The Search for Perfect Church

Church-hopping or even becoming a “non-attender” has become common. I hear many who do this defending their decision by criticizing the imperfections of the church or churches they have tried out.

Perhaps the worship is too dull and unenthusiastic.

Or it is too spirited and alarming.

Are there hypocrites, cliques, or politics going on?

What about sexual sin?

We find a lot of reasons to be critical of church—and there is perhaps an unexamined assumption in our quest for what we might term the “perfect church.”

Let’s see what the Word has to say about all of that.

Worst. Church. Ever.

The church at Corinth was located in the epicenter of the fertility cult of the day. Being a temple prostitute was a common and respected job for both men and women.

So yes, in some of the pagan churches of the day, sex with a “priest” or “priestess” was part of the normal worship.

If you can imagine how perhaps morally jaded someone in Corinth might be, seeing this kind of extreme immorality embraced as “spiritual” or holy—someone who came to a faith in Christ from such a fertility religion would likely have a long journey to reset their moral standards to anything resembling the perfect holiness of the Christ.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthian believers shows that this was indeed an ugly problem—there was a son who had his father’s wife (probably just one of his father’s several wives), people were politically divided in following different preachers, the members were spiritually immature and not growing, people were actually taking each other to court within the church family—surely this awful church was not one anyone should be a part of.

If there was any justification to “church shop” or just abstain from such a messed up group of people—certainly the church at Corinth is one example of a place a true believer should not be a part of.

What did Paul say about these people? How did he classify them as a supposed family of God?

Read this scathing indictment:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Cor. 1:4-9)

Well, well.

Not what we were expecting?

He is thankful for them.

They had been “enriched in” Christ, in “all speech and knowledge.”

The “testimony of Christ was confirmed” in them.

They were “not lacking in any gift.”

They would be sustained “to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

They were in the “fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Worst. Church. Ever.

Notice What Paul Did Not Say

If you read 1 Corinthians, you’ll see that Paul doesn’t hold back anything in calling out the believers at Corinth for the sin that was rife in their church.

Yet, he did not call the faithful, more perfect ones, to “go find a better, more perfect, group to worship with.”

He did not say that the church at Corinth was not a church at all.

Indeed, as mentioned above, he was full of praise and encouragement for them.

I have, at the time of this writing, been a part of a family of believers in my little town for nearly 25-years.

I suppose the typical church shopper or perfect-church seeker might reply, “It’s lucky you found the right church,” implying that I am there because I agree with everything that happens, is taught, and that we have no serious problems.

That is not true.

Many if not most of my brothers and sisters (whom I love dearly) know that I disagree with some of our traditional teachings—and some of those concerns are substantial.

In fact there is one element of traditional teaching there (those who believe it would call it doctrine) that greatly concerns me.

So why am I there, if I disagree strongly on some things being taught and acted upon?

Because Christ died for people like those of us who are members there.

None of us, not one, has a “perfect doctrine” nor the capability to create and sustain a perfect church.

We are saved by Christ, in Christ alone, and he is our only hope.

And in the shelter of the powerful wings of the Most High God, we huddle to each other in the security of the salvation, justification, grace, and mercy our Creator has lavished upon us all.

Since he lavishes such undeserved gifts upon those of us (myself, especially) who make mistakes, who at times are faithless, and sin in big ways—what can we do with the grace lavished upon us but to slosh it out upon each other.

We love each other, because in addition to the perfect gift of salvation he has also given us other imperfect gifts (each other) so that we may share in the mercy and love he shows to us.

We love each other.

We know the score.

Salvation is by grace through faith, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8, 9)

About Boasting…

Think about this carefully then…if Paul looks at the “worst church ever” and sees it as a being the legitimate bride of Christ, how should we view churches that do not meet our standards of worship style, behavior, or hypocrisy?

Is our church-shopping mentality a denial of our salvation by grace through faith, and a re-crucifying of our Lord and Savior? Is not our rejection of fellow believers due to their sinful weakness a form of boasting—one which is surely delusional and selfish?

What are we really saying when we reject becoming a part of the body of Christ because they do not meet our standards—while the Apostle Paul clearly shows that the true bride of Christ is indeed a hospital for the spiritually sick.

Did not Yeshua himself not clearly say that it was the sick who needed a physician?

If you find a perfect church, you have found a group of people who do not need Jesus.

The Character of the Perfect Bride

We who are the bride of Christ should show, then, a gentle humility.

We are beautiful to our husband—but we know that is because he is beautiful in his heart.

We are not so sick in our thinking to believe that we are perfect—we are vulnerable.

We know we need our husband, and he desires our company and love.

Corinth? They had a lot of baggage from a previous relationship to work through. I’m sure at times it was frustrating, confusing, and painful to be in that family.

But the church at Corinth had a husband who abounded in patience, mercy, and grace. He was always ready to put his arms gently around his bride, look at the mess, and say, “That’s some ugly sin, and when you’re ready, we’ll work on that together.”

Paul’s final recorded instructions to the worst church ever were:

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (1 Cor. 13:11-14)

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