I have no idea what the personal spiritual persuasion of Dear Abby was, but of this one fact I am sure--she wasn't an Adventist.
Yet I have heard her personal view of what the church should be quoted in both SDA print and pulpit: “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” Dear Abby meant a place for those morally sick, not physically.
One could make an argument for such a position, that the church is a place where sick people and sinners go to await the 2nd Coming or the First Resurrection with a bit of confidence. Searching through Ellen White I did find this comment from her:
“In the church militant men will be ever in need of restoration from the results of sin” (In Heavenly Places, p. 290).
So there it is, Dear Abby’s wisdom confirmed by Ellen White. But, alas, this would be nothing more than a faux pas of faith. The same paragraph quoted above goes on to read:
“The one who in some respects is superior to another is in other respects inferior to him. Every human being is subject to temptation and in need of brotherly interest and sympathy. The exercise of mercy in our daily relations with one another is one of the most effective means of attaining perfection of character, for only those who walk with Christ can be truly merciful” (Heavenly Places, 290.5).
You see the intent of this paragraph, don’t you? It is not perpetual sickness.
Seeking information on the topic of the Church Militant, I began to look at the contrast between what I was finding and with the church being a type of hospital for sinners as envisioned by Dear Abby—who may have needed a church like that. There is another picture of the Church of Christ. What I came to see–looking up quotes about the Church Militant–was each member arrayed in armor going out to battle. These soldiers in the Lord’s army are not limping on crutches with arms in slings or patches over an eye. But, they are young Davids in the flush of manhood going out to meet Goliath with weapon in hand and eager for the kill. You didn’t miss that in David’s attitude, did you? He was eager to destroy the Lord’s enemy, and that David was a shadow of things to come.
David has long gone to his rest and is sleeping in the grave as Peter tells us in Acts 2:29. But David does live on as a type of something wonderful and full of power, going forth to vanquish the enemies of the Lord. This side of the gospel is not emphasized very much but nevertheless, it is part of the gospel, too. Look at this picture of the church given to us by Ellen White:
“Christ is our Leader. He presents before his soldiers the plan of the battle. He points out the imminent peril of the conflict, and enjoins everyone to count the cost. As he shows us the preparation that we must make for the battle, he assures us that we shall have divine assistance. In our human weakness, we shall be enabled to do the deeds of omnipotence (RH, April 12, 1906 par. 13).
“Christ takes his soldiers to an eminence, and shows them the vast confederacy arrayed against them. He reminds them that they are not warring against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. He reminds them that they are fighting for eternal life. The heavenly universe are marshaled for the conflict, with Christ, the Commander of the forces of heaven, at their head. Infirmities compass humanity, but in the strength that Christ gives, we may be more than conquerors. "Be of good cheer," he declares; "I have overcome the world" (RH, April 12, 1906 par. 14).
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (RH, April 12, 1906 par. 15).
This is no hospital-church pictured here. This reflects the glorious picture of an army-church prepared for war as described in Song of Songs 6:10, 4b:
“Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?.... terrible as an army with banners.”
Again, the glorious picture of the church triumphant is presented in Isaiah 60: 1: “Arise, shine, for thy light has come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.” I know this applies to Christ’s church militant because that is how Ellen White uses the term in Evangelism, p. 707. And it can only apply to the Church as it applies to individual Church members, victorious over sin, standing in the armor of God prepared for the battle of the ages.
And Jesus Himself, in terms both simple and terrible declared in Matthew 21:42-44:
“Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.”
If you follow Jesus’ words carefully, they were addressed to a “hospital for sinners” church. That church was rejected. Crushed. Just like Goliath. Thus we see the application of Daniel 2, the other stone in the Bible, that falls on the wicked, establishing a kingdom that will never pass away. This kingdom has no hospitals either.
In Revelation 19: 11-21 we have this picture of the Warrior Christ going out to war. Read it carefully:
And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.
And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.
And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone [literal, not symbolic]. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.”
We ask, “And who is the object of this war? Who is going to be made a feast for birds?”
That question may be for another article. For now, I would like to be in the warrior church, the Church Militant, ready to stand and battle for the cause of Christ. I want be an overcomer and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”
Can you imagine the other question Jesus could ask? “How long have you languished in this condition? 10, 20, 30 years or more? Why didn’t you get up off your sick bed and walk? "Cast this one out into eternal darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
I believe it is time for men and women who have been languishing in the sick hospital church to rise up off their sick beds and join the church militant. In faith, they are part of the army with banners going forth to conquer—their light shining forth to blind the enemy. I think it is time for pastors to call people to holiness, not to continued sickness. It is a time for war, a time for warriors. Let the banners be unfurled. It is time to march forward. What a time is this!
Before responding to this article I recommend you read the last chapter of Prophets and Kings, Chapter 60, pp. 722- 733 titled “Visions of Future Glory.” Read and resolve to be part of that glorious Church Militant. Amen.
By Douglas Carlson, retired SDA pastor, Michigan Conference