Dear Christian: There is No Such Thing as the Perfect Church

Dear Christian,

I have been told that the prosperity gospel of Joel Osteen is a corruption of the Christian message. 

It has been made clear that Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church are not bearers of the true Gospel. 

Jehovah's Witnesses, with all their zeal and genuine concern for the coming apocalypse, have misunderstood the central importance of the deity of Jesus for salvation.

The KKK are not really Christians. Southern slaveholders misused the Bible to justify their own fallible, human desires. The Crusades were a mistake. John Calvin was a great theologian who made profound errors of judgement when running Geneva. Zwingli will have to give an account to God for his murder of Anabaptists. Sovereign Grace Ministries were corrupted by sinful, bureaucratic tendencies when they covered up sexual abuse in their church community. Ted Haggard was a hypocrite. Mark Driscoll was uncouth, authoritarian, and unChristianly. 

The common theme in this litany is that Christianity is not reducible to its manifold expressions. At least, this is what I've been told over the years. I have been reassured by pastors, parents, professors, and peers – in sermons, family dinners, theology classes, and Bible studies – that just because someone – or some community – waves the banner of Christianity, that does not mean that they are genuine members of the Church. Or, if they are true members, that they are just backsliding or in a state of temporary sinful behavior because – our sin nature abides.

There is no such thing as the perfect church.

As long as sin remains in the world, so too will sin corrupt our lives, even (or maybe especially) our church lives. Which means that churches will be infected with pride, scandal, inequality, domestic abuse, lust, greed, etc etc etc etc... Right?


So, can we extend this same measure of grace, this same measure of patience and understanding, to discourses surrounding socialism? That is, just as there is no perfect church, does it not become a necessity to also admit that there is no perfect social system? 

The USSR made mistakes. Horrible mistakes. Venezuela is a mess. The Sandinista Revolution has had coarse ups and downs. Cuba educated their people and provided healthcare, but alas – sin nature. China [insert criticism]. Albania [go ahead]. Etc etc etc etc...

There is no such thing as the perfect church. 

However, analogous to how you will be so quick to defend the truth of Christianity, to how you will come to the aid of a Christian scandal with an apology, how you will pray for the betterment of the Church around the world as it struggles to navigate the complex terrains of history and culture and shifting economics modalities – will you do the same for the spirit of radical freedom, equality, and community? That is, will you defend, will you provide apology, will you pray for the better implementation of true socialist principles, recognizing that even when these principles aren't fully actualized, that there are reasons why they aren't fully actualized that may not be attributable to the central logic of socialism per se? Just like the faults of the flag-bearers of Christianity aren't reducible to the central logic of Christianity per se?

If not, why? 

I understand that you may not find this comparison apropos at first. Immediately you may be scribbling a response that points out that the Church is different because it is supposed to be a mirror to heavenly perfection – an instantiation of God's common grace on Earth. You might not be able to restrain that need to remind me that the glue that binds the Church is the objective hand of God's providence. Ok. I'm following. But let's pause for a second and consider that these aren't necessary to my point. I'm not suggesting that socialism is a replacement for the Church. Neither am I trying to convince you to *become* a socialist per se. Rather, I just want us to be able to scrape beneath the biases that prevent fruitful communication. In a way, I'm hoping to translate a set of concerns from an adjacent community by building out from a point of commonality. 

I do love you, Christian. This is not written in anger. This is an appeal. You may not recognize me as much as you used to. But I am still part of the family. Somehow. I may have gone in other directions in many ways, but that is only because I have been seeking to implement a vision of the Messianic Kingdom in ways other than those that I found at-hand in the American Church. This doesn't mean I think you are an idiot or evil; or that I'm smarter or better. It means that I've tasted the fruits of other expressions of labor that are rooted in a radical commitment to freedom, equality, and community. I have not found a replacement for the Church. And I'm not asking you to renounce your faith. I am merely sitting at a neighboring table, inviting you to partake, to sit down with me and to see if you too can find something savory in the practice of building life in a social space that might seem uncomfortable at first but that I trust won't be so distasteful once you press your lips to it. 

Taste and see...