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“There Is No Perfect Church.”
We are going to examine the statement, “There is no perfect church.” That is a true statement in one particular sense, but in most senses it is not true.
Let's start by clarifying which sense of the word “church” is being used here. The Bible often uses the word “church” to refer to all faithful Christians everywhere, often called the universal church. Saying that this church was not perfect would be very surprising. While everyone would admit that individuals within the church, Christ's kingdom, are imperfect, to say that the church itself was not perfect would reflect poorly on its founder and ruler, Jesus Christ, the “author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
God's word is perfect in many senses of the word. Any defect in the church is not due to the laws it possesses, nor to the one who made the laws.
James 1:25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
The law is perfect and we must study and obey the law if we want to be faithful to it. I doubt that anyone who says no church is perfect is speaking of the universal church; instead the statement must mean there is no perfect congregation. Let's examine that statement.
There Is No Congregation without Fault
If a person were to say that there is no congregation that does not have or has never had a problem or a member with sin, that would be correct. Congregations are made up of imperfect people like you and me.
James 3:1-2 ... For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.
The tongue is very difficult to control and it is just one thing that, when abused, causes trouble in congregations.
While an individual's sin does not necessarily imply that a congregation is unfaithful (it could be concealed from the other members or the congregation could be in the process of correcting it), any sin in the congregation involves some sin in at least some of its members. (Note that we are considering sins, not things that we just wish were different: not having enough money to support preachers in other places; not having children of certain ages; not having good singers; or not having elders.)
Even in this passage we learn that men can be “perfect” when they work hard at controlling their tongues. This is not promising that we will never sin in other ways, but illustrating a complete maturity. Even in a verse which admits that Christians do sin at times, there is a promise that Christians, and thus congregations, can be “perfect” in a certain sense.
I think that when people say, “There is no perfect church,” they are not simply acknowledging the fact that mistakes are made during the life of any congregation or that people are fallible, but saying that churches that are not perfect should not be considered unfaithful. That is a much different assertion.
God Commands Us To Be “Perfect”
are many passages that command Christians to be perfect. First of
all, let us note that “perfect” does not always mean sinless –
if it did, once we had sinned we would have destroyed the possibility
of being so again – but complete or mature. “Perfect” can mean
“mature,” which we all must be, or “sinless,” which none of
us of age will be. Every New Testament passage in bold in this
article uses a form of the word for “perfect” in Greek, which
also has the meanings of “complete” or “mature”. Those words
are underlined in the text.
Matthew 5:48 "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
We are to be like God in every way that we can be. This is the kind of spiritual maturity that God wants us to have. If God says we can do that as individuals, we can do that! If individuals can do that, congregations can be complete and mature as well.
1 Corinthians 14:20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.
We need to be complete or mature in our thinking. God demands this maturity.
Hebrews 5:14-6:1 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,
The Hebrew Christians were commanded to grow to have this maturity. We must have it, too, and make sure our teaching enables this to happen.
have struggled with being a perfectionist for part of my life. Trying
to do all of what God's word has said does not make you a
perfectionist in any negative sense. Trying to obey God completely is
commanded. It is when you go beyond God's word and bind extra things
on yourself that you can tear yourself apart with perfectionism.
Groups Can Be Complete
John 17:23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.
We must have a complete unity as Christians. Though Jesus said this before the church had been established on earth and before there were multiple congregations, the application to the church is obvious. This is not unattainable; on the contrary, it is a proof that we are who we claim to be.
Colossians 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
Part of making men complete is to admonish and teach them. This is what a congregation can and must do in its teaching.
1 John 4:12,4:17-18 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.... By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
we love each other with the perfect love with which God has loved us
(12) and we are acting in a godly way (17), our perfect love will
cast out our fear and show our completeness and maturity (18). Groups
of people can do this and thus churches can do this.
Perfection Can Come through Trials
James 1:2-4 ... And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Endurance, often brought by trials, makes us complete. Ironically, trials and difficulties are what cause some people to give up on ever finding any completely faithful congregation.
