Loving the Imperfect Church
In all of my novels, the flaws within a church (or, at least, the flawed people within the church) are rampant. In Crispens Point, the pastor has trouble with judging. In Cherry Cobbler a missionary is so narrowly focused that he can't see outside his own view of things. And Prince Crossing is full of people who are struggling to figure out how to live out their faith.
These are all works of fiction, but made-up stories have nothing on real life.
After a friend of ours took his first pastorate, our family made plans to visit him. We wrote down careful directions on how to get to his country church. He said there would be a welcome sign at a crossroads that would indicate where to turn. When the day arrived for our visit, we drove for miles up and down the road without ever seeing the sign. Finally, by accident we located the church. When we told our pastor friend about our trouble, he was confused. He asked the church trustee what happened to the sign. The trustee explained, "I took it down for the winter, so it wouldn't become weathered."
Every church has those who are a little eccentric. We are a flawed people who have banded together because we love Christ, and sometimes there seems to be little else holding us together. But in spite of that, the Bible encourages us to bother with this peculiar body of believers. Read 1 Corinthians 1:10–13; 5:1–5; 6:1–8 to get an idea of how many problems the early church had. In A Theology of the New Testament, George Eldon Ladd helps us think through the character of the church when he lists these different facets:
~The church is not the kingdom—God reigns and rules over all of reality; the church is only a part of that larger enterprise of God.
~The kingdom creates the church—God chose the church as a means to organize people into a fellowship of faith; therefore, we must not undermine or diminish the importance of the church in God’s great plans.
~The church witnesses to the kingdom—one of the main tasks of the church is to tell others about the great things God is doing and to call all people into submission to the King.
~The church is the instrument of the kingdom—in the human arena, the church is central to the work of God. God could make himself known to people through skywriting, booming voices from heaven, or dozens of others means. But God has chosen to make the church the visible face of the kingdom and the means by which God calls people to find him.
~The church is the custodian of the kingdom—God gave the church the responsiblity of explaining God’s ways, will, and actions. The church is given the responsibility of guarding the Scriptures, explaining salvation, and keeping people focused on the kingdom, to name a few.
So the next time you feel like giving up on the church, remember that this flawed band of believers is God's choice to do his work in the world. And if he values it so highly, we need to participate and learn to value it too, even the eccentric parts of it.