“The perfect church service,would be one we were almost unaware of .
Our attention would have been on God.” CS Lewis
A few years back, my husband and I were involved in making sense of a serious situation at a church. It appeared to us the pastors were not being compassionate towards some families who were deeply injured. After a number of cold responses on the part of a few pastors, an elder made the following comment. “Pastor “X” is not a perfect man.” Our concerns about the pastors were then summarily dismissed and we became the problem. I guess we were far less perfect than the pastor.
One man became concerned when his pastor began spending more time at conferences and pushing his books. Then, he moved into a mansion. When the member asked people in the congregation about this he was told, “There is no perfect church.” He then was hauled before the pastors and accused of “gossiping.”
Contrast this with the response of a pastor who was told that he might have a problem on his hands due to his mishandling of a staffing issue. For a week, he seemed upset at those who brought the bad news. Then, he jumped into action and rectified the situation, expressing thanks to the folks who had the nerve to bring the situation to his attention. In fact, he said that it save his ministry.
Each of the examples above actually happened. Which one of the churches above is a perfect church? (Obvious rhetorical question). However, in which church would you prefer to worship? If there is no perfect church then how can one of them respond better than the others?
Saying there is no perfect church is akin to saying that human beings have DNA. Even the most simplistic understanding of Scripture would lead the most basic of Christian to understand the simple fact that only God is perfect. For most of us, we accepted our sinful nature when we became Christians. In fact, the need of some to point this fact out is condescending, at best.
I once had a seminary professor repeat this obvious fact to me. He was trying to excuse something bad that had happened in a church. Frustrated, I said, “Do you really think that I don’t know that?”
This statement is another form of saying, “Shut up. We don’t want to deal with this”. It is a way to deflect the need for responding to a difficult situation. Perhaps, far deeper, it is a way to excuse the sins of the church, especially if such a sin involves those running the church. It’s too…how shall we say…. awkward. And if it is awkward and it will make others think that I am not a nice person, then, I won’t deal with it. Somewhere in the Bible it must say something about being a nice guy as one of the fruits of the Spirit, doesn’t it?
Of course there is no perfect church! However, this does not exempt us imperfect people from the obligation to deal with the problem. In 1 Corinthians 5:15 we read the following: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful naturea may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord..” (NIV)
Paul did not seem to recognize that “no church is perfect” excuse. He confronted the sin and told them to deal with it. We all seem to admire Paul but very few of us want to be like Paul. Paul was a little too “in your face” and that isn’t nice. We are far too sophisticated for this approach today.
Then there is the “I’m not called to deal with the sin excuse.” One person told me that she wasn’t “called” to be concerned about a group of kids who were molested in her church. I think this had more to do with the awkward factor than the “called factor.
Take King David. Now there was a man who loved God. He did so much to further the kingdom. But, he got caught up in a sticky situation with Bathsheba and murdered her husband. Why didn’t the prophet, Nathan, just blow off this situation? You know, no king is perfect and David did so much for God and the Jewish cause. Nathan could have come up with some excuse like… "David is really a nice guy and I don’t feel called to deal with him. Maybe I didn’t really hear God. It could have been a really bad dream. That’s it!! It was a trick of the devil. Besides, pagans are attacking and I have got to get my house in order. How do we really know if David ordered Uriah to be killed? Uriah was a good military guy and I am sure David was just strategizing to put the good guy up front and protect Israel. Besides, what was Bathsheba doing bathing on a roof anyway"?
I anticipate someone to state the obvious. Some people are nit picky. They don’t like the colors of the walls or the way that Susie directs the choir. Surely you know that we are referring to serious issues.
I think this phrase needs to be added to the lexicon on tactics of abusive churches. Some people are accused of “gossip” when they confront sin in the church. This throws off the “bearer of bad news”, making him the problem, not the sin. In the same way, this tactic is used to throw off the honest individual who truly wants to see the right thing done by his church. The person begins to question himself. “Oh dear, I am not perfect either, therefore, I better shut up.”
So, don’t let an abusive church dismiss your concerns with the ho-hum tactic of “There’s no perfect church.” Instead, agree with the statement, say you read your Bible, too, and then ask what the heck are they going to do about the problem.