In the days after Pentecost, the Church was the best she’s ever been. The fledgling Christian community was bursting with devotion, joy, gratitude, and love. Worship, prayer, and table fellowship were constant. Their generosity was radical. They were growing like kudzu in the South. Read about it in Acts 2:42-47.
Two chapters later, at the end of Acts 4, all the goodness had intensified. In particular, their generosity had grown to the point that believers were selling homes and land to share with those most in need. But in chapter 5, the first crack appeared.
There was some nasty business with Ananias and Sapphira, who sold some land, kept part of the money, then lied about it. When confronted with their deception, they dropped dead. (Who says the Bible is a boring book?)
Then, Acts 6 opens with these words:
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
In a mere four chapters, we have descended from the idyllic experience of heaven on earth to raw, unadulterated humanity. In a matter of weeks, we see faltering commitment, deception, injustice, and complaint in the newborn Church. What are we to make of it?
First, to imagine that there is somewhere a perfect church that we can find if we look hard enough is folly. The Church was “perfect” for a few weeks at best. She has been very much imperfect since.
Second, to give up on the Church as she is is to give up on the belief that God is creating something larger than us, something that we don’t fully understand.
Third, if we could manage to find a “perfect” church, we’d find a church where we don’t belong. Even if we could create a perfect church, we’d find that we have a church made in our own image. How perfect would that be?
What if Jesus calls and gathers broken people into a broken community to reach a broken world? What if we can only see the smallest slice of God’s big picture? What if those first believers were just like us: stumbling, falling, and getting back up to move forward again… rinse and repeat? What if the “Perfect Church” is the Church that is yet to be? The Church that all God’s daughters and sons are becoming?
The best Church we can have is the Church that Jesus is creating. As far as I can see, he’s not finished with us yet. What we are is not all that we shall be.