I find it in my best interests (and sense it in my conscience) to lock horns with the severely misled adage originally coined by the famous “Dear Abby,” but often repeated by many a mainstream Christian:
“The Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints” – Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby)
If Abby is talking about the Body of Christ with her “Church” reference, then there are a few gaps we’ll need to discuss, between truth and distortion. This semi-popular saying is more than cringe-worthy to me for three particular reasons:
- Having come to the knowledge of Christ, we aren’t supposed to be “sinners” anymore
- The church was not established to provide Christians a haven to lick their wounds
- Memorializing past saints while not equipping new ones is a symptom of a Church with unhealthy beliefs
1. The sin issue in short
Sin was condemned by Jesus, who while coming in the likeness of sinful flesh, fulfilled the law so that it might now be confirmed in us, the righteous, who live not in accordance with the flesh but the spirit. (Romans 8:3-4 in a nutshell). The truth is, those that are righteous and believe that they are so are not naturally sinful and because of their belief will more suitably manifest righteousness. The best way I know how to translate ‘freedom from sin’ in plain language is ‘freedom from sin!’ Allow me to put it this way: If Paul, at the time of writing 1st Corinthians, was characterized by sin, than why would he tell his disciples to imitate him? There are countless new testament texts that speak to this point and a past blog of ours examines the details.
We’ve been given the keys to the kingdom, with all power and authority under heaven, with a dash of salt and the ministry of reconciliation. We are the saints, now all we have to do is believe it!
2. A collection of saints, not an assembly of sickly philanthropists
I’ll preface my point here by acknowledging our call as Christians to bear one another’s burdens, and I don’t want to undermine the importance of this. At the same time, I do NOT think that Paul was referring to the Galatians (in Galatians 6:2) meeting on Sundays and processing their aches and pains. The church was designed to be a hub of ministers, not a people constantly in need of ministry. As the Dear Abby saying implies, the church is a zone where its members can be nursed back to health… or not. Aren’t we targeting good [spiritual] health? Transformation, redemption, sanctification, reconciliation, renewal; you know, the things that Christ paid the ultimate price for? Have we lost our identity as saints and instead settled as nice people in constant need of help? We’ve been given the keys to the kingdom, with all power and authority under heaven, with a dash of salt and the ministry of reconciliation. We are the saints, now all we have to do is believe it!
3. Saints aren’t relics, they’re Christ-like
I think it’s a great idea to honor past saints, but at the same time I’m not sure that we should be nostalgically peering into the past like the lives and times of the Acts saints are but a wistful tale of something that’s no longer possible. The Holy Spirit is as real now as he was on the day of Pentecost. And we know that God has not changed. We also know that we’re closer now to the 2nd coming of Jesus than they were then. If we could view sainthood as a product of being Christ-like and substitute our beds in the spiritual sick bay for our future seats in heaven, we would be… preparing the way of the Lord and ushering His kingdom to the lost! Remember: we possess the same spirit that rose Christ from the dead. We have permission to strive for spiritual health and wholeness and assume our God-destined position as saints. If the command was to follow him, replicate his works and benefit from His Holy Spirit, is a hospital an appropriate place to meet and worship once a week? I understand this one-liner is metaphorical, but what characteristic about the Gospel would lead us to believe that a people called to put on Christ gather weekly to treat their flesh?
-Check out another past blog on redefining our Sunday routine.
“Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” – 2nd Timothy 2:10
Joe D’Orsie – Communications & Spiritual Life Counsel firstname.lastname@example.org