October 25, 2020

The Church: Flawed and Finished (2)

pews2.jpgThe introduction to this series is here. I was somewhat “motivated” recently when a Protestant convert on EWTN said “Protestants have Christ, but they don’t have his bride.” I found the statement quite…..interesting, especially in view of how I believe the scriptures describe the church in history and in God’s plans.

This second post deals with the presentation of the church in Paul’s letters and Revelation 2-3.

The New Testament is a book that is full of historical photographs of the church. These photographs are the epistles; letters with the purpose of building up, correcting and encouraging congregations.

The two primary sets of “photographs” I want to point us to are the Pauline epistles, particularly the Corinthian correspondence, and the brief epistles from Jesus to the seven churches in Asia minor, found in the Revelation chapters 2 and 3.

Both of these sets of epistles are outstanding in their honest portrayal of the congregations involved. We have descriptions of false teachings, open sin, congregational stubbornness, failure of leadership and rebellion against the authority of Jesus himself.

The errors and problems of these churches bring forth strong rhetoric from Paul and Jesus. Paul speaks with parental outrage and the immaturity and compromises of the Corinthians. Jesus reminds several of these congregations that their very existence is threatened by their flaws.

Yet, in both of these sets of letters, Jesus is speaking to his church. Listen to Paul’s words to the Corinthians.

I Corinthians 1:2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

This Corinthian congregation is, somehow, both a group of immature brats capable of turning the Lord’s Supper into a drunken party and the “sanctified in Christ Jesus,” those who have been enriched by God with all kinds of good gifts in Jesus. Paul promises this wayward congregation that God intends to sustain them to the end, guiltless in the day of the faithful Jesus.

These photographs confirm what we have seen in the Gospels: the historical church is fallible and flawed, at times sick to the point of historical death, yet God does not hesitate to speak of the church in idealized terms and final perfection.

A key to both sets of letters is the subject of leadership. The Corinthian leadership seems almost invisible. False apostles and prophetesses are prominent. Pastors and elders are not. Interesting, the letters in Revelation are written to the “angels” of the churches, and many scholars believe this is, in some way, addressing the leadership of the church. It appears obvious that the leadership of these churches has been given the responsibility of conveying the message of Jesus to the churches by reading the entire Revelation.

This suggests that leadership, who are parts of the church themselves, play a key role in bridging the imperfect historical church to the ideal church Jesus speaks about throughout the New Testament.

Next: What are the pictures of the ideal church in the New Testament?


  1. I hate to be the party-pooper, Michael, but if I were a roving Catholic apologist, I’d say that infallibility only applies to the pope speaking ex cathedra and conciliar declarations confirmed by the pope. So laymen, congregations, priests, bishops, and even popes can err and err gravely, and that’s all that’s going on here. If it’s not Peter propagating a dogma, all bets are off, which in my opinion seriously weakens that “gates of hell shall not overcome” language that the drive-by apologists use. An infallible church that’s actually fallible 99% of the time and capable of largely going to hell in a handbasket except when the guy at the top is making a grand declaration, is like, well, a Bible that’s only the Word of God in the original manuscripts.

  2. As a Southern Baptist I was surprised when I realized that, in the midst of all the immaturity and worldliness that was present in the NT churches, Paul and the other authors spent little to no time telling the believers that they needed to boldly witness. That hardly jives with the “Every Member’s Job” mentality I’ve been force-fed all these years.

  3. Nicholas Anton says

    [Sir Edwyn Hoskyns and Noel Davey (Faber & Faber, 1931)] discusses the evolution of the term, ekklesia, from it’s Greek roots, to it’s use in the Septuagint, and finally to it’d use in the New Testament Church. I found the article fascinating. Anyone wishing to read the material, simply go to Google and type in the bracketed material.

    The Church (singular) is the bride and body of Christ, and not the churches (Plural). The Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ are never referred to in the plural. As the body of Christ is “ONE”, likewise is the Bride. Jesus Christ is not a polygamist. He only has “ONE” bride.

    1Co 12:28-30 demonstrates this point well;
    And God hath set some in the church (singular), first apostles (plural), secondarily prophets (plural), thirdly teachers (plural), after that miracles (plural), then gifts (plural) of healings (plural), helps (plural), governments (plural), diversities (plural) of tongues (plural). Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
    I find it interesting that in the two lists of Spiritual gifts as found in 1 Co. 12, with the exception of the twelve Apostles, no church officials and offices are mentioned. The various gifts are directed to the Church through individuals and controlled by the Holy Spirit, and not by any church hierarchy. In many ways, the early church was much like Israel at the time of the judges, in which there was no “official” leadership, until, at the request of the elders, against the will of God, they asked for a king.

    The seeming chaos as found in the book of the Judges and in the Corinthian church is also quite similar. And yet, in spite of the seeming problems because of the lack of an appointed leadership, it seems that God desires equality and freedom over hierarchical rule.

  4. Bror Erickson says

    I think what Luther says about the individual believer being simultaniously saint and sinner, can also be said about the church in this world. That is it is both flawed and perfect even in this world. Flawed as it is made up of sinners, perfect as it is the body of Christ.

  5. This Corinthian congregation is, somehow, both a group of immature brats capable of turning the Lord’s Supper into a drunken party and the “sanctified in Christ Jesus,” those who have been enriched by God with all kinds of good gifts in Jesus.

    “Because people are people, and the world is filled with tricks and twistiness yet undreamed of.”
    — One of the Whole Earth Catalogs

  6. Jay,

    One possible explanation about the difference between original evangelization and now is the differences in life styles of Christians then and now. Then, Christians made a stir by not bowing down to the civil gods, not killing off unwanted children (especially girls), treating slaves with respect and kindness, etc. Now, with Christian ideals having permeated the culture, it is harder for us to stand out by our lives. (In a positive, desirable way.)

    Not to mention, I’m sure that a number of the early Christians were eager to tell about the one who changed their life.

  7. Bigger question: How did you manage to spend enough time watching EWTN to even generate this question? I am not anti-Catholic (really, I am not!), but the station is mostly pure dreck that is almost painful to watch. I keep thinking “2000 years of history and this is the best you can do!”

    Not that I think the big-haired, pentecostal Protestant cable stations are any better. Both make my teeth hurt and build up a desire to crawl under a table, take down my Christian sign, and worship at the temple of Heebe-Jeebe of the Jungle. But then I guess I’d have to put up with the likes of Shirley MacLaine…Well, at least she still has some pretty nice legs to look at.

    Maybe the station itself proves your point: flawed even when finished…Well, maybe not.