When “Perfection” is the opposite of “Perfect”

Perfect 10In a recent exchange on the Anglican Communion Linked-In page, one of the participants in the conversation challenged me on my assertions that the goal of Christian community was not to achieve and maintain perfection, and that neither Jesus Christ nor the Apostle Paul ever intended to start a religion named “Christianity.”

So I’d like to comment briefly here on the concepts of “perfection” and “religion.”

If we moderns are not careful in our use of terms, we run the risk of overlying the original means of the words of Scripture with our own connotations.

For example, we tend to think of perfection in the absolute sense, as in entirely without error, wholly without defect, as something or someone having achieved a state of being which complete in-and-of itself.  When we hear Jesus say, “You are to be perfect as your Father in heave is perfect,” we view it as reaching a state of perfection exactly like God’s state of perfection.  However, the writers of the New Testament used the term in a more nuanced way. Our sense of perfect is close to the Greek “aortist” tense, which connotes an act that is complete and permanent. But in all the places where we are being asked to be “perfect,” the tense is notaortist, as in completed once-and-for-all, but “imperfect,” as in an ongoing process. Paul implies as much when he says “not that I have already become perfect” (Phil. 3:12) and when he says that God “will perfect” a good work in us “until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). Continue reading