By Pastor Stephen Hess –
There is no such thing as a “perfect church.” In fact, it’s been said that if you find the perfect church don’t join it or else you’ll ruin it! The reason there are no perfect churches is simple: churches are made up of people and there are no perfect people. The Bible tells us that we are all sinners who are saved by grace, and even though believers are in the process of being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, we still struggle with our old sinful ways. As a consequence, churches are imperfect places where believers don’t always get things right. As the saying goes, “The church is a hospital for sinners not a hotel for saints.”
Yet even though there is no such thing as a perfect church, there is such thing as a mature church. As believers, we will never be free from sin until the return of Christ, but we can be free from immaturity. Paul says, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Cor. 14:20). So what does a mature church look like? In March, we started a new sermon series on the book of 1 Corinthians called “Biblical Maturity for the Body of Christ.” This letter from Paul gives us a number of the marks of a mature church, which we will explore during this series. Here are a few of the marks that Paul mentions:
First, mature churches are united rather than divided. In chapters 2 and 3 Paul addresses the problem of divisions in the church. His message is clear: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you” (1 Cor. 1:10). This doesn’t mean that mature churches won’t have diversity of thought or even disagreements, but it means that we maintain our unity in the midst of those tensions.
Second, mature churches practice Biblical discipline. In chapter 5 Paul addresses a situation in Corinth where a man was engaged in an unrepentant and egregiously sinful lifestyle. One of the things Paul was most upset about in this situation was that the church hadn’t held this man accountable. Mature churches practice accountability and when necessary implement Biblical discipline.
Third, mature churches take purity seriously. In chapters 6 and 7 Paul discusses the importance of maintaining sexual purity and gives instructions about what it looks like to live faithfully whether a person is married or single. In a world where there is so much sexual confusion, Christian communities are called to model a distinct way of life in this area and bear witness to God’s design for our sexuality.
Fourth, mature churches practice mutual forbearance. In chapter 8, Paul discusses whether or not Christians should eat food that had been offered to idols—a question that was controversial in his day. The Corinthian believers were divided about whether a person could do this in good conscience. Paul makes it clear that this is a matter of individual freedom for Christians and that they should bear with one another as they come to differing conclusions. We also need to bear with one another on matters of secondary importance.
Fifth, mature churches require a variety of spiritual gifts. In chapter 12 Paul makes clear that “the body is one and has many members” (1 Cor. 12:12). The body cannot function in a healthy way unless all of its parts are functioning. This means that mature churches are places not only where all of the members take an active role, but also where people are identifying and using their spiritual gifts.
These five marks are just a sampling of some of the topics Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians, but they begin to give us a blueprint of what it looks like to live in Biblical maturity as the body of Christ. Part of Highview’s mission statement is “to disciple our people to Christ-like maturity.” I hope you will join us on Sunday mornings for this series over the next few months as we seek to become more like Christ and grow in maturity as a church family.