“A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” This is a quote that I’m rather fond of. Seems that I’m not alone in those feelings. I hear it with pretty regular frequency and I kind of chuckle to myself when I do. Why? Well, I think I have a different view of the quote than do most. Please note that I am not saying one viewpoint or another is right or wrong, just different.
The way I usually hear it, it is being used as a means of mercy. You’ll never hear me knocking that. It’s a way of saying no one is perfect, especially in the church. That’s a big part of why we’re there, we are sinners after all. It’s also a way of defending someone, or a behavior, or a shortcoming. Once again, you’ll hear no argument from me. Lest we forget, we all have something that needs addressed. It really is a beautiful sentiment and one that I agree with wholeheartedly.
I’ve also heard the quote used as a nice way of calling someone a Pharisee. Don’t agree with the behavior of someone? Don’t find someone’s actions fitting of a self-professed Christian? Don’t agree with the direction of your church? Use scripture as a means of pointing these things out? You just might hear, “Yes, but remember, a church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” And you know what? Even though I think in some instances, Pharisees get a bad rap (that’s an entry for another day), I can see that side of it as well. Don’t always agree with it, but I certainly see and understand it.
So, how do I view it? I guess I’ve never really viewed a hospital as a place of relaxation. I’ve never really viewed a hospital as a place of refuge, or a place to get away from it all. I think about the hospital and I think about pain. I think about needles being shoved in unpleasant places (I’ve had them stuck in all the usual places, as well as into my shoulder capsule, under my knee caps, directly into nerves, into my spine, and into my throat all the way to the back of my spinal cord) I think of scalpels and being cut open so many times that I often marvel at the fact that I’m still watertight. I think of nerve conduction studies. I think of the colon series I endured when I was thirteen, in front of a whole room of medical students. I think of hoping loved ones survive. I think of the very real fear endured wondering what life would be like without my wife. I think of making peace with God, knowing that I was about to die in surgery. I think of the fear and the fervent prayer that my son would not go blind during surgery on his eye.
You know what else I think about? I think about miraculous recoveries that defy modern science and medicine. I think of a loved one being declared dead twice, only to be brought back to give his life to Christ (I love you dad). I think how much richer life has been and how much more appreciative I am of my wife since she recovered and I truly understood life without her, would be no life at all. I think of my son with serviceable vision in one eye and perfect vision in the other, after being told that he was in fact going blind. I think of second chances. I think of new hope for a life better than that which we arrive with.
I think of sometimes having to endure some pretty horrible things to get better. I think of the fact that healing is very rarely pleasant or easy. I think of fear, I think of facing and enduring things you’d just rather not. But I also think of the end result. Of new health, new peace, and new hope for having endured the pain to get better. Church to me is no different.
Is it a hospital? Where you go to heal? Or is it a spa, where you go to feel better about yourself? Church truly is what we make of it. It’s not about the person in the pulpit. It’s not about the programs offered. It’s not about the beauty of the building…or the lack thereof. It’s not about any of the millions of things we try to make it about. It’s about that soul that occupies your space. It’s about the God in whose presence you sit. It’s about the time you spend there with Him. Do you allow Him to operate in you and on you? Do you allow Him to truly heal you even though the process may be both painful and scary? Do you trust in the end result and the ultimate beauty of the process?
No doubt about it, church is a hospital for sinners. What we need to ask ourselves is this…Are we a patient or a visitor?