You Can’t Fix the Church

Jesus was clear as to who builds His Church: Himself. What is “radically wrong” with the church is no different than what is wrong with all believers throughout history, including Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After Abram tried his own devices, God told him to walk with Him and be perfect (implying that he was not perfect previously; see Gen.17.1). This is the process of sanctification that every believer be transformed to reflect God or His righteousness. “Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people), Rev. 19.8 NIV. I take these garments to be the same as the “wedding clothes” of Jesus’ parable in Mt. 22.11-14. When looking at the visible church today, one is looking at a mystery of the Kingdom as Jesus explains: He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them (Mtt.13.11 NIV). Therefore, without God’s word, we don’t know what we are looking at.

It seems to me that Tim Keller is hand-wringing when he asserts: “Virtually everyone agrees something is radically wrong with the church.” Tim Keller cannot see the church, the body of Christ: There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called (Eph.4.4 NIV). This means that both past and future believers are united in this “body.” And, more importantly, that it’s indefinable or insensible to us. We can’t see it. Only God knows His people, personally, not external observers. The church, in the bible, is unknowable to all others but God. This is the Universal Church, or, rightly, The Invisible Church. I had a pastor once who preached that the Invisible Church didn’t exist, because “you” couldn’t see it. However, God sees and knows His people through the ages while humans cannot. Therefore, The Invisible Church is true because God knows all His people, despite being insensible to us.

What Tim Keller is seeing is a leavened batch of dough (see Mt. 13.33). Further, this “mystery” (or secret) is that the visible expressions of this particular society is comprised of both the genuine and the imposter (Mt. 13.24-30). In this regard, the visible church resembles ancient Israel since, in that nation, “sons of Belial” and “wicked fools” comprised part of the populous (see Judg. 19.22, 1Sam. 2.12, esp. 2Sam.13.13). What’s more is both the unredeemed and redeemed churchgoers are sinful. Humans do not lose the “old man” at conversion to Christ (see Rom. 6.6, Eph. 4.22, Heb. 12.1, Jas. 1.21). They are still sinning until the day they die. Additionally, external observers cannot really purify the church by insisting on regenerate members since they do not know the heart of membership candidates as does God.

Of course, I know what Tim Keller means through his essay covering the twentieth century failures of belief, but I’m not going to fret about things I cannot control on a grand basis. What Keller doesn’t say, I think he means: “be personally faithful to God and scripture because anything less will be a shipwreck as illustrated by the examples.”

Tim Keller on the Decline and Renewal of the American Church

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