The Church Imperfect
There’s an old Christmas carol, called, as far as I can tell, “Irish Carol,” whose chorus goes like this:
The militant on earth with humble faith admires
The carol was on an album produced by Firestone—the tire company—and either sold or given away in 1966, all songs sung by Julie Andrews. So, I grew up with the album, and this song, ringing through the house during December. In heaven, the church triumphant; the militant on earth with humble faith….
The church on earth is not triumphant, not yet; neither is it perfect. The church on earth will be neither until the return of Jesus, and we shall not know that day until it is seen. So, let’s let’s claim our imperfection—let’s embrace it. Perhaps, once seen to embrace our own imperfections, the church will seem less daunting, and more approachable, to those who are aware of their own imperfections.
The church has been entrusted, by Jesus, to humans for stewardship, discipleship, and evangelism. If you believe that Jesus turned over the keys to His church with the understanding that the people who would populate His church (including pastors and priests) would be perfect in faith, words and actions—well, it’s time for a review of the Gospels. Even Peter, the Rock chosen by Jesus as a foundation for the church to come, was so fundamentally flawed that Peter would deny even knowing Jesus in the most crucial hours.
And, yet, we see it, time-and-time again: Churches — pastors and lay leaders and members — sitting in judgment from the phony throne of self-righteousness. In our own United Methodist Church, a fight now looms over how far God’s grace is to be extended, an ongoing battle, now coming to
1) those whose devotion to a hard-edged reading of finely-selected Scripture leads them to a judgment that people whose sexuality appears unusual to them are something less in the eyes of God and
2) those who believe the words of Jesus (to love God and to love one another as ourselves) exhort us to welcome all seekers (including those who live differently than ourselves) in full inclusion.
Reacting to change in the world, many churches have turned inward, becoming a parking place instead of a launching pad. Self-satisfaction, self-service, and self-preservation are powerful urges, yet it is these urges that pose the greatest threat to the church’s faithfulness in meeting Jesus’ call to stewardship, discipleship, and evangelism.
There is good news. There is Good News. Jesus anticipated—anticipates—our imperfections. Judas betrayed Him; Peter, indeed, denied knowing Jesus. Even the leaders of the earliest movements toward Christianity decided to compete rather than to cooperate at times. Without Jesus’ interventions over time, inspiring, reviving, revitalizing His church, where would we be? What difference would we make in the world?
It isn’t our imperfections that limit our impact; it is our refusal to embrace them.
So let us laugh… at ourselves… at our self-righteousness… at our mistakes… at our devotion to “the way it’s always been” in the face of a world that has raced past us at breakneck speed and, still, cries out for us to catch up and bring the truth to it—the Good News of Christmas and of Good Friday and of Easter.
Let’s laugh and let’s celebrate and, most importantly, let’s let the world see us — warts, sins, failings, and faith — all of it — the whole picture. Let’s invite our neighbors to tell us where we have fallen short. Let us embrace our own humanness, admitting that while we are surely created in the image of God, we are also short of the perfection which we will never achieve except, possibly, in eternity.
And then let us embrace the other, seeing not our differences but our sameness—humans, together, imperfect — just like the Church.