The Church, Why So Many Problems?
Jesus promised to build his church and he did (Matt. 16: 18, 19, cp. Acts 5: 11). God has provided clear and explicit teaching to govern the church, over which Jesus is the head (Eph. 1: 22, 23). First, we observe the means of entry and placement into the church as being scriptural baptism (Gal. 3: 26, 27, see addendum 1). As Christians who have banded together individually submit to their head, certain corporate results will be observed, such as unity and unison (cp. Acts 9: 26, I Cor. 1: 10).
The early church and problems. One of the vestiges of inspiration is the unbiased honesty, if you will, characteristic of the writing. A case in point would be the mentioning and recording of the problems experienced by the early local churches. These "problems" can be characterized in several ways. Almost immediately upon the inception of the church, the problem and challenge of physical need arose, due to the special circumstance of those obeying the gospel without having an opportunity to make plans for the monetary. I am referring to the circumstances observed in Acts 2 through 4. This problem, though, turned into a great opportunity for the sharing and showing of mutual love (cp. Acts 2: 45). This challenge also demonstrated the finer qualities possessed by these early Christians (Acts 4: 34-37). Similar problems are experienced today by the people of God as they live in a real world, involving material contingencies and needs.
The First Century church also experienced other types of problems, such as matters involving truth and error, moral and immoral matters. The local church at Corinth serves as a good model for such problematic conditions. They had division as a result of some rallying around different iconic men (I Cor. 1-3). They looked to secular wisdom instead of Godís wisdom and word as their authority and standard (Ibid.). The church at Corinth allowed false teaching relative to the resurrection, even denying the resurrection:
"12: Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" (I Cor. 15.)
Some others seemed to have focused on some of the finer nuances of the resurrection to the point of nullifying the hope inspiring truths of the biblical resurrection:
"35: But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? 36: Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die" (I Cor. 15).
Regarding the resurrection and other important matters, they shamelessly revealed their ignorance. Hence, Paul very plainly rebuked them: "Awake to righteousness and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame" (I Cor. 15: 34).
The conduct of the church at Corinth was also shocking. They were harboring a fornicator and seemed to glory in their actions (I Cor. 5). They were dragging one another before civil magistrates in an effort to extract monies one from another, monies to which they had no moral claim (I Cor. 6). They had even turned the occasion of the Lordís Supper into an apparent drunken orgy, shaming the poor among them (I Cor. 11: 20-34).
While these objectionable conditions existed among the early believers, they were not right and rebuke and time to repent were issued (see Paulís follow up epistle, 2 Corinthians).
Even division and faction within the church at Corinth had a positive, but often today forgotten benefit. Hear Paul:
"18: For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. 19: For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you" (I Cor. 11).
The church today. As one realistically looks around today, various conditions and facts are observed, assuming one is in a position to observe and has the courage to face reality. First, while in the First Century local churches having the same teaching and practice were ideally observed and there was no state known as denominationalism, such is not the case today (cp. I Cor. 4: 17, 12: 13, Eph. 4: 3-6).
Denominationalism, alas, is about the only condition some ever see and witness. Such rebellion at the authority of the word results in disbelief (cp. John 17: 20, 21). Multiplied thousands of divergent churches now exist, teaching just about every imaginable and aberrant doctrine possible. Some having accepted the premise of denominationalism, attempt to adopt the idea of multiplicity of belief and practice to the Lordís church, therein demanding allowance for all manner of contrary to the scriptures teachings and practices. Bible authority is a concept with which they experience not even a little familiarity (cp. Col. 3: 17, Matt. 7: 21ff.). In too many instances, the "church of Christ" has become just another denomination among the already existing many. They freely extend "fellowship" to the religions around them and attempt to blend in with the religions of men, having long ago abandoned the plea for distinction and separateness. When one who is trying to live right encounters such, there are many problems that cannot be reconciled.
Just about every bad situation among Godís people, past, present, and future can, indeed, fundamentally be traced back to how they view Bible authority. A large segment, if you will, of churches of Christ have without reservation accepted the idea of institutionalism. Instead of allowing the local church to do the work in the areas of preaching to the lost, edifying the saved, and administering benevolence for needy saints, they have introduced various human entities to do this work, thus, involving various forms of foreign to the scriptures government and means and forfeiting the simple autonomy of the early churches (cp. Acts 14: 23, I Pet. 5: 1-4).
So many churches of Christ have embraced unity-in-diversity, thinking that such is biblical unity. Instead of rallying around the scriptures, they agree to disagree on doctrinal issues (cp. Eph. 4: 3-6, I Cor. 1: 10). They seek out preachers who will "not disturb anyone" in their preaching. Preachers who have a knack for speaking for forty minutes without saying anything challenging and without making application of what they say. These preachers tickle the itching ears of the members, just as Paul said would happen (2 Tim. 4: 2-5).
In order to "keep the peace" and increase in numbers, they skirt pervading social issues such as divorce and marriage to another. I knew of one local church consisting of about eighty members that had eleven couples who had been divorced and married to another, a high percentage, it turned out, had not divorced for the only biblical allowance (Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9). Yet, the elders defended these couples and demanded that nothing be done to reveal the prevailing adultery.
An alarming number of churches are financially disabled due to the high building notes they make for their elaborate church buildings. Some are paying thousands of dollars each month for extended periods of time just to have a "nice place in which to meet." The meeting place is so important to them that it becomes the church. The work of the church has devolved into simple house keeping for the Lord (maintaining the material building).
Why are there so many problems associated with the Lordís church today? First, you, dear reader, should have already seen that these problems have not a scintilla to do with God. Every problem of whatever nature and manifestation it is, I unequivocally state, is the result of man. Man who does not want to submit to the yoke of God and instead insists on having his own stubborn way, this is why there are so many problems (Matt. 11: 19). It is not the case, at least, not in the main, that honest men who seek the truth simply cannot agree on what the scriptures teach and then in unison execute this teaching. Moreover, the scriptures can be understood and understood alike (cp. Eph. 3: 1-4). Paul explained to Timothy precisely what I am endeavoring to say. Consider his timeless explanation:
"16: But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.17: And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; 18: Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. 19: Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. 20: But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. 21: If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work" (2 Tim. 2).
Remember, too, that divisions, factions, and problems within the church reveal those who are genuine because it is they who stand for and insist on the truth regardless of the cost and personal sacrifice (I Cor. 11: 18, 19). As long as man is present, after all, the church does consist of people, there will be problems. Let us, however, never attempt to blame God for such problems or think for a moment that God has not provided us with the means for unity (2 Pet. 1: 3, 4).
Addendum 1: The phrase "in Christ" is observed as replete with spiritual meaning and importance. It is "in Christ" that all spiritual blessings, redemption, and salvation are enjoyed (Eph. 1: 3, 7, 2 Tim. 2: 10). "In Christ" is tantamount to being in the Lordís church and bespeaks a relationship between the Christian and God (cp. Gal. 3: 26, 27, I Cor. 12: 13). While "in Christ" is a relationship and involves the saved of the world, past and present, those in Christ will also be active members of a local church, where they execute certain assigned duties (Eph. 1: 1, 5: 19, etc.). "Problems," we should immediately point out are characteristic of the local church circumstance and not the universal, "in Christ" condition.