The vicar of Otley Parish Church in West Yorkshire, Patrick Ashe, put up a sign saying; “This church is for sinners only.”
Much controversy ensued; One church going lady told a newspaper “I think it casts a nasty reflection on those who attend church now”. A local shopkeeper based opposite the sign said he was “surprised and shocked” by the notice. Another member of the congregation was so put out he went to see the vicar and complained that he didn’t think of himself as a sinner!
But you know that old vicar, all those years ago, had clearly been reading his Bible!
Early in his public life, Jesus provoked controversy by drawing the most unlikely of people to Himself and saying; “Those who are well have no need of a Doctor, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17). If we think that we don’t need help (we live ‘decent lives’ after all), if we think we have no need of someone to forgive us – there’s not much Jesus can do for us. But if we realise that we do have a spiritual illness because we have failed God and failed others, Doctor Jesus has come for the likes of us.
Jesus calls “sinners” of all kinds, obvious sinners and more “respectable” sinners – so that the invitation is; “Come as you are, but don’t stay that way. Come as you are, but be transformed by Jesus.”
As that vicar from Otley told a journalist, back in his day – he expected his sign to help church members “…be able to tackle the mistaken idea – which is terribly prevalent – that being a Christian depends on the degree of goodness we attain…” And “people who don’t attend church regularly should realise that people inside the church do not consider themselves better than others.”
He went on “People suffering from a sense of sinfulness should feel they can come to church and be among people who will understand, and welcome them as fellow sufferers who have found forgiveness and release”. Jesus said – Those who are well have no need of a Doctor, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”