempt by the WHO and its member states to establish essential primary health care programs and improve the health status of all citizens in all nations by the year 2000. The year 2000 has passed, and health or the lack thereof, is still a major concern in many countries of the Global South, and even sections of the North.

We acknowledge the improvements over the years: 1.8 billion people have gained access to improved drinking-water sources since 1990, with 83 percent of the urban population in sub-Saharan Africa having access to improved drinking-water sources, while the global average is 96 percent. There is improved access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries; and tuberculosis incidence rates are falling globally.

But other statistics are harrowing: every day about 1,000 women died due to complications of pregnancy and child birth in 2008; about eight million children under-five years of age died in 2009 – more than 22,000 children each day and almost 1,000 every hour; one in four children are underweight; and 1.1 billion people were without basic sanitation in 2008.

World Health Day is April 7. We hope our Baptist brothers and sisters will remain committed to the 1982 resolution to undertake “bold new ventures” in addressing the yawing gaps in worldwide health. Baptist churches and organizations, we pray, will commit to being centers of health, calling people to a lifelong commitment to God in Christ, and to whole-person healing.

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