It is common for sincere Christians to read Paul’s contrast of “flesh and Spirit” incorrectly, as if Paul were contrasting what is physical versus what is immaterial. Such a reading can easily lead to a sort of heresy that has plagued the church, where what is physical/material is deemed unimportant, even evil, while an immaterial Heaven becomes our final hope and destination, not the (physical) new heavens and new earth, where we will have (physical) resurrected bodies.
Paul’s flesh-Spirit contrast is not an attack on our physicality; rather, he is contrasting creation with new creation – as ‘flesh’ is shorthand for the natural order (now fallen due to Adam) and ‘Spirit’ is shorthand for the new order (indwelt by the Holy Spirit because of Christ). Redemption doesn’t ignore our bodies, but just as God created us both soul and body, He is redeeming all of who we are through Christ, both soul and body. Likewise, God does not want us to love and worship Him in heart/soul only, but also in body (see Matthew 22:37-40). God the Son assumed a body, not just a soul. Even today, He still has a body, which is resurrected and glorified.
Given that our material bodies are important, not just our immaterial souls, it is lamentable that one philosopher observes modern Reformed worship and concludes that many now treat the worshiper as no more than “a brain on a stick”. In other words, Reformed worship in many places has become a matter of data-transfer – information moving from one mind to another. We are treated as mere thinking things, not as embodied creatures that also speak and act through ritual.
Our embodiment has at least the following implications for worship:
- The form/shape of a service matters and contributes to our ‘understanding.’
- Congregational involvement should go beyond just listening and thinking to also include speaking and acting.
- We can expect the Spirit to train our bodies in worship, not just our minds, to receive and respond to God’s word.
- Material things like bread, wine, and water are important to developing a deep understanding of the gospel.
- Physical things in worship should be valued, because they affirm and connect with our bodies, e.g., Bibles, hymnals, and bulletins.
- The embodied-gathering of the saints cannot be replaced by an “online campus” of internet-worshipers.
- A pastor that is bodily-present cannot be replaced with a man on a screen or a hologram.
- Mundane repetition is appropriate and good, just like friends and loved ones often do and say the same things as they spend time with one another.
In short, our bodies are important; God made them, and Christ is redeeming them. As we gather for worship and fellowship, may we act in a way pleasing to the Lord, with our souls and also with our bodies.