Monday, March 09, 2015
The Church - Hospital or Gymnasium?
‘…whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God’
Is the Church a hospital or a gymnasium? Do you support science or faith in God? Is he an intellectual or athletic? Is she a Packers fan or a Pittsburgher? Are you ‘Confessional’ or ‘Missional’? Is church music traditional or contemporary? Does your church teach discipleship or evangelism? Are you a ‘sinner’ or a ‘saint’? Is God just or loving? Is He the Lord of the living or of the dead? Can you ‘have your cake and eat it, too’?
Must we always choose between ‘opposites’, or can some things be ‘both/and’? Life is full of things that are truly opposites - true ‘antitheses’. But we hear a lot of false antitheses too. We hear one thing pitted against another, not always for good reasons, causing, in some cases, unnecessary conflict.
In rhetoric, a false antithesis is an example of a logical fallacy. Although that may sound rather academic, as it impacts everything from communication to cooperation between people, false antitheses are a serious matter, especially when they become the conventional view of a society.
Perhaps you feel that false antitheses are be more common in youth than in old age, but that, too, could be a false antithesis. Older people can be as polarized by a false antithesis as people of any other age. In my case, early in my career, I remember being challenged to choose sides in a debate about whether the Church was a hospital or a gymnasium.
Now, this many years later, I’m like ‘seriously’? Surely the church has aspects of both a hospital and a gymnasium as does any health facility that includes both clinical therapy and physiotherapy. What both a hospital and a gymnasium have in common is that they both provide a safe supportive place for healing and exercise. Both of them exist for the benefit of those who use them.
We come to church as people with souls ailing from sin and guilt. We go to Divine Services, not as the “righteous who need no repentance”(Luke 15.7), but as the sick, requiring divine healing through the forgiveness of sins delivered in the Church by means of God’s word and sacraments. As Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5.31-32) At the same time, we also come to church, as God’s forgiven people – sanctified as well as justified - to exercise those qualities as God’s holy people, that we will need to have if we are to engage others in the wider world effectively. Again, as Jesus said, “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13.34-35).
So do we belong to the Lord while we are alive, or only when we die? Beware of a false antithesis. For, “…whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s”.