The healthier the church, the more packed with broken-down lives it will be.
Does that logic sound right to you?
That the more vibrant a community of Jesus we are, the more troubled people we will have? Perhaps not.
In fact, it isn’t my working vision of the church much of the time, apparently. At least it isn’t, whenever I am surprised by the sins of others; by the unreliability, the lack of commitment, the lack of fervor, the lack of service, the lack of love, the lack of well, whatever.
Whenever I am surprised by lack in Jesus’ church, I am proving myself a heretic---oh, and a self-righteous one at that.
Sometimes, though, happily, I am reminded that our Savior himself said that healthy, robust folks don’t hang out at Erlanger Hospital. They’re too busy running, playing golf, and buying locally grown, organic food at Greenlife, er, I mean, Whole Foods. “But the sick,” he says, “well, the sick, they spend their time at doctor’s appointments, being driven around by their lack, in search of a cure. The sick need physicians.”
The Mask of Jesus
He didn’t come to summon the righteous but sinners. He often acts as a doctor who is tending to a hospital full of variously ailing and variously improving indigents….because not only are ALL his patients sick, not a one of them is insured!
And this community of sin-sick folks, is the very one that the Apostle Paul gets all geeked up in heralding as the theatre (see Ephesians 3) whereby Jesus gives a premiere preview to the tuxedoed demons and sequined angels of the more than Oscar-worthy script of the eternal drama that he has authored, directed, produced, and in which he is presently starring.
Jesus has masked himself in us, chosen to act before the world costumed as people like us---petty, flimsy-faithed, complaining, and stingy…to reveal a reconciling marvel such as would leave the most sophisticated CGI special effects artist in slack-jawed astonishment. He is making us into Him. A whole community of Him.
But until the closing credits, we aren’t Him yet.
Just animated by His life. Just acted on by Him. Just preserved by Him. But also, still sick, still fickle, still greedy, still childish instead of child-like, and still grumbly. Not choice, but chosen. Wanted. Picked out. Hand-selected. And adored.
Free to Act your Ugliest
And an interesting thing happens when you know or are at least willing to believe that you are adored and wanted. You stop posing. Your politeness bone gets brittle. Playing a part gets wearying. The make-up is removed, the old-ratty pajamas are donned, and the gut hangs out.
When you are at home somewhere with someone, you are free to act your ugliest. I’m not condoning it. Just describing it. Clive Staples Lewis once said, as a supplement to my description, “You have no idea how many occasions of domestic nastiness come across my desk. It seems that the only normal families are the ones we don’t know anything about.”
When you believe that your beloved isn’t going anywhere, there’s no telling what kind of ugliness will come out of you. Ever acted in your home in despicable ways, and thought to yourself, “I’d never act like that out in public?” Well, if you haven’t, ask your roommate, or your spouse, or your mom, or your children---they’ll remind you swiftly!
Allergic to Reality
“Humans cannot,” once observed T.S. Elliot, “handle very much reality.” We need an environment of assured acceptance, of reliable loyalty, of undeserved goodwill to ever give us the confidence, or most of us any ways, to reveal who we really are, or to be able to face what we’ve really been.
And that’s why a healthy church will be full of troubled folks. Clarification: a healthy church will be full of troubled folks who are in some fashion or another having their troubles dealt with, intervened upon, and not borne alone. All churches, law firms, banks, schools, city halls, hospitals, and well, places of every sort, are filled with troubled folks.
Every gathering of people will have those who are feeling desperate, those who cheat, who yell at their kids, who ice out their spouse, who nurse silent grudges, who have their lunches eaten by addiction, who spend their free-time looking at pornography, who wonder when they wake up in the morning how their going to set one foot in front of the other just to get to the bathroom, much less make it through the day.
All places have folks with those who can’t get to sleep at night for fear of losing their home, their child, their mind,---with those whose secrets and sorrow make it feel like they are moving through molasses.
The Spiritual Disease of Thinking One is Quite Well
The difference between the church and all those other communities though, is that we are formed and brought to life by One who stated that his express purpose was to call the sick.
Pre-loved by a wounded Savior, we can let our wounds be exposed. Exhaustively absolved by Him who knows all, we can let our secrets with suffocating guilt barnacled to them come out into the light to be healed. Assured of limitless patience and eventual progress, we can actually look at the sewage in our own lives and in others and show a similar patience with ourselves and other selves. After all, what business have we to be hateful to the self that Christ has adored, loved, and forgiven, whether someone else, or we ourselves?
So if a church is preaching, living, and ingesting the air of our Master’s replenishing grace, we should expect that more, not less, trouble will begin emerging. Not only because of spiritual warfare, but because of the first steps of spiritual health. GK Chesterton’s Father Brown once inquired of Flambeau, a proponent of a new fanciful religion making great boasts:
'Can it cure the one spiritual disease?' asked Father Brown, with a serious curiosity.
'And what is the one spiritual disease?' asked Flambeau, smiling.
'Oh, thinking one is quite well,' said his friend.
Church as Infirmary
And Jesus welcomes only those who know they are indeed, not well. When folks believe they can be warmly welcomed and accepted, then they can stop hiding their rebellion. And more and more folks in the community, those with whom we live and work, will begin to know, whether they’ve ever heard of Martin Luther or not, that he was spot on when he said, “the church is an infirmary for the sick and an inn for the convalescing.”
Here’s to hoping that Jesus will make all our churches places where it it’s safe enough for people like me, and perhaps you, to be real sinners, and a community where He is active enough to give us an unwavering expectation that our sin as little or big as it may seem, is never the decisive word in any life. His tenacious and renovating love is.
Eric Youngblood is the senior pastor at Rock Creek Fellowship (PCA) on Lookout Mountain. Please feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GEricYoungblood.