21 February 2007

My poor local church

by Frank Turk

I have something cooking over at my blog today, so I only have a short (?!) TeamPyro post this Wednesday. This is actually related to that post, but it is also related to this blog, so I posted this short piece here and will post the longer piece over at my blog later today.

See: we get letters. That is, I get e-mail often enough to say I get it from readers, and there’s one kind of e-mail that troubles me deeply. It goes like this:
Dear Cent,

I’m an avid TeamPyro reader, and I just wanted to tell you how important the encouragement I get from your blog is. I’m technically a members of a local church, but my family and I are church-shopping right now because [something about this church is not right]. I know you’re sympathetic to that problem as I am sure many people face it, but I just wanted to let you know that you, Phil and Dan are my spiritual food right now.

Please keep up the good work and pray for us.

Sincerely,

Avid Reader
Let me say frankly that I have a big, importing-stuff-from-China boat load of sympathy for the struggling local church. There is no question that this is probably the greatest actual symptom in American Christianity today, and if we could somehow nurse all the churches which are struggling today to “health” – whatever that means (and boy is there a blog series in that) – we would have a much more robust (red-blooded, vital, strapping) church against which the gates of Pop Culture and Political Influence could not stand.



So when you write to me – or all three of us here at TeamPyro – and you are grateful for our encouragement, thanks. But I think maybe you don’t understand what we’re encouraging you to do if you write a letter which says what the fictional letter above says.

Let’s focus on the bit in the square brackets for one second: [something about this church is not right]. Let’s assume for one second that [something about this church is not right] is, for example, that your pastor is a rank Arminian – a guy who can’t even read the book of Romans without injecting the term “free will” (meaning a libertarian, unable-to-be-under-God’s-Sovereignty, human will) every place it says God chose or God kept. And let’s assume that while he never veers into Open Theism or Pelagianism, he never quite gets to the bondage of the will or the necessity of election in the face of the depravity of man. So he’s constantly on about how you choose, etc.

Or let’s assume that your elders (by whatever title they go by) have hired a worship pastor who is very, um, entertaining. That is, he sings all the songs with Jesus’ name in them, but you always find yourself waiting for the lighters to come out or the disco ball to lower from the ceiling because he and his band are so darn well-produced even in a live setting.

Or let’s assume, in the worst case, that you have prepared a series for our Sunday school class on the work of the cross, and out of conscience and humility you give the outline to your Sunday school administrator and he tells you that you can’t talk about election and the scope of the atonement – that it’s either too controversial or too deep or actually false, and you can’t teach that here.

What if you’re clinging to TeamPyro because of these things? What of you’re leaving your local church over these things?


Atta boy?

Listen: I have advice for you who are in these [something about this church is not right] situations which you are not going to like, and you are going to think that I have somehow gone soft when you hear it – but I am actually telling you how to buck up.

My advice is this: God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. Some of you may be insulted that I have cited the Message to say this to you, and let me say plainly that this is what I am talking about.

See: in our personal logic – our normally-functioning brains – we say to ourselves, “holy moley – this is bad! We have to run away!” And we can even cite Bible verses to ensure that we have a Scripture basis for doing so, I am sure. You have to run away from error and sin, don’t you?

Yes, I think you do – and if you have a problem with pornography, you should run away from sin; if you have a problem with anger or a hard heart, you should run away from conflict; if you have a problem with overeating, you should run away from the Chinese Buffet. But the problem in every case here is not other people but you yourself.

See: the example Christ gives us is to die to sin and to do this for the sake of others. If our personal holiness is a matter of the highest importance, I think it turns out that it’s not in order to make ourselves into moral paragons: it is to make ourselves into offering poured out for the Lord.

And in that, in your local church where the Pastor does not have the theological shrewdness you have picked up on the internet and by reading the Top 100 Protestant Classics of all time – seasoned by the weekly Dose of Spurgeon, right? – maybe what you should do is pour yourself out a little rather than sniff at a guy who, unlike you, is an ox in the yoke who theadeth out the corn.

I love my pastor – but as we all know, love is not an emotional state: it is an act of the will. It is a commitment which results in action. Suffer for his sake a little. If you do that – if you have the truth, and you have love as defined by truth, and you speak the truth in love – and that fellow asks you to leave, that’s one thing. If you leave because you can’t find it in you to love him, that’s another.

Don’t e-mail me, either, to make yourself feel better. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who think a lot about the theological implications of love but can’t muster up 20 minutes a day to demonstrate the theological implications of love in a way which does more than point out [something about this church is not right].

Let’s be honest: there is something not right about you – and that is actually why Christ died. Christ died for our sins. Christ did – Christ who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant. So if you’re really after Christ-likeness, start with the people you can see, and touch, and say something to with your mouth.

And get serious about being in fellowship. If you want more on that, check my blog later today.











76 comments:

DJP said...

I have three kinds of responses:

1. Teasing:

Frank's memo-pad

-plug my blog once, check
-write a great post, check
-plug my blog again, check

2. Joking:

...as we all know, love is not an emotional state: it is an act of the will....

FRANK! PIPERITES! RUN!!!

3. Serious.

Excellent point. One I've lived, as perhaps you have as well. I think we were two years in a church in which we were not challenged nor fed, nor were we welcomed and loved, and that resisted our attempts to get in and involved personally. But it was the church we had, and its shortcomings didn't give us a "note from our doctor" excusing us from God's commands.

Tom Chantry said...

It's interesting to note that the most mature, effective Christians I have known tend to look at their church not merely in terms of how it feeds them, but in terms of how they might serve Christ in and through it. Consequently, while they may move from one church to another, they will not do so quickly or lightly. And they will never be without a church: to be so would be to cut themselves off from the opportunity to serve.

Kevin Rhyne said...

Ka-Boom!

It is easy to jump ship at the first hint of conflict, especially when you live in an area where there is a church on every corner. We have forgotten the idea of a covenant community.

I look forward to the longer post on your blog. See, the plug worked!

LeeC said...

Believe it or not I wholeheartedly agree with a caveat. like interpretation of Scripture context is king.

Your fictional letter was vague.
I am often vague about why I left my church also, there are sometimes valid reasons for leaving your local body, not often, but sometimes.

Lets say for instance you have a nice little conservative Baptist church. It's congregational with the deacons acting as Elder/Deacon hybrids. Sadly it is down to about 15 people who have been there for the past 30-50 years.

They hire a nice pastor with great qualifications right out of seminary and he does a great job of preaching the Word, and even is used by the Lord to bring some younger couples into the congregation. After a while he becomes convicted about some ways that the church can conform to the Word of God better, and so he preaches from the Word on these issues. Several of the deacons become persuaded, most of the congregation is as well. But theres a catch.

