In Pursuit Of Perfection?

October 25, 2010 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

It’s hard to believe, but in a few short weeks this site will have been around for three years.  In honor of that upcoming milestone, I thought it would be interesting to revisit some of the questions and objections that have been raised most frequently.

Today’s topic is the concept of the “perfect” church.

From the beginning, there’s always been a segment of our audience who claims to be supremely happy with SGM and who will jump into discussions here to assert that the folks who have shared their stories about bad SGM experiences are wrong.  Or, they’ll comment to say that I’m wrong for hosting the site.  Or both.  I’ve come to think of these commenters as being “Sovereign Grace Ministries Defenders.”

When explaining to us why we’re wrong, the typical SGM Defender will almost inevitably include the line, “No church is perfect.” 

This is a straw man.

It’s a straw man because the implication is that those of us commenting here somehow believe that SGM should be perfect, or that perfection is somehow attainable…like criticisms of SGM are invalid because the fact that no entity or person will be perfect means that we have to turn a blind eye to ALL imperfections or flaws, no matter how glaring or grievous.

But of course, NOBODY here is stupid enough to believe that a “perfect” church exists.  We all KNOW – duh! – that no church is perfect. 

Excusing SGM and telling us we can’t talk openly about SGM’s abuses because “no church will be perfect” is kind of like saying that one cannot discuss abusive parenting because, after all, “no parent will be perfect.” 

I think we can all agree that such thinking is silly and illogical.

What’s been interesting to me, as I’ve dealt with the “No church is perfect” line again and again, is that ironically, this type of silly and illogical knee-jerk defensiveness in the face of criticism reveals that SGMers DO believe in SGM’s perfection, after a fashion. 

After all, while SGM defenders will pay lip service to the CONCEPT that SGM is not perfect, they will – if pressed – then go on to exhibit a total mental block about addressing any SPECIFIC way in which SGM displays imperfections.

I can’t remember any more who it was, but awhile back some defender came along and dialogued extensively with us about this site.  I can recall asking this person – who’d said that he was aware of areas where SGM needed to be changed or improved – just how he’d go about addressing his observations.  I mean, if you see a mistake or error in your SGM church, what avenues do you have to pursue change?

This person basically admitted that there actually ISN’T any way for the common member to pursue change, beyond offering up a “humble” suggestion to his or her pastor and hoping that the pastor will agree.

But immediately after that admission, this SGM defender disappeared and never came back.  It seemed obvious that he felt he’d somehow veered into sin by acknowledging a specific flaw within SGM’s system.

So, as far as the mantra of, “No Church Is Perfect” goes – well, sure, that’s true.  But it’s also a straw man that SGM has set up in response to ANY and ALL criticism.  To reiterate, NOBODY has ever said that they want SGM to be “perfect.”  Nobody has ever believed that any church COULD be perfect.  It’s a given that humans will stumble and make mistakes.

But since that’s the case – and since SGM is run by the self-proclaimed “worst sinners they know” – then why don’t they have any governance structures in place to address this?  Why are there no formal avenues of accountability for leaders to the people whom they’re supposed to be serving?  Why does accountability grow more and more vague and informal, the farther one travels up the ever-narrowing leadership pyramid? 

Until Sovereign Grace Ministries amends its polity to provide clear formal methods for addressing problems (or “imperfections,” if you will), it seems rather obvious that SGM’s leaders do, in fact, believe that SGM must be pretty close to perfect.  The commenters (and moderator) here aren’t the ones holding SGM up to some unattainable standard of perfection.  Rather, SGM’s own leaders are doing that every day that they continue to operate without formal accountability to the congregations who pay their salaries.