I think that when people say, “There is no perfect church,” they are not just saying that any congregation has room to improve. I do not think they are saying that no congregation is mature. I think they are saying that churches do not need to be trying to obey everything God has said to be considered faithful to Him.
God Commands Us To Try To Be Completely Right
Would you go to a doctor or a dentist who was negligent in hygiene or lacking in knowledge? Would “No method of washing your hands kills 100% of germs” be a good reason not to wash your hands? Would “All doctors are human and make mistakes” be a good reason for a doctor not to try hard to avoid mistakes? No, and we should not use those sorts of excuses for tolerating error in ourselves or in our congregation. We also should not use that as an excuse for having fellowship with unfaithful congregations.
Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
we prove what the perfect will of God is without some attempt to live
it completely? Of course not. God expects us to live according to all
His will and we must not make excuses.
All Areas Are Important
2 Corinthians 7:1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
must remove sin inside and out to be the most holy we can possibly
be. A partial cleansing is not what God is commanding through Paul
Obedience Is Key
James 2:22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;
We can only have a perfect and complete faith (and thus be perfect in God's eyes) through complete obedience to the word. Abraham was not content to be partially obedient. He certainly sinned in his life, but when he had he repented and corrected himself. So must we.
1 John 2:4-6 ...but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: ...
through making the effort to have a complete obedience can we be
perfected in the love of God. Could the love of God possibly be
perfected in us if we were intentionally lax in parts of our lives?
Two Meanings of “Perfect”
Philippians 3:12-15 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.... Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you;
These verses should show us that no matter how much we have done, we should try to become better servants of God. We need to have the same attitude that Paul had. We will never be perfect in the sense of never having room to grow, but in God's eyes we can be perfect in the sense of “mature”.
God expects us to try to be perfect or complete. Unfortunately, we do sin. When we do, God does not reject us if we make an effort to repent and do right again.
God Does Not Accept Those in Error without Efforts To Repent
God does expect congregations to repent of any sin. God does expect Christians to work to eliminate any sin in the congregation instead of tolerate and accept it. Perhaps the best illustration is found in Revelation 2-3.
In 2:4-5, Christ tells the church at Ephesus to repent of their lack of wholehearted devotion or they would have their lampstand removed. Many men would not dream of calling them unfaithful, but God considered them to be in grave danger!
In 2:14-16, Christ tells the church at Pergamum (or Pergamos) to repent of allowing false teaching or He would fight against them. Many men refuse to criticize other congregations for their teaching, but Jesus would fight against the false teaching!
In 2:20-23, Christ tells the church at Thyatira that they needed to get rid of the false teaching and immoral influence of a “Jezebel” before they each received their judgment.
In 3:1-3, Christ tells the church at Sardis to wake up and get to work because their works were not full or complete before Him. Only by repenting of their spiritual slothfulness could they be right with Him.
In 3:15-19, Christ tells the self-satisfied church at Laodicea that He would figuratively spit or vomit them out because of their lukewarmness. Many men are perfectly satisfied with a mediocre church, but Christ is not!
On the other hand, in 2:7-11 the church at Smyrna is not criticized at all and in 3:7-13 the church at Philadelphia also appears to receive no criticism. I'm sure there were difficulties occasionally, but these groups of Christians were considered complete or perfect by God.
What had Christ expected of the churches in Revelation 2-3? Not only were the failings of five of the seven the subject of warning and potential condemnation (showing that it not acceptable for churches to remain in their error), but also the other two were not criticized at all (contradicting the argument that there is no perfect church).
Christ's church in the larger (universal) sense is perfect in every way. It is only those who are working hard at being faithful who are a part of that church. It has the perfect ruler, Christ Himself. He will not allow it to be wrong and He will remove those who fail to live properly. If we use the excuse that there is no perfect church on earth to tolerate and accept things that are wrong, we have disregarded the word of the perfect ruler and our souls will be in jeopardy. If we refuse to take a stand against error and we put our own desires above God's will, we cannot consider ourselves ready for that judgment.
All Scripture is taken from the New American Standard Bible 1995 Update