The church hasn’t ever been perfect nor will it ever be aside from Jesus fully making all things new and reconciling all things to himself. The church is going to have problems. That is a given. We idealize the early church but as you turn through the pages of scripture they had major issues. Here are a few that come to mind,
Church in Ephesus had “forsaken their first love” (Rev 2:4)
Church in Pergamum was following the false teachings of Balaam, engaging in sexual immorality and were also accepting the false teaching of the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:14-15)
Church in Thyatira believed false teaching so that the people and were engaging in sexual immorality (Rev 2:20).
Church in Sardis in Revelation 3 isn’t even alive…they are dead and need to wake up! (Rev 3:1-2)
Church in Laodicea was lukewarm and was about to be spit out of God’s mouth if they didn’t change. (Rev 3:15-16)
Church in Galatia issues with Jewish Christian Judaizers.
Church in Corinth had sexual immorality in its midst and people are happy about it! They also made a mockery out of the Lord’s Supper in a way worthy of judgment. (1 Cor 11) Church in Colossae had false teachers
Church in Thessalonica had wrong views on the second coming and what happens after we die and that was affecting their faith.
Church in Rome was dividing between Jewish and Gentile Christians.
What is interesting is that in spite of all of that all 7 of the churches in Revelation still have their lampstand which stands in the presence of Christ and the all of these churches are still seen by Paul, in his letters, as belonging to Christ with great need for repentance or adjustment.
First Corinthians starts off with, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.” Second Corinthians starts off with “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia:Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
What makes a Church a Church of Christ…or Christ’s church? Is it doctrinal perfection? Is it complete moral purity? Is that what “gets you in”? If that is the standard we are all doomed and so were all the churches we read about in Scripture. If that is the case then Paul and Jesus got it wrong to still consider any of these people still part of the people of God and still “churches”. But I hear that all the time. The real church of Christ has to do every single thing in lockstep with this one specific interpretation on every single issue or else you aren’t the Lord’s church. Tell me where that is found in the Bible, since that is the plea…that the Bible is the rule for the practice and teachings of the church. I have seen churches split over far less than anything on this list. I have seen churches split over matters of silence (figure that one out). I have seen churches disfellowship other churches (which doesn’t even happen in the NT) over far less and again, even over matters of silence. It is all very foolish and sad.
What makes a church a Church of Christ…Christ’s church? It is that Jesus, through his steadfast love, unfailing grace and unending patience adds us and keeps us there, in spite of our imperfections, imperfect beliefs and even sins. We strive to please God. We strive to repent where we need to repent and be convicted where we need to be…to be led by God as the body of Christ.
Let me say this very clearly – None of this is an excuse for moral laxness, laziness or ignorance. In all of these instances there is a call back to Christ, to repentance and to purity. But it does remind us that if we are serious about letting the Bible draw the lines, set the standard and call the shots then we need to be as gracious as what we find in scripture and stop saying people aren’t Christians or churches aren’t really churches over matters as serious as anything on this list or as trivial as the crazy things people divide and disfellowship over until they get it all perfect. Instead, if we really believe something is amiss we need to loving walk alongside people and help them through it, as Paul and Jesus did rather than making assumptions, throwing potshots at them or hurling social media hand grenades at people. Is this game we play of the world or of the Spirit? Far too often it is the first.