In the "distinctive belief in the healing of the body" James Smith sees within pentecostalism an implicit theology that keeps the soul tightly tethered to body. James writes,
[Among pentecostals the gospel is] a message of liberation from sin and its effects, including the material effects of illness and disease, as well as oppression and poverty (Luke 4:18-19). Deliverance and liberation, then, are not just "spiritual"; the gospel is not just a tonic for souls. Implicit in this affirmation of bodily healing is a broader affirmation, namely, a sense that the full gospel values the whole person.Intriguingly, James goes on to suggest that this vision of salvation--liberation of both body and soul--is what so often connects pentecostalism to the prosperity gospel:
We might note that it is precisely the holism of this aspect of pentecostal spirituality that might also explain why pentecostal spirituality is also often attended by a prosperity gospel. That is, the prosperity gospel (for all its failures) might be an unwitting testimony to the holism of pentecostal spirituality. The prosperity gospel--which often attends pentecostalism whether in Africa, Brazil, or suburban Dallas--is, we must recognize, a testament to the very "worldliness" of pentecostal theology. It is one of the most un-Gnostic moments of pentecostal spirituality that refuses to spiritualize the promise that the gospel is "good news for the poor." In this sense, we might suggest that the implicit theological intuition that informs pentecostal renditions of the prosperity gospel is not very far from Catholic social teaching or liberation theology. It is evidence of a core affirmation that God cares about our bellies and bodies.Now that's quite an argument. Bet you never saw anyone compare the prosperity gospel to liberation theology. And whether you agree with that assessment or not, I agree with the core contention: that we refuse to spiritualize the good news for the poor. God cares about our material well-being.
One of the things that I love about life at Freedom is that we always serve a meal. No strings attached. During our weekly Wednesday night gatherings a meal is served from 6:00 to 7:00. Worship starts at 7:00. Many people stay for the worship. But many don't. Again, no strings attached.
And after the service is over many go back to bag up the leftovers to take home for another meal or two. And across the street is the community garden planted by Bob, one of our elders. Many bags of freshly picked vegetables are taken home after worship at Freedom.
Prayer requests at Freedom focus very much on material needs. People need rent money. Electric bills need to be paid. Food to get through the last days of the month.
There are needs for a car or car repairs. Needs for dental work. A place to sleep at night. A shower. Some new clothes. A blanket. The next meal. Bus fare.
There are prayers for healing and health. Prayers for addiction and recovery.
We don't believe in a prosperity gospel at Freedom, but we are awash in material as well as spiritual needs.
You can't leave the body behind at Freedom. Bodies are ever present. In their needs, brokenness, sweat and smells. It's bodies and souls together.
We will worship, yes. But before that, we eat. We always eat.