A Perfect Church Or I Quit

 In the wake of the Reformation, the radical reformers (the Anabaptists) emphasized a pure church – they wanted a church that consisted exclusively of regenerate people who lived holy lives.  Calvin, Luther, Ursinus, and other such reformers quickly distanced themselves from this unbiblical view of the church.  Today too some people withdraw from the church assembly because it is impure, imperfect, or hypocritical (in their eyes).  I love what J.C. Ryle has to say to this:

“…When St. Paul said, ‘Come out and be separate,’ he did not mean that Christians ought to withdraw from every Church in which there are unconverted members, or to refuse to worship in company with any who are not believers, or to keep away from the Lord’s table if any ungodly people go up to it.  This is a very common but a very grievous mistake.  There is not a text in the New Testament to justify it, and it ought to be condemned as a pure invention of man.  Our Lord Jesus Christ himself deliberately allowed Judas Iscariot to be an apostle for three years, and gave him the Lord’s Supper.  He has taught us, in the parable of the wheat and tares, that converted and unconverted will be ‘together till the harvest,’ and cannot be divided (Matt. 13.30).  In his epistles to the seven churches, and in all St. Paul’s epistles, we often see faults and corruptions mentioned and reproved; but we are never told that they justify desertion of the assembly, or neglect of ordinances.”

“In short, we must not look for a perfect church, a perfect congregation, and a perfect company of communicants, until the marriage supper of the Lamb.  If others are unworthy churchmen, or unworthy partakers of the Lord’s Supper, the sin is theirs and not ours: we are not their judges.  But to separate ourselves from church assemblies, and deprive ourselves of Christian ordinances, because others use them unworthily, is to take up a foolish, unreasonable, and unscriptural position.  It is not the mind of Christ, and it certainly is not St. Paul’s idea of separation from the world.”

Exactly – we should not forsake the assembly and become lone ranger, churchless Christians simply because we find some faults in a church.  We might have to move from one church to another one for good doctrinal reasons, but we shouldn’t “quit church” completely just because we cannot find a perfect one.

Ryle’s quote can be found on pp. 293-294 of Practical Religion.

shane lems

5 Replies to “A Perfect Church Or I Quit”

  1. My thoughts as well, the local Church is there for fellowship, ministry, edification of the body and worship, not to be a place where the sinless gather, that will be Heaven. On a similar note, I believe that too many Christians focus on how their denomination has every doctrine, worship form and aspect of Christian life right in how they are articulated and carried out. This comes at the expense of understanding and appreciating those doctrines which unite them with other believers historically.

    This leads to an idol, a sacred cow, being created out of their particular stance or denomination’s stance on a secondary or tertiary issue like music style or dress. In so many cases, fellowship is broken because certain believers won’t associate in a church setting with believers who, in their eyes, are getting it wrong.

    While I do believe that there are certainly doctrines or practices that might make one change a church setting, those involve things like the teaching of egregiously non-Christian doctrines such as universal salvation or Christ’s sacrifice not being enough for salvation, or some event that compromises the pastoral and ministerial integrity of the church that isn’t addressed by the church staff out of apathy, corruption or negligence. In cases like those there does seem to be a need to remove oneself from a bad church setting because the church is teaching doctrines that fundamentally oppose classical and historical Christianity.

    That being said, those are extreme cases. Can one really argue that church music, polity or personal dress during worship is on the same level of concern as basic doctrines such as the sufficiency of Christ, the necessity of salvation, etc? I know people who do, at least in the sense that they, as non-instrumental, a cappella Church of Christ attendees refuse to worship with Christians who like myself attend a Baptist church with a choir, instrumental music on stage and a mix of hymns, traditional and contemporary Christian music. I understand that they argue that instrumental music isn’t biblical, and I believe they are wrong, but at the same time I don’t think music is a significantly important standard to determine Christian fellowship.

    We are called to be faithful to the local assembly of Christians, and today thanks to 2000 years of Church history and America being the marketplace of ideas we have any number of options to choose local assemblies every Sunday.

    Thanks for the article, great food for thought!


  2. Good post. Many people in our society say they don’t go to Church because the people there are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites! How true an observation, but it doesn’t get us off the hook. We still need to be a part of the body of Christ.


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