Most of the original 15 don't like change, they want things the way they have always been, but thats understandable so the Pastor continues to gently wash them with the Word for eleven more years. By this time 99% of the now 100 person congregation concedes to the biblical veracity of the pastors convictions. And so he starts to talk about changing the constitution to reflect this.

Now, this church is in theory a true democracy in that the people make the final call on pretty much all the decisions. The reality is unless it is truly huge nothing gets challenged because it is awkward to stand up and say "NAY!" when everyone else is saying "Aye!"
Furthermore if something is that huge, then something else rears its ugly head...politics. Now people are instead of wrestling with Gods Word jockying for the votes and currying favor and creating cliques. Some call up members who have not been seen for ages (even though the constitution says you are dropped form the rolls after extended absences)to show up and sway the vote ect, ect.

The pastor fully trusting that everyone has been honest with him and wants the changes calls a meeting to answer questions about the changes. He steps up to the podium that night and finds himself in the middle of a lynch mob. Some people stand up and make false accusations against the pastors character, a person who is in gross sin but you couldn't get the votes to go show him love by excercising proper church discipline voices a vociferous objection, several people who you haven't seen in months appear to voice complaint using information they could have only gotten from a private deacons meeting...and three deacons who the week before voted their support for the change stand up and publicly denounce it before the congregation. not one biblical reason was ever brought up.

You are floored. Up until now those planning the change had NO idea there really any concerns, let alone to this level. But one thing is clear, the main movers of the objections are the original 15 members that were there when the pastor was hired.

So you regroup and pray hard for reconciliation, but at this point where do you go? One side is set on simply keeping tradition and pragmnatism, and the other is striving to conform to Gods Word as best as possible.

Now certain elements of the deacon board want to tell the pastor what to preach (or more importantly what NOT to preach on.) The date is set for a vote, which would take a supermajority, and tensions and awkwardness abound in spite of the efforts of those in favor of changes attempts to reconciliation.

The day comes, and again numerous faces that you never see on Sunday appear, several of your friends cant be there due to work issues, and there are no proxy votes allowed. the camp for change loses by three votes short of 75% of the vote.

Now the majority of the church is still obviously in favor, and the deacon board four moths later makes the announcement they will still be pusrsuing some form of change. several people leave the room in full blown anger. Now the 15, are the main purse string holders and consider the church "thiers".

Ok, I could add a lot more, but lets just say the pastor leaves a haggard man. Those left go about finding a new pastor, the 15 in particular want clauses to the effect that the pastor will not try to change anything in the constitution if he is hired.

You know that there is a local church nearer to you by about a mile that is to your knowledge totally soundd in doctrine. You have preached, and taught alongside the old pastor for a decade, they want the church to stay like a fly caught in amber, and openly will not hear biblical reasoning against such (after 7 + years of teaching mind you.)

If you leave however lovingly are you in sin? This is not my account, but very similar using a compilation of several accounts. The real details are much more heartbreaking. I still struggle with my leaving.

Robert said...

Good advise I need to heed.

By the way:
You forgot one other "something not quite right" in many churches.
The pastor and/or most of the teachers almost treat The "Left Behind" series as scripture, and think every time somebody burps in the Middle East it fulfills prophecy and proves that WE ARE DEFINITELY IN THE END TIMES! and JESUS IS RETURNING IN OUR GENERATION! I for one have had my fill of end time speculation, and I've sat through sermons where I've rolled my eyes ("There he goes again.")and endured much useless verbage. Jesus' return in the Word is always given as a spur to holy living, and that's what I want/NEED(!) to hear - "How should I live?" in the midst of a perverse and evil generation.

CalvDispy said...

Thanks for this post. More Christians need this kind of buck-up advice. I pastor a samll but struggling church that was in more serious disarray than I thought when we came here. By God's grace it is slowly making some progress toward maturity. Unfortunately, we have some newer members who do not think it is maturing fast enough and they are ready to abandon ship if things don't shape up according to their agenda.

Lord, I pray for patience and all those other fruits of the Spirit.

August said...

This hits very close to home for me personally. I will not bore you with the gory details ("3 Point Calvinism with whosoever will" thrown in), but suffice to say that over lunch with the pastor, we cleared up a lot of misunderstanding.

I learned that to engage with the church leadership helped clear up things on both sides of the aisle. Pastors are not infallible, and they sometimes need a little bit of perspective from those who are listening. By engaging with the church leadership an opportunity to teach a class has opened up, and that bears out what Cent says here.

Stick with the church and work to give constructive Biblical feedback. You may be pleasantly surprised, as I was.

LeeC said...

"Unfortunately, we have some newer members who do not think it is maturing fast enough and they are ready to abandon ship if things don't shape up according to their agenda."

Thats hard also. You wind up if I can use the term "fighting on two fronts".

We'll never find the perfect church short of after Christs return, and finding the balance of high standards and loving patience and understanding can be so tough.

centuri0n said...

We don't bring up dispensationalism here.

Brian said...

ZAP! POW! SMACK!

I understand completely what you are saying (my wife and tried to stay put in our large SBC church of 8 years, trying everything we could to make it work for the last two of those eight).

But the more I learned what a healthy church was supposed be, the more convicted I became that this was not the place I wanted my children and my family "churched".

What do you do when your current church observes the Lord's Supper only two or three times a year, and at obscure times at that?

What do you do when it treats baptism as an inconvenience...making sure it is done prior to the actual start of the service so that it doesn't interfere with the rest of the show?

What do you when the church has no accountability or church discipline?

I know what you are saying about bucking up rather than tucking tail and running (we tried it), but...when does a group of professed believers under the banner of a church name no longer qualify as being a true church?

If the true Word is not being preached, if baptism and the Lord's Table are 'observed' only in ritual, and if there is no accountability or discipline...then is it a church?

Those are the things we had to endure, and those are the things we tried to live with and stay put. But in the end, my conscience would not allow it.

Thanks.

centuri0n said...

leec:

When the lynch mob lynches you, you know what to do. The question is whether you seek out the lynch mob -- if you antogonize them or face them with an open hand and an open Bible.

However, I think a spiritually-savvy ministry team can start the process early by visiting the inactive ranks and either getting them to move their membership or to be active before any voting starts. My opinion is that divisive people who come back into fellowship prior to significant change will either stir up little trouble early and lose politial clout or will simply move their membership because they can't stand what's happening at Candy Lane Baptist anymore.

We can't not do what's right out of fear of men. We m ust do what's right -- but we must do it God's way and not man's way.

1Cor 1-3 has a lot to say about this ...

donsands said...

"I still struggle with my leaving." -leec

It's alright to leave. But it's how, not so much why in my thinking.

I am finally leaving my EFCA church, where I was a member for 16 years.
As an elder I made some decisions that were very unpopular with the other pastors and elders, and it lead to two splits.

