We joke in our family that “normal” is only a setting on the dryer. “Perfect” has to fall into the same category. As my mother would quip, “There ain’t no such thing.”
Even so, these verses describing the church sound really good: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19–21)
They give me an image of a solid structure that is unified and set apart to serve God. But if anyone is looking for a perfect church, they will be disappointed. Even in the beginning, the church was not the ideal.
One of the first problems was a prideful couple who wanted to impress others with their generosity. They sold some property and gave some of the profit to the church. A partial donation was not a problem. What was a problem is that they told everyone that they had given ALL of the money.
Peter confronted the husband first. This man was so shocked that he died on the spot. Then his wife came in and Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”
She also immediately fell and died. The result was that “great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” (Acts 5:9–11)
This story is horrifying. At first I thought Peter was much too harsh, but that reveals how my understanding of holiness is not even close to how Peter and the early church understood it. For them, lying to God and each other was dire sin. It was a lie to God and also broke the bond of unity that He had given them in Christ. This couple thought more about themselves than they did about that unity and holiness, and about the close fellowship of this body of believers.
This story also shows what God thinks about hypocrisy in His people, and even about any who claim to be His children but try to impress others by being loose with the truth. He had warned them for years about the importance of truth and the relationship of truth to knowing Him as their God: “Everyone deceives his neighbor, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity. Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know me, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:5–6)
God knows the root of such sin. It comes from a heart that is bent on doing its own thing, a heart that may be able to fool others, but He is not fooled or mocked. He says, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord . . . The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:5–9)
This couple paid a high price for their deception. If they were genuine in their faith, this sin was covered by the blood of Christ, but it still had consequences; they both died because of it. Their story may have been on Paul’s mind when he wrote, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
Purity in the church and in individual Christian lives is far more important than most Christians realize. As I read this, I’m thinking that I can never allow the abundance of God’s grace to be an excuse to let my pride and sinful old self be deceitful and mock God or His family, particularly in a silly effort to look better than I am.