Philip Shee—Jakarta, Indonesia
The apostolic church in the first
century is, rightfully, regarded as the model we should emulate as we develop
our church today. Upon the downpouring of the Holy
Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the early church grew exponentially, from one
hundred and twenty believers to three thousand in a day (Acts 2:1–4; 41). She
then grew rapidly to five thousand in a very short period of time (Acts 4:4).
The church had been entrusted with
the complete truth as the Holy Spirit “brought to their remembrance all things
that the Lord had said to them” (Jn 14:26), and “guided them into all truth”
(Jn 16:13). The Holy Spirit gave them courage to testify boldly (Acts 4:31) and
empowered them to perform miracles as testimony to the truth (Acts 2:43; 3:6–9;
5:14–16). The early believers were of one heart and soul and had all things in
common (Acts 2:44–45; 4:32–35). Such an atmosphere in the church is encouraging
However, while it is good to
aspire and have the True Jesus Church (TJC) mirror all aspects of the early
church, it is important to do so with a positive and mature attitude. The
complete truth of salvation has indeed been restored to the TJC, and the Holy
Spirit has already been poured down as prophesied. Notwithstanding, we must
recognize that the spiritual pursuit in other aspects such as love and holiness
is a journey towards perfection that the church has embarked upon, rather than
a goal that has easily and already been attained. Failure to appreciate this
context may leave us disillusioned and disappointed when we chance upon the
imperfections within the church.
DISAPPOINTED WITH HYPOCRISY?
It is understandable that we feel
disappointed when we observe hypocrisy in church. After all, Jesus had often
rebuked the Pharisees for their pretense and inconsistencies between their
words and actions. Paul strongly advocated that love be without hypocrisy (Rom
12:9); Paul and Timothy consistently conducted themselves in simplicity and
godly sincerity among the believers (2 Cor 1:12).
Remembering these exemplars, we
may become disillusioned when we observe people in church who appear insincere
in their dealings. We may have observed double standards being practiced,
overheard some patronizing conversations among brethren, or experienced some
broken promises. Over time, we start to doubt our brethren and before long, we
may end up dismissing the entire institution of the church as hypocritical. To
reconcile the internal conflict in our minds, we convince ourselves that it is
better to practice our faith alone, apart from the church.
Viewing the above encounters in
context is critical in shaping our reactions. We must understand that while the
church is an institution of God, she continues to be made up of people who are
far from perfect; people who are at different stages of their journey of faith.
Even members who are supposedly strong, such as leaders and ministers, have
moments of weakness. It was no different in the apostolic church that we are
seeking to model.
In Antioch, Paul confronted Peter
because the latter had not been straightforward about the truth of the gospel.
Peter was originally eating with the Gentiles but chose to withdraw and
separate himself from them when certain men from James visited. He reacted in
this manner because he was afraid that these visiting Jewish believers might
not accept the Gentiles. Peter certainly did not share their views, yet his
actions were inconsistent. He seemed to be keen to please man rather than
upholding what was right. This was very serious as even Barnabas and the rest
of the Jews were affected and played the hypocrite with him (Gal 2:11–14).
As a leader, Peter’s weakness in
this instance could have dealt a heavy blow to the Gentiles in the church, or
to other co-workers who looked up to him. This was the same Peter who denied
Jesus three times despite having professed that he was ready to go to prison
and even to die with Christ (Lk 22:33, 56–62).
Notwithstanding these incidents, most will agree that, on balance, Peter’s
inconsistency and lapses were merely a reflection of his momentary human
weakness rather than conclusive evidence of his character as an incorrigible
hypocrite. More importantly, although he was a pillar of the church (Gal 2:9),
Peter’s momentary weakness was not used to evaluate the integrity of the entire
institution of the apostolic church. Therefore, let us not allow our encounter
with individual hypocrisy in church lead us to write off the integrity of the
HURT BY JUDGMENT?
We may occasionally hear unhappy
believers lament that the church has no love. Such sentiments often arise when
we feel that some of our unconventional choices are frowned upon by others in
church. These may range from views we hold, to habits we have, the way we
dress, the hairstyle we don, or the values we uphold. Feeling victimized, we
distance ourselves from the church. This may gradually deteriorate into
complete disengagement as we convince ourselves that no one in church
understands us and no one bothers to do so.
