A Hospital for Sinners?

The job of a church is to help people heal, not to convince them they are not sick.

Terry Johnson, Adventist Record
<strong>A Hospital for Sinners?</strong>

You’ve heard it said “churches are hospitals for sinners.” Since we are all broken, all can find healing there. The question then arises, does the medicine restore what is diseased and broken, or is it about handing out quasi-spiritual pain killers to mask the pain, leaving the sick person unchanged?

Seventh-day Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White wrote, “To repent means to be sorry for sin and to turn away from it. We will not give up sin unless we see how sinful it is. There will be no real change in our lives until we stop loving sin and decide to turn from it” (Steps to Christ, p. 18). 

Our faith is focused on reconciling fallen humanity to God and supporting one another — repentant sinners — to live godly lives through the living, transformative Word of God, encouraging each other until His return (Hebrews 10:25). Our faith should transform us (Romans 12:2). Daily we are justified by Jesus, who sanctifies (through the work of a lifetime) until we are glorified and made new at His return (Romans 3:22-28).

Despite all this, there seems to be a desire to change the biblical purpose of the transforming church into the affirming church. While we absolutely believe every person is made in the image of God, we cannot affirm what is in opposition to God in our fallen nature. We don’t require people to be well before they show up for treatment, but what hospital heals people by convincing them they are not sick?

Hospitals are blunt in their assessment. The professionals perform a series of tests to discover what is wrong and what needs to be done to transform the diseased body into a healed one. Churches should be spiritually transformative, healing environments. How do we convince people in society that they are broken and need salvation? Without arrogance or poor behavior (too often the charge against church), and with humility, empathy, and compassion, in the manner of a medical professional.

Jesus consistently welcomed people in a countercultural manner. He ate and drank with sinners. He was hospitable, gracious, and welcoming to all. But His public comportment was consistently a call to conversion and transformation. Jesus’ first recorded words in the Gospel of Mark were basically, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” He was loving, welcoming to all who needed rest — and called them to repent and be transformed by His grace.

We need to build our churches into havens of rest where everyone is welcome; the Holy Spirit’s power transforms, bringing true healing and rest by renewing each mind; a transformative environment where good news is shared and encouragement given as we prepare for His second coming.

The original version of this commentary was posted by Adventist Record. Terry Johnson is president of the Australian Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Terry Johnson, Adventist Record