My Perfect Church
by Tim O'Hearn
Nobody’s perfect. We say that, but we expect people and institutions to be perfect. Of course, we usually define perfection in our own terms. I am a basically lazy person, so my perfect church would involve a minimum of action on my part. Here are some of the aspects of what, to me, would be the perfect church. Each of these different aspects can be found in one or more religious groups available today. So far I haven’t found perfection in any one group. Maybe I should start my own church, and this is what it would look like.
No entrance requirements
I wouldn’t have to join this church. In fact, I wouldn’t even have a choice whether to join or not. Groucho Marx said, “I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” In my perfect church he would have no choice. God would automatically choose who would be a member, and who not, just as long as he chooses me. And just as long as he doesn’t choose that person over there that I don’t like.
Not only would God choose me without an application, he would accept me into my church withoutIn my perfect church, if I am comfortable in my particular sin, I won’t have to give it up. any effort on my part. He would even accept me into my church without forgiving my sins.
There are churches that meet this requirement of my perfect church. John Calvin, for instance, proposed that if God wanted to save somebody, that person could not resist even if he wanted to. Furthermore, if a person wanted to be saved he could not if he wasn’t on God’s list. Of course, he had an out. He further proposed that nobody could want to be saved that had not already been selected, and nobody could want to reject salvation that had not already been rejected. You could not choose to be saved or lost because you could not choose. There are others that say no effort is required on our part; that God carries us from start to finish. Some of those hedge their bets a bit and say you have to pray to God for him to accept you. But that group doesn’t count for my church, because they believe in “works salvation.” Even then, though, they tell me that I can become a member of my church without forgiveness of sins.
That sounds like a pretty perfect church, if I were to have it my way. The problem is, God doesn’t think that is exactly the perfect way to become part of his Way. He says we have a choice. “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15) We can choose his Way or to follow other gods. But choice involves an act of will. Some say that not making a choice is a choice. In the context of my perfect church, though, just having a choice violates the conditions of enrollment.
Not only do we have a choice, God says that we cannot join his Body without the removal of our sins. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor 6:9) His kingdom is a sinless kingdom. So to enter or join it, we have to have our sins removed. Now here’s where some churches try to redefine salvation. They say we are saved from not being saved, rather than saved from our sins. Therefore, when God says, “Repent, and be immersed for the purpose of forgiveness of sins,” (Acts 2:38) he says you can’t enter his kingdom, his body, his way, without being immersed. When he says “immersion saves you,” (1 Peter 3:21) he says I have to get up off my chair and do something, not because it is a legalistic command but because my conscience knows that without this I cannot be a part of God’s congregation. Somehow, my perfect church is not God’s perfect church.
I don’t have to change
Change is difficult. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” Even folk wisdom says change is hard. Most people do not like change. I, on the other hand, don’t not like change; I despise and abhor change. I am comfortable the way I am, in the job I am in, with the people I know. My perfect church, then, will not require that I change. If I am comfortable in my particular sin, I won’t have to give it up. If I like the people I like and don’t like the people I don’t like, so be it. After all, change is hard work, and I don’t like hard work. If I have to change, things and people around me will change and that will make me uncomfortable. And my perfect church is all about my own comfort.
Strangely (or not), there are churches that agree with me. They say you don’t have to change to be in their church. In fact, to make a sinner change his ways is considered unloving and intolerant. Since God is a loving God, he must accept people as they are, not as he would like them to be. In fact, since God is a loving God, not only do you have to do nothing to join his way, there is no other way but his way. Everyone will be saved because it would be unloving to condemn anybody or any action. Not only that, God didn’t really mean it when he set certain standards. Are you a celebrity? Just make sure you join their church. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you are somebody. Do you not intend to give up homosexual acts? That’s OK. To make you change your lifestyle would be intolerant. Change is unnecessary.
That may be good enough for political candidates and best-selling authors, but it is not good enough for God. Just as you cannot enter his kingdom without forgiveness of sin, so you cannot be in his kingdom without giving up sin. “Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor those who commit homosexual acts, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:9-11, emphasis mine) “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom 6:2) The whole point of God’s family is change. “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” (Lk 15:24) Somehow my perfect church is not God’s perfect church.
I don’t have to relate
Since my perfect church does not involve change, it must define church in a special way. Church, in my lazy man’s perfect church, is defined so that participation is optional. If I don’t want to go to church I don’t have to. I can sit at home and watch church on TV. Or I can sit at home and ignore church altogether. That is because church becomes a place, to which you can go or not go. It becomes stones and benches. It becomes a place where professionals do your worship for you, so you need not even be there. It becomes a building you can point to and proudly say, “That is my church,” even though you might only have been inside once or twice.
There are a lot of people who seem to be in my perfect church. They pay for their pew, but never sit in it. Church is where they go for weddings, funerals, and maybe certain holidays.
Did you know that the word church is not even in the Bible? What some translate as church really means a group of selected people. It is a congregation, which implies the act of people congregating. Church is not a place, it is a people. You cannot go to church because you either are the church or you are not. God’s family, his body, his church if you must. If the church is a gathering of people, that kills the lazy man’s view of church. It means that to be part of the church you must be part of a group. It means that if you do not gather with others, you are not in the group. But it is more than just gathering together. “By this shall men know you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.” (Jn 13:35) Being part of God’s church (to use that word as a familiar shorthand) involves interacting with people. It involves getting to know people well enough to interact. There are some gatherings of people that do not require that you even know anyone else. At a sporting event, for instance, you may be part of the crowd, but you are not necessarily interacting with the rest of the crowd. Paul describes God’s people as parts of a whole. “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.” (Eph 4:25) We cannot sit back and refuse to assemble. We are members of one another. The finger that is cut off from the body withers. The marriage in which the husband and wife never interact is doomed. I can’t define church as a place, because it is part of me and I am part of it. If I don’t congregate,Church becomes a place, to which you can go or not go. It becomes stones and benches instead of people. I am not part of a congregation. If I don’t participate, I have no participation in Christ. Somehow my perfect church is not God’s perfect church.
There might be any number of other characteristics of my perfect church. In that church, I am the final authority. God will communicate with or through me directly, and I am the final arbiter of what he says. The Bible, then, would be worthless because it is not authoritative; I would be. In my perfect church I could worship the way I want, regardless of what God says. If I want to dance or play the clarinet that would be acceptable. Oh, and they would not take my money. Somehow my perfect church is not God’s perfect church.
We look for perfection in a church based on our standards and our desires. When a church does not meet those criteria we look for a different one that does. That is why people refer to “my church” and “our church.” When I look for God in my perfect church I will never find him. That is because he is looking for me in his perfect church.