The Church as Hospital

I was asked recently for my thoughts on a Melbourne Age article about homosexuals in the church. It had to do with the Anglican Church and its view on homosexuality. It quoted a very liberal Anglican lay woman who bewailed the fact that fewer homosexuals could be found in the church because of what she regarded as fear and hostility.

My friend said this was a tough issue, and asked for my opinions on the matter. Well here they are. My first response is to say that in one sense this is not a tough issue at all. After all, the Bible is quite clear that homosexuality is a sin, and like all other sins, it separates us from God. Christ came to help set us free from the sins which entrap us and separate us from God. So in one sense at least the church should be a sin-free zone.

But I suspect my friend was thinking more about how the church should deal with homosexuals and others struggling with sin in its midst. This is both a pastoral and biblical question.

The truth is, the church is a place of sinners. Indeed, there can be no other people there. More specifically, the church is a place where sinners who have been forgiven come together. It is a place where redeemed sinners grow in their faith, fellowship with other believers, hear the word of God, and so on. The church is simply a collection of forgiven sinners who are now travelling down a new road.

A key passage here is found in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name.”

The key phrase is “that is what some of you were”. Sinners of all stripes who have repented of their sin and forsaken their former way of life make up the people of God. Those who have entered into God’s family have renounced their old way of living and have committed themselves to a new way. Indeed, Scripture speaks of putting off the old man and putting on the new. Baptism is a symbol of this process of exchange. We give Christ our sins, and he gives us his righteousness. It is the world’s most unfair transaction, but one that we all are desperately in need of.

So the church is simply a collection of individuals who have partaken in this grand exchange. Long ago Augustine said the church was like a hospital: it is for sick people. We are all sick, broken and needy. It is Christ who offers healing, restoration and forgiveness. The church is to be the place where the forgiveness and grace of God is played out.

The company of the redeemed is made up of those who have said no to sin and yes to the Lordship of Christ. That does not mean struggles will no longer occur. It does not mean we achieve instant sinless perfection. Sanctification is a lifelong process. We all will struggle with sins which have been renounced, and a life of vigilance, dedication, and dependence on the Spirit will be needed.

The fact that the church is a collection of forgiven sinners who seek to become more like their saviour is of course a different matter from how believers may wish to structure their churches and church services in relation to the lost.

It is of course possible to have a welcoming environment for non-believers to come and learn about Jesus and the claims of the Gospel. The Alpha Course is a case in point. We need to open ourselves up to those who are seeking God. How far one can go in seeking to do two different things simultaneously (feed the believers, and win non-believers) is a matter of some consideration and prayer.

So unlike the liberal Anglican who laments the fact that certain sinful lifestyles may or may not find a place in the church, the truth is the church is full of sinful people. But they are sinners who have been saved by grace and are seeking to become more like their Lord each day.

Thus we are to show patience and grace toward one another as we move along the path of conformity to Christ. But as the New Testament documents make clear, this does not mean tolerating sin in ourselves or our congregations. It is a hard balance to reach.

C.S. Lewis once put it this way: we should be Arminians (emphasising our own choices) when it comes to our own weaknesses and our brothers’ strengths, and Calvinists (emphasising God’s initiative) when it comes to our own strengths and our brothers’ weaknesses. Showing grace to others while being tough on ourselves is a good starting point.

The aim of being conformed to the image of Christ means no less than striving for perfection, as Jesus told us in Matt. 5:48. That means holding one another accountable, admonishing one another, and urging one another on to new heights in Christ. But it will also mean being forbearing, forgiving, patient and humble as we travel down this road.

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9 Replies to “The Church as Hospital”

  1. Yes Bill I agree, this modern age does not fully understand “repentance”.
    My experience has been that many people think that it is enough to simply say “I am sorry for all that I have done” and then continue along in their old lifestyle.
    Many homosexuals view the church as being homophobic.
    This is not the case, we can love the homosexual person but we can loathe their actions.
    I can say the same thing about an adulterer and an habitual liar.
    Is the church a hospital?
    I believe that a hospital is place where a person recognises that they are ill and are seeking a cure, if a person does not want to be cured and wishes to remain ill then there should be no room for them.
    This may sound hard, but I believe that if a person is genuine they will seek healing even though they may relapse at times.
    Jim Sturla

  2. Bill:

    This is a very interesting way of putting a new look at an old, very debatable subject.

    The church that I have gone to-most of my life up until recently had the attitude towards Homosexuals of: If you are don’t practice and you can participate in Church. Frankly- I don’t know how such a thing can really be reality, when most of the priests themselves are of that ilk.

    Celebacy is a hard issue. If a person is of that lifestyle, then, if they are going to be a Christian, and do as you said- put on the image of our Lord- then they must remain Celebate, or attempt to overcome the inclinations that they have and adopt a more natural lifestyle withen the Church. The question is- is that really possible?

    I don’t know that answer.

    What I do know- as a man, the inclination to seek companionship as well as otherthings is a drive that is very, very strong within me. Nature calls to all of us. How we answer-depends on our nature and beliefs.

    As sinners all- we try to live according to the guidelines established in the Bible- we pray for forgiveness when we sin- and, if we are really practicing our beliefs, we try to not do it again. Our Lord is a forgiving lord who loves us, and wants us to come to him.

    I feel- that those who are homosexuals- and have a true desire to come to the Lord, and cleanse themselves, should be given that opportunity. It has to be their choice however-and not mine. The Church- if its a true one, a good one, and a warm one, is there for them, as it is for all sinners. The hardest step- is going from there and leading a healthy life.