Now I need to shake the dust off my feet against some, and yet others I need to "fall on their necks" and then leave.

It's very difficult. But be encouraged if you are not bitter and have a sincere love for all those whom you are leaving, even those who are the "lynch mob", because God is with the humble heart, but He resists the haughty heart. (Yes I had a lynch mob as well; very sad).

I have a fine brother and pastor and friend who has a church that I will go to. He's actually the x-senior pastor of the church I'm leaving.http://www.christfc.org/

Thanks for this post. It has helped me understand better how I need to bring conclusion to my departure.
Thanks. Keep up the good work.

centuri0n said...

Brian:

I'd say 8 years is a pretty good try.

Let me ask you (without turning on the interrogation lights or breaking out the water board): how did you come to join that church in the first place?

LeeC said...

Oh they know we love them.
In my instance it was the majority of the congregation that left. For us it was a kind of church discipline with the hope of restoring the errant brothers. Coming to them and pleading from the Word was being openly rejected, and so we hoped we could impress on them the seriousness of our convictions this way.

They don't communicate with me anymore, but I have hope that some grew from it. I know the Lord used the ecxperience in my life and the others who left as well to sanctify us.

But I know several just did not understand and saw the whole issue as a political struggle.

Have I mentioned before that word verification makes my dyslexia hurt?

Brian said...

Cent,

Excellent question.

In a nutshell...I (we, my wife and I) simply didn't know any better (or I should say, we didn't take the time and effort to know any better back then). Although having been Christians for most of our lives...we were quite immature at the time and had both pretty much been relying on what we'd been taught by mom and dad than by our own study and understanding of the truth.

By His grace (and while at that church), God began to open our eyes to what was going on around us, and to the truth of His real nature as revealed in Scripture. I was an adult SS teacher in an uphill battle with the staff and majority of other teachers over how/what to teach, church polity, and man-centered program-driven theology. It was amazing how, once one thing became clear, the rose-colored glasses we were wearing just dissolved away and we began to see everything there for what it really was.

Rather than just leave, I tried for a good two years to engage the leadership (including the senior pastor and other key teachers) in constructive dialogue (while still teaching and following their curriculum - the church was doing verse by verse studies, so it wasn't difficult, except that the way I was teaching was not lining up with everyone else), but to no avail.

It truly was a tough decision to leave after being there for that long(well, the decision wasn't really tough, but actually leaving was).

Did that answer your question, or did I just muddy the waters even more?

JSB said...

"If you cannot find the church that agrees with the pattern set forth above, find the church that comes nearest to it. Go into that church and by prayer and by work try to bring that church as nearly as you can to the pattern of what you think a church of Christ ought to be. But do not waste your strength in criticism against either church or minister. Seek for what is good in the church and in the minister and do your best to strengthen it. Hold aloof firmly, though unobtrusively, from what is wrong and seek to correct it. Do not be discouraged if you cannot correct it in a day or a week or a month or a year. Patient love and prayer and effort will tell in time. Drawing off by yourself and snarling and grumbling will do no good. They will simply make you and the truths for which you stand repulsive."

Torrey, R. A., "How to Succeed in the Christian Life," 1906

Daniel said...

One family in particular befriended me and my wife early in our faith. This was our former pastor's family. He was one of those guys that everybody wanted to be with - just a great guy - and his wife, she was the picture of hospitality and charm. I was best friends with his brother who also attended, and my wife and I were literally insinuated into their whole extended family - and considered it a great blessing to be exactly where we were.

Over the course of time, our pastor came increasingly under the influence of some pro "house church" guy, and pretty soon he was convinced that the "traditional" church was a catholic construct, and that all the problems in the church were tied to the way we organized ourselves and the fact that we had a building. He wanted the church to be more communal - more like his impression of the "New Testament" churches.

Although I pointed out that the vast majority of the fellowships described in the NT were churches that were struggling and in need of the exact same repentance he was longing to see in our own fellowship - and although I tried to show that the way to have a "book of Acts" style church was not to emulate methodologies, but to submit ourselves to the same Spirit they were submitted to - that obeying the Spirit would be far more beneficial than <sarcasm>dressing up in togas, and meeting in the courtyard of large manorhouses</sarcasm>. But he was convinced that this was the Lord's will for him, and so he resigned as our pastor, to our great disappointment, and started up his own home church.

When he left, all of his extended family left too, including other dear friends of ours. Frankly, just about everyone in our church whom my wife and I fellowshipped with on a regular basis - everyone we loved the most - they all left in a moment.

Never have I been so powerfully motivated to leave a church. I had left one church before because the leadership had become corrupt and the constitution allowed them to continue in leadership and remain above any formal discipline. And that was a hard decision for my wife and I, because we loved everyone there - but this was far harder. This family had been like a glue in our church - they were the link between so many of us, and when they left, the void that remained was almost more than I was willing to endure.

In the wake of that exodus I was forced to re-examine exactly why I attended church - and it turned out that I had been been coming there to be served, and not to serve. I hadn't been loving people, I had been loving the attention that was given to me, and I found myself loving only those who gave it. When they left, I found I had no love for anyone else - and this awful truth jarred me deep down where it counts.

I began to pray after that in a strange way - Lord, you must bind these - your children - bind them to my back so that I cannot run away from them - burden my heart with a genuine love for them, for I confess that I am wicked in my lovelessness, and a sorry leopard who is unable to change my own spots.

I managed to stay in the church, though it was hard to do so, but as the Lord was faithful, he began to give me a real burden for these souls - to see them grow, to share in their lives - to minister to them, and to give them encouragement and opportunity to minister to myself and to one another.

It is a sad irony that I had never really prayed for any of them before that time - and that is what made the temptation to leave seem so easy - but when I began to really cry out for them, and for a real change in my own wicked heart - then I began to feel that I could not stand to be separated from them.

April said...

I love that Daniel, that is it exactly! And isn't that unity? When we pray for God to bind us together...lifting each other up before the Lord and loving each other....being there for our brothers and sisters?

REM said...

Well said, Daniel. Well said.

centuri0n said...

Brian:

Nope -- that's the answer I expected.

So if God could open your eyes in that church, is it possible that He will open others' eyes in that church so that the Gospel will live in that church?

Not to pry, mind you. ;-)

stratagem said...

What a funny post today's blog was. I still can't tell what was meant by it. It seems to be saying that if something is not right with a church, you shouldn't leave, and if you do, then you're unloving. Is that really what was meant, or did I miss the point?
I definitely agree that if the doctrine is off from your own understanding of scripture, then you just put up with it because you'll never find a place where there is total agreement. We have done that for years. However, it seems as though now there are churches that are way, way off on the essential gospel message. We left a church last year after the pastor of almost 30 years suddenly became convinced there is no hell, maybe not even any need for repentance (or at least, he wouldn't say that there is, any longer). The elders will not do anything about this, either. I see no reason why I would feel obligated to stay and "fellowship" with a group that is on its way to such a nonbiblical stance and won't listen to other opinions. Should I be made to feel guilty about this? Well, I don't.

