October 29, 2020

The Church: Flawed and Finished (1)

pew.jpegSome recent comments on EWTN drove me back to my Bible and some time thinking through my concept of how the church is both fallible and perfect; flawed and finished; historical and eternal. I’ll share several brief posts walking through the relationship between a very human and flawed historical reality and its relationship with the perfect bride of Christ.

Because of my encounter with Roman Catholicism in the past year, I’ve spent a good deal of time asking questions about the church in the New Testament.

One of the key issues for me concerns the fallibility of the church in history and how this relates to the “perfected” images of the church used elsewhere in the New Testament.

The most basic image of the church in the New Testament is that of the disciples in relation to Jesus in the Gospels.

All Markan scholars agree that the Gospel of Mark keeps an intentional focus on the disciples, and that focus is almost always on the fallibility and immaturity of those disciples. The flaws and failures of the disciples are constantly on display.

The hearers of this Gospel would not have simply identified the disciples with the Apostles. They would have identified the disciples with themselves. Their calling by Jesus reflected the story of every believer. Their inability to understand the teachings of Jesus would relate to their own struggles. The failures of the disciples to be faithful to Jesus reminded them of their own confrontation with persecution and the temptation to compromise rather than suffer.

The confession of faith in Mark 8 and the resulting call to suffering discipleship is the path of the church itself. The Gospel of Mark invites all of those who hear the story of Jesus to become part of this community of disciples, the church. This community remains extremely fallible.

How does a fallible church hold on to the essentials of the Gospel? Apparently Jesus believes that fallible disciples can, despite their problems, confess and live the faith. The Gospels underline this again and again: Jesus is the true Word spoken by God to save the world. His church can know and follow Christ, even as it daily experiences its own historical imperfection and failure.

Jesus’ promise to “be with” his church in the power of the Spirit and unto the end of the age does not take away the fact that this church is full of flawed disciples, including its leadership, a strong emphasis of the closing chapter of John. I will return in a future post to the importance of the calling to “feed my sheep” given to someone whose personal failures and zealous faith are always part of his leadership and example.

Next, let’s consider what the epistles show us about the historical church.


  1. Nicholas Anton says

    Note what John Meyendorff, former dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and Professor of Church History and Patristics states regarding the institutionalized authority of the physical church as assumed by many to exist in Matt 16:18;
    “Origen, the common source of patristic exegetical tradition, commenting on Matthew 16:18, interprets the famous logion as Jesus’ answer to Peter’s confession: Simon became the ‘rock’ on which the Church is founded because he expressed the true belief in the divinity of Christ. Origen continues: ‘If we also say “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” then we also become Peter…for whoever assimilates to Christ, becomes rock. Does Christ give the keys of the kingdom to Peter alone, whereas other blessed people cannot receive them?’ According to Origen, therefore, Peter is no more than the first ‘believer,’ and the keys he received opened the gates of heaven to him alone: if others want to follow, they can ‘imitate’ Peter and receive the same keys. Thus the words of Christ have a soteriological, but not an institutional, significance. They only affirm that the Christian faith is the faith expressed by Peter on the road to Caesarea Philippi. In the whole body of patristic exegesis, this is the prevailing understanding of the ‘Petrie’ logia, and it remains valid in Byzantine literature…Thus, when he spoke to Peter, Jesus was underlining the meaning of the faith as the foundation of the Church, rather than organizing the Church as guardian of the faith (John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology (New York: Fordham, 1974), pp. 97-98).”
    James McCue in Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue affirms the above views of Origen as expressed in the following statement:
    “When Origen is commenting directly on Matthew 16:18f, he carefully puts aside any interpretation of the passage that would make Peter anything other than what every Christian should be…(His) is the earliest extant detailed commentary on Matthew 16:18f. and interestingly sees the event described as a lesson about the life to be lived by every Christian, and not information about office or hierarchy or authority in the Church (Paul Empie and Austin Murphy, Ed., Papal Primacy in the Universal Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1974), Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue V, pp. 60-61).”
    Note what Paul states regarding the Church;
    Eph 2:18-22;
    For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
    Our view of the church, it’s structure and it’s functions, will largely depend on whether we perceive it to be a physical structure as the Catholics, Landmark Baptists, Gospel Hall Brethren, and Church of Christ do, or if we see it as a Spiritual entity comprised of all who have Come to Jesus Christ by faith.

  2. pastors and leaders either promote or correct flaws in the church (little c). I just left a church which, in my
    opinion, has many issues originating from the pastor
    leadership level. I know we (I) are fallen, broken, and
    imperfect as part of the local body. I am just frustrated that nothing can change for the better if the pastor doesnt respond or care.

    Im learning much here @ imonk. Been a God send as I transition out of the only church and fellowship Ive ever been a part of. “whoever among you who wants to be the greatest must be a servant.”