Summary: There is some many problems in the church. You can become discouraged. But if you look into the church, you will see more beauty than ever.
THE BEAUTY IN A UGLY CHURCH
TEXT: EPH. 5:26-27
THEME: THERE IS BEAUTY IN AN IMPERFECT CHURCH
Sometimes you can see too much of a church. My friend always warned me of this. In ministry you will see the cuts and the blemishes on the church. You will see too much of the people. This was not the way it always was with me. When I was first converted, the church looked so beautiful. The people always seemed kind and caring. Everyone seemed so perfect. It was a great contrast to the world which I came from. I knew the world was evil, but I never expected the church to have evil elements. The church seemed so perfect. It was a sad day when I truly realized that the church is not always beautiful. In the church there are all kinds of people and ideas. There are sinners, hypocrites, pretender and the indifferent. There are the dedicated, the loyal, the Christ like in the church. There are ideas of tradition and racisms and error. There is love, compassion, and kindness in the church. In the church there are brothers and sisters that have not talked to each other in years. There is personal hate toward one another, instead of love. Sometimes the church seems to be concerned with money instead of souls. The list could go on and on about all the problems in the church. And there are tons of stories that I could tell about times when the church is ugly.
Maybe you get discouraged when you see ugliness in the church. You see people having affairs with one another in the church. You see deacons drinking, gambling, and cheating people in the community. Maybe you get upset when you see elders fighting and commanding over the sheep but not loving the sheep. Maybe you have seen members gossip about each other, hate each other, and divide from one another. You want the church to be perfect. To be a place where people get a long and love one another. You want the church to be a place where people love Jesus and are serious disciples of him. But you see fashion shows, appearances but not commitment. You see people making the church the least on the priority list. All the sin in church can depress someone who has to see it.
The first congregation that I labored with, it was a great congregation, but ugliness was in the church too. About a year or so before I started to labor with the congregation, the pulpit minister was fired. He should have been, he needed to be. Today the minister is in jail, serving a 15 year sentence. What he did brought a ton of shame on the congregation. It was all over the news papers and on T.V. Everyone in the smaller town knew of this congregation now. Not because of its good works, but because of its sinner minister. People shared stories about the congregation. The reason everyone in the town knew of the congregation was because of the minister. He was caught having an affair with a 16 year old girl. The parents of the girl pressed charges against the minister. He was convicted. This action broke up his family, hurt his children, and his wife divorced him. This was truly an ugly situation. But there are thousands of stories about this across the nation. So how can we overcome this disappointment with the church? How can we love the church, even when it is ugly?
We are blessed because the Bible helps us in this goal. God has always desired for his church to be beautiful. He states this in Ephesians 5:26-27 “that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.” The church is to be a pretty organization. We are to radiant goodness throughout the world. When people see the church, they are to see a beautiful bride coming down the aisle. God is not pleased when his people act in unbecoming ways. The purpose of the church is stated in 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” God’s idea for the church is one of beauty. He wants his church to be a shining light in the world. He wants the church to show Christ to unbelievers. It is by the beauty of the church that people will come.
The problem is that at first we see the beauty of the church but than with time we see the pain in the church. We see the church as it was not meant to be. The reality of the situation is that the church has not changed much for the pages of the New Testament. In the first century along there were many fights and problems in the church. As the portrait of the first century church develops, an ugly situation occurs in the church in Galatia. Paul has to address the Galatians because they are deserting the grace of Christ for another gospel. These Galatians are being persuaded by a group of Jewish teachers attempting to enforce cultural Jewish practices on Gentile converts (Gal. 1:6-9). These false teachers are attempting to bind circumcision as a requirement for salvation. Paul is highly upset at these foolish and bewitched believers (Gal. 3:1). Once again the New Testament text paints a portrait of the Church in conflict. This tension over the interrelationship between Judaism and Christianity is a reappearing theme throughout the early church. The problem even escalates to the point that there is a need to conduct a leadership conference in Jerusalem (Acts 15). Some of the most influential leaders attended this forum. Paul, Barnabas, Peter, and James were all there. Fortunately the issues were resolved and the mission work in the churches continued (Acts 15:36), but not before a dispute between two major leaders in the early church erupted. The church in Jerusalem was established on the day of Pentecost after Peter’s stirring sermon on Israel rejecting her Savior. There is a strong start to this congregation, but just a few chapters past there is some complaining from the Hellenistic Jews because their widows are being overlooked in the daily serving of food (Acts 6:1-2 NASB). Already, there are some hurt feelings in the congregation over ethic issues. The first century Church is having its first church squabble. Nevertheless, the word of God continues to spread in spite of cranky Christians (Acts 6:7). For instance, Paul encounters numerous problems in the church of Christ in Corinth. This congregation seems to be in perpetual upheaval. The congregation has a foundational pride problem underneath its outward actions. There are divisions, acceptance of detestable sins, unauthorized lawsuits, issues concerning eating idol meat, confusion concerning spiritual gifts, and selfish practices in the Lord’s Supper. The Corinthian church is the epitome of conflict and confusion. The first century church in Corinth is constantly living within a context of debates and confusion. Tension was certainly high in this pride-filled congregation.