Brian said...

So if God could open your eyes in that church, is it possible that He will open others' eyes in that church so that the Gospel will live in that church?

Absolutely! I believe that it is most certainly possible, as God can do anything...but (and maybe this was selfish)I was just not willing to wait around for that to happen while my family starved and was brought up in a gospel-less church that modeled almost everything I was now standing against.

My immediate mission field is my family...and I believed at the time (and still do) that the best thing for them (and me) was to find a body of believers where the true gospel was being proclaimed and modeled...praise God Almighty that we found such a place. Much smaller and far less programs (not perfect, as there is no such church yet)...but a place where Christ and His cross truly are exalted.

centuri0n said...

Stratagem:

I didn't say "never leave". But if you want me to say that, I'll say this: until they throw you out, you should never leave.

Who is going to preach the word to those this man is leading into apostate belief? How will they do it?

It seems to me you have decided God is done presenting the Gospel there. I hope you're sure about that.

centuri0n said...

Brian:

I am grateful that you are not between churches. I think your priority for your family is right-minded.

I think that the local megachurch needs you more than you need them.

I have no condemnation for you: I exhort you as a brother to not leave those people behind. Christ died for sin, including the sin of the megachurch.

LeeC said...

Do you believe in church discipline Cent?

How do we obey "remove the ungodly from among you" when it is at the core of the congregation?

Whether it is you leaving, or the final steps of a godly church in church discipline you are not abandoning people when you stop fellowshiping with them as brothers in Christ. The Church is not that building, it is the body that belives and obeys the Good Shepherd. If the group of people you are fellowshipping with does not obey that Shepherd are they the Church?

If not, then they are to be evangelized, but certainly not given the comfort of being treated as members of Christs Church.

Certainly preach the Word, but do you condone staying there when your membership there gives tacit approval to them?


That would hardly be loving.
Sometimes your leaving can be the best wakeup call you can give, if presented humbly with biblical backing.

LeeC said...

"I am grateful that you are not between churches. I think your priority for your family is right-minded.

I think that the local megachurch needs you more than you need them.

I have no condemnation for you: I exhort you as a brother to not leave those people behind. Christ died for sin, including the sin of the megachurch. "

Ah, I think I follow you more fully now.

T.J.L. said...

After a taste of real biblical teaching, and consequently a true conversion, I pulled my wife and son out of a Word-Faith church that I had been a part of for 12 years (that's right). I thought that I was saved because I was somewhat prosperous (and even when I wasn't I couldn't say that I wasn't-speaking it out and all), I was involved in helping the church to grow and carried my bible with me on Sunday. To come to the realization that if I had died I would have spent my eternity in hell was devestating to say the very least.

I have a hard time seeing my escape as being disobedient. Can this church really be considered a church when the pastor refuses to structure it biblically, and instead sets up a board of directors made up of other Word-Faith preachers from around the country who are like minded? The pastors reasoning is that elders would stand in the way of his anointing. Who is going to act on the congeregation's behalf in the case of errant teaching? There is no shortage, believe me. This pastor constantly joked about the letters he received, but would not examine the validity of the concerns, because he was speaking for God and God can not be wrong. This is the same pastor who is now in trouble with the IRS because of his greed and misdealings.

Reading your post concerns me. I agree with you, but wonder if I did the wrong thing. I don't believe so. I ended up in a gem called Bethlehem Baptist where I am growing and hearing the gospel weekly. Would God ask us to stay in a church where there is little hope of change because the pastor is essentially a dictator? I struggled bitterly with my decision to leave that church and would not discourage others from doing the same.

Brian said...

Hmm...

I'm in the process of changing churches after 17 years. Including my last three years on the BOD.

The associate pastor became the senior pastor a few years back (previous pastor retired). He admitted two great fears 1.) Conflict 2.) Public Speaking. In his new position he became a complete people pleaser...which pleases no one. His preaching became more and more irrelevant and completely immemorable.

He eventually suffered a nervous breakdown. He returned very shortly after and continued getting worse in his presentations.

It got to the point where I dreaded going to Church, if I went, I was mad for hours afterwards. I had no desire to dive into the Word. The parking lot went from overflowing to half full, the nursery went from being full of kids to empty. The youth pastor was happy that his kids came out for the mid-week entertainment but basically told the Church not to expect many of them to come to the service (which was likely a good thing as sad as that sounds).

The evangalism of the Church centered around Alpha (shudder)and sucess was measured by how many Alpha people started coming to service.

One of the pastors pastoral support team (direct prayer and council) is a whack-job who didn't see anything wrong with her visiting friend from the latter rain movement (double shudder) climbing a local mountain to blow her horn over the city to "awaken the people of God".

The pastors lack of leadership became the elephant in the room. I spent three years trying to work from within to help change the situation. The BOD didn't want to do anything because they didn't want to push the pastor over the edge and the Deacons didn't want to hurt his feelings.

The church continues to die. I decided that for my spiritual health and for the upbringing of my kids, it was no longer healthy for me to stay. I realized that as wonderful as the people were in the church, the pastor had proved the Peter Principle and although he recognized his own issues, he was unwilling to effect change to reverse the tide.

I believe there are good reasons for leaving a church. The final straw for me was realizing that it would be unlikely that my children would really get to know God or want to know Him from attending this church.

Mike Galetta said...

I have never had to leave a church other than when, due to vocational changes, we moved out of the area. But one problem that has not been looked at is this: What do we do with those who come to Christ and are needing to start their New Life in a place of worship? Should they be brought into the dysfunctional and bordering on apostate church where we are “hanging in there”? Will this confuse and hinder their growth? I agree with you Cent that we should never leave a Church easily, but sadly, under severe circumstances, sometimes we must leave….

Tom Chantry said...

"I didn't say "never leave". But if you want me to say that, I'll say this: until they throw you out, you should never leave."

Uh...is that your actual position, or was that sarcasm? I may have my sarcasm filter turned up too high, or down too low, or whichever it is.

I would say:

1. You should never leave a church quickly.

2. You should never leave a church prayerlessly.

3. You should never leave a church over trivialities.

4. You should never leave a church and become churchless.

I might say more. But is being kicked out the only reason to leave?

Some of the commenters here have demonstrated a genuine spirit of fellowship with their church - a spirit which led them to remain far beyond what was comfortable and easy. They remained out of a sense of commitment to the church, but eventually they reached an end to fruitful ministry within the church, or they reached a point where other responsibilities, particularly to family, took priority, and they left. Did they do wrong?

rabbi-philosopher said...

