A few years ago, a friend remarked that he wished his church was a New Testament church. In a moment of sarcastic response, I asked him which one he would prefer. There was the carnal church in Corinth with its immorality problems. The church in Galatia was legalistic. A social division between different personalities was hindering unity in Philippi. Even the church in Jerusalem, which had experienced many blessings was troubled by deception (Acts 5) and arguments over who was getting preferential treatment (Acts 6). My point was that even in the New Testament it was hard to find a church that didn’t have some issues.
An old preacher I knew used to joke, “You’ll never find a perfect church. And if you do, do not join it. You’ll ruin it!”
It is not wrong to have high expectations of a local church, a community of people who profess to follow Jesus and live out his way of life. We forget that we still live on this side of heaven. Christian believers are in the process of being sanctified, we aren’t perfect yet, and neither is the church, universal or local.
Often, we hold others and the church to higher standards than our own. We excuse our mistakes, but we won’t tolerate them from others. The truth is church life can be messy and disappointing because the church is made up of people, like us. The body of Christ is fully divine and fully human. It is the human part we have trouble with and until the return of Christ, always will.
Christians should not withhold their participation because the church is imperfect. We are all called to minister to one another. To engage and take part, to learn and to model, to receive healing while we help others find the same. A better church community starts with each one of us recognizing what we are contributing to the greater whole. Owning our behavior, acknowledging our limitations, and showing up to be responsible will make the church a healthier place all around.
Sure, there will always be something to critique but keeping the right attitude will help all of us stay focused on what is most important. A church that practices Ephesians 4:2 sounds attractive to me: “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” (Ephesians 4:2, NLT)