The church is not a place for the righteous, it is a hospital for sinners.
So goes the popular saying that has taken on almost cliche-like proportions in many of our churches. The idea is that anyone who expects church members to live differently than those who are not members.
Is the Statement Helpful?
The statement is a helpful thing to keep in mind if it reminds us of our own hypocracy or even lack of understanding that the Christian life is one of growth and that we cannot expect new people to be as far along as some of our more seasoned members. It is helpful when it reminds us of these things.
However, too often the saying promotes a situation where there is no growth. It can hide the fact that often it is not the new members who are still falling to the sin that so easily besets them, but the old ones. Too often, it promotes the illogical and unchristian idea that we should not expect Christians to live any differently than those on the outside. Too often the saying promotes a mindset that is quick to call anyone a hypocrite who is calling the church to live better.
Do They Mean Hospice?
In short, too often the saying is used incorrectly. When the saying is used to support Christians who do not grow, then the speaker should say that “the church is not a hospital but a hospice.
A hospice is a place where the sick go to be comforted before dying. The sick go to have their pains masked by drugs while they wait for that same illness to overtake and kill them. Too often, we want to make the church a place where the sick can be confortable while they continue the dying process. A place where they will not be confronted by the realization that healing is possible in Jesus Christ. A place where those who do not wish to be bothered by any of the ethical implications of the gospel can go to have a good shout and go home to live unchanged lives.
Too often we want the church to be a hospice where we do not allow Jesus to take from us our most cherished sins. Too often we want the church to be a hospice where the same sin that elicited our need for Jesus ultimtaely kills us!
Reclaiming the Truth in the Statement
But the saying is right, the church is not a hospice, no, it is a hospital. It is a place where Jesus shows up. It is a place where sick folks are healed. Yes, people are broken in need of great help, but Jesus does something. Yes the church is a hospital.
To not expect that the sinner will get better is not a hospital mindset it is a hospice mindset. To not expect that Jesus is able to help me to overcome all of my weakness is a hospice mindset not a hospital mindset. Certainly the church is a place where the sick congregate, but are the sick expected to get better after a confrontation with the King of the Universe, or are the sick simply entertained while the ailment that brought them there ultimately kills them?
That is the question. Is it truly a hospital where the sick get well or a hospice where the sick are comforted and entertained before they die in their sins?