Oh my. Our church recently went thru a split; we may now be in the process of dying.

I prayed that the situation (a vote on whether or not the pastor would continue) would never come to a head but it did. He was voted out, people left, church has been struggling to right itself but the interim preaching has been most excellent and powerful.

I didn't leave but we may die.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Very much the truth, Frank.

Austin Bob said...

Great exhortation. For if one does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?

And on a related note, many churches today suffer from resource shortages ... the human kind who resort to virtual church on the net, parachurch ministries or simply the church of the inner spring (St. Mattress protect us). If everyone who believes that [something is not right at that church] would pitch in to correct the situation there we might really have a revival worthy of the name.

Timotheos said...

I just want to note that you guys shouldn't be posting personal pictures of yourselves on the blog, with pyromaniac tattoos.

How vain!!

Timotheos said...

I was also thinking - what about when you are the pastor. Something's not right with my church.

When should I leave?

This is a serious question that I have been grappling with for about 9 months - and even posting this could get me into a little hot water.

stratagem said...

Come on, Cent. Here we are in a church that in a few years time went from very sound to emergent, and we find ourselves now being told to shut up about the sin and repentance thing and just get along for the sake of unity. We also have leadership telling us that we shouldn't be allowed to leave the church and escape where God is leading them (and us), even though it's clearly unscriptural. If we don't shut up about the fundamentals of the faith, we aren't literally thrown out but are treated like rebels even though this is the only time in our lives we have ever objected to anything going on in any church. If we do shut up and stop rebelling, then of what use are we? Particularly when the leadership of the church claims to hold to orthodox beliefs, meanwhile practicing the twisted teachings of Rob Bell, McLaren, and so on. So then you are saying if we exercise the third option (leaving) we are now guilty of something (but what?). At least by leaving, we get people to ask why we left, and can explain the error to them without hindrance. I see that you must have led a very sheltered life, or maybe you have always been the one in control and never have been one of those being manipulated? I think you have some explaining of your post to do, yet.

centuri0n said...

Tom:

I think the only reason to leave is if you are kicked out. For example, let's say you belong to a Word of Faith church and you discover (because you read your Bible) that Discipleship is actually costly and not prosperous in the worldly sense. Do you leave immediately?

I think everyone would say, "No, you do not leave immediately." But what do you do? Isaiah found himself in a nation of unclean people and a man just like them with unclean lips -- and his response was not, "Oh brother: let's wait and see if anyone else figures this out." Isaiah's response was to be a prophetic voice to the nation.

The wily reader will say, "yes, but Paul, for example, in Acts 18, preached to the Jews and when they were not listening any more he started preaching to the Gentiles. What about that?"

The ESV says, "when they [the Jews] opposed and reviled him", Paul went next door to the Gentiles -- to Titius' house. That's not getting "fed up". That's having people openly act on the evil you are opposing; that's having them demonstrate that they are grasping to something other than the Gospel. That's having many say publicly that you are breaking the law of God when in fact you are doing the work of God.

In my book, that's getting kicked out. When people will go that far, there's no reason to stay -- Paul didn't think there was, and I'm not of a mind to disagree with him.

What is at stake here is whether we are thinking of things God's way or man's way. Man's way says that the sinful deserve punishment -- and let's face it, I'm not as sinful as that guy over there. God's way says that every man is sinful, and deserves punishment, but instead I'll send my Son to do something so humble and beautiful that there will be no question as to what my intention is -- and if they spit on that, then there's nothing left for them to say.

I think, for example, that Daniel's testimony is humble and beautiful -- but he's my sidekick. I think Brian's testimony is heart-breaking and serious, but I also think that it leaves open the questions of what constitutes ministry and how to disciple children.

I also know factually that we have many readers -- m-a-n-y readers -- who are so dead-set against being in a church which is not "feeding" them that they attend no church at all. Those folks would be the primary target for this post. But then we have another tier of readers who have left a church or two and aren't really happy where they are now, and they constantly convince themselves that they are leaving for Godly reasons. Those people need to read this post and think to themselves, "how is it that someone as mature as I am can't find a place where I can fellowship with the people of God?"

And there is a small minority of readers who have left churches for good reasons and with a clean conscience. By let's face it: that is a small minority. If it were the gross majority, the church would not be in the state it is right now. All these disenfranchised latter-day Reformers would be joining together in the TULIP-like joy of Christ and establishing communities where Christ is exalted and people are loved, evangelized and discipled.

So recognize who you are, and apply the details of this post as you see fit. I stand by the affirmation that you ought not to leave unless you are kicked out -- but that doesn't happen in a vacuum. And getting kicked out doesn't always mean that they publicly disavowed you and took back your baptism.

Fair?

Timotheos said...

strategem,

If and when you leave a church be careful how you do it.

I contend that many will give an account for how they left churches and for what reasons.

Having left a church myself, before becoming a pastor - I met with the Pastor and explained why my family was leaving. This didn't make it any easier, however he understood the whys.

As a pastor, I recently had a board member just up and give us a letter at a board meeting that he was leaving. No explanation, just a few statements about not believing that they were better than us.

There seldom is a good way to leave a church, especially one that has been your church home.

In our day, we see way too many people leave over STUPID reasons. There really are no perfect churches. They are all filled with imperfect people

Brian said...

This is the first Brian who talked about staying in a church for two years before leaving:

Cent -

Thanks for that additional commentary and clarification. It was most helpful.

I can see your view with respect to waiting to leave until you are "kicked out", and also what all you mean by that. In the church we finally left, it got to a point that those around me (friends, other teachers and leadership) saw what I was doing as unloving and sinful, which played a big factor in my decision to leave. I don't know if you would...but I would consider that getting kicked out according to your last comments.

I also picked up on your remarks about the discipling of children - I assume with respect to my comments about the concern for my family when deciding to leave that church. I just want to make it clear that I do not rely on the church to disciple my children, but what the church does MUST flow along with and agree with what I am teaching at home...wouldn't you agree? In the case of our former church, there was virtually no agreement in what we were teaching our children and what the church was teaching them.

Thanks.

Tom Chantry said...

I agree that it is fair to oppose the maverick Christianity ("The church doesn't matter - if I'm the only really biblical Christian in town, then I'll go it alone!") of our day. There are far too many churchless Christians, and far too many regular church-hoppers.

Here's a question for you, though. Isaiah was a prophet, and Paul an apostle. What about the person with no unique vocation? Not many should desire to be teachers, though every Christian must stand in some way for truth. Where does this leave the faithful Christian who is not called to teach, but who wishes to serve in a biblical church?

To take a rather obvious example, I know a woman who served faithfully in her church for twenty years before it went emergent. She was single, so there was no husband to speak out, and she understood that it was not her calling to be in authority or to teach. She knew the truth, though, and was horrified to see it abandoned in the church she loved. What was she to do? She couldn't just follow the example of Paul or of Isaiah.

