Understanding an Imperfect Church

16x9-imperfect-church_edite.jpgJames Hinkle likes to say that if you find a perfect church, don’t join. If you do, you’ll ruin it! Another of my favorite Hinkleisms is that the biggest room in anyone’s house is the room for improvement.

It’s popular in our culture to bash the church. Many have a “give me Jesus, but keep the church” mentality. (It’s worth noting that Jesus excludes this option by being the head of the church and calling the church his bride. Many of our critics don’t pay much attention to this!)

Unfortunately, the church has made mistakes. There have been times in our history when we chose the wrong hills to die on or represented the faith in a way that was unbalanced and unbiblical.

Eugene Peterson had an interesting take on our imperfections and weaknesses. When Christian believers gather together, everything that can go wrong eventually will. Outsiders notice this and conclude that religion is but an empty promise, a hypocritical gathering of the pious. We insiders see it differently, though. Just as a hospital collects the sick under one roof, the church collects sinners. Many of the people outside of a hospital are just as sick as those inside, but their illnesses are undiagnosed, disguised, and untreated. So it is with sinners outside of the church. Christian churches are not, as a rule, model communities of good behavior. Rather, they are places where human misbehavior and sin is brought together to be dealt with. Of course the death rate at a hospital is higher than an elementary school; it is where the sick gather. No one should be surprised to find sin in a group of sinners coming together to deal with the sin problem.

Jesus works to heal us sin-sick church members. His whole mission was to rescue the messy lot of us. Paul told the Ephesians, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)

Jesus knew that you and I needed “cleaning up.” We actually needed more than that. We were dead, but he gave us life. Is there room for improvement in our church family? Absolutely. I wouldn’t dare join a perfect church.