Wednesday, February 4, 2009
When to Leave a Church
Some may ask when it's wise to stay in the battle and when it's God's will to leave. Leaving a church is not always wrong and frequently healthy. Some churches can never be redeemed because of the level of infiltration. Here are three legitimate reasons to consider leaving a church. Notice, though, there are also cautions before making the choice to break the tie with a local church. First, doctrinal heresy is a reason to leave. Some doctrinal issues are not fundamental to your faith and can be overlooked. For example, some doctrines, such as baptism, forms of church government, the nature of the Tribulation, and the millennium are debatable. They should not be reasons to leave a church, even though you may personally have strong opinions on these issues. Some doctrines, though, cannot be compromised, at least in church leaders. What doctrines must we hold to and consider serious heresies when rejected and preached by our leaders? I'd list the following: 1. The virgin birth and deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2. The blood atonement: Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross for the sins of the world. 3. Salvation by grace through faith. There is only one way to be saved and it's by faith in Christ alone. If you can't get the leadership to agree to this point, nothing can possibly be gained except to try and convert those leaders to genuine faith. 4. The inspiration and absolute authority of the Scriptures. Biblical infallibility is central to evangelical belief. Only through infallible Scriptures can we know that other doctrines are true. 5. The bodily resurrection of Christ. Without the resurrection, Christianity is literally a "dead" religion. 6. The one-day physical return of the Lord. That Jesus is coming again should not be compromised into saying something less, i.e., "His coming is not bodily, but a spiritual coming into the hearts of His people," or some nonsense like that. 7. The triunity of the Godhead. This means that Father, Son and Spirit are all equally divine, but also distinct persons. To deny any doctrines in the above list is to deny the cardinal teachings of orthodox Christianity. Second, church leaders or members engaged in public sin is a reason to leave. When church leadership or pastors refuse to deal with open sin, especially among its co leaders, you've got a problem. An example might be ongoing immorality within the ranks of leadership or being tolerated in the local body of believers. Other issues could be various addictions like alcoholism, pornography, drugs, and so on. When leaders clearly sin and do not repent, or even when they allow sin to grow and flourish in their midst, it's time to consider whether this is God's person for you to follow. Jasper was an excellent preacher and dynamic leader. But sometimes in his antics he would do things that were unorthodox. The theme of his preaching was grace, which is wonderful. However, the people in his church often wondered if he had gone too far. For instance, he often made statements like, "Salvation is of grace, only of grace. Repentance is a work, therefore repentance is not necessary for salvation." Jasper would often say that those who came to Christ on the basis of repentance were not true Christians. This raised the eyebrows of those in his congregation who spent time in the Word. What kept people in that church was that people flocked to it in droves. It grew fantastically. All kinds of people were being "saved." The grace message that Jasper preached with his personal interpretation became very popular. Unfortunately, it was a type of Christianity that did not impact the listener's lifestyle. One day, the news broke that Pastor Jasper and several of the elders in the church had been involved in immorality with women both in the congregation and outside of the congregation. Even more shocking was the revelation from Jasper that though this might not be in the perfect will of God, this was permissible under grace. A group of people under wise counsel left that body and formed a new church that is flourishing today. Jasper's old church, though, has all but died. Christan's cannot tolerate overt sin in the church leadership. If the leaders refuse to admit guilt and repent, it's time to leave that church. Third, if God has called you elsewhere, you should leave the church. Sometimes the Lord truly calls Christians to serve in another place. This may be a new job or a life transition, or for Christian leaders, including pastors, as new vocational ministry, at such a time the ideal would be to have the church you are leaving release or send you to the new body. Be careful, though, when you take such a direction that it is not your pride or a lust for personal glory driving you. But if in your heart of hearts you perceive God wants you in another church plant or situation, by all means heed that prompting. When I was a student in Bible college and assisting as a youth pastor in a rapidly growing church in a city in the Midwest, the senior pastor and I would pray together every Saturday afternoon. Often we prayed about all kinds of places and situations and, to my amazement, as we would pray about other countries, tears would drip down his face, especially when we prayed for Spain. As we were praying, I often felt rather nonspiritual because I did not have a burden for Spain at all. After several months of this, I began to wonder was was going on in his life. I found out when one day he announced that God had called him and his wife as missionaries to Spain. He soon raised all his financial support, went to Spain, and was used of God to found a number of Bible-believing churches. The church that I was part of at that time happily released him to go to another part of the world because they also had seen his "burden" for Spain. I believe that just as my pastor friend was called of God to serve in another part of His world, so God calls us at times to serve Him in other places, other cities, other churches. The only caveat I'd offer is that you be sure of your call. But if God is speaking to you, like He was to my pastor, then move ahead at full speed. You have nothing to fear except stepping out of the will of God by not doing it. Dr. Ken Copley is available for counseling, conferences, and local church meetings.