The pithy sayings that permeate our lives in church: "if you find a perfect church, don't go there- you'll ruin it", or "there are no perfect Christians, only forgiven ones" aim to discourage seekers from finding a people who could be held to the standard of Jesus. But how about if a person looking for a church was in fact looking for Jesus himself- the perfect spotless lamb of God? Shouldn't she find Jesus among the people? Sure enough, she may find Him if she were to use a magnifying glass- in the songs, praises, homilies, quotations from the Bible, and so on. Often they substitute genuine passion for passionate oratory, music and "relevance" as evidenced by their astute understanding of prevailing zeitgeist
.But what if she found a people who wouldn't allow non-Christians to join their schools, and did charity instead of seeking real justice in the world, who cared about personal piety rather than the spiritual bankruptcy of the world, of political victories rather than kingdom victories, of allaying one's conscience rather than always living in the tension between the world's tragedy and Jesus' hope?
I have seen this since coming to the US- and though initially disillusioned, this eventually gave new meaning to those pithy sayings. Truly, there are no perfect churches- but there are churches in which the gospel is long lost, then there are churches which are "Bible-believing" in that they believe in a set of propositions that sum up the Gospel, which if you believe you are saved, but whose lives don't look very much like they are indeed saved. I think this is the case with every person who was saved in the third world and has come to the West hoping for maturity of faith and fiery passion, the kind they see in some of the missionaries who visit their country every so often.
Unfortunately, just as they do not find such passion, most of these people succumb to the culture and become passionless themselves. They become the imperfect church. Curiously enough, in my experience, I have seen something else happen- the passion that once symbolized the churches in India, fledgling at the time, has been long lost- though they are now thriving in therms of the number of members and seekers and the resources at their disposal. Their conversation betrays a strong theological understanding and a global experience with the practice of such theological discourse.
In my opinion, the sooner a person discovers this the better. The disillusionment that follows may yet give way to a renewed desire to be not conformed to it, but to change. People I have seen who are pillars of faith have been often the most troubled. They are our teachers along the way.
Paul Farmer from Mountains Beyond Mountains:
I feel ambivalent about selling my services in a world where some can’t buy them. You can feel ambivalent about that because you should feel ambivalent.
The tension between the world's tragedy and God's hope- we should always live there. That is the only place to have real hope. We cannot take our eyes off either end. Even as we lessen our psychic discomfort, it should never be fully done away with. Even as we may be discouraged often, we must never lose hope. On the one hand, our churches revel in God's abundant provision- of salvation, of hope, of creature comforts, of healing. On the other, we defend ourselves on being imperfect- why should we? Shouldn't we lament instead that the person of Jesus isn't found among ourselves when a lost soul comes to seek him?