The Perfect Imperfect Church

From Scripture we learn that most of the early churches that the Apostle Paul and the writer of the book of Revelation, John, encountered had issues. Rich Corinthians were gluttonous, allowed their worship of God to become experiences of confusion, and made leadership a popularity contest. Most of the seven churches of Revelation that John wrote letters to had the word “nevertheless” inserted halfway through his message to them, and what followed that word was not complimentary.

The church has always been an institution comprised of imperfect people. That shouldn’t surprise us. Paul stated it clearly in his letter to the church in Rome that “all of us fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)We have been offered salvation by the grace of God through Jesus. As Paul said to the believers in Ephesus, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

In essence, as the church we are who we are, trying to be reflections of Christ but knowing that we will have times of failure, falling short, in our pursuit of that. Thus, the quandary! We strive to be like the One who had no sin and was perfect, but have a hard time admitting that we are imperfect. Not that we condone our indiscretions, but rather we pretend they aren’t a part of who we are.

Too often, the church, a fellowship of the fallen, shoots its wounded instead of restoring the injured. Instead of treating the broken, the church has a habit of making the imperfect the scapegoat sent out from the flock to roam, weep, and wonder if it is possible that God can forgive him, since the church doesn’t seem to be able to.

That might sound harsh, and it is, but it’s also what so many followers of Jesus have experienced. They’re like the students who have been cast out of the classroom and sent to the principal’s office where the other castoffs are huddled.

Repentance and confession have always arisen in the midst of a spiritual awakening, but confession is hard to do in the midst of a church that feels it has nothing to confess, or, maybe more precisely, is afraid to confess. Being able to live out the motto, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner”, is too hazy for many Christians. Because of Jesus, we live under Grace but we find ourselves operating out of the Law. Jesus is our Standard, and yet we have unwritten but strictly adhered to standards.

Many years ago, a good friend of mine began attending a church where he was warmly welcomed, conversed with, and made to feel a part of. Feeling accepted, one Sunday he opened up to the small group he was a part of about the struggles of his past. Almost immediately, he felt that someone had turned down the group’s thermostat. It became as cold as the North Pole. His vulnerability had been greeted with social shivering and icy looks. He decided he would go to a different church and be upfront with whoever talked to him about the troubles of his past and the hope that walking with Jesus had brought to his life. Thank God that the one middle-aged lady who talked to him at the end of the worship service responded to his confession of who he was and where his life had been with the words, “Well, I’m glad you’e here and I hope to see you again next week.” Her words were like ointment on a burn. If she would have shied away from him after he had spewed on her, he may never had become a part of any church of his life. But she didn’t. She lived out Jesus to him that day and almost 30 years later, he continues to live out the hope of Christ.

That story gives me hope about what the fellowship of the fallen can be: an imperfect church that holds on tightly to the robe of the perfect Christ.

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