I hear a lot of criticism of the NZ church. I myself give some of it? Too much consumerism, no community, money money money, rubbish pop preaching, shallow repetitive me centred worship, bums on seats is what matters... and so on. Some say, 'we need to get back to the NT church.' I have one for us to get back to, the Corinthians! Check them out. Obsessed with status, divided, esteeming leaders and putting others down, harshly critical of their founder Paul, sexually immoral with one man having it off with his father-in-law's wife and others hanging with prostitutes, taking each other to court, some men opting out of sexual relationships with their wives to be more spiritual, going to idol feasts in the pagan temples, women coming to worship dressed as hookers, divided at the Lord's Supper with some (probably the wealthy and those of status) eating ahead of the others (prob. the poor) and so divided at the meal that unites, obsessed with tongues at the expense of the greater gifts, looking down on some gifts and elevating others, chaotic extreme worship with uncontrolled prophetic and tongues oracles blurted out, women out of control in the services, no belief in the bodily resurrection from the dead while still trying to maintain faith in Christ's resurrection... Now that's a NT church. Let's all go back there.
Check out Paul's response. It is not to say, stop going, opt out. It is not to tell them that they are a bunch of heretics and cast them aside... no he keeps calling them 'brothers (and sisters)', he urges them on in love, he challenges them to rediscover the pattern of the cross and reject division and heirarchy, to deal with their issues not in court but in the body. He does command them to remove the sexually immoral man but all in all, he urges and does not reject them.
The point is that the church has always been flawed. Right from its inception (here in Greece), the church has struggled. Why? Because it is not a divine organisation. We have a docetic (divinise the church) expectation of the church and forget its humanity. It is made up of people like me, sinners, who are at various stages of organisation. It is not a professional environment, a business. It is a gathering of sinners at various stages of growth in the Spirit. Why do we think it will so perfect? I think the church will always be flawed and weak and fail. Yet in it, God's light shines. Note that Paul does not deny the brilliance of the Corinthians; even in his thanksgiving in Ch1 he tells them that they are supremely gifted. But he corrects them, hoping not to use the rod, and to do so in love.
We need to wake up and realise that the church will never be heaven on earth. We yearn for it. We have a hope for a utopian ideal and the church always falls short. It will never meet every need. It will never meet every age. It will never meet every culture, perspective and be perfect. It is not a supermarket for spiritual health which we can discard and just leave.
No, it is a bride of Christ, and he is happy to married to someone who is not perfect but is highly blemished. Yet he laid down his life for us and will present us to God perfect and flawless (check out Eph 5). In its unity around Christ and its diversity in so many ways, it represents God in the world. Its flaws should delight us, because it means we can fit in. We cannot perfect it, God will do that. In fact, the more successful we are at mission, the more dishevilled the church will become as all sorts of people come into it with all their pasts, problems and hassles. Yet, these same people will be connected to the world's deepest needs. Beware those who seek to perfect it too much.
Check out the Corinthians in 1 Cor 1:26; 6:10-11; 7:17-24... they were ex-hookers, homosexuals, robbers, slaves; few from the senatorial and equestrian classes. There were a few well to do dudes like Erastus and Chloe etc. Yet, they were in the main, a bunch of nobodies. Kind of the like the 12 that Jesus selected to work with him. Kind of like me, an ex-drunken idiot who chased women, smoked the week, sought glory from sport and humour, and was generally a Richard Cranium... in fact described by my old English teacher as the most arrogant student he ever taught... guilty as charged! Forgive me Lord and bless him!
Anywhat, what is our problem? In 2 Corinthians Paul is humiliated on a visit to this church! Yet, I never see Paul give up on them. I never see him question their existence or want out. He experienced daily pressure for the church (2 Cor 11; 1 Cor 15), yet he saw that as his calling. Let's get real about the church, about worship, about pastors, about our old hurts... we have all seen bad examples. Yet Jesus said, 'I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.' Will we be on his side of the hell side? Finally, remember 1 Cor 3:17... 'whoever destroys (or corrupts) God's church, I will destroy him!' This is after Paul's challenge to the Corinthian elitism! Let's be constructive. Let's realise that all those churches full of old dears, or out of control young crazies, are God's churches and he loves them. I will not give up on the church. They will carry me out in a box before I do...