    Oh well…what can I say? 🙂

    J.C. W. Mozart

  3. Thanks Wolfgang

    As to church participation and resisting sin, etc., yes you are mainly right. Whatever the sin, when we come to Christ, we repent of sinful behaviour and lifestyles. We say yes to Christ and no to known sin. But much addictive behaviour may linger and have to be battled, with God’s help. The key is if we agree with God that the particular behaviour or activity is sinful, and that we want to overcome it.

    As I said, this may be a lifelong process. But the issue is one of will and attitude: do we want to leave this sin behind and do what is right, or do we coddle the sin, minimise the sin, or seek to justify the sin? Thus a homosexual – just like a heterosexual with an addictive sexual problem, or some other problem – need not be perfect, and failure may well happen. But he or she wants to improve, and leave behind the sin. That is what Christian growth is all about.

    That is Paul’s point: “such were some of you”. A former thief is one who now realises that theft is wrong, has repented, and is seeking with God’s help to put an end to that activity. A former homosexual is one who acknowledges that homosexuality is sinful, has repented, and seeks with God’s help to see progressive victory in this area. Temptations will still come, but what we want to do with those temptations is vital.

    This differs significantly from the views of Muriel Porter and others who think there is basically nothing wrong with the homosexual lifestyle, and disagree with what God’s word says about this.

    As to your other question, whether people can really leave the homosexual lifestyle: many thousands have, and have gone on to heterosexual marriage and family life. And many claim real victory over the orientation, inclination or predisposition as well. Real change is indeed possible. All this is possible with the help of Christ.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  4. Gruss Gott Bill!

    Thank you very much for your answer. I do agree with it-in totality.

    Change is hard- but it is possible. We can- if we all desire it, and work towards it put on the image of Christ.

    I am trying to over come some stumbling blocks- and the rigor of the church has been of help- as well as the love and the patience of those souls around me who are attempting to help in the healing. Many of these stumbling blocks came about due to the walls I built up- practicing in the prior church I was in. A Church that my famillie has been in for literally centuries. Little, by little they come down, and melt away- thanks to the Heavenly Father and his love.

    I have heard many things about whether or not a person who is homosexual can become heterosexual. There are psychiatrists who claim they can help a person through it- there are churchs who also think that with their counseling that a person with this can come through it. I have also knowen and worked with many- who went the opposite direction- were married, and ended up leaving the Heterosexual life to live out their live homosexually. In the theatre world- and music world, you meet many who are that way. Some are that way- and don’t even realize it- but just naively think its natural to “love” someone of the same sex-even in a courtly sense.

    There is a saying in my family, that a certain musician of note- only wrote concertos to those whom he loved- and if you examin the Autographs- you will find that not all are dedicated to women. I don’t think however, that it was in the same sense that we speak of today.

    I digress. Instinct must be controlled-the mind must be controlled so as to not lose focus- or allow certain thoughts or feelings to enter that are wrong or evil. Purity is a goal that we as Christians should seek. In order to put on the image of Christ- one must be worthy, and Pure. One cannot be so- if one is swimming in sin-sin so foul that it appalls the Father himself- so much so that its written throughout the Bible itself.

    The Evil one blinds us- and many don’t even notice it.

    OH well…as I said- I agree with you.

    Mrs. Porter and others of her ilk- need to see that it is wrong. Haveing the ability to source their Bibles- why can’t they see it?

    Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgang Mozart

  5. Greetings, Bill. I see my good friend Wolfie has discovered your blog and the two of you have enjoyed communicating. I’ve nothing to add, except keep up the good work! 🙂
    M.E. Huffmaster

  6. Good article Bill. We have all indeed fallen short of God’s standards. That is the blessing of the Gospel though; we repent and move forward with God’s help. The key though is the repentance. Too many in our churches misunderstand this.

    George Kokonis

  7. It is a danger to see the act of being born anew into a life in Christ as the end of all we were and the only act that is necessary for our salvation. This is contrary to scripture, reality and common experience.

    Conversion at the foot of the Cross of Christ is the first step, the all important step into eternity with God, but we are ‘to work our our salvation in fear and trembling before God’ and this new birth is only the first step we take in the process of sanctification, of us becoming holy ‘as I am holy’ as Jesus said, enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit. If we do not have the power of the Holy Spirit within us, that which fell on the day of Pentecost of which Jesus prophesied would come on us once He had left, then we cannot do it – it is just not within our power to withstand the passions and desires of the flesh without the Holy Spirit.

    Indeed, the church is a hospital, for as Jesus said – he came for the sinners, for the downtrodden, the sick and broken. And the comment above is spot on – only those who accept their need for healing, accept that they are sick and diseased need apply, for there is nothing for those who cannot see their need.

    But there must be an acceptance of truth, a sorrow for sin, a turning from it and a commitment to end it, however flawed that performance of that commitment, as long as it is truly heartfelt.

    However I must say that I see a rise and rise in the acceptance of instutionalised sin within the church through ‘cheap grace’ in the form of divorce and remarriage, acceptance of ‘alternative lifestyles, continued pro-longed substance abuse, repeated sexual immorality even among leaders. And this cheap grace is characterised by sins being ‘swept under the rug’ and a lack of restitution. People who are truly sorry for their sin wish to reconcile, forgive, make amends, right wrongs and seek holiness. We must clearly understand and remember that the grace that brings us salvation and restoration with God wasn’t purchased cheaply- indeed God gave His only Son for it, and Jesus suffered horribly (and, one could say, continues to suffer) for it.

    Garth Penglase

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