We know that the Lord’s church was crafted in the mind of God before the world began (Eph. 3:10-11). We know that it was built by the Son of God Himself through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). We know that the Lord equipped the church with apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to bring it to the “unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). We know that the New Testament is a perfect pattern, allowing the church to be “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). With everything the Bible teaches about the church, we ought to expect to find perfect churches in the world today, but we do not. Why not?
Before we get too discouraged with the lack of perfection we find in local churches today, I remind you that perfect churches were not easy to find in the First Century. The closest thing to a perfect church that can be found in the Bible is the church in Jerusalem in the early part of the book of Acts. They “were of one heart and one soul” (4:32), and “continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (2:42). However, that perfection was soon shattered with the apostasy of Ananias and Sapphira recorded in chapter five. Things get worse as one progresses through the remainder of the New Testament. The Epistles showcase local churches that were beset with problems. The church at Corinth was a case study in church problems (division, lack of discipline, perverted worship, error concerning the resurrection, etc.). The churches of Galatia were foolishly abandoning the pure gospel of Christ. The Thessalonians were held up as examples to all believers of their day (1 Thess. 1:7), yet they had a problem with members who would not work (2 Thess. 3:10-12). Timothy had to guard against those who taught another doctrine in the church at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3), while Titus had to set the church in Crete in order (1:5). Five of the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2-3 had sins of which they needed to repent. One would be hard pressed to find a perfect local church in the New Testament. What makes us think we can find one today?
Does a perfect church exist today? I have not found one. I have found that some churches are stronger than others, but every church has problems. The fault for this does not lie with Christ or the pattern set forth in the New Testament. Local churches are made up of people: people who come from different backgrounds, with different attitudes, experiences, values, reactions, habits, levels of understanding, etc. Given this fact, personality conflicts, peculiarities, protests, pouting, pity-parties and the party-spirit will always persist to one degree or another in every local church. Such is unavoidable. The church is made up of people. I have yet to find a perfect church because I have yet to find a group of perfect Christians (to say nothing of a single perfect Christian).
What should we do if we discover we are members of an imperfect church? Should we leave? That all depends upon what imperfections we have found and the efforts we have put forth to correct them. Yes, there may very well come a time when one must leave an unfaithful church. Interestingly, we do not find this action taking place in the New Testament. We do find Christians moving from one church to another, but not in a search for perfection. Aquila and Priscilla are found in different churches throughout the New Testament, but this was because they were actually moving to different places, sometimes against their will. Men like Paul, Barnabas, Silas and Timothy moved around, but they were not church-hoppers. They were traveling to different cities, doing the Lord’s work. If anyone would have been justified in leaving a church, it would have been the faithful brethren in troubled churches like Thyatira and Sardis. Yet, surprisingly, they were not told to leave. They were told to “hold fast” and to “overcome” (Rev. 2:24-25, 3:4-5). Their faithfulness was a much needed positive influence at those churches.
What should we do about the imperfections in the local church? We should never become tolerant of them. Jesus gave Himself to sanctify and cleanse His church, that she should be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27). It is our duty to keep her that way. Perfection is our goal, and we must constantly be striving toward it. What should we do? We can start by being the best member that we can be. Imperfections are brought into the church by the members. We need to make sure that we are not a part of the problem. Next, be an example for good. Imperfections on the part of other members do not keep us from being the best Christians that we can be. Allow your life (including your good attitude) to be a good influence upon the church. Next, there may be times when you need to personally address a problem. Perhaps you need to talk to a member about the sin in their life (Gal. 6:1; Jude 22-23). Perhaps you need to make the elders aware of a situation that needs their attention. They may be the shepherds of the flock, but that does not mean they know everything that is going on. Get involved. Finally, be patient. Old habits die hard. Few lasting changes occur over night. God gives Christians time to grow, and we need to do the same.
“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all” (1 Thess. 5:14).
“But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thess. 3:13).