We’ve all heard the line about the perfect church: If we find it, don’t join it, because then it won’t be perfect anymore.
And yet, I think, that doesn’t stop us from looking for one. Or being disappointed when our church isn’t.
On one level, that makes perfect sense. We come to church looking for God, for a place or group of people that make Him known, and that therefore is very different from the world around us. We’re looking for a shelter in the storm, for a grace that gives us a rest from life’s constant demands, for love that accepts us precisely as we are (even if, as another old saying goes, God loves us too much to let us stay that way.)
I don’t think those are unreasonable expectations. If God really is present in a church, then that ought to make some real, tangible difference. The church really should be different from the world, offering the hearts that God created what they most truly long for.
But it’s not that simple, is it? Because though God is present and very much at work, so are fallen human beings who, though they may have come a long, long way, are not perfect yet. At least I’m not. And there’s the rub.
So there is a tension here—a tension that comes from rightly pursuing ideals and yet not letting our pursuit of the ideal stand in the way of loving and finding our place in a flesh and blood church.
As in today’s reading, it didn’t take long for the early church to begin to experience painful conflicts and divisions. None of the people we read about, nor the communities of faith they belonged to, were perfect. But God was still present. God was still at work. God was still redeeming mankind, changing people’s lives from the inside out.