I know you didn't have such a case in mind when you wrote. And I'm honestly not trying to disagree with you - just seek clarification. I liked your original post! But it seems to me that not everyone is under the same obligation to "be a prophetic voice" until driven from the church.

centuri0n said...

Stratagem:

Yes, that's it: I have lead a sheltered life.

I have no idea what "treated like rebels" means -- do you mean they are exercising church discipline on you for opposing lies? Dude: sounds to me like you're getting kicked out. Amen.

Do you mean they are removing you from a teaching position? Sounds to me like getting kicked out. Amen.

Do you mean that they play passive-agressive with you and try to make you the bad guy? I say buck up -- that's not even persecution, dude. If that's the worst you ever suffer for the faitha dn the church, count yourself as unpersecuted.

You say this:

At least by leaving, we get people to ask why we left, and can explain the error to them without hindrance.

Who is going to ask? When will you see them? How will you be missed? It seems to me that leaving is an easy way to avoid doing what you know is right -- which is returning good for evil.

It seems to me that God's work is not easy -- except of course for God. We endure hardship for the sake of the cross, not inconvenience. All the talk about costly discipleship gets really thin when we have to love somebody and it hurts to love them and we walk away instead.

If the Gospel is true -- and it is -- then we have an obligation to live like it is true and not as if it were an argument we are supposed to win.

centuri0n said...

Tom:

That is a great example. We can agree that this woman was not called to face down the pastor or his emergentry. She was, and is, however, called to live the truth.

In 1Cor 1, Paul says plainly that -all- in the church at Corinth were called to be saints and enriched in speech and knowledge as they are sanctified in Christ. There are two implications of that affirmation:

[1] If you are called and therefore "enriched", you ought to do what saints ought to do.

[2] If you can't or won't do these things, maybe you're not saints.

I think the woman in your example was called to be a saint. I don't know her well enough to give a 5-point action plan for her, but let's assume the worst and that her only gift is hospitality. I find it unimaginable that she was the only person in that church not to see what was happening -- but someone gifted with hospitality could find someone gifted in teaching or exhorting or discernment to partner with and persuade others with the truth in love that the church needed, at the very least, to do some hard thinking and ask some hard questions.

Or maybe her only gift is adminitration. Again: she ought to partner with others who have gifts which compliment her own who see the truth to help the church ask harder questions of what's happening.

Let's be honest here: my current church has a long history of problems. There's no question that some of the blame lies on the side of the ministries teams who did not lead in a God-centered way, and some lies on the side of those who were in the congregation who did not know how to object or question in a God-centered way. But much of the blame lies on both sides in a failure to love first rather than in theory.

Love first. Treat the other guy like he's God's temple -- because if he's a Christian (even if he's in sin), he is. After that, if he doesn't reciprocate, he is bound to demand you separate -- and then you have done everything you can do.

But you have to do first. You do.

Does that answer it? :-)

centuri0n said...

brian --

I think you should never get to the point where you cannot act in a loving way. When you get there, you are at fault -- even if you are on the right side.

In that, being frustrated is not an excuse for forgetting the Gospel. And before I say another word, I am not intending to berate you in any way. This decision is by far the hardest when you know your kids are getting the LifeWay special in Sunday school and a puppet show for KidsChurch and they are learning that the meaning of the first 14 verses of John 6 teach "share your lunch".

But that kind of frankly-hollow teaching is not an excuse for losing your witness -- even if "share your lunch" winds up behind the "big church" pulpit.

As an aside, did you know that the youth group at our church calls the main worship service "big church"? I thought it was funny until I realized they weren't kidding. They thought I was crazy until they realized I thought they were kidding. "big church". Think about that.

Anyway. My point is that if the reason you're leaving is that you can't love these people anymore, somehow I think you've got a larger problem than a wobbly pastor -- and it's a lot closer to home.

And to try to keep this from being a merciless beating, let me clarify that I have been there. I have been in the shoes that were sick of hearing the pastor preach "sermons" that were half comedy sketch and half false prophecy with an altar call at the end. But rather than let that fester, my wife and I began praying for the pastor, and praying for the spiritual health and welfare of our church and our family, and that we might love the man God placed in the pulpit of that church.

The few times he asked me about what was going on at church, I told him honestly and lovingly: our church has no discipleship and does not know what the Gospel is. He asked me why I stayed, and I told him: I don't turn my back on family.

Eventually, he left. I am sure that I had almost nothing to do with it as I had little contact with him. But it made me a better servant of Christ -- and that is actually one of the main points of being "in church", right?

Thanks for thinking about this with me.

Tom Chantry said...

I'm with you so far. I agree wholeheartedly that every Christian is called to serve the church in which God has placed him. Everyone has gifts which are to be used to the benefit of the whole congregation. To take the attitude that all that matters is that I am fed - and when that doesn't happen, I'm moving on to greener pastures, is to deny the very concept of "church." It is an attitude not found in the apostles.

Christians should lovingly sacrifice and serve the church. I'm not so certain, though, that it is obvious when that service reaches its inevitable end. Christ did indicate that some "churches" are actually assemblies of Satan. What of the Christian who finds himself there.

Clearly there are errors which exceed your [something about this church is not right] scenario. Can a Catholic convert to Protestantism without violating the law of loving service? Can a Mormon become an Evangelical? And what about a member of a once faithful church that has descended so far into error that it fits the description of antichrist?

The thrust of your post is right, and it needs to be said forcefully: Christians today abandon ship far to often and too easily. But I don't believe it is so cut and dry that we must seek to recover every sinking vesel. Sometimes you run below decks looking to plug a hole and find that the entire hull is disintigrating! Isn't it time to find a life raft?

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

Cent -

Thanks so much for your comments and sensitivity to this issue. I honestly don't know if there is a cut and dried way to handle these types of situations...perhaps they all must be handled on a case by case basis.

I do think myself and others here have raised some good questions, as have you.

One of the things that really made my mind up for me was that I had finally come to the conclusion that the 'church' where we were was not really a church, but only a collective group of people professing to be a church under a church name and denomination. Now, I do not say that lightly, and even now I say it with much care and respect. But, when there is no gospel...when there is no discipline and accountability, and when there is really no observance of the Lord's Supper...is there really a true church there?

All the other seeker-sensitive, program-driven, numbers-focused, man-centered, performance-based philosophies aside...I could have stayed there and endured all of that had the word of God been proclaimed...and had there been even a hint at accountability and discipline...and if there had been at least some biblical observance of the Lord's Supper and proper respect for baptism.

It wasn't a matter of us not being fed and that being our only reason (we had already gotten used to feeding ourselves for the last two years of being there)...it was that more and more I perceived us moving further and further away from the One true God...and that I could not overlook.

