Church is a Hospital for Sinners

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Church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints. All are welcome. Some of the greatest saints in church history were great sinners. If sinners cannot come to church, where can they go to be spiritually healed? Jail is not a solution. Therapy does not absolve sins or teach about God’s love. Without church, sinners are lost.

Some say that they do not go to church because church is full of hypocrites. This may be so. Since hypocrisy is a sin, hypocrites are also welcome to come to church.

Jesus said over and over again that he had come on Earth to call sinners and not the “just.” Everyone he came in contact with was a sinner in some way or another. His closest friends, the twelve apostles, were all flawed in some way. Even when they were constantly in his presence, they still failed to live up to the ideals he taught. They are ideals, something to strive for.

Jesus never punished or shunned anyone for failure to live up to those ideals. Jesus deliberately chose to interact and eat with known sinners, the most despised of his society. Whether they were tax collectors who cheated people out of more money than was required, or prostitutes or Pharisees, he welcomed them all. Did they have a bad temper? Did they cheat and steal? No matter, they were welcome to come into Jesus presence, hear his word and be healed.

Jesus was able to read people’s hearts, but Jesus’ spiritual descendants do not have that gift. Some Christians avoid, reject or put down people whose sins are known and even forbid them access to church. Are the people whose sins are known to be denied the chance to change? Spiritual smugness (like the Pharisees’) on the part of church congregations is not pleasing to God. It is a form of pride leading to judgmentalism.

Many famous or admirable people are secret sinners.  Since their sins are not public knowledge, they are assumed to be perfect. How shocked people are when the famous are found out!

Most organized groups, including churches, have rules and regulations for their members to abide by or be excommunicated.  Every organization has the right to set its own rules for the behavior of its members. These rules, however, are man-made. They are commonly a product of the culture, the times or even the whim of a leader, but may not reflect the precepts of Jesus. Sometimes the rules for excommunication are for infractions such as playing cards or dancing. Excommunication can be invoked for committing adultery, abortion or preaching heresy. Was this really Jesus’ message?

Excommunication is the attempt to keep church communities morally pure and free from contamination. Church congregations, however, tend to forget the lessons taught in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35). Everyone remembers the part of the parable about the merciful master who forgave the servant his debt. What churches seem to ignore is the severe punishment meted out by the master when he found that the servant he forgave did not in turn forgive another servant for a similar but smaller debt. The unmerciful servant did not follow the master’s example. The parable teaches that to receive the mercy from God, one must be merciful first.

Jesus had a unique way of looking at things that is in opposition to secular thought. When the elders (John 8:1-11) brought a woman to him who had been caught in the act of adultery, they asked him what they should do with her. (The punishment for adultery was death by stoning.) What did he do? He doodled in the dirt, apparently deciding what to say to these judgmental, upright citizens. Then he said, “The one who is without sin shall cast the first stone.” And one by one, in apparent embarrassment, they all crept away. Jesus said to the woman when all the decent citizens had crawled away:  “Go and sin no more.”  In other words, he was saying to her, “I do not judge you, only God judges you. Try again. Try to do better.”

Jesus sat and talked to the Samaritan woman known as an adulteress “with many ‘husbands’” (John 4:1-26). She was ostracized by the other women of the village and had to fetch water at noon, whereas the other women went in the morning. Yet Jesus chose to reveal to her that he was the Messiah. Jesus frequently chose people who are considered great sinners to do his work.

Jesus preached and acted on the principle of loving acceptance. He never turned away from anyone, no matter their failings. How can his followers do less?

If Jesus gave the example of accepting everyone, no matter how public their sins, what Christian can disagree with Him? Jesus commanded his followers (Luke 15:1-7) to “leave the flock” and seek out the lost sheep. He did not say, “Oh, let that one go. He has a black spot everyone can see. Let’s just keep the flock uncontaminated by letting only the ones with a pure white coat stay in.”  Imagine Jesus saying something like that!

Jesus commanded his disciples to forgive each other, not just seven times, as Peter suggested, but seven times seventy times (Matthew 18:21-22). Forgiveness is a central core of Jesus teachings. He himself forgave everyone. The obvious message is “Don’t judge.  Leave that to God.”

So making judgments as to who is “worthy” to attend church is simply absurd.

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