Debunking The Myth of the Perfect Church

By CCD Contributor: John Li, July 08, 2017 03:07 AM

Chapel(China Christian Daily)

Every Christian has the wonderful notion that church is perfect, but it is horribly wrong.

Book Review: Struggling to Belong -- Chinese Edition.

Simon Jones, author of Struggling to Belong-What is The Church for Anyway, states in the opening chapter of the book that there is neither a perfect church in the world nor a blameless believer. He says honestly that the church is not complete and it cannot give peace to people; on the contrary, it brings people pain and trouble.

Many people are looking for or anticipating a "perfect church." If we do not realize the crisis behind it, we may end up leaving the church because we criticize each other. This article will examine the lie of a perfect church in three ways in order to set up proper views on the church.

First, even the early church had problems.

In all the teachings of ecclesiology, the early church has become the model. According to Acts 2: 42-47, there are at least four things we should learn from the early church: they had the teachings of the apostles, a fellowship of love, joyful worship, and the interaction of the gospel.

However, had the church of Jerusalem always been that way? No. There was also racial discrimination, (gentile believers were not accepted according to Galatians 2:11-14), conflicts and quarrels (Acts 6:1), and deception in making offerings (Acts 5:1-11), and Paul and Barnabas even parted company because of their different opinions (Acts 15:36-41).

If the church in the Bible was perfect we could boldly declare that the Bible is lying given the imperfect conditions of the early and modern church. The church we have seen is a seriously wounded church. However, the Bible has never said that the church is perfect.

A comprehensive and accurate understanding of the church does not push us away from the church, but rather draws the church closer to Christ. Even the most healthy early church was in the process of growing. We should not regard the church as in a static perfect condition, but as in a growing and learning process with the goal of being like Christ.

Second, the church members were not perfect.

The church is not perfect because it's made up of imperfect believers. For example, in the early church most of the followers of Christ were uneducated fishermen, women, tax collectors hated by the society, and zealots who detested the conditions of the society. When these people entered into the church they would bring many problems with them.

The fact that the church needs a very clear and concrete system with extrinsic demands on the outside to restrain people's hearts indicates the true condition of man's heart; that is, humans are imperfect and need supervision. The reason why many sins and problems are exposed in the church is that Christ is the head of the church and the source of light.

The Bible has never promised that after a Christian repents of his sins he will experience complete change of life into a holy man. After Christians are justified, they need to walk the long, even lifelong, path of sanctification. Christ teaches us that in our hearts there are the power of the flesh and the power of the Holy Spirit. The flesh does not refer to the body, but to all the evil thoughts and habits that are enemies against the goodness of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, look at the real situation of the church.

Since the church is so imperfect, why must Christians join the church? All the people must first be clear about this: Christians join the church not because of the perfect church but the perfect Christ. Though the church is not perfect, it is growing more and more so. Similarly, though the early church revealed many problems, it kept solving them. The church is not perfect but it is growing toward perfection, the image of Christ.

Secondly, this imperfect church is also a place for life to grow. The church is indeed imperfect, but in this imperfect church we are more able to learn to love each other. The fact that the church is not perfect reminds us that man is sinful and needs the grace and salvation of Christ.

As long as people have experienced church life, they have found parts of the church or really serious problems they did not like. Believers need to integrate themselves into church life with a more objective understanding of the church instead of holding on to the tempting hope of a perfect church which causes them not to accept the church nor themselves. When they understand the true condition of the church from the Bible and experience, they need to open their arms wide to accept and care for the believers in the church instead of cruelly blaming them.

-Translated by Alvin Zhou 

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