A prominent theologian once said, "There is no such thing as a perfect church, and if there were, it would cease to be one the minute I joined it." Despite this truth, approach church with the expectation that it should be perfect. We are often shocked when others sin against us or we see the imperfections of a church shine through. Yet, the Bible teaches us that there will be no perfect churches this side of heaven. Something we will clearly see as we begin to read the book of 1 Corinthians later this month.
The church that we find in Corinth was an absolute mess. There were divisions over which church leader they should follow. There were cases of immorality in the church (a man was sleeping with his father’s wife). Certain Christians were suing others in the church. The rich were taking advantage of the poor. People were getting drunk during the meal celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Disputes arose over what to wear in church, whether one should get married or not, what foods (if any) were forbidden, and whether there was a bodily resurrection. Once again, it was an absolute mess.
In light of this mess in the Corinthian church, I would like us to finish the book of Corinthians with the following takeaways. First, churches are messy. The sooner we let go of the ideal that our church or the church down the street will be perfect, the better off we will be. All churches everywhere are filled with sinners saved by grace, but who are slowly growing in Christlikeness. That takes time. Add in the fact that, Lord willing, most churches also have unbelievers seeking out Christ, but do not act like Jesus, and it is a huge testament to God’s grace that our churches are not more messy than what they actually are. Therefore, until the day when Christ returns, all churches everywhere will be messy because they are full of sinners like you and me.
Secondly, we need to understand that Jesus is our only hope for our messiness. Healthy church leadership, sound theology, and rich worship services are all beneficial to a church. But without Jesus we have no hope for being delivered from our sin. Paul writes that the message of the cross is the power of God to those who are being saved (1 Cor. 1:18). Throughout the letter, Paul consistently addresses the sin and messiness of the church by repeatedly directing them back to who we are and what we have in Jesus. Similarly, when we encounter division on the basis of worship styles, or theological issues, or outright sin issues, we need to remember that the only hope to deliver us from these issues is Jesus. He, and he alone, can deliver us from our sin.
Finally, let us walk away from 1 Corinthians with a conviction not to leave people in their mess. It is extremely common to try to sweep messiness under the rug. It is easier to avoid people we disagree with, to pretend like our sins do not have consequences, or to let everyone take care of themselves. However, it is far more loving to enter into people's messes by addressing sin, by caring for their needs, and to walk alongside them in their struggles. Paul could have left the Corinthian church in their mess, but took the time to address each issue in the church by pointing them to the truth and love we see in the gospel. If we are going to claim that we are a loving church, then we need to be consistently doing the same.
I pray that as we read through 1 Corinthians together that it would be a sweet time of running to Jesus with our messes, allowing God to grow our church in Him.