I still love those people there, but I loved my family more. I am sorry if that sounds selfish, but that's the truth.

centuri0n said...

Brian @ Sheep:

What's your vocation, dude? My vocation is retailer, and my gifts are teaching and giving, and I'm praying for a merciful spirit and hospitality.

How about you?

stratagem said...

Many people have agonized over leaving a fellowship that has drifted. To imply categorically that they are somehow doing something that they should be ashamed of, that they should feel guilty about, is unloving in my opinion. We didn't change our doctrine, the church's leaders changed theirs. It is just plain inaccurate to say that we are somehow shortchanging or victimizing them.

centuri0n said...

Stratagem:

Since you're not really reading what I have posted, Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow, and everywhere that Mary went the Lamb was sure to go. It followed her to school one day, which was against the rules. It made the children laugh and play to see a lamb at school.

And that's not the half of it: the wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town. The Driver on the bus says Move on back! The horn on the buss goes beep beep beep. The babies on the bus go wah! wah! wah! The mommies on the bus go Sh! Sh! Sh! All through the town.

And if that doesn'y explain it to you, I have no idea what will.

donsands said...

Cent,

That cracked me up. You're as witty as Dan.

It's sad to read about all these local churches having problems, as mine is, but it's encouraging to know I'm not alone.

I hate it, but I believe the Lord does this to cut deep into our hearts with the sword of the Spirit, His Word, down to the marrow of the soul.
He reveals our filth. Our bitterness, resentfulness, selfishness, and pride, so that He can clean us up. And then Fill us with His wisdom; give us a greater hunger for His truth; a greater thirst for His Spirit; and by His grace grow even stronger in our love for Christ first, and for our neighbor as well.

HOOKEM said...

Hey Cent.: Seriously where did you track down that photo of me bro? Obviously the tattoo was superimposed cause you can see from my profile pic it does not exist on my right arm.

Honoring God mind, BODY, and soul....

Catez said...

where the Pastor does not have the theological shrewdness you have picked up on the internet and by reading the Top 100 Protestant Classics of all time – seasoned by the weekly Dose of Spurgeon, right?

Lol. Or the cool visual aids and bumper stickers. And you can't just walk in and out of their office and give them a long spiel on theology, relevance, and the great apostasy any time of the day you feel like it, or even several times a day.

Just to amp it up - smeradactyl. (The wheels on the bus do go round and round).

Meanwhile, back in Gotham,
I see your point re: the majority and agree. I think though that waiting until you are kicked out is not necessariy the only way for the minority. But yes, I agree with what I see as the main thrust of your post - I've seen some comments on blogs similar to the fictitious email in your post - even people saying that a particualr blog has become their place of fellowship. Ouch!

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

Cent -

I may have confused you and others by posting that last one as 'Brian @ voiceofthesheep'...I was the Brian who posted before that tried to stay at a large SBC church and work through the issues for two years before leaving. Anyway, I just wanted to clear that up in case I had misled anyone.

As to your questions:

As to vocation, I own my own party planning business (very small, and very mom-and-pop)...we do those inflatable bouncers, slides, jumpers, etc., for b-day parties, school functions, corporate events, etc.

As to gifts, I would say teaching, discernment and service. I filled the pulpit one time for the pastor of the church we had joined right after leaving the large SBC church...it went okay, but I think it reinforced my gift as a teacher and not necessarily as a preacher, though I probably would do it again if asked.

My desire is to one day be an elder, but I am completely leaving that in the hands of God. I have learned much over the last year, one of which is to be content where God has now placed me, which is currently sitting in a SS class with my wife as just another student, while serving behind the scenes.

I ran into one of my fellow teachers from the large SBC church the other day (he still teaches SS there), and he was asking me about where we were now. I told him, and he asked me if I was teaching there. "No.", I said..."I'm learning."

I have answered your questions as honestly as I can. I hope you weren't setting me up for something (nervously smiling here).

Lindon said...

Before she died a few years back, my mom told me that the church itself can be a mission field.

(Her point was the so few are hearing the full gospel at many churches in this country and we should think of ourselves as missionaries in these churches)

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

Hmmm...

Being salt and light as a missionary is definitely biblical, when in the context of being in the world...but inside a church? Something about that just doesn't sound right.

The church itself is to be salt and light...so what does that say when an individual has to be salt and light inside a church? If that is a reality, then is that place truly a church? Just a thought.

centuri0n said...

Brian @ Sheep;

I think you have to choose, bro. Are they apostates who don't have the Gospel -- in which case they are a mission field -- or ar they a church which let you down --in which case you left a viable church?

There's the two edges of the sword. The vocation stuff is just to point out that, in spite of their problems, somehow the Gospel got to you. I'm not saying their method worked: I'm saying the Gospel worked because you got it. Maybe is there was a workman in God's field ...

That said, re-read all my confessions in the meta here -- I may have one or two more to share in the next couple of days. I have empathy for your situation, and I have lived through some of it. But that doesn't mean I'd do what you did or even what I did over again as if I was the last man of the remnant. Does that make sense?

centuri0n said...

Can I ask a question into my own meta?

Should the timing in the church be the same as the timing in a secular organization? For example, when a guy out on the production floor gets a new certificate or something, they put him on a forklift or let him fix machines or whatever.

Is just having your "certificate" good enough to get more responsibility in a church? Is it right to let some 25 year old kid be a "pastor" or to let some new christian who is 50 be an "elder"?

Isn't there more to it than that according to Paul? And in that, shouldn't the rest of us act like we're in training rather than we're ready to run the place?

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

I have empathy for your situation, and I have lived through some of it. But that doesn't mean I'd do what you did or even what I did over again as if I was the last man of the remnant. Does that make sense?

It makes a lot of sense, and I appreciate what you have said here. What I wonder is, did the truth get to me through them, or in spite of them...that is something I struggle with, because I was doing quite a bit of outside study and research at the time, so I don't know that it was anything they did. In fact, much of the truth I hold to today they find absolutely repugnant.

So, I don't know. Would I do anything differently if I had it to do all over again? I certainly can't say I left in perfection...but I also have to look at where I am now, in an incredible body of believers.

Your comments here have provided me - and I hope others - with much to think about and ponder. Thanks for that.

Morris Brooks said...

Our obligation is to speak the truth in love, and, frankly, the most loving thing you can do is speak the truth. Having been in situations like the above I have had to do just that, and you keep speaking the truth, not to prove yourself right, but because you have a care and concern for the people, your brothers and sisters in Christ. This is your minimum obligation.

However, be prepared to be hated, talked about, misquoted, misrepresented, misunderstood, maligned, and marginalized, which gives you the platform for not only speaking the truth in love, but loving those who would treat you this way. The church is not perfect because the people in it are not perfect. I have told people for years that you must give the pastor and leadership room to be human as love covers a multitude of sins.

