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The imperfect church
- Jacob Ninan
Jesus once used the example of children playing happy and sad songs and feeling bad that the others did not join them (Lk.7:31,32). He also said that people found fault with John the Baptist who hardly ate anything, and with Him who ate everything freely (v.33-35)! Don't we sit around and find fault with different churches we see around us with their labels, doctrines and practice? If one church points out a mistake in another church, is the first church without fault? Some who take pride in their form are grossly wrong in their attitude and some who take pride in their attitude neglect form. Actually nobody gets it fully right, either in form or spirit.
When God mentions the church as the Body of Christ (Ep.4:12;Co.1:24), which one did He mean, the local or the universal one? Those who focus primarily on the local church never seem to get it functioning as the full Body of Christ--something is always lacking; there are some gifts missing in operation, they haven't got all their doctrines in balance (even if they imagine so), and it would be presumptuous for them to consider that they are the Body of Christ in whole. If they do that they practically exclude all other parts of the Body blocking out what God wants to give them through those others. On the other hand, if some hold the view that the universal church is the Body of Christ but neglect the work of the local one it remains just a nice theory without any practical benefit.
Local churches are themselves different members of the Body of Christ. It is in the working of the local churches and in their relationship with other members of the Body that the world will see Christ in action (Jn.13:34,35). Those who hold on to a grandiose delusion that they alone are the Body of Christ manage to put off many unbelievers from coming to Christ in the first place who are justified in commenting, "Christ I like, it's Christians I can't bear with." Can they imagine that because they are the 'eye' (for example), they don't need the 'hand' (1Co.12:21)?
Let's also be realistic. We aren't going to be able to bring all the churches together in agreement to manifest the one body in Christ. It is by accepting the different members of the Body in our heart, learning to respect the contribution of others where we lack and working together with them (to an increasing level as more agreement and refinement result from an initial breaking of the ice) that will show something to the world. This has to begin with the leaders.
It takes humility to admit that 'our church' lacks certain things and be willing to receive them from the others. It's usually the insecurity of leaders that prevents this. 'Receiving' cannot be done without discernment or carelessly because errors need to sifted out. But once an openness develops in the heart, the mind can be broadened through careful exposure to resources coming from the 'others'. Think of how much delight this will bring to the heart of the Lord!