Jump Start # 2131
Ephesians 5:26 “So that He might sanctify her having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word; that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no sport or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”
The German writer Bonhoeffer said, “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.” The theory, the idea and the reality are often not the same. What should be, often isn’t what is. Every congregation has issues and problems. This is true because every congregation is made up of Christians who are on a journey. Not every member attends as they ought to. Not every member is strong. Not every member has left the works of the flesh. Not every member is involved and dedicated as they should be. That’s reality. That’s why we have sermons, classes, and shepherds. In a perfect church, we wouldn’t need anyone to lead us, we would all know the path to take. In a perfect church, we wouldn’t need someone to oversee us, feed us, or protect us, because we would be capable of doing those things ourselves. But the church isn’t perfect, and neither are we.
Now all of this leads to two extremes:
First, is dissatisfaction. This is what Bonhoeffer was writing about. This tends to be where many young couples are today. They see things that aren’t right. They notice indifference in some. They see hypocrisy in others. They notice that many sit in pews and do not engage themselves actively in the kingdom. The “Christian community” as Bonhoeffer used that term, is nothing more than a congregation. What ought to be in theory and on paper, isn’t what is seen in reality. This drives some nuts. They blame traditions as the cause of this. They point to lifeless classes and sermons that are not relevant. Irritated and bothered, many seek churches that are less structured. They want worship to be more fluid and feeling based. And, in many places, there is a migration toward those places where there is hope that the dream and the reality are the same.
But, in the process of this migration out, these same folks who are looking for perfection, become destroyers of the congregations they leave. They leave unhappy. They leave pointing fingers. They leave and take others with them. While chasing the dream of perfection, their very actions are imperfect, and they feel very satisfied in disturbing and disrupting the peace within a congregation.
Second, the other extreme is to be satisfied with imperfection. That’s just the way we are, some think and they settle for sub-standard performance. It’s like the show “Hoarders.” About five minutes in one of those places and I’d be pitching things out the windows. Clean up that mess! But the people living there, have just accepted the idea and have gotten rather use to it. It’s like a guy walking with a limp. After a while, he is so accustomed to it, he doesn’t realize that he limps any more. And, in some congregations, that same spirit prevails. Sure, some do not do as they should. That’s just the way it’s always been. Sure, some don’t attend like they ought to. Instead of pushing the people to do better, the bar is lowered and no one hardly notices.
So, before us are two extremes. What ought to be, but it’s not. So people leave because of that. And, the other extreme, what ought to be, but it’s not, so we just accept the “it’s not,” and move on.
Our verse plays into all of this. Jesus would present to Himself the church having no spot or wrinkle, holy and blameless. When does this take place? Is there any congregation in the land that does not have a few spots? What are we to do?
First, understand that we are a work in progress and we are all not at the same place spiritually. It’s not like a running race where everyone takes off at the same time. That’s not the way it is. Some are just now starting. Some have been on this journey for decades. It’s like a school. Every year there is a new batch of kindergartners starting off. At the same time, there are seniors in high school who are finishing up. Not at the same place in knowledge, maturity or even expectations.
So, among us, some do not know. They need to be taught. Some do not fully understand. They need to be shown. Some have gotten discouraged and they need to be helped along. So, the theory, that everyone is where they ought to be and everyone gets along and everyone knows, is not what we find possible in reality. As long as new people are being taught and converted, there will be a growing period.
Second, John reminds us in his first letter, that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. We sin. We practice righteousness, yet we sin. Even walking in the light, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from SIN. As long as you and I sin, the church will have spots. We become a wrinkle. Now, what we do with our sin, says much. Do we just stay in sin? Do we hide our sin? Do we try to defend and justify our sin? Or, do we confess it and strive to walk closer to the Lord?
The church will have spots and wrinkles because we sin. Do we just accept it, like a hoarder accepts the mess they live in? No. We teach. We show. We raise the bar higher and higher. We model Jesus. We push ourselves and challenge each other to become our best in Christ. We fight that old man in us who wants to be resurrected again. We never stop trying to reach the theory, the dream and the principle of being spotless, blameless and wrinkle-free.
Third, the presentation of the church to Christ must take place in Heaven. It is there that they journey is finished and the battle with sin is over. It is there that the grace of God and the blood of Jesus allows us to stand before the throne of God in white robes. It is there that the spots are removed and the wrinkles have all been ironed out.
Until then, we must be patient with one another and continue to be the best that we can. Help others. Encourage others. Teach others. Show others. When you get dissatisfied because of others, be sure and look in the mirror. Are you all that you should be? It’s easy to see the faults in others and be blind to our own spots and wrinkles. Faults are like the headlights of a car. The guy coming at you sees so much more blinding than our own. We often do not even see ours.
Those that are dissatisfied and leave, take their own spots and wrinkles with them. They find others who are in an agreement with them and for a short period of time, they feel that they are in paradise. But soon, they notice that others are still not doing as they ought to. Hospitality not as it should be. Evangelism not as it should be. Fellowship not as it should be. Another busted dream. Onward they move, looking for yet another perfect place. This journey too often will take them away from doctrinal truth and finally, dissatisfied, they give up and become bitter about Christianity.
Perfect we are not, but Jesus is. Satisfied, we are not, so we teach each other. The truth is we are a fellowship of former sinners and broken people put together by Christ. We have splinters, scars and wounds. Somedays we look pretty good. Other days, not so hot. We are a work in progress. The less we point the radar gun at others and hold up the mirror to ourselves, the more we get closer to that idea and dream of being spotless and wrinkle-free.