I have been writing about the church quite a bit lately and in doing so I find that it has created an internal tension. There is tension in saying that the church is made up of the individual people but then writing in a theoretical way that seems to view the church as an organization rather than as real people. Yes it is both things...sort of. But it becomes easy to speak of the church in an idealized way. I have spoken about how a church should be and let's face it–no church will ever live up to that perfect standard. And this isn't due to the nature of the church. It isn't due to an inherent problem with the church. At least is isn't from an organizational or structural standpoint. Rather the church is an inherently flawed organization because the individual people that make up the church are inherently flawed.
And that fact cannot be lost whenever we engage in any discussion of the church.
Every church that I have ever been involved in has been filled with people that are selfish, hypocritical, liars, hypocritical, divisive, hypocritical, thieves, hypocritical, sexually impure, hypocritical, angry, hypocritical, calous, hypocritical, decietful, hypocritical, self-righteous and hypocritical. Did I mention that the church is filled with hypocrites?
And the good news is that there is always room for one more hypocrite.
We are all sinners. We all have flaws. And while the idealized church should be perfect it won't ever be that way in this life. A good church is not a perfect church. A good church is an imperfect church that knows that it is imperfect and still tries to love one another anyway. Paul wrote a couple of letters to the very imperfect church at Corinth. You could make quite the laundry list from those two letters regarding all of the things that the Corinthians did wrong. But Paul said something very interesting in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11:
"Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure-not to put it too severely-to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs."
Paul wrote the Corinthians and asked them to forgive someone that had repented of his sins. Churches have been filled with imperfect people from the very beginning. They have also been called to forgive those imperfections as well. Yes, every church I have ever been involved with has been filled with all kinds of unsavory and hypocritical characters. And fortunately every church I have ever been involved with has also been forgiving of me for being one of those unsavory and hypocritical characters.
And because the hypocritical church has love me–a hypocrite–is why I love the hypocritical church.
Previous Posts on the Church:
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.