“There is no perfect church. If there is a perfect church, it stopped being perfect the moment you and I walked in”
– Idris Elba, “The Gospel”
The church gets a lot of flack; and rightfully so. A people – and not just a place – that Jesus gave His life for and sent His Holy Spirit to build up to glorify Him in the earth is often known for doing the exact opposite. Churches are run amuck with sin. From the pulpit all the the way down to the youngest congregant there isn’t a soul who darkens that doors of any place of worship that brings with them a sinless heart.
And that includes you and me.
So often when I see critiques in the church from other Christians, I don’t disagree with them but I do wonder where the person critiquing fits in the story. It’s not that their critiques aren’t correct; they are just incomplete. Admonishment and correction towards the church is always pointed outward instead of inwards. What’s wrong with the church is almost always them, and never us.
Now I’m not saying every single member is responsible for every single sin that happens in the church. If your pastor is caught in adultery, that’s not your fault. If the deacons are stealing from the collection plate, that’s also not your fault. If your church has decided to take a theological incorrect stand on a solid biblical issue, that, too, isn’t your fault.
So I’m not lumping every sin done in the sanctuary on us. But I’m asking if when we ask ourselves what’s wrong with the church, do we put ourselves into the selection of possible variables? I think a lot of us are looking for a perfect church and don’t realize that any church ceases to be perfect the minute you and me arrive. In fact, if you think you have found a perfect church you’re either in for a harsh awakening or you should leave before you mess everything up.
1 John 1:8 says that anyone who says they have no sin in them is liar. John here is writing to Christians who have professed Jesus as their Lord and Savior; those who have been justified in Christ are still in desperate need of sanctification, the process by which the Holy Spirit makes us more and more into the image of Christ. And where does this process of sanctification happen? In church pews. In staff meetings. In choir rehearsal. At the church picnic. During worship. At small group meetings. Before and after service.
Sanctification, the process where sin is dealt with in real time, happens in the church.
That is why the church is so messy. That’s why it is such a hotbed for scandal, drama, and trauma. Because church is nothing more than a bunch of sinful, stinky, messed up people coming together asking God to make them better, to restore them, to make them more like Jesus. Church is for the screwed up. Church is for the sinner. Church is for the one who will mess everything up, often .
Now, the fact that sinner darken church doors weekly doesn’t excuse the sin. We call sin out. We protect the flock from wolves. The Holy Spirit purifies the church of Jesus. The Savior protects His bride. We exercise discipline, we call our siblings to repentance, and we remove them from the body if need be. We do not allow sin to run unchecked; but we are not shocked when it happens. We do not excuse church hurt, on any level from anyone; but we shouldn’t be caught off guard if it happens. We leave that body if we need to, but we do not leave the Body forever.
The thing about critiquing the church without including ourselves is that it shows we do not see ourselves rightly. No, we may not be directly affecting the current state of church affairs, but we all bring our own baggage that our brothers and sisters in the body will have to sort out with us. We bring our own set of problems that, although might not elevate to public acknowledgement, still require addressing and correcting. We must never forget that our sin put Christ on the cross. Your sin and my sin.
And our sin affects the church. But God, in His infinite grace, mercy, and wisdom, did not leave as sinful orphans left to fend for themselves. He has sent us His Holy Spirit, who is shaping, pruning, and purifying every faithful body around the world, even in ways we cannot see. God sees the corruption. He sees the scandals and the crimes. He sees, hears and knows the hurting and the pain. He is not blind to the tears we cry over church hurt. He is not deaf to our pleas for reconciliation. He is not oblivious to how far from the plan our church might be. And yet, even still, He commands us to be in His body; to bring our tired and poor selves every week to other tired and poor selves.
We are the problem with the church. And we always will be until Jesus comes back. No matter what church you attend, no matter what body you choose to fellowship with, you and everyone else around brings a plethora of issues that, if left unchecked by the power of the Spirit, will ruin the very building and body we call our home. The church is the place where Jesus has sent His Spirit to grow us as believers. And He did that knowing full well how messy, not they, but we are.