21 September 2008

The church as a hospital -- Wisdom Sunday

In the Eastern Orthodox churches there exists the idea of the church as a hospital of sorts. In this hospital, by God's grace we put off the corruption of sin and are formed in Christ. Among Reformed, there really is not much talk of that, if there is any at all.

In his book The God Who is There, Francis Schaeffer povides a reformed perspective on the view of the church as hospital:

As orthodox evangelicals we have often made the mistake of stopping with individual salvation. Historically the word Christian has meant two things. First, the word Christian defines a person who has accepted Christ as Savior. This is decidedly an individual thing. But there is a second consideration as well. It concerns that which flows from individual salvation. While it is true that there is an individual salvation, and this is the beginning of the Christian life, yet nevertheless individual salvation should show itself also in corporate relationships. This is the Bible's clear teaching concerning the Church and what we find, in some measure, as we consider the Church at its strongest through the ages.

When man fell, various divisions took place. The first and basic division is between man who has revolted and God. All other divisions flow from that. We are separated from God by our guilt -- true moral guilt. Hence we need to be justified upon the basis of the finished substitutionary work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet is it quite plain from the Scriptures and from general observation that the separation did not stop with the separation of man from God. For secondly, man was separated from himself. This gives rise to the psychological problems of life. Thirdly, man was separated from other men, leading to the sociological problems of life. Fourthly, man was separated from nature.

According to the teaching of the Scriptures, the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ is meant eventually to bring healing to each of these divisions: healing which will be perfect in every aspect when Christ comes again in history in the future.

In justification, there is a relationship which is already perfect. When the individual accepts Christ as his Savior on the basis of the finished work of Christ, God as judge declares that his guilt is gone immediately and forever. With regard to the other separations, it is plain from the scriptural teaching and from the struggles of God's people throughout the best years of the Church, that in this present life the blood of Christ is meant to bring substantial healing now. Individual salvation comes with justification, and guilt is gone at once. Then comes a future day when my body will be raised from the dead and the other separations will be healed just as completely. Now, in the present life, when men can observe us, there is to be a substantial healing of these other divisions. Substantial is the right word to use because it carries with it two ideas. Firstly, it means that it is not yet perfect. Secondly, it means that there is reality. 1 Complete Works (1982), 164-65.
Note, this substantial healing that Schaeffer speaks of begins when one comes to faith in Christ. At that time, one is made a member of Christ's body, the Church. That substantial healing that we are to experience in the world, though incomplete, begins in the Church, as members of a body, not in our prayer closets as spiritual Lone Rangers riding along in our personal relationship with Jesus.

And if the Church is a place for healing, perhaps it would be appropriate to approach worship as therapy. But before we go too far with that idea the way it plays out in our culture, we should read the gospels for examples of people who approach Jesus fore healing. They do go to him for healing; and yet, not to be served, not to be entertained, not requiring that he sing in the musical style of their generation or put on a drama that touches them "where they're at". They come in devout humility, like a certain Roman centurion, asking for healing (and not for himself) by asking primarily for mercy (see Matthew 8.5ff). The centurion wasn't worthy to have Jesus under his roof. The Caananite woman asked Jesus to toss a few crumbs to her, a dog, by asking him for mercy for her daughter (see Matthew 15.22-28). The blind men, desiring to see, asked him for mercy (see Matthew 9.27).

During the course of worship, in some churches, at some point there is the recitation:

Lord, have mercy upon us
Christ, have mercy upon us
Lord, have mercy upon us
It is mercy that we need, healing, substantial healing, as part of our salvation. And there is, as Calvin says, no salvation -- no healing -- apart from union with Christ. That's where healing begins and ends. In worship, we who are united with Christ give to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit the glory that is due and which we are glad to give and which is part of our healing process because in order to heal we must die to ourselves. We cannot truly worship the Triune God if we are not dead and dying to self, if we are not repenting daily -- not just on Sunday.

Worship, bowing to the Triune God, is death to self. It has to be: it is life to self which perpetuates the divisions Schaeffer speaks of. It is life to self which obstructs healing.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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