Such a situation may be
exacerbated by the presence of others who share the same sentiments. Instead of
helping one another break free from this dangerous downward spiral, we end up
entrenching each other in bitterness. As we fan the fire of discontentment by
piling our negative experiences on one another, we feel vindicated. But before
long, our bitterness multiplies and becomes a collective conviction that the
church is prejudiced, cold, and devoid of the love she espouses.
Paul’s recognition that love is
the greatest over faith and hope (1 Cor 13:13), and encouragement for the
church to “pursue love” (1 Cor 14:1) suggest that even the early church was not
yet perfect in love. There were “spots in their love feasts” (Jude 12). Other
apostles also continued to reinforce the lessons in love. John encouraged the
church to love in “deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18). Peter, after writing many
topics to the believers located in various places, reminded them, “above all
things have fervent love for one another” (1 Pet 4:8). The key to rise above
our bitterness is to recognize that the lesson in love cannot be mastered
overnight. It is a lifelong pursuit for individuals and also the church as a
whole. Hence, it should not surprise us to see imperfect manifestation of love
However, if we look around us
objectively, we would agree that we do see a fair amount of love and kindness
among brethren and also among workers. Is it not love that takes not just one,
but many of our missionaries and volunteer workers repeatedly to developing
countries across the world? Is it not love that motivates our ministers and
believers to tirelessly visit the sick and those in need? Is it not love that
inspires our youths to care for their students in the religious education
classes? Is it not love that keeps our ministers awake as they pray in tears
for backsliding believers? The list is endless.
Undeniably, there are pockets of
lapses in love. But to generalize and conclude that the church is devoid of
love by focusing solely on the lapses and turning a blind eye to the many other
positives appears to be an unfair judgment in itself. Such selective retention
of negative observations will only increase our bitterness. This is neither
helpful to the situation nor good for our spiritual wellbeing.
Keeping track of such negative
examples is likely to make us feel even more justified in our disappointment
with the church which, in turn, may lead to the unintended consequence of
righteousness in our own eyes. Unknowingly, we may become stumbling blocks when
we inadvertently influence others with our negative sentiments. Further posting
our unhappiness on social media may result in an unfair, negative impression of
the church created among our uninformed, non-believing friends reading our
Very broadly, such a lack of
discretion was also displayed by the Corinthian church when they raised their
complaints against each other before unbelievers, earning a rebuke from Paul (1
Cor 6:1–8). If our love indeed surpasses others, why would we do something that
could harm the church, which comprises many other innocent members trying their
best to be good Christians? The Book of Proverbs provides a wise teaching for
us in this regard, "The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls
it down with her hands" (Prov 14:1). If we
indeed have love and see ourselves as part of the church, the household of God,
our reaction to any shortcomings we observe should not be one of condemnation from the outside. Rather, it is much
more productive to take the lead to love from the inside.
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender
mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another,
forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another, even as
Christ forgave you, so you must do. But above all these things put on love,
which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts,
to which you were called in one body; and be thankful.
Based on this Pauline instruction,
consider our reaction to the observed lapses of love in church. Is our reaction
a manifestation of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, and long suffering? Are
we bearing with others and have we forgiven them? Have we let the peace of God
rule in our hearts, or have we given our hearts over to anger, bitterness or
DISGRUNTLED BY INJUSTICE?
There are times when the church has
to exercise her authority to discipline erring workers or members who have
crossed the line of fundamental requirements in the Bible. Some workers may be
removed from office and others may even be ex-communicated. At such unfortunate
times, we often encounter members who may feel the church has either been
overly harsh or has dealt without sufficient justice. Such sentiments may be
colored by personal relationships with the individuals; we may find it
difficult to believe that our dear friends are capable of all that wrongdoing.
After all, we have seen the good side of these individuals. Such initial
reactions of disbelief or perhaps even indignation are understandable.
However, it is important to make a
clear distinction between personal relationships and spiritual obligations to
defend the truth and the sanctity of the church. The Bible has many examples of
such dilemmas. When Moses saw that the people were unrestrained over the
incident of the golden calf, he had to take the very painful decision to make a
distinction. He asked those on the Lord's side to go over to him before
unleashing the Lord's wrath on the unrepentant, resulting in the death of three
thousand. This preserved the people of God, all of whom would otherwise have
been destroyed. Moses was clearly not “trigger happy” as his pain could be seen
from his plea with God to forgive the rest (Ex 32:21–35). Likewise, over the
rebellion led by Korah, Moses was initially saddened
and fell on his face (Num 16:1–4). But when Korah and
his gang remained defiant and even influenced the entire congregation, God
instructed Moses and Aaron to separate from them in order for the Lord to
consume all of them. Upon the intercession of Moses and Aaron, God gave the
congregation another chance by instructing them to get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Had they not done so, they would have perished with
them and the two hundred and fifty who stood by them (Num 16:19–35).
