Ahhh, the early church.
It was so much better than the church today. It was like a 24/7 Holy Ghost party (see Kirk Franklin), where everyone was sharing their property, lovin’ on each other, hanging out with the Apostles, and eating pot-providence meals together. The word of God was explosively increasing, and more converts were streaming into the church every day. It was like one, big, happy family (sort of like the Olive Garden, right?).
Or was it?
Well, I guess there was Mary Magdalene. She had seven demons cast out of her by Jesus. She probably would have had some excess baggage. And there was Zacchaeus, the former greedy tax collector. Old habits die hard, and I imagine that he still had to fight against his greed every day. James and John, the Sons of Thunder, were part of the group also. They had an aggressive streak in them that sometimes produced rather humorous/disturbing results (see calling fire down on various cities). And then there was Peter, the leader of the whole outfit. Peter struggled a lot with the fear of what other people would think. He denied Jesus. Later on, he turned his back on Gentile converts in order to please the Jews, which led to a head-to-head showdown with Paul.
It turns out that the early church wasn’t so nice after all. It was a church full of messy people who had plenty of sinful baggage. And that’s the way it should be in our churches. After all, Jesus came for the sick, not the healthy. He came for those who are heavy laden and in need of rest. He spent his time around prostitutes and tax collectors. When those folks got saved, they brought their messy lives into the church.
I’m not saying that we should revel in our messiness, as if it’s somehow a badge of honor. I am saying that we shouldn’t be discouraged when we see various messes throughout our churches. We shouldn’t lose heart when we see people struggling with their faith. That’s the way the church has always been, and yet God continues to do awesome, great things through the church! He continues to manifest the glory of the gospel to a watching world through messy, sinful people. He continues to shape his people more and more into the likeness of Christ.
I’m also saying that our churches should be places where messy people feel comfortable. They should be places from which the compelling grace of God radiates forth. Places where the self-righteous and the self-hating can come and be confronted and changed by the wonderful gospel of Christ. If we’re truly preaching the gospel, then people of all sorts will be saved, and they will bring all their baggage with them.
So yeah, our churches are going to messy places. But in one sense, that’s a good thing. It means that we’re preaching the gospel.