NB: This is a very brief skeleton outline of some of my thoughts. They will need to be developed further. You can help me do that by engaging with them in the comment section below.
Dichotomy: A division into two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups: a dichotomy between thought and action.
For sometime now, whether voiced or assumed, there has been the belief a dichotomy should, and does, exist between the physical world and the spiritual world. That the physical world is in some way opposed to or below the spiritual world.
This is nothing new. During the time of the early church there were two groups of Christian heretics called the Gnostics, and the Docetists. These groups argued that matter was evil and that the spiritual realm was the true reality, the pure reality. This argument lead these groups to believe Jesus was a spiritual being hiding behind an evil physical human. It wasn’t pure spiritual Jesus who died on the cross it was the evil human substitute, made of matter, that died. While this belief began around 2000 years ago it still affects our lives today.
Sure, at least I think now, most people believe in the incarnation of Jesus. God becoming one of us. At least I hope they do. But this dichotomy between the physical world and the spiritual world still exists.
One example of this is the notion of Heaven being a far away spiritual reality. Where our soul goes to live with God forever as the body rots in the grave. I find this a difficult belief to understand given the physicality of Jesus’ resurrection and also ours to come; and also the last chapters of the Bible which talks about, both, a new heaven and a new earth, and God coming down to live amongst his people.
This dichotomy also plays out in where we as Christians place our priorities when it comes to ministry/service. When someone tells you about a non-Christian family member or friend who is sick, often we don’t pray for healing but the state of their eternal destiny. This also plays out when a church puts on a community event. It’s not enough to help the community, there has to be a gospel message at the end. Now there’s nothing wrong with that. The issue comes when the community event is really only done so that the gospel message, at the end, can take place. It’s a means to an ends. Not an ends in itself.
When I was in Malawi I got to see this dichotomy first hand. There were those who did aid and development, and there were those who did mission. And Neither the twain ever meet. Missionaries didn’t do development and if they did it was done as a means to an ends: mission. This lead development agencies to be very protective over who they funded, and partnered with. If development agencies receive government funding they can in no way be seen to be proselytising. So there is this gap. This dichotomy between mission and development. Spiritual and Physical.
However, I propose, if we take the kingdom of God seriously. The Kingdom of God meaning: God’s reign and rule over his whole creation, physical and spiritual, through Jesus and the church as the vessel through which this kingdom comes; then there can be no dichotomy. Anything that brings about this reality is worthy. As Tom Wright said in Simply Jesus, “anything done for the Kingdom will not go to waste”.
If God is king over all then people need to hear about, and follow, this God who came to earth to inaugurate his kingdom. That means there needs to be people who can communicate this message. But if God is king over all then that means how we live and treat others also must come under God’s authority. Not as a means to an ends but as a kingdom end in its self. Community development can be done by missionaries and the church. And there need be no validating reason other than, “we’re doing it as part of our kingdom expression.” There is no dichotomy in the Kingdom of God.