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The Church: Museum or Hospital?

by Alan Allegra  
4/27/2009 / Church Life

"The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints!" We must not let familiarity dull us to the truth of this popular clich.

The church is often a showplace for "look-at-me-I'm-a"-Christians or a Fundamentalist Friar's Club instead of an opportunity for spiritual exercise. Members are more interested in ear-tickling than exposition; personality than preaching; fellowships than fearing God; rumors than revelation. However, the church should not be a rest home but a rehabilitation center.

A couple of years ago I injured my knee at work. Once I discovered that I couldn't treat it myself with over-the-counter palliatives, my wife drove me to the emergency ward of a local hospital. I was thankful for the expert attention and gentle treatment that soothed and protected my injured knee. For my personal comfort and ease, I would have been content to keep a knee brace strapped to my leg, lying on the couch popping pain pills and missing work. After all, wasn't I just a poor soul who'd been hurt and needed a hand to hold? Boy, were my dreams shattered when I was sent to a sports rehab center!

Grown men cried out in pain as trained therapists contorted their injured limbs in unusual positions, and I soon joined their ranks. I preferred a relaxing massage, but knew that if I didn't follow the exercise regimen and keep my appointments, I wouldn't heal and grow stronger. So it is with the church.

Some people are spiritually crippled by the adversary; often the darts come from other churches. And, as in hospitals, there are hypochondriacs and gold bricks who just think they've been injured. The good pastor, as the good doctor, should objectively diagnose the problem and prescribe the remedy.

Were the therapists cold, unkind and unloving because they hurt me? Of course not; if they didn't care about me, they wouldn't have put me through the pain of recovery. As comforting as it is to have your hand held and your ears tickled, a saint cannot grow without pain and exercise.

God's Word abounds in the language of spiritual exertion. 1 Timothy 4:7 says, ". . . exercise thyself rather to godliness." Exercise, meaning train body or mind, is the word from which we get "gymnasium." It originally meant exercise naked, reminiscent of Hebrews 12:1. This exercise results in godliness, or spiritual growth.

The Christian life consists of exercises and maneuvers. Eph. 6:12 reminds us that we "wrestle . . . against principalities . . . powers . . . rulers . . . wickedness." Paul asks the believers to "strive together with (him) in (their) prayers" (Rom. 15:30). "Strive" means "agonize," not exactly a euphemism for "smooth sailing."

The faithful, balanced pastor will "reprove, rebuke, exhort;" the faithful disciple will be a doer, not just a hearer of the Word (Js. 1:23). The church should offer soothing for hurt sheep, but then therapy is needed to prevent spiritual atrophy. Like a hospital, the church must offer a ward for every need to facilitate spiritual health, not just peppermint water, aspirin, and wheelchairs.

Alan is Content Coordinator for Lifestyles Over 50 (Thrive Media) and contributor to the Allentown, PA, Morning Call. He is also an adult Sunday school teacher and Bible study leader. Passionate about reviving theology and church methodology, and being a senior citizen!

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