October 25, 2020

The Church: Flawed and Finished (4)

pewoergan.jpgBefore moving on into more posts on the relationship of the historical church and the ideal church, I want to ask and briefly answer some questions.

1. To what extent is the historical church flawed?

Like the human beings that make up the church, the historical church is fallen, sinful and affected by sin in every way that all believing persons are fallen and sinful. The fact of fallibility is universal to all persons and all aspects of the church.

2. Does the church get anything right?

This is a key question. When we look at the disciples and the churches in the epistles, there is much that is right. Paul reminds the Corinthians of the Gospel, but he is confident that they know an believe the Gospel. Even with the apparent leadership crises in these churches, the churches are called to engage in acts of repentance and discipline. The churches are held responsible for moral and ethical failures precisely because they are capable of knowing and doing the right things to do.

The church can know and understand scripture sufficiently, if not ever perfectly. The church can communicate the Gospel to others, even as it is evident that there are some basic issues of growth and discipleship still on the “to do” list for these Christians. The church can teach, confess, worship and evangelize- despite its brokenness. This is the goodness and greatness of God.

There is no indication that the fallenness, brokenness and sinfulness of these Christians and the churches they create ever make sufficient truthfulness, understanding and obedience impossible. The various admonitions to the churches take into account the fallenness of human beings.

3. How can one imperfect person correct another imperfect person?

By knowing and using the truth. The fallibility of the church does not stop God’s Spirit from accomplishing his sanctifying work or from using broken human instruments to do so.

Obviously, various church traditions have differing perceptions at this point. The Roman Catholic church believes that the Pope is a fallible human being, but when he is speaking as the vicar of Christ, his teaching is infallible. Evangelicals tend to locate infallibility in scripture- though with considerable variation as to how that is expressed.

I believe the Word of God is infallible, authoritative and true. I do not use the word “inerrant” because this tends to indicate that the fallibility of the authors of scripture was suspended in writing it. Some degree of infallibility can easily move into the areas of canonization and translation. I am thoroughly convinced that nothing vital is threatened in the issue of authority and the truthfulness of scripture to say that the canon and all translations are the works of fallible human beings. What we have is a sufficient canon, and scripture as supremely authoritative even when recorded, taught and interpreted by fallible human beings.

The truth is available and God’s purposes are accomplished through sinful and imperfect people, but ultimately by the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing the church into “all truth” and final perfection as the bride of Christ.

4. If the church isn’t infallible or the Bible isn’t inerrant, then how do Christians know truth or speak with authority?

The church has an authoritative Word from God. Christ has promised to be with us and the Spirit of God works effectually. We no not need to add any level of human infallibility into the equations or create a view of the inspiration of the Bible that uproots it from the historical context into which it originally came or the context in which it’s heard. Our fallibility and God’s use of human language and perception to express scripture does not stop God’s Spirit from doing anything and everything he intends to do for and through us. God’s commitment to his church is an expression of love in and beyond our brokenness.

Comments

  1. This is a great series Michael, thanks for all the work.

  2. Nicholas Anton says

    Because the Bible speaks of the church/ekklesia both in the singular and in the plural, both of the assembly itself as well as those of the assembly when not assembled, we can on that basis deduce that NO individual church or denomination can be the one and only true church of Jesus Christ. That distinction belongs, not to the physical church, but to the Spiritual Body of Christ composed of all true believers who have become and are part of the body because of and in their relationship to the Head, Jesus Christ through faith, rather than because of their affiliation to and with the physical appendages of the body (I am of Paul, I am of Cephas, I am of Apollos, I am of Christ 1 Co 1:12). The True Church is not part of the body because of it’s affiliation with an institution, but because of it’s affiliation with and in Christ.

    The universal Church is composed only of saints, while the denominational and local churches are like a field composed of both tares and wheat (Matt 13:24-30). Frequently tares are all that remain.

    Let us be careful on what/Whom we base the True Church. On one hand, let us not simply accept people as True Believers on the basis of their affiliation or profession, and on the other hand, let us not reject True Believers simply because the field in which they are growing is overrun with tares. Jesus knows those who are His own.

    Is the True Church as decadent as it appears to many? I believe not. Most of the multitudes who masquerade as Christians are simply tares and not part of the True Church.

