The question still resounds in my mind; and resonates in my heart. An wise old pastor approached the table where I was lunching with my father-in-law and my pastor on the day I was to be examined for my ordination. He sat easily in an open chair with a friendly grin and forewarned me that he was going to ask a couple questions of me later that day during my examination. Among the questions he was planning to ask was this: Do you see yourself, as a pastor, more like a policeman or a physician?
That is a stunningly simple question with profoundly different implications, depending upon how one answers.
The one who views himself as more the policeman is constantly on the lookout for violations of the law and/or of the peace. Once transgressions are witnessed – or sometimes even merely speculated – the policeman-pastor jumps into action, levying warnings and pressing charges. The motive is easily understood. God is holy and will not tolerate sin. God calls for his people to “be Holy even as God is Holy”. And someone has to keep order and direct traffic. And if not the pastor (and Elders) who else will do this necessary thankless task?
The one who views himself more like the physician, on the other hand, also keeps an eye out for evidence of violations. But rather than assuming any ability to sheriff the church (much less the world) the physician-pastor is motivated by compassion. The physician pastor knows sin abounds in all of us and that it is a condition that kills. he understands that this condition is so pervasive that even if he could squelch all or most of the active expressions of sin that it would still do only cosmetic good. People would look better, and the world would certainly seem a better place to live, but the condition that is rooted in the heart would still wreak it’s devastating effect upon humanity. He realizes that in many ways the cleaned up life may be more dangerous than the life left exposed. At least when there is evidence of sin people are concerned. But in an artificially sanitized society – or church – people assume all is clear; everything is OK. Few if any are willing to listen to the warning bells that informed physicians sound. The hope of the physician is that people aware of their condition, and it’s terminal nature, will seek out the remedy; the remedy he is commissioned to prescribe frequently and widely – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The physician-pastor understands that this prescription has multiple effects. And he reminds his patients that this remedy works from the inside out. The first effect is that when initially ingested by faith that the terminal threat is immediately voided. No longer will the effects of sin lead to death, physically or spiritually. One dose is all it takes. But he also realizes that the condition of sin, while no longer lethal, has already caused much damage to the individual – some known, much unseen. Left unchecked the lingering effects of sin will continue to cause tremendous damage to infected individuals, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. So even while the initial dose effectively terminated the terminal effect of sin, everyone who has been exposed is prescribed to regularly take ongoing dosages to combat and reverse the effects of sin that remaining cancerous traces.