“The church is a hospital. It’s not for the healthy, it’s for the sick”.
You’ve heard that before. Looking at the state of the American church, this vision for the church has been fulfilled. The church is now filled with sick people who are making the whole church just that: sick.
Matthew, Mark and Luke recount the conversation Jesus had with a group of Pharisees at Matthew’s house. They had gathered to celebrate Jesus’ calling of Matthew out of the tax collector’s booth and into the group of 12 disciples. The Pharisees were murmuring about Jesus and wondering why he was associating with sinners (Matthew’s closest associates), when Jesus offered them an amazing missional statement:
“And Jesus answered them, ‘those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance’.” Luke 5:31-32 (ESV)
This must be where the idea that the church is a hospital for the sick finds its origin, but did Jesus mean to say that Matthew’s party was now a church or did He call himself a doctor?
Jesus came into the world to call sinners to repentance. Once they repent of their sins and are declared righteous through the work of Christ, they are united unto the spiritual entity known as the ekklessia, or the assembly of those who have become one with Christ. They are now one body and Christ is the head. That spiritual entity is made visible on earth when we gather together to worship in our churches. The redeemed, justified, resurrected from spiritual deadness body of Christ, gathers together to glorify God. Now contrast that with the idea of a church designed for, comprised of, and pleasing to sick people only. Imagine for a second if the body of Christ was sickly, weak, lame and constantly in need of healing; a spiritually dead body with Christ as its head. Now, think of the state of the church in America.
In the last 40 years American churches have adopted the idea that the church is for the sick. With good intentions, churches have been converted into hospitals. The welcome mat has been unrolled in hopes that through passive messages of Christ-lite-ness and morality tales, they can become well. They desire more of the same deadly sin they guiltlessly enjoyed in the world. So the church – in an attempt not to lose members – brings the world to them. “Church is now fun!” they shout. “Please stay.” Maybe one day they’ll open their own eyes and ask to be freed from the sin they so love. There is only one problem. We can’t make these people better because they are dead; Only Christ can give new life. These marketing and sales strategies do not reflect the body of Christ.
This is a generalization. The fact is that many people have been saved in a church. There are many wonderful churches throughout the country that take their calling seriously. There are many pastors who go before God in daily prayer and in the Word to seek wisdom and to give an account for the flock. Imagine, however, the following scenario: a government official walks into a church and says, “We see the value of our citizens being Christians. Based upon what we see in your Scriptures, the church is called to preach the Gospel to all peoples. So from this day forward, all Christians must dedicate themselves fully to reaching the lost. This means you will no longer be allowed to hold secular jobs because we want you to have all the time in the world to preach. Also, the Scripture says the church takes cares of each other’s needs so we will not be paying you to do this. Good luck!” I know this is an extreme example if we place it in America, but it is the reality in some countries (minus the positive spin). What would be the effect on church membership?
What’s the point of all this? The point is: the physical church is not a hospital for the sick. The more church programs are designed to attract the lost and deviate from the Word of God, which nourishes the saints, the weaker the physical church will become. The body is nourished by the Word of God. Where the Word is not served, the body is weak. The physical church should show the world Christ because the church is His body.
God will continue to save sinners despite the ills of the physical church. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) And of course, the invisible Church, the actual Body of Christ, is working. Lives are being saved because they are being reached by the Gospel delivered by the saints. The Church is fulfilling its purpose when it is going out into the world preaching Christ.
Rather than looking at the church as a hospital, (or rather a morgue where we stockpile the dead) it should be seen as an EMT dispatch unit. While at the church, Christians are trained to respond to the world’s spiritual emergency and deliver life-saving treatment, the medicine of the Word. Some will come in for prolonged treatment; some will not. But all who are healed, whether in our churches or in our streets, will be healed when Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, operates on dead hearts and brings them back to life.
The body of Christ is not made up of the dead, but of the living.