I’ve grown to expect a handful of commonly leaned on and knee-jerk responses when talking to a churched unbeliever or sometimes just an immature believer. There is one in particular I will hear from people of all backgrounds and denominations when they are made aware of the sins being unaddressed in their church. I hear it when I answer their questions on why ecumenicalism is unbiblical or why I will no longer attend the friendly Baptist Church that fully embraces New Age and NAR teachings and practices. It’s the response I get when I don’t approve of a woman “pastor” or if I have questions regarding the widely applauded church that paints houses of single mothers and serves hotdogs downtown for the homeless but keeps neglecting to preach the whole and the true Gospel message to anyone. It’s the the response I get when I express concern over a church’s encouragement of fluffy false doctrine in the women’s ministry or their seal of approval on unbiblical doctrine in Sunday school classes. It’s the response I hear when I don’t attend a legalistic church that neglects the the commandment of God, to hold to the tradition of men.
It’s the usually hasty and reproving response, “But no church is perfect”.
First of all, that is true. No church is perfect. Hopefully, there is not a person on earth that believes a church full of imperfect people on this earth can have a perfect church congregation. It amazes me how many people actually believe it necessary to remind me and others that there are no perfect churches to attend. So I’d like to clarify right now- I agree, there is no perfect church congregation today.
As most would agree, perfection is found in only One, and He is God. Christ Jesus the Lord, fully God and fully man, is our perfect Lord. What would the Perfect One say about “no church is perfect” therefore ease up? Would He simply agree? Would He encourage the ignoring of sin and say the focus is to be on just His forgiveness? Would He say, “If they are proclaiming My name and doing good deeds, that’s good enough?” Thankfully we have the letters from Him to seven literal churches back in the beginning of the Church Age, and it’s not only sobering but it’s very helpful to understand the standards God has for all churches today.
When reading Revelation chapters 2 and 3 I notice modern churches today sound a lot like the churches in these verses. I also see how very serious the Lord is about what the churches did, taught, and believed. We read in these chapters that the Lord definitely didn’t speak to these seven churches in the same tone or manner, nor did He allow them to have any excuse for whatever sin they may have been fostering.
The first letter we read is to the church of Ephesus (2:1-7), a strong, laboring, and discerning church. It sounds like they could site wolves a mile away and would obediently shut the gate doors before those false teachers could enter and corrupt their church. This church loved the Gospel and protected it. They resisted the lures of false doctrine. At the beginning of the letter, Christ gave an encouraging introduction and said, “The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.” (Verses 1-3).
But the encouragement then quickly turned to rebuke and warning. “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” (Verses 4 and 5).
This particular church had spent so much time in battle for the Lord they forgot about their love for the Lord. Things become mechanical, albeit zealous, but nonetheless without the love and adoration for the Lord that they had at the beginning of their salvation. Did Jesus tell them, “Well, no church is perfect? No worries as long as you are preaching the Gospel because I forgave you of your sins already and even though I don’t like your lack of love towards Me these days, you are my children and truly doing great on everything else?”
No. He actually said, “I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” Churches that love the Gospel, share it, and protect their church from wolves, are not necessarily right where they should be. Christ was willing to shut the whole church down. And He eventually did because seemingly they did not repent. Wow. That should cause us to sit up straight and pay close attention! Do not forsake your first Love, the One that is our reason and our hope. Do the deeds that are born out of fervent love for the Savior. Stale, cool churches that just go through the motions are not pleasing to the Lord.
The church of Pergamum is on the flipside. Christ’s words to them started out with a severe tone. It is not a comforting introduction at all. “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:” (Verse 12) Quickly turning to Revelation 19:15 we read, “From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.” This church’s letter started out with a tone of judgment.
Going on in the letter, Christ gives some good news, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.” So this church had believers holding fast to their faith and His Name, His Gospel. Why would He warn about judging this church? Verses 14-16, “But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.”
I didn’t notice Christ slip in a “but I know no church is perfect, it’s ok, you are at least preaching the Gospel. You’re trying. You’re passionate and loving and teach my Word, that’s honorable enough.”
This church didn’t prevent immorality and false doctrine from entering their gates, nor did they protect their church from their influences. They were too focused on one primary issue- expressing the love for the Lord and His Gospel, but failed to give much attention to another crucial primary issue-being faithful about keeping out pagan and false teachings. That is true for so many churches today.
I remember hearing a pastor say “as long as they just focus on Gospel issues, the false teaching concerns will take care of themselves.” Unsurprisingly he also often stated, “No church is perfect” when being confronted by the false teachings running rampant in his church. With that attitude, it would be easy for the church to slowly succumb to more and more sin, even sexual immorality among its members. Today we hear pastors and church leaders yielding to sexual sins, supporting homosexual marriages and premarital sex, etc. It’s shocking until you realize this has been an issue since the beginning. Churches are filled with false converts who were bottle-fed on hyper-grace and no real spiritual accountability. Churches are also filled with weak brothers and sisters who don’t understand the dangers they are tolerating.
The church of Thyatira-Revelation 2:18-29 was a small but growing and serving church that had faith and love. It was a persevering church in charity and service but did not persevere in discernment.
“I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” (Verses 19-20)
It was corrupted by being too tolerant of false teachings and immorality. Their love and faith were undisciplined and lacked wisdom. It was assaulted within its own walls, in a severe way. It allowed a woman, who prophesied and preached, to enter in and cleverly bring sexual immorality and false doctrine/religion. A little leaven leavened the whole lump. An increasingly common type of church today – one that tolerates at least one sin because of a trusted and influential insider. Sins like idolatry, homosexuality, sexual immorality, unity with false religions, false prophets/prophetesses, women preachers, etc. We hear of pastors being tolerant of different gospels, a different “jesus”, and different religions, basically allowing idolatry in the grossest forms to take root within their walls. Praying to anyone but the Lord, venerating the dead, false prophesies, summoning spirits…not uncommon to find within congregations that profess Christ.
