God's Medicine Bag
November 29, 2017
by Drew McIntyre
The church is more than we usually make of it. The church is not merely a house of worship, a social outlet, a service agency, or a repository of age-level programs. Instead, she is a vessel of God's own design, the Bride of Christ, whose unique calling and giftedness is to the do the work of God in the world. What this means, in short, is that the church is in the redemption business.
I was struck by an image in David Watson's recent book Scripture and the Life of God. Watson, Academic Dean and Professor at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, put it this way:
"God is a great physician, we are the patients, and God's medicine bag is the church. Within the church, we hold the delicate instruments by which God heals our wounds, our sin, our brokenness. The faith passed down through the centuries, our practices of worship, our common prayers and confessions of faith, and yes, the Bible, are means by which God applies the medicine of the Holy Spirit. Yet if we neglect the medicine of the Holy Spirit or use the gifts of the Spirit wrongly, we deprive ourselves and others of the surest means of receiving the healing balm of divine grace. It matters, then, howe we pray. The faith we confess matters. The way in which we receive Holy Communion makes a difference. And most assuredly, the way that we read Scripture matters as well. The attitudes we assume, our practices of reading, the assumptions we bring to the text, and our expectations of God's work through the Bible will come to bear on our spiritual well-being."
One reason I am a United Methodist by ordination and a Wesleyan by conviction is precisely this emphasis on God's grace as a healing, transforming power in our lives. At our best, Christians in the way of the Wesleys celebrate that God does not merely forgive sin, but heals us from it to the uttermost. God is not so much a judge who condemns but a physician who restores health that has been lost.
Sin, for Wesley, means chiefly the loss of the divine image in which we were made; the new birth begins a reclamation project by which we are gradually made whole and holy. In his sermon "The Way to the Kingdom," Wesley describes holiness as a return to God's "glorious love, and the glorious image wherein thou wast created," through a process, (following St. Paul) by which we are "changed into the same image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord."
This happens through the church, "God's medicine bag," applying the salve of divine grace through all the various tools she has at her disposal (also known as the means of grace). This is why the church is not merely a usesful add-on to a solo spiritual journey. It is not chiefly an institutional reality but a spiritual hospital. The fidelity, unity, and vitality of the church at every level matters because God has deigned to work through the Body of Christ for the healing and restoration of people, communities, and ultimately the world.
Thus we celebrate, with Charles Wesley and Methodists of every age and place, the glorious fullness of redemption that is ours in Christ:
Finish, then, thy new creation;
pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation
perfectly restored in thee;
changed from glory into glory,
till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee,
lost in wonder, love, and praise.
This is why God's medicine bag, the church, is worth our time, our tears, our energy, and our love. There is a balm in Gilead, and it's been entrusted to us.
Drew McIntyre is the pastor of Grace UMC in Greensboro, NC
Source: David Watson, Scripture and the Life of God (Franklin: Seedbed Publishing 2017), p. 9.