A Perfect Church? Not In This Life

By Dr. R. Scott Clark - Posted at The Heidelblog:

In a recent book, church growth guru George Barna seems to suggest the end or irrelevance of the local congregation.1 He speaks for a significant number of people who find their congregation unsatisfying or who cannot find a church at all. It is not hard to understand such ambivalence and frustration. The church is divided and broken. It is filled with sinners and hypocrites. R. R. Reno and others have said that we are living in the “ruins of the church.” 2 This is how it has always been and exactly as Jesus said it would be.

Welcome to life in the church. It is not perfect and, in this life, it will never be perfect, but it is nevertheless instituted by God. The ministry of the Gospel (and sacraments) and the exercise of discipline are the evidences that the church is Christ’s.

Church: Since the Beginning

The history of the Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and the history of Israel is the history of the institutional church. To be sure, Israel was a national church, and we are not. The national promises and conditions given to her have been fulfilled by our Lord Jesus.3 Still, the pattern is instructive. Israel was constituted as a “covenant assembly” (e.g., Deut 31:30). She had offices (prophet, priest, and king) and even membership records (See Gen 5, 11; Matt 1; 1 Tim 5:9–16).4

God has always entrusted his gospel, the ministry, and the sacraments to redeemed sinners, and he expects those who bear his name to be united to a particular congregation. This was the early apostolic pattern. The early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42; ESV). Such a congregational life, organized around Word and sacrament, would be impossible without some form of mutual accountability and organization.