What did Christ tell the Church in Thyatira? It’s ok as long as you know my Gospel and serve? Not exactly. In verses 21-23 we read, “I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.” “Her children” were those who followed after the unrepentant immoral woman they allowed in their church. This is a serious and unwavering warning. This was a corrupted church that needed to repent very quickly.
Another, the church at Sardis, the dead church. Christ said in 3:1, “He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.”
Dead. Blind, worldly, never persecuted, and deeply fraudulent. Mere men looked at this church and its history perhaps and believed they were of Christ- “that you have a name that you are alive”. It was not alive- only boasted that it was- only appeared to be to some. Whatever deeds they had done were insufficient, empty and not from a true heart for the Lord. Their lack of repentance and faith was going to soon usher in Christ’s destruction of their church. “So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you (Verses 2-3).
Finally, the church of Laodicea, the lukewarm church. It was a church of apostates that believed they served Jesus. This church happened to make Him sick, “‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” (Verses 15-16). They would have been better off rejecting the Lord altogether or truly being saved and zealous in serving Him. They were the dreadful in-between. They were self-righteous hypocrites who thought they had God and were in no real spiritual need. There was nothing in their church to commend. The Lord told them, “You do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,” (Verse 17). They were in desperate need to repent, all of them. How many churches today look very holy, polished, and confident in themselves and their “jesus” today, all the while being self-deceived and receiving no real salvation? Many sadly.
It’s important to note that Christ didn’t always come with some sort of rebuke or condemnation to a church. The churches Philadelphia and Smyrna received only encouragement and commendation. They were faithful and persecuted; tested and true; loving and persevering. They of course were not perfect, Christ didn’t say they had to be, but there is a certain level of faithfulness, discernment, love, and toil that Christ commands churches to exercise, as well as, individual believers. Just because believers are saved, doesn’t mean they are given license to sit back, twiddle thumbs and let the rest go, “under grace”. Nor does it give permission to only focus on being loving and Gospel-sharing. It definitely doesn’t give us Christians any license to forget where we’ve come from and our beloved Lord and Savior for what He’s done for us.
It’s easy to overlook the seriousness of the Lord. Especially in this lax modern church age. We need to remember that He is not just strongly warning the unbelievers.
It seems we easily dismiss that the Lord will kill believers who refuse to obey and repent – Acts 5:1-11, 1 Corinthians 11:27-31 and James 5:19-20. It’s never good if we refuse to take the ways of the Lord serious enough. He has already made it clear. There are no excuses we can cling to. We are not to sin so that grace may increase (Romans 6:1).
“but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?” 1 Peter 4:16-18. The Lord is always ready and willing to chasten and purify His Church.
Why do so many, when confronted with a pattern of sin in their church or any unbiblical teachings/practices in the ministry, quickly proclaim “there is no perfect church” as if they are saying stop being picky? Perhaps pastors and church leaders say this to make less of their negligent and disorderly shepherding. Perhaps people in the congregation say this believing they are not allowed to question. Perhaps they are just not good with any confrontation, even healthy and righteous confrontation. If a leader or pastor in a church readily throws up their fists and snaps back with “no church is perfect” after kindly being confronted with sinful patterns in the church, beware of them. Question them. Be diligent not only in your own walk but to look closely at where your church is really at in their obedience, discernment, love, and toil. It matters greatly to the Lord.
Christ does not expect a perfect church but He expects a pure one, “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:2-3
And don’t forget, the world is watching. Do we practice what we preach? Do we live out obediently what we proclaim to believe in the Bible? Are we ok with being half-hearted, lukewarm, ignorant, loveless, weak, deed-doing immature little hearers only? I’ve heard unbelievers question some wayward churches saying, “I thought your Bible said this is a sin, so why is your church ok with it?” How awful to hear the world rightly question the integrity of churches and their faithfulness to the Lord they claim to serve.
Fellow believer, I hope we all remember that we are to personally be gracious to one another and be diligent about holding to the truth in our own walk as well as not being afraid to kindly hold others accountable to the truth, even leaders of the church. We are to remember where we’ve come from and have joy and love for our Savior. We are called to be watchful, diligent, and unwavering regarding keeping out wolves and their teachings, whether inside or outside the church walls. We are to pray for our church leaders, for the repentance of sin within the church as we pray for our own repentance and humility. Even though believers have the hope of salvation that can never be undone or taken from us, even though we are “partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” and we have a glorious eternity ahead of us, we do not want to grieve the Lord today in our sin and attitude towards sin, whether it’s ours or someone else’s.
Let us be like the Bereans, learning the Word and testing even faithful pastors and preachers to see if they are sound in what they say and encourage. Before stubbornly defending what may only be a sandy foundation that our family, feelings and traditions have laid down, make sure it’s the Rock we are to stand firmly on.
I’ll end with the encouragement the Lord ended His letter to the church of Philadelphia with; an encouragement to all believers:
“Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” Revelation 3:10-13
Above is an article written by Gina Cook, Gina and Tami write Through the Narrow here at Tulips & Honey Hub. They’ll be posting articles every other Tuesday. Both are published authors, you can find Tami’s book here, and Gina’s book here. We’re blessed to have them apart of our team, and pray their writing will be as edifying to you as it is to us. – Lauren Hereford