It has been said (and I have repeated it often as a pastor of a local Church) that, “The local Church is not a country club; the local Church is a hospital.” And such is true as far as the illustration goes: Christians are not called to simply join a socially elite club and chill. They are called to join a spiritual family with very real needs and hurts and they are called to bear one another’s burdens together. However, people do not generally live forever in a hospital and they are expected to at some point (hopefully sooner than later) make a full recovery. While every situation is different, the goal of hospital care is recovery and release back into normal life activities.
Christians are called to grow and develop in their spiritual maturity and in their lived-out passion for discipleship and evangelism. Yet alarming numbers of Christians don’t even want the local church to be a hospital but rather a daycare center to meet their own personal needs and whims while letting them remain immature and therefore inactive. I’ve been there before in my own selfish heart and it’s not cute or praise-worthy. It’s disobedience–let’s just call it for what it really is–it is sin.
Charles Spurgeon was right when he lamented that, “Alas! Much has been done of late to promote the production of dwarfish Christians. Poor, sickly believers turn the church into a hospital rather than an army.” Every illustration breaks down at some point, but, his point is well taken. I still like the illustration of a hospital though, but with one unique clarification.
Perhaps we should think of the local Church as an army field hospital with a clear objective: the glory of God through the advancement His Gospel. This is not a place for coddling “spiritual weaklings” but for equipping spiritually mature and growing Christians for full engagement in the war-torn harvest field. The operating physician and rehab specialist is the Holy Spirit. The tool is the sharp scalpel of His Word (Hebrews 4:12). The Commander in Chief is Jesus Christ. As Christians enter and regularly meet with their spiritual army field hospital (and family), they are equipped and re-equipped spiritually and physically to fully engage in spiritual battle for the glory of God in their words and actions. They are not equipped to simply spend their time hanging out or killing time in a civilian hospital visiting area or lounge area raiding the snack machine.
And this is where many of our churches in America have gotten it wrong–and why many Christians are making doctrinal discernment a rarity rather than a normal practice. The Apostle Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 still packs a punch. The desire for spiritual immaturity must be tackled with an “army-strong” focus vs. a “spiritual daycare” mentality: “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.” The Apostle Paul hit the problem right in the face in his Corinthian Epistles. When God’s Word and His Holy Spirit are misunderstood and diminished in a local Church, spiritual maturity, fitness and flat-out obedience are also misunderstood and diminished.
It’s time for myself and for other Christians (especially those in America) to think correctly about their calling to a live as God’s army, complete with local field hospitals, yet having no place or purpose for local daycare centers. There’s a reason Charles Spurgeon’s native country of England is no longer a conduit of spiritual light. Local Churches in his day began functioning as daycare centers rather than remaining as engaged army field hospitals in a very real battle for the Gospel. And that is sadly why many local churches are closing their doors across America as well. But the trend towards anemic apathy can be reversed! It is reversed through Christians understanding, believing, and obeying God’s message of grace to His Church. It’s called being the Church of Jesus Christ!