Why there is no perfect church (yet)

findingSometimes we are surprised when we find sin in the church. We are shocked and disappointed. I am often comforted by what Bishop Frank Retief once told me, “Where there are sinners, there you will find sin.” These are wise words! Some Christians are forever searching for the “perfect”, sinless, pure church and end up wandering from church to church in their never-ending quest.

Paul’s greeting to the Corinthian church may be very encouraging to us. The Corinthian church was a community of Christians where there was sin; there were factions and disagreements; some were taking each other to court; and some where living in sexual immorality. Yet Paul addressed them as “the church of God in Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2). Despite all their failures and wrinkles they were still the church of God. We see in 1 Corinthians 1:9 that it’s because of God’s faithfulness, not theirs.

Arthur W. Pink

In this fallen world of ours we will never find a faultless, pure church. There will always be sin, issues, miscommunication and misunderstandings. Recently I was reminded of the life of Arthur W. Pink. He was a very influential Christian writer who wrote massively significant books especially on the topic of the sovereignty of God. Yet he had a big shortcoming. He was never part of a church. He would visit a church and then leave because he found something wrong with their practise or theology. He could not find one church that he thought was godly enough, biblical enough, or pure enough.

One writer says of Pink, “He laboured faithfully for his remaining twelve years of life, writing and producing the periodical while he lived in virtual isolation, not even attending a local church. He justified this behaviour by explaining that the admonition not to neglect the assembling of ourselves together does not mean that the sheep of Christ should attend a place where the goats predominate or where their attendance would sanction that which is dishonouring to Christ.”

When it’s right to leave

You may have friends like that who always seem to find convenient excuses for leaving churches. I would agree that it is right to leave a church that denies the authority of the Bible; ceases to teach the Bible; or rejects the central doctrines of the Bible. The Corinthian church had done none of the above – although some were in danger of doing so. Despite the fallenness of the Corinthian church God still addressed them as the church of God.

The perfect church

You might be looking for a perfect church. You’ll never find it. And if you do find it, it will no longer be perfect because you’re there. Someone jokingly once said: “I think we can conclude that there really are only two people in the world who are truly orthodox: You and me, even so, I’m not so sure about you.” Please don’t understand me to say that we should condone sin and wrong theology – no, we should we be troubled and not take it lightly.  Paul was very concerned about sin in the church – Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to point out wrong behaviour – and doctrine – Paul wrote 1 Corinthians also to point out wrong theology. However, we should not expect or demand a perfect church. In this world, sin will always be a reality. What we should demand from our church is not perfection, but progression. They and we should be progressing in our understanding of the Bible (theology/ doctrine) and in our godliness.

The true church

A true church is marked by God’s people gathering to hear Christ’s word, receiving the sacraments and falling under the pastoral oversight of the church leaders (as was the case in Corinth).