“The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”
The oft-repeated phrase certainly contains an important truth. It can serve as a much-needed corrective against the superficial version of church in which everybody puts on a perfect face while we’re around each other, regardless of what we’re dealing with in our personal lives. And, it points out the problem with gatekeeping against those whose lives aren’t as clean as others’.
But, as is often the case, we are prone to overreact to one bad idea by embracing the equal and opposite extreme rather than finding the solid ground of truth. Part of the overreaction in this case has brought about a rethinking of the church as a permanent hospital.
Yes, we must not hide our weaknesses. We should confess our sins to one another (James 5:16) and bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). No, we should not remain aloof from the lost, making them feel we have reached some standard that is unattainable to them.
However, serving as such a hospital for sinners is merely one part of the church’s function. No one is meant to live in a hospital. You go there to receive treatment and healing so you can go on your way better than before. If we aren’t careful we can institutionalize this idea of the church as a permanent hospital, but a gospel that can only offer pain management without ever healing is not much of a gospel at all.
Much is said about our “messy” lives and how we all deal with “brokenness.” Some seem to think the lost will be more open to the church if we emphasize just how broken all of us are. And it’s true that we all have our trials, and we all stumble and fall into sin at times. But we must not wallow. We can’t stay there.
We must not repeat the line that we are all broken. We were all broken at one point. Some still are. But the cross heals our brokenness. Even in our continued struggles and trials, Christ makes us whole. To continue to insist we are broken sinners is to deny the work of Christ. In Him we are more than conquerors over anything life throws at us (Romans 8:37-39), and we are called to lay aside the sin that so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1).
Consider the portrait of Jesus we receive in Luke’s Gospel. One of Luke’s greatest themes is that everybody is invited to Jesus’ table. We see Him associating with Gentiles, with the lowly, with “sinners.” He gives parables uplifting a Samaritan, a tax collector, and the lost who have gone astray. Much has been said of this thought that Jesus accepts anybody, and it’s true.
However, that doesn’t mean He accepts everybody.
In the same Gospel, Jesus places rigorous expectations on anybody who wants to follow Him. The disciple must “deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (9:23). Anyone who looks back “is not fit for the kingdom of God (9:62). “Whoever does not hate… even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (14:26).
Yes, we come broken, and He accepts us as such. But He leaves no room for us to wallow in brokenness and never expect growth or change from ourselves or each other. He loves us enough to take us as we are, and He loves us enough to make us something new.
If we never feel like conquerors but rather always emphasize our brokenness, we downplay Christ’s ability to save and give us new life. If, in an effort to comfort the struggling or welcome the lost sinner we don’t give assurance of victory but rather affirm their spot in the mire, we aren’t loving them or helping them.
The “hospital” phase must only be a stop along the way toward newness and wholeness. Praise God, we aren’t what we once were.
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).