We live in a day of analysts. And everyone, it seems, wants to analyze the church.
Some analyze to be critical, some to posture themselves as “better than the imperfect church” in order to gain members for their “near-perfect church.” It seems most pastors view themselves to be more balanced than others or to have a better understanding of grace, theology, missions, etc. than others. Perhaps these self-assessments are true, perhaps not.
In this post, I would like to analyze a church, but it’s not a modern church—it is the first church.
Many of us Baptists would consider the first church—the first called out assembly—to be the original twelve apostles to whom Christ called, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19; Mark 2:14; Luke 6:13). As we analyze this first assembly—led by Christ Himself— you will realize that there truly has not been a perfect church—ever. Notice just a sampling of the traits we see in this church from the snapshots in the New Testament:
- Pride: The disciples were constantly posturing themselves for rank and advancement. Even as Jesus would tell them of His coming suffering, they’d be arguing amongst themselves who would be the greatest (Luke 22:24). Two in particular, James and John, actually came right out and asked Jesus if they could have the two positions of honor (Mark 10:35–37). They even got the help of their mother in their request (Matthew 20:20–21)!
- Jealousy: While James and John made fools of themselves asking for honor, what did the other ten do? Humbly ask to serve the two “greatest”? No, they seethed in jealousy (Mark 10:41).
- Anger: This first assembly wasn’t comprised of mild-mannered people. Perhaps the strongest personality in the mix was Peter—a man who had the gall to rebuke Christ (Matthew 16:22). When Jesus warned Peter of his own weakness, he angrily denied Christ’s warning…and then angrily denied Christ a few hours later (Mark 14:29–31, 71)).
- Fear: These men who would one day advance the faith of the gospel didn’t start out with so much faith themselves. Their faith was so weak that, in spite of the many miracles they watched Christ perform (including walking on stormy waves and then calming the storm), on the second occasion they were with Christ in a life-threatening storm, He flat asked them, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25)
- Doubt: Thomas is the most well known for his doubt (John 20:25), but in truth, all of the disciples were doubters. None of them remembered Christ’s promise to rise from the dead, and none of them were anticipating His victory over the grave.
- Greed and theft: The first church didn’t even have it down when it came to finances. The very man who “had the bag” was begrudging of gifts of worship to Christ—gifts that couldn’t stick to his fingers (John 12:6).
- Hypocrisy: The ultimate hypocrite—Judas Iscariot—was in the first church. And yet, Jesus knowing full well who Judas was, let him ride along (John 6:64, 13:11).
These are quite the church traits—pride, jealousy, anger, fear, doubt, greed, hypocrisy—and we’ve hardly scratched the surface!
I know what you’re thinking now: Man, these are the guys I want to assemble with to worship!
Probably not. But are their faults so much worse than the faults in our churches? If Jesus could have patience with these men and extend grace to them to grow, can we not as well?
You see, the search for the “perfect church” is futile. There is no perfect church. There never has been a perfect church.
Yet, in spite of the sin and pride, Christ gave patience and grace.
And in spite of the weaknesses and failures of each other, they still assembled. They still followed Christ.
If there are two lessons we can learn from the imperfections of this first assembly, they are these:
- We need to be more like Christ in extending grace to one another. “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).
- Abandoning the church in search of a perfect church is an unwise decision and a futile endeavor.
You can search the world over for a perfect church, and you’ll never find one (not even the assembly led by Christ Himself). Or you can commit to follow Christ by continuing to assemble in the local church and display His grace to other imperfect people.
So, while there may be some churches who are doing things better than the church I pastor or you attend, it would be wise for all of us to humbly admit we are a called out assembly of saved, yet imperfect, believers who need to continue to grow in the grace of Jesus Christ.
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.—2 Peter 3:18