Here is a statement I believe all will agree with: The church is filled with folks with all kinds of shortcomings, sins, foibles, quirks, and weaknesses. Any objections? I didn’t think so.
Now, when I say that about the church today, I can hear a lot of people think, “You see, Dana! That’s the problem! The churches today are nothing like the churches described in the Bible! We are nothing like them. We have missed the way. We have lost our course.” But, my friend, that is laughably false.
The Early Church & Us
The early church was filled with the same kinds of saved sinners who struggled through the same kinds of sins we face today in our churches. Anyone who has spent ten consecutive minutes reading the New Testament letters will see that the early church faced the same kinds of sins/struggles that we have in our churches today. In fact, any sins/struggles/shortcomings we see in our churches today we share with the early church. Allow some examples…
Our churches have people who have grievously sinned in a way that even makes non-believers cringe. So did the church of Corinth. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about a young man caught in a very (nasty) sin, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife!” (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
Our churches have members who are easily swayed by false teachers. So did the churches in Galatia. In writing to the Galatians, Paul said, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7). Even after receiving the gospel from the apostles themselves, Galatia still was vulnerable to false teachers and their poisonous teaching.
Our churches have petty tribes or cliques that cause division over silly things. So did the church of Corinth. Paul rebuked the Corinthians about their petty divisions over what teacher they followed, “There is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?” (1 Corinthians 3:3-4). Fighting over things silly like music styles, preaching styles, and the color of the carpet are nothing new.
Our churches have people who hold grudges against one another and don’t resolve them. So did the church of Philippi. In writing to the Philippians, Paul singles out two ladies who seemed to be at odds with one another, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion,help these women…” (Philippians 4:2-3). So bad was the argument/quarrel/feud between these two that Paul made special mention about it as he wrote this letter from prison!
Our churches have preachers who preach with impure motives. This was true of some preachers in the early church too! While Paul was imprisoned, he described some of the preachers in his area in his letter to Philippi, “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry… (they) proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely…” (Philippians 1:15-17).
Our churches have pastors who sometimes have blow up arguments with one another. So did the early church. Paul and Barnabas, two pastor/missionaries par excellence, got into a big fight with one another and it divided their partnership in missions (Acts 15:36-41). If there was the internet, this juicy piece of controversy would have blown up on Twitter and would have had some good attention around the blogosphere. #paulvsbarny
Our churches have pastors who sometimes act in opposition to the gospel! So did the early church. Listen to Paul’s account about confronting the Apostle Peter and Barnabas, “But when (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to (Peter) before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Galatians 2:11-14).
Our churches have problems with favoritism and partiality. So did the early church. One of the first recorded problems about the church is when the Greek widows were being jipped in the churches daily food distribution. The Hebrew widows were getting first dibs to their neglect (Acts 6:1). Also, knowing the churches constant temptation to show partiality to the rich members, James writes, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” (James 2:9).
I can go on, but I think you get the idea. Any sins/shortcomings of today’s church were shared by the early church. The church on earth, since the first day until now, has been filled with sinners who are all in the smack-dab middle of their sanctification. None of us have arrived to perfection, nor will we until Christ comes back for us.
Bear With One Another
So what is the point of all this? Well, first I am not trying to say that the churches weaknesses are no big deal and should be ignored. No one ignored the weaknesses and sins of the early church and we shouldn’t ignore the sins and weaknesses of the modern church. However, it does mean that we should not leave the church when it fails or hurts us, but we must dig in and do all we can to make her more beautiful.
Since the early church struggled with the same sins as the church today, we must take the words of Paul seriously. If we are going to be blessed by the church and be a blessing to the church, we must…
Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:2-3
What does Paul mean when he says to walk worthy of the calling God has given us in Jesus? Does he mean we should preach to thousands? Does he mean we should sell everything and cross the seas for missions in foreign countries? Although those are good things, that isn’t what he was talking about for the Ephesians. To walk worthy of the calling God has given us is to put up with the church’s weaknesses and failings in love, humility, gentleness, and patience. It is seeing each other’s sins and weaknesses and, while not overlooking them, bearing with one another through them.
Do you want to know the best way to make sure you never bless a church? Believe that no one will sin. Believe that everyone will do everything right all the time. Expect others to treat you well and never do anything to hurt you or discourage you. Think that the pastors will never mess up. Be convinced that everyone will always be friendly, understanding, supportive, and sensitive to you and your family’s needs. If you have these expectations and hold to them tightly, I promise you will never last more than a few months at any church. If this is your mindset, you will never stay long enough at any church to bless it.
So, instead of going into church with wrong expectations, let us all acknowledge the reality of the weakness of the church and do all we can – indeed, let be “eager” (Eph. 4:3) – to make the church grow in unity and become more like Jesus. Let’s bear with one another and let our love for Christ and one another overcome each other’s sins.
When we are sinned against, instead of leaving, reconcile and forgive.
When the pastor makes a blunder, instead of leaving, have a conversation.
When someone says something hurtful, instead of leaving, let them know.
When (insert someone’s weakness, shortcoming, failing here), instead of leaving, bear with them in obedience to Jesus and love for His bride.
Let’s show the world that the gospel not only saves sinners, but creates people who bear with one another.