When the two ladies came in the door with a table full of needles, I knew it was time for me to leave.
I had only been in the hospital room for a few minutes, visiting a church member, when they came in. I’m not a big fan of hospitals and I’m an even smaller fan of shots so I quickly blurted out something that I thought sounded pastoral and would also get me out of the situation.
“Well, I guess I better let these ladies do their job. Is it okay if I pray with you before I leave?”
The man I was visiting responded in the affirmative.
To my surprise, so did the two nurses with the arsenal of needles.
“Hey! Can we pray too?”
Seconds later, the three of us were standing in a semi-circle praying over a sick man from my church. I wasn’t ready for what happened after I finished praying.
“Oh, that was so good. I just love a good prayer. There’s just something about taking our needs to Jesus.”
“Well, lookey there. I’ve got chill bumps.”
“How about that. Me too.”
I thought I would be in my truck by now but instead I found myself watching two nurses comparing chill bumps.
To break up the awkwardness I decided to blurt out something else pastoral. I’m not sure where the word blurt comes from, but whenever I do it, strange things happen.
“Where do y’all go to church?”
The first nurse looked at me like I just asked her to find the square root of the letter G.
The room grew silent, except for the chirping of crickets.
“Uh, let’s see. It starts with an S.”
Tumbleweed blew through.
“There’s actually two of them that I go to. What’s the name of that church?”
While she continued trying to figure out the name of her church that starts with an S, the second lady told me about how she met her husband of 25 years at her church and how it has played a significant role in her life.
The first nurse had now resorted to Google Maps.
“Let’s see, if you go down 19 and 41 and take a right. No, a left…”
More chirping crickets and tumbleweed.
This really bothered me. It bothered me because I think a lot of people, particularly in the southeastern United States, can relate to the first nurse.
They claim to love Jesus.
Sometimes they even get emotional when they pray to Jesus.
And of course they go to church. When they can. Their church starts with an S. Or something like that.
In 1 John 4:11 we are told, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” John wrote this to a community, or communities, of believers so he wasn’t telling us to simply love the idea of love. He was telling us to love one another. This is impossible to do apart from commitment and community. John will go on to write that a failure to love one another is a failure to love God, regardless of what religious tactics we may use to convince ourselves otherwise (1 John 4:12-21).
Joining a local church never saved anyone. Salvation is only by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). There will be plenty of people whose names are on church rolls who will be told by Jesus, “Depart from me. I never knew you.” But although belonging to a church is no real indicator of belonging to Jesus, failure to commit to a local church body can be a good indicator of failure to commit to Jesus. This should frighten those of us who live and work with people who have drank the Kool-Aid of loving Jesus while at the same time ignoring, or perhaps even hating, the very body for which he died.
When it was time for me to leave, that first nurse still didn’t know where she went to church.
I’m sure that the church that starts with an S doesn’t know her.
And sadly, the more I think about it, Jesus probably doesn’t either.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)