Written by Elton DaSilva
This is part four in a six-part dialogue on the subject of discipleship. We invite and encourage you to submit your thoughts and opinions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hello again, let’s continue our conversation on what discipleship looks like from an MB perspective. So far, we have proposed that our disciple-making approach carries the following characteristics: discipleship happens in community for the sake of the community. (see article here); we disciple unto mission (see article here).
Let us explore another essential characteristic of our Mennonite Brethren DNA; our discipleship is holistic. Just like before, the purpose of this article is to invite conversation. Please feel free to express your opinions and experiences by emailing us here or commenting on the online version of this article. Some of your comments may be published in the following issue of MB Herald Digest when we run the next article on this series.
Our discipleship is holistic.
Many Christians only associate the word holistic with social justice. Which, to many, represents a watered-down version of the gospel less interested in people’s spiritual condition and solely concerned with their physical well-being. Misunderstanding and misusing the word holistic causes the Church to embrace a divided gospel: one gospel for the soul of humankind and another for its well-being. MBs also struggle with this concept, finding it easier to separate our mission approach along these same lines. The Church proclaims a gospel of redemption and then establishes “para-church” organizations to present a gospel of relief.
What if this separation did not exist? Would the Church be more effective in its disciple-making efforts? Is a holistic gospel biblical? What can we do to integrate word and deed? Let’s answer these relevant questions.
God’s definition of true fasting (Isaiah 68) and Jesus’ distinction between the sheep and goats (Matthew 25: 31-46) are clear calls to holistic disciple-making. It’s time for us to repair our fractured approach to holistic discipleship.
For that to happen, we begin with a proper definition of holistic. “Holistic” finds its root in the Greek word (holos), meaning whole or entire. In its simplest form, a holistic gospel is a complete gospel. In Churches That Make a Difference: Reaching Your Community with Good News and Good Works, Ronald Sider, Philip N. Olson, and Heidi Rolland Unruh define the holistic gospel as “The whole gospel for the whole person through whole churches. This definition is robust, requiring that we explore several elements.
The whole gospel
The whole gospel brings salvation in its most total sense, beginning with the forgiveness of sins and a generative conversion and sanctification. It also leads to physical and emotional healing, relief of social and economic hardships, peace and reconciliation of sinful human conflicts, and the ultimate triumph of Christ over the forces of evil on a cosmic scale. God’s salvation is comprehensive.
For the whole person
The gospel for the whole person is God’s transforming power spoken and demonstrated. It regenerates the soul, heals the body and mind and provides relief and development to individuals and communities. As we lead people to know the Bread of Life, we offer them their daily bread. It requires that we love our neighbours actively and demonstratively. More so, the least loved and in the most need of our love. The whole gospel invites people into the community, and at the same time, it brings about change to those communities. It leads to a restored relationship with Christ and provides ways for reconciliation with one another. Body, soul, and spirit are refreshed and renewed.
Through whole churches
Holistic disciple-making churches move people from spectators to participants in the transformation of their communities. Holistic churches understand that we are all called to demonstrate a gospel brought to life with good works. This is a job for the whole church. Whole churches proclaiming and demonstrating a whole gospel transforms whole communities.
MBs value a complete gospel. We generously support Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Disaster Services, and other organizations that provide real-time relief, meeting real needs. These organizations represent us in both local and global contexts. Our mission agency, Multiply, is also active in relieving poverty and engaging in peace and reconciliation programs around the globe. We are a people not ashamed to present Jesus Christ as the ultimate answer, while never doing so with an empty hand. The Mennonite Brethren continually showcase the love of God in practical ways.
What is your view on holistic discipleship? How has your church engaged in a holistic gospel? In what ways can we as a denomination better live out a holistic gospel presence? I would love to hear from you. Please send your comments to email@example.com.