In those days, as the number of the disciples was increasing, complaint was made by the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Jews that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. (Acts 6:1, Williams New Testament)
You tell me it’s the institutionWell, you know
You better free your mind instead
I found the perfect church!
Want to take a look for yourself? Then turn to Revelation 7:9-10: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (ESV)
Take a good look, because until Jesus returns, that heavenly scene is the ONLY place you’ll find the “perfect church.” You certainly won’t find it among the seven churches Jesus addresses in Revelation 2-3; Smyrna and Philadelphia are the closest you find to being perfect in those chapters. You definitely won’t even find it in the Book of Acts. The imperfections of the early church were on display early on in that account. For example, in Acts 6, contentions between Jewish and Gentile believers regarding food distribution required establishing the position that we now call deacons, to settle the matter. Conflict rose again later when Jewish believers started telling Gentiles that to be REAL Christians, they had to hold the Old Testament ceremonial law. The church council in Acts 15, under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, set down rules for Gentile Christians that ensured morality and respect for their Jewish brothers and sisters—but put on them no “additions” for them to be saved (it must also be noted that Jewish Christians were free to continue observing their rituals; but they could not push them onto Gentile believers).
Even the letters to the churches, especially those penned by Paul, indicate that the churches of the New Testament era were far from “perfect.” And yet, there are Christians who are content to “give up” on involvement in a church, because of imperfections they find in churches (and in many cases, in just one church). Just playing a hunch here—if you can’t find the perfect church in the New Testament other than in heaven, then chances are you won’t find one on earth today, either (and for the record, my family and I are part of a wonderful church).
For those Christians who want to give up on church involvement because church people are imperfect, no doubt doing something that irks you, I have this question: were YOU perfect when you first got saved and started attending church? Have you progressed so quickly to perfection, to the point where you can judge the entire body of Christ based on what you may have run into in one or several fellowships? Please don’t claim you have a attained that state: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, ESV)
I recently read an article that discusses how aloneness—and its accompanying condition, loneliness—is increasing exponentially in our society. Many young people who “strike out on their own” from their parents seem to want to stay in a state of living alone, instead of viewing their establishing independence as a bridge to one day starting their own families, according to the article. I must quickly add here that God blesses both married and single people; Paul even calls both states a gift from God in 1 Corinthians 7:7. Conversely, loneliness can be experienced by anyone, single or married. What I am concerned with is the continuing move away from community in our society, as the article indicated—an increasing isolation that could even be creeping into Christian fellowship. America has always been an individualistic society in any event; perhaps this is part of the reason Americans are increasingly shying away from church involvement?
Regardless of the reason, those choosing to stay away from Christian fellowship are cutting themselves off from the special presence of Christ that can only be experienced corporately with other believers. Jesus said, “… where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20, ESV) He also makes it clear that HE is the One who created the church (Matthew 16:18). God has always meant for His people to dwell together in unity (Psalm 133:1)—regardless of how “imperfect” that fellowship might be. And staying in fellowship helps us to grow together in Christ (Ephesians 4:1-3) Overall, it is an important corporate witness to a society that appears to be atomizing, where community is increasingly becoming a meaningless word. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV) It’s hard to see how this love—an important part of our witness to the world—can be practiced away from church fellowship.
While the church on earth might be imperfect, it is still JESUS’ church, where He calls us into fellowship with Him and each other, through faith. “Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate,” says Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible). “The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our community is in Jesus Christ alone, the more calmly we will learn to think about our community and pray and hope for it …
“We are bound together by faith, not by experience.”