    Michael

    I personally believe Scripture to be the inerrant Word of God. I do not concur with your view on Scripture, which to me appears to be Barthian Existentialism. Though I do not profess to know it all, I do believe That knowledge to be available and accessible to humankind. I can choose to believe though I do not know all nor understand much that I know, choose to commit myself to what I believe though I may be emotionally fearful and uncertain, and choose to follow though I do not feel like it. That choice is both the election of my Sovereign God and my free will.

    When I speak and live what the Bible teaches, I can say with authority, “Thus Saith The Lord”!

  3. Nice going IM !

    That’s pretty much what I would have written had I the intellectual firepower to put it down on paper.

    Keeping away from the periphery and staying in the center, which is Christ and His work for us, is in my opinion, the only place to be.

    Moving away from Christ towards more tangible words is always where fallen people want to go. Whether it’s in the gospel of affirmation (anything goes) and relagating the scriptures to the Antiques Roadshow, or the other edge, where the scriptures are made into a paper pope, where no faith is needed because every line is without error and that is that…period.

    The Lord always provides reformers (sooner or later) for His Church. The default position of churches is to engage in religion… ‘what we do’. Jesus Christ will always bring us back to Faith… ‘what He’s done, is doing, and will yet do.

  4. I think you are doing sound teaching.

    But in an age where a lot of us think we are seeing grave shortcomings in the churches value systems, it may be difficult to balance a prophetic outcry with such statements of love, as you are doing.

    But thank you for balanced teaching anyway.

  5. I’ve been following your posts with interest. Great stuff — you’re a really good writer.

    I hesitate to leave this comment because it may be too off-topic, but I thought I’d throw it out in case you find it interesting: I used to be an atheist, raised atheist, almost zero exposure to the Bible and Christianity (I didn’t know who that “Jesus” guy was supposed to be until we studied Christianity in college). A few years ago I decided to look into Christianity but had absolutely no idea where to start. So I picked up the Bible and started reading. I was so confused. I just didn’t know what to make of it. The Old Testament was so baffling that I skipped over the the New Testament, and read it.

    Personally, I didn’t get Jesus being divine from my reading of it, but I was aware that that was probably wrong since everyone else seemed to believe he was divine. I had far more questions than I had answers. I was about to give up on the whole thing because I didn’t know what to make of this odd book, when it occurred to me that I should look for that “church” that Jesus talks about. One thing I did get from reading this book is that Jesus seemed to think that we should be involved in some way in a church. I hoped that I might be able to find some answers there. But which one? I was even more confused by that. There were tons of different denominations that believed all sorts of different things in my little suburb alone. When I would ask people if I would hear pretty much the same information if I went to the “Pentecostal” church on the corner or the “Anglican” church down the street, they would just laugh.

    In my confusion, I just felt like it shouldn’t be so hard, it shouldn’t be so overwhelming for non-Christians to figure out how to be Christians. When I heard the theory that maybe God did intend to leave us one church, one single institution that spoke for Christianity and that was inerrant in its teachings about what Christians should and shouldn’t do, one place that people could turn to to get all the answers, I can’t describe the relief I felt. It was like the weight of the world was taken off my shoulders.

    So, all that rambling is to say, coming from an atheistic background with no familiarity with the Bible and little familiarity with Christianity, it makes sense to me on a fundamental level that God would intend to leave just one church, one bride, to whom anyone can turn to find the answers they seek about Him and His Son.

    Sorry for the long comment, I just thought I’d throw it out there in case it’s of any interest to you. Feel free to disregard if it’s too off-topic. 🙂

  6. Jennifer,

    There is only one Church. But there are many churches. Jesus knows who belongs to Him. The faithful can be in any church alongside the lost. It is virtually impossible to tell for sure, who is who.

    We know who the baptised are but not the believers. Only Christ knows for sure, and He told us not to go there. ” Let the wheat and the tares grow together until the time of harvest.”

    The Church is where the Gospel is proclaimed (Christ died for sinners…and by the way, that’s you)(and people believe it) and also where the sacraments are administered in accordance with that Gospel. There you have the Church. It only takes 2 or 3 believers.

    There is a whole lot of unbiblical wackiness going on out there in the name of Jesus. But even that is not a barrier to Him if He wants somebody.

    Given a choice, and I am given a choice, I’ll opt for the external Word that comes to me from outside of myself and focus on what the Lord has done for me (not on what I do). That keeps me grounded , in Christ, and off of the religious navel gazing project.

    Thanks for the opprotunity to sound off on the Church, Michael.