The church is the pillar and
ground of the truth (1 Tim 3:15); she has been entrusted with the
responsibility of preserving and propagating the truth. Hence there can be no
room for heretics within to spread false teachings to confuse members and draw
them away from the grace of God. For this reason, Paul named Hymenaeus and Alexander whom he had “delivered to Satan
that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim 1:18–20), warned believers to
“shun Hymenaeus and Philetus
on account of their cancerous message” (2 Tim 2:15–18) and also to “withdraw
from people who do not consent to wholesome words, the words of our Lord Jesus
and to the doctrine which accords with godliness” (1 Tim 6:3–5).
The sanctity of the church also
cannot be compromised by allowing unholy or immoral workers to remain in
service. Paul even went to the extent of telling us not to keep company, and
not even to eat with a brother who is sexually immoral, covetous, or an idolator, a reviler, a drunkard or an extortioner.
He further tells us to purge the evil person from amongst us (1 Cor 5:9–13).
Paul's stand was due to his concern for the wider church as he recognized
that "a little leaven leavens the whole lump" (1 Cor 5:6–7). This is
also aligned with John's teaching that we “should not even pray for those who
have committed sins leading to death” (1 Jn 5:16).
The church, being God's institution,
is a place of order. Paul pointed out to the Corinthians, that "God is not
the author of confusion, or disorder" (1 Cor 14:33) and instructed them to
"let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor 14:40). This
was particularly apt for the Corinthian church as the members were full of
themselves, each believing themselves to be superior to others. They were
individualistic, divisive and not submissive to the church as an institution.
It is clear from Paul's first
epistle to the Corinthians that the church is not the place for insubordinate
mavericks to promote their individualism and create disorder and chaos. Paul
wrote to the Thessalonians to "withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly
and not according to the tradition which he received from us" (2 Thess 3:6). Paul had also instructed Titus to "reject
a divisive man after the first and second admonition" (Tit 3:10). Hence,
if there are workers or members who operate as insubordinate mavericks with no
regard for the wider church as an institution, even after repeated admonition,
then we may have little choice except to exercise church discipline (Mt 18:15–17).
In all the above examples, the key
is to recognize the full context of Christian love. While forgiveness and
forbearance is clearly a key component (Col 3:12–14), we must also recognize
that love "does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth"
(1 Cor 13:6). There is clear biblical basis for church discipline. For us to
conclude that exercising church discipline demonstrates a lack of love or
justice is probably, in itself, a harsh judgment we have made on the church.
Exercising church discipline is a very sad and painful experience which no one
enjoys. In fact it is much easier for leaders in the church to play "Mr.
Nice Guy." However, doing so would be irresponsible, unjust, and unloving
as we subject the wider church to potential harm, while not necessarily helping
the errant to repent.
It is not uncommon to see people
distance themselves from institutions they belong to and criticize the
institution from the outside. In the secular world, we often hear working
people remark, "the firm doesn't care" or "the management
doesn't care" when these people are actually part of the firm or even the
management themselves. When asked who the firm is or who the management is,
they are often dumbfounded. On further query, the issue causing unhappiness can
often be narrowed down to a few individuals with whom they have a personal
The tendency to generalize from
the individual to the institution is probably also reflective of our
dissatisfaction with the church. We may unwittingly conclude that the church is
hypocritical, unloving, or unjust as a result of some church developments we
disagree with, or some members we are unhappy with. But have we considered that
we are very much part of the church herself? Running away and criticizing from
outside will neither resolve our situation nor improve the church. The optimal
way is for us to pursue love, justice, and truth together with the church at
large, since we share this common journey.
There is no need to be a troubled
sheep away from the fold. There are still many other lovely sheep who are kind,
meek, and full of love within the fold. There are still many shepherds who love
and care for the sheep within the fold. These same shepherds continue to pray
and hope that the wandering sheep away from the fold will be able to iron out
the turmoil in their hearts and break free from their negative spiral of
bitterness. With love and longsuffering, the shepherds will continue to call,
praying that these sheep will return in peace to the