“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance,
that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
(1 Timothy 1:15 (ESV))
I heard the comedian Brian Regan joke recently about getting to pay for his Doctor to insult him. You know what it’s like; who else do you visit who requires you to wait for 30 minutes just for the privilege of having him tell you that you need to lose some weight and probably ought to do something about that mole on your face. And we pay him for the insult.
But in all seriousness, I’d rather have the Doctor tell me the truth about my health than lie to me just to protect my feelings. The truth is, I am overweight and need to exercise more and shed a few pounds. If there is a cancerous growth, I want him to tell me, then recommend, though difficult and painful it may be, the best remedy so that I might live a good long life with my family. I want my Doctor to care enough for me to tell me the truth and to make me take the hard medicine that comes with it.
If you think about it, that is the job of the church as well. The priority of the church is to proclaim the gospel, which is the message of the good news of God’s love and forgiveness from sin in our Savior Jesus Christ. As Paul’s letter to Timothy reminds us, Jesus came to save sinners – that was his mission, that is our message. Jesus said to the crowd that stood by in disbelief when Jesus entered the house of Zacchaeus the tax collector, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). All sinners, regardless of the sin, are welcome, invited, to hear the Savior’s bidding, and to find salvation and hope. The blood of Christ washes away sin, defeats sins power over us, and in His Spirit we are given new life to live for the glory of God in holiness and peace. It has been said before, and I wholeheartedly agree, that the church is the hospital for the sin-sick soul, and the gospel is the medicine that has been entrusted to the church.
Yet it seems that for a while now the Church’s medicine cabinet has been closed and locked. The church has begun to tell the world, “You don’t need medicine. You are sick. The sickness is the judgment that made you think you were sick in the first place. What you need is simply reassurance, God loves you just the way you are.” That’s like my Doctor saying, “Your ballooning waste line is nothing to worry about, keeping eating the pizza and drinking the root beer and you’ll be fine. See you next year.”
To get to this point in the church (or at least in my particular denomination, the PC(USA)), there have been three subtle shifts that have taken place. First, there has been a Redefinition of Sin. The old moralistic and puritanical definition of sin as those thoughts and actions that either disobey or neglect God’s word no longer qualify. Instead, in a more enlightened age, sin is now that which brings harm, either interpersonal, environmental, social, or personal. Sin is the oppressive force that subjugates the weak. To that end, the progressive church has also Relocated Righteousness and Salvation. Righteousness and salvation are now less of a personal issue, and are more focused on social righteousness and justice. Salvation is from the oppression of cruel and unjust practices of those in power, and true redemption exists when we learn to live in peace and acceptance of one another. At the heart of these two changes is the most important: a Reimagining of Scripture. Setting aside the teaching of the Authority and Inspiration of Scripture, the church no longer says that it is the Truth, but that it “contains the truth.” No longer do you hear preachers say before reading the Bible, “Hear now the word of the Lord,” but rather something more ambiguous like, “Listen now for a word from the Lord.”
In a desire to be found acceptable by a dying and broken world we have taken away the one thing that the world needed most; the truth of the gospel for salvation from sin. The hospital for the soul is still open, but we’ve stopped treating the patients.
I say this with all confidence: God’s Church, the body of believers in Jesus Christ, will not be diminished by the faults and failings of this assembly we call the church today. Denominations will rise and fall, congregations will come and go, but Christ’s Church is victorious. We must “be vigilant lest while the pious snore the wicked gain ground and do harm to the church” (2nd Helvetic Confession). We must, with renewed compassion and diligence, boldly proclaim the gospel message, that whatever the sin (addiction, sexual sin, pride and self-righteousness) – Christ is the cure. Yes, let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream (Amos 5:24), and at the same time let us confess our sins to one another and pray that we be healed (James 5:16). Let us never forget that wherever the gospel is faithfully proclaimed and humbly heard, God’s true church will flourish and grow in righteousness and grace.
Grace and peace – and truth – be with you!