Church as a Spiritual Hospital

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After we visit our local hospital or doctor for a particular ailment (see Part One in this series on the Great Physician), we can sometimes be completely healed of the problem. We can get a new start. But we also discuss with the doctor or nurse about a plan so our new health will continue to flourish. This is called compliance:

“Accepting life-saving treatment. The extent to which a person’s behavior coincides with medical advice. Adaptation or adherence to medical advice.” (d3jonline.tripod.com)

On the other hand, we can undermine our new-found health. In medical terms, this is called non-compliance.

“It is estimated that 125,000 people with treatable ailments die each year simply because they do not take prescribed medications properly or they skip them altogether.” (“Why You Need To Follow Doctor’s Orders,” health.heraldtribune.com)

“Most patients believe…that the less medicine they take the less sick they are. That is precisely why although we know than penicillin will cure a strep throat in 7 days we prescribe a 10 day course of the antibiotic. Many patients will stop as soon as they feel better.” (“Medicine: Facts and Fictions at ghthomas.blogspot.com)

“We eat foods that kill us, we don't stick to our exercise regimens, and we don't follow our doctors' orders, even when we remember what they tell us. If you ask people whether it's smart to get a colonoscopy if the doctor says you need one, no one's going to say no… but no one wakes up and says, 'Yes, today is a good day for a colonoscopy.'" (“Mind Your Body: Doctor’s Orders – Without Distress.” www.psychologytoday.com)

Preventative medicine and follow-up plans trip a lot of people up. Those in the health profession agree: non-compliance is a huge problem. Why?

Because it’s hard!

The doctor gave a blueprint for ongoing health – and for whatever reasons, we just have a hard time following it. “I’m not that sick…My doctor doesn’t understand…it’s so complicated…” So we get more sick when we could be flourishing.

The Apostle Paul had a plan to help us be compliant once we have been spiritually healed by the Great Physician. By "compliant" I don’t mean non-thinking robots who legalistically follow and judge, and I don’t mean that we can save ourselves in the sense that only Christ can. Christ has a plan for how we can spiritually flourish while we are under His care. In Ephesians 4, Paul explains how the church has been put together in such a way that we can all join together to experience the fullness of life in Christ.

And [God] has given us apostles (founding messengers), prophets (forth-tellers), evangelists (those who tells the good news by vocation), pastors (shepherds who care, feed, and protect) and teachers (instructors of Scripture)….

We spend a lot of time talking about whether or not we fit into any of those categories, but we don’t always connect that phrase to the rest of the paragraph. There is a REASON God has given all these things:

"To equip the saints for the work of ministry , and to build up the body of Christ."

Not only is there a REASON, there is a GOAL, a target:

“Until we all attain to: unity because of our faith, knowledge of the Son of God (experiential knowledge), maturity (a spiritual process involving intelligence and virtue), and stature (being filled up with the presence of Christ when we are ready)."

And then we read the RESULT - the expected outcome is if we follow the doctor’s plan for health:

"We will no longer be immature and simple, tossed around by the waves and carried away by every new teaching, deceitful people, or clever lies that sound like the truth. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we will be put together one piece at a time as we become more and more like Christ, the head of the church."

This sounds like a great plan for ongoing health and life. Is there a practical way to understand how this can be accomplished?

1) Biblical Teaching (sound doctrine)

“The Mayo Clinic found that over half of patients couldn’t list their diagnoses, treatment plan, or prescribed medications and their common side effects… Physicians need to communicate well… so what they’re saying makes sense to the patient in every respect.” (“Compliance Follows Alliance,” www.cpso.on.ca)

One of the goals of a church is to help people understand the spiritual diagnosis, the treatment plan, and the expected results – as well as learn how to communicate well on behalf of the Great Physician. He has given us his Spirit, his manual (the Bible), and a great hospital staff (the congregation). But understanding the manual is not always easy, and we all need sound knowledge and wisdom to go with a heart for the hurting. So churches can help to provide ongoing "compliance" techniques by:

  • Preaching accurately 
  • Offering classes on theology, apologetics, and the Christian life
  • Choosing songs that accurately capture the truth and wonder of God
  • Studying books from other Christians who have something important to say about the Doctor.

Are people or churches perfect? Nope. That’s impossible. But we can do our best to be accountable to God and to each other as we continually grow in our ability to present the Gospel in its fullness. Philippians 1:9-10 notes:

"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more (a love that has scope and power) in knowledge (precise and correct) and depth of insight (moral discernment), so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure (sifted; free of hypocrisy) and blameless (not offensive) until the day of Christ…”

2) Godly Relationships

"A physician friend and I often speak about the difficulty she and her colleagues have getting patients to do what’s recommended, or change the healthy or unhealthy behaviors they need to address in order to improve chronic and temporary health conditions. She’s come up with her own hypothetical solution. If only she could get all of the friends and family of her patients in a room to support her advice—she’d have better compliance and healthier patients. She’s seen it over and over again as a physician practicing with all ages of patients. She’s seen the epiphany and the behavior change occur not when she’s repeated information for the umpteenth time, but only when her advice is corroborated and supported by a spouse, a sibling, a close friend, a trusted neighbor.” (a paraphrase from “Following Doctor’s Orders: Behavior Change in 82-year-olds.” Behavior Change.net.)

I give this analogy not because Christ in insufficient to change lives, but because there is something to be said for the support of others. There was more than one disciple who followed Jesus. There are many observations in Scripture about the importance of friends:

  • “Where there is no guidance, people fall; but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14)
  • “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor…” (Proverbs 12:26)
  • “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
  • “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

3) Lifelong Perspective

"I tell patients that treating them is more like a marathon than a sprint. It matters a little less to me what happens today, tomorrow or next week, and much more to me what happens over the next 10 years…” (“Why You Need To Follow Doctor’s Orders,” health.heraldtribune.com)

The analogy here breaks down a bit – it does matter what you do today if we are talking about spiritual health. But the overall point is solid. The Apostle Paul wrote:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Following Jesus is not something we do just in the moment. It’s a journey. There will be ups and downs. One reason the church must stress Biblical teaching and relationships is because we know that as in any long race we will be injured, or distracted, or tempted to drop out. Through the presence of the Christ in our lives, the foundation of Scripture and the support of godly friends, we can all finish the race and keep the faith.

And that's just what the Doctor ordered.