Do you attend a perfect Church?
May 18, 2015
You're in a faithful church, but someone complains about this, that, and the other, and so wants to leave. What do you say?
#1 I agree this church isn't perfect...
#2 This is a perfect church, why would you leave a perfect church?
#1 and #2 are possibilities, but my sympathies are with #2. Why?
Based on what the Scriptures teach about the local churches in the New Testament, we need to be realistic that all churches have various problems (Rev. 2-3). The Westminster Confession of Faith rightly draws attention to more or less pure churches (WCF 25.4-5). Yet, even the Corinthian church, with all of its problems, and there were many, was still addressed as "the church of God that is in Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:2).
So, yes, we could focus on the fact that churches throughout the world are beset with problems. But we could also focus on the fact that faithful, biblical churches, where the three marks exist (see also Acts 2:42), are nonetheless perfect churches.
How is this possible?
There are different ways to understand "perfect": the perfection of sincerity; the perfection of parts; comparative perfection; evangelical perfection; legal perfection; high-priestly perfection. What do I mean?
We are the Apple of God's eye (Zech. 2:8), his treasured possession (Ex. 19:5; Mal. 3;17; 1 Pet. 2:9). In Christ, fully justified and accepted before God, we are perfect (legally speaking). And even in our sanctification, there is a type of perfection that exists among God's people who have the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwelling in their hearts (Matt. 5:48; cf. Greek of Phil. 3:15 [teleioi]; also see Francis Turretin, Institutes, 17.2.4 or this post on "perfection" in believers).
Christ gave himself up for the church in order to sanctify her, "having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27). This is a present reality.
When people are disgruntled with their local church, they likely could use a healthy dose of reality from the perspective of God and Christ. If he loves the church, despite her shortcomings, who are we to hate it? Doesn't he know the sins and shortcomings of the church better than we do? And yet he loves the church infinitely more than we can. You can't love Christ but hate his bride. And where the Spirit of Christ dwells among God's people, there Christ dwells as if he were physically present himself. Would you leave a church with Christ physically present?
Christ is the head over the church, but we, his bride, are described as the "fullness of him who fills all in all" (Eph. 1:22-23). Think about that! We are the fullness of the God-man. Without us, Christ is empty. Now if that much is true, and I believe it is, how can faithful, bible-believing churches not be perfect?
We should also keep in mind that sin in the church is necessary for us to deal with our own sins. We're to love all of God's people, warts and all, all the time. Try inviting the most obnoxious person in the church over for lunch. When someone does something stupid or annoying, are you not faced with having to show patience, love, and compassion (Gal. 5:22)?
We could also apply this to faithful pastors in churches. Indeed, they are sinners who make mistakes. But they are sinners whom God has given to your church. These pastors feed God's sheep by faithfully preaching a perfect Saviour. You might do well to remember that if God has given you a faithful pastor, he is the perfect pastor for you. Indeed, his weaknesses can actually be a benefit to you (see 2 Corinthians). And let's face it, with all of the charlatans out there masquerading as preachers, when in fact they are thieves and robbers, it isn't too out of place to say you have the perfect pastor if he does what Paul commands Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16.
People who are looking for the perfect church are sometimes told that if they find it the church will no longer be perfect because they (a sinner) are now there. But maybe they need to be told, when they're feeling grumpy, unwanted, unloved, under-appreciated, etc., that they are in the perfect church because, after all, it doesn't matter so much what they think, but what Christ thinks.
And maybe, just maybe, if we started to look at our church more from the perspective of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we might be less ready to criticize a place that is actually perfect for us.
At bottom, my natural inclination and temptation is to focus on #1 (i.e., the problems and sins of the church). But I need to focus on #2 otherwise I'd get depressed, give up, and constantly complain. Do you attend a perfect church? I hope so.