Mission and Mental Health – Peter Bellini

“Mission and Mental Health”

    Rev. Peter Bellini Ph.D.

The missio (mission) of God begins with creatio (creation) and culminates in creatio nova (a new creation) as the Logos (Word) of God became flesh, even context, specifically a human in the cosmos, that he may redeem, transfigure, and restore humanity, as well all as the rest of creation to God’s original intent (Eph.1:10). For some early theologians, the restoration of all things meant a cosmic theosis, all of creation transformed to reflect the image of God. The Byzantine theologian Maximus the Confessor (590-622CE) understood that through Christ the fundamental divisions in humanity and the universe would be reconciled through Christ’s theandric mediation and the theotic impact on the universe would be nothing less than a cosmic transfiguration.[1] The eschatological trajectory of restoration purposed in Maximus’ cosmic Christology and the cosmic mission of Christ is a new heaven and a new earth.

What a mandate for the church to participation in the liturgical drama of cosmic salvation in which the traditional divide and false dichotomy of evangelical and cultural mandates are joined, fulfilled, and transcended. The Spirit witnesses through the work of the people of God in proclamation and demonstration of the Kingdom, embodying and imparting its righteousness (justice), peace (shalom), and joy (fulfillment and strength from soteria/salvation) in all aspects of life The semantic domains of the words soteria and shalom intersect at notions of soundness, wholeness, and well-being that includes not only spiritual well-being but physical and mental well-being as well.

 Eastern Christianity has long understood sin as soul sickness and salvation as curative. John Wesley (1703-1791) founder of the Methodist movement drew from Eastern sources[2] and likewise understood salvation, at least in one aspect, as restorative and curative in nature and combined a variety of resources that were accessible to him at that time to minister to the soul, mind, and body of early Methodists. Wesley’s robust soteriology was driven by a quest for both spiritual and physical wholeness, and he employed whatever means were available to attain it.[3] Similarly, the church is called to a ministry of healing and health as part of a larger ministry of justice and salvation. A good and needed place to begin is in the area of mental health.[4] In terms of mental health both globally and in the church, it is the leading cause of illness and disability worldwide, with a substantial population being underdiagnosed and undertreated.[5] There is much we can do to address this global issue, beginning with a mental health ministry in our local church.

One example is the United Methodist Mental Illness Network of “Caring Communities” developed by the General Board of Church and Society. According to Mental Health Ministries, #3303, Book of Resolutions 2012, global United Methodists are invited to join the Caring Communities program that unites congregations and communities in covenant relationship with persons with mental illness and their families to educate and help remove the stigma around mental health issues.[6] Caring Communities “Educate congregations and the community in public discussion about mental illness and work to reduce the stigma experienced by those suffering. Covenant to understand and love persons with mental illness & their families. Welcome persons and their families into the faith community. Support persons with mental illness and their families through providing awareness, prayer, and respect. Advocate for better access, funding and support for mental health treatment and speak out on mental health concerns.”[7]

We can begin by equipping one point person in our local church as a first responder[8] or even launch a full mental health ministry.[9] Mental health is a complex field that involves a network of larger systems and institutions, medical, commercial, judicial and socio-economic systems among others, impacting everyone, specifically the poor, women, youth, and the homeless. However, if God’s plan is a cosmic theosis, then as Kingdom people it is our call to impact this complex field with Christ’s justice and salvation beginning in our local church and extending to the world.

[1]           Maximus Confessor studies have been on the rise over the last thirty years. Also, there have been numerous works recently on Maximus the Confessor and the relationship between cosmic Christology and theosis, and the cosmos. For a recent example see, Paul Blowers, Maximus the Confessor: Jesus Christ and the Transfiguration of the World (Oxford University Press, 2018). Note: the author does not intend to imply the apokatostasis in terms of universalism but the cosmic extent of the love of God in Christ that brings a new heaven and a new earth with the hope of salvation for all.

[2]           See Randy Maddox, Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (Nashville, Abingdon, 1994) that claims Wesley drew from Eastern Christian therapeutic notions of sin and salvation.

[3]           In terms of physical and mental health, Wesley’s Primitive Physick and The Desideratum, or, Electricity Made Plain and Useful (electrotherapy) were examples of Wesley’s attempt in publication to make health care accessible and affordable to the people called Methodists. Publications coupled with health ministries, such as along free clinics and pharmaceutical dispensaries were part of early Methodist health and wellness ministry.

[4]           See the United Methodist Church’s Book of Resolution 2012 for the denomination’s statement on mental health and ministry. http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/ministries-in-mental-illness.

[5]           See various global studies from the World Health Organization, including https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17288506, and a study within the church from LifeWay Research, https://lifewayresearch.com/mentalillnessstudy/.

[6]           http://umc-gbcs.org/resources-websites/creating-caring-congregations.

[7]           Faith and Mental Health Bulletin Insert, 2013. http://umc-gbcs.org/resources-websites/creating-caring-congregations.

[8]           Mental Health First Aid is a global ministry that trains people in the local church. https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/.

[9]           “Hope for Mental Health,” a mental health ministry out of Saddleback Church under Pastor Rick Warren has created a Hope for Mental Health Starter Kit for local churches. https://store.pastors.com/hope-for-mental-health-starter-kit.html.

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