Sunday, August 29, 2010
In Search of the Perfect Church
Scribbled by Jailer
"Okay, Kathy", I said. "I completely understand. I just ask you one favor. Call me when you find the perfect church."
I didn't want to quibble with Kathy's complaints. There was at least some merit in many of them. Rather, I wanted her to see the danger that comes with church shopping. In many ways, it's like shopping for a car. This year's model looks perfect on the showroom floor. When you first bring it home you're thrilled with the "new-car smell", the shiny paint, and all the things it does that your old car didn't do. And yet over time the flaws start to manifest. After each one the thrill wears off a little more, until pretty soon it doesn't feel new anymore. Inevitably, you start staring longingly at car commercials and in showroom windows again.
And yet, in another way a relationship with the local church is less like a car than it is a spouse. At first everything is full of hope and promise--for better or worse, till death do you part! That is, until you realize that it's not everything you dreamed ... it has serious flaws ... irreconcilable differences even! Everything's changed--if only you'd known before you said "I do"!
But like in marriage, the glory of committing yourself to a particular body of believers is in actually honoring the commitment. If loving one another was easy, we wouldn't have to be commanded to do it. Every church has problems, many of them severe. Every church struggles, changes, has bad apples, and goes through ugly trials. It is the nature of a congregation of sinners that they will, in fact, sin, and that will be unpleasant for all involved.
Just as it was unpleasant for those wonderful first-century churches. Just as it was in the immature, divided, sexually immoral, gluttonous church in Corinth; or the foolishly legalistic, "bewitched" church in Galatia; or the "lukewarm" church in Laodicea; or ... well you get the idea.
Is separation ever called for? Certainly, as in marriage, infidelity to God's truth may be cause for divorce. Yet this is and must be a very high bar, not mere differences over peripheral, disputable matters. How high? Well, even that great Protestant reformer Martin Luther persevered within the Roman Catholic church for nearly 3 years from the time he posted his provocative "95 theses" until he was separated by excommunication. Even so, it was not he who severed the tie with Rome, but rather Rome which cut him off when he continued to preach the truth from within, until the corrupt church leadership could no longer stomach his insistence on the centrality of salvation by faith in Christ alone.
In relationship to my local church, as in my marriage, fidelity must be my first and overwhelming inclination, my consuming passion, and my ultimate objective. As long as there is still love for Jesus present, there is still work for me to do in the place where God has planted me.
Oh, and Kathy? I'm happy to say that she and her husband remained and served that church well and faithfully for as long as we knew them, and the church was richer for their ministry.