If you are doing these things you will know when it is time to leave because they will "kick you out" as Cent has mentioned.

babs said...

For people needing solid teaching, here is an idea. We attended a local church during lean times, but had excellent teaching from tapes of Dr. MacArthur. He has been our consistently excellent pastor for more than 20 years even though he is thousands of miles away. Now we are in a wonderful church - an answer to prayer after many years.

Here is an excellent short article by John MacArthur When Should People Leave Their Church

Cent - you are caustic in some of your replies - I like funny and satire, even a bit of sarcasm more than most - but you are way over the top. Can't wait to see which nursery rhyme you shoot at me.

Alby said...

This article has challenged me significantly. Thankyou Cent.

A passage that comes to mind is Eph 5:25-32 - seems to me that marriage and church have a lot in common.

Christ is not about to abandon the church despite all of it's hypocrisy, imperfection and sin - in fact that's why he gave his life for her!

So, maybe I, by the strength of one that works in me to do his good pleasure, should hang in there too!

Alby

donsands said...

"responsibility in the church?"

I have seen a lot of problems by allowing the immature Christians take too much responsibilty.

I have seen elders who were never to have been elders. SS teachers who should never have been teaching the Holy Scriptures.
Men given the pulpit who should never have been behind it.

The Body of Christ needs to be more patient, and more discerning. But it's difficult in our "micro-wave" culture.

There are exceptions to the rule every now and then. God can raise up a 27 year old pastor, but it's the very rare exception, never the rule.

Jon from Reidville, SC said...

Cent:

You have really kicked up a duststorm, brother! I posted on my blog (see others can promote too!) so I will keep this short. The only major problem I have with your thinking is this "until they kick you out" stuff. In postmodern Amerika there are a lot of apostates that will gladly let you sit there and listen to them destroy the Bible and let you keep giving etc. I think there is clearly a time to shake the dust off your shoes. It can be, and must be, done in love. But to continue to join with heretics is not loving nor prudent. Also, if we are witnessing (and I think we all agree that we must be doing that!) then how do I bring a new convert to my church where the pastor doesn't believe in hell, repentance, atonement, whatever?

CalvDispy said...

Babs,
Good link. John MacArthur says,
"There is certainly nothing wrong with moving one’s membership just because another church offers better teaching or more opportunities for growth and service. But those who transfer their membership for such reasons ought to take extreme care not to sow discord or division in the church they are leaving. And such moves ought to be made sparingly. Membership in a church is a commitment that ought to be taken seriously."

I think that if a Christian is in a church where the Word is not faithfully preached and lived out and sees that there is another church in their area that seeks to be more faithful to the truth so that the opportunity for growth and service is greater I think MacArthur's advice is prudent. The rest of his points are good too.

centuri0n said...

Jon:

I'm not sure "passive acceptance" is equal to "the truth in love". However, you're not the first person to say this to me, so I say to you what I have said to the others:

Show me where in the NT Paul or any of the apostles are admonishing people to leave their churches rather than stay and refute the errors. Doesn't it seem obvious to anyone that when Paul (especially) writes, he is writing to whoever is left who is faithful, and that it is their duty not to run away but to defeat, by spiritual means, the encroaching evil?

Honestly: I am wide open to someone spelling out to me that the NT says that the remnant should leave the local body rather than expell the unbelievers.

Anyone?

centuri0n said...

Babs:

Do you think stratagem read anything I wrong after my first reply to him?

Seriously. I think there was nothing he read at all. There's no reason to argue with someone who isn't listening, is there?

BTW, is there anyone who doubts that the list in the link Babs provided is spot-on regarding serious problems in the local church? Who could doubt such a thing?

Here's my question: using the texts provided to underscore these serious, spiritually-deadly problems, please show me where it says, "you good believers should leave the [local] church to the people who are doing this sort of thing."

My opinion is that you can't do it with honest exegesis -- but I am here saying publicly that I am looking for someone to correct me.

Phil Johnson said...

Centuri0n: "Honestly: I am wide open to someone spelling out to me that the NT says that the remnant should leave the local body rather than expell the unbelievers."

I completely agree that "expel the unbelievers" is the best solution and certainly the first remedy believers should pursue before they "leave the local body." But I'm inclined (like many of your readers) to assume you meant the don't-leave-until-they-kick-you-out remark as hyperbole.

I don't know, though. Perhaps you have too much SBC blood in you.

Just to be clear here, you surely would not suggest (would you?) that if "the remnant" have already opposed "the unbelievers" and attempted unsuccessfully to get the leaders of the church to exercise their duty with regard to Matthew 18; Galatians 1:8-9; 2 John 7-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; etc.--that the remnant should stay in what is arguably already an apostate body--even if there's another church nearby where the leaders are faithfully submissive to the Word of God?

Because at some point, it seems to me that the principles of 2 Corinthians 6:14-17; Revelation 8:4; 1 Corinthians 5:11; Jeremiah 51:6; etc. kick in as soon as an ecclesiastical body apostatizes. When that is and how to tell is a matter we could discuss. But clearly it does happen, and did happen with most of the mainline denominations in the early- to mid-20th century.

There are, after all, groups who say they are churches and are not, but are synagogues of Satan (cf. Rev. 2:9).

I agree with the spirit of your concern. Too many people leave churches over petty and personal disagreements. They don't like the pastor's personality, or whatever. But suppose you were part of a church whose bishops are ordaining women and homosexuals as ministers; and even the best bishops in the hierarchy were merely looking for a compromise solution that (without really submitting to the authority of Christ) would be just enough to keep the evangelical remnant from leaving.

It would seem to me that leaving a "local church" that's part of an apostate body like that is actually a bounden duty, not a mistake.

Or here's an even tougher one: What advice would you give a young, weak believer who found himself attending a monster pragmatic show-biz congregation where the current series is "Lessons from the Life of Hulk Hogan." He is not being fed and is becoming increasingly shallow-minded himself, and yet he lives two miles from, say, the church where Tom Pennington is pastor. Would you counsel him to go where he might be better fed and equipped for ministry, or would you advise him that whatever he was won with is what he is morally bound to?

For me it would be a no-brainer. I'd tell him to switch churches this very week.

Jon from Reidville, SC said...

Cent:

I really appreciate your spirit here. Let me go on record that I believe people who leave a church without being able to give a theological reason should be disciplined. And if I were a pastor and someone came to me from across town from another good, gospel-preaching church I would be on the phone trying to find out why. TOO MANY PEOPLE CHURCH HOP.

But there are too many people who compromise too. I think Phil said everything I was trying to say. In combating the Hoppers we cannot put the car in the other ditch and condone staying in apostasy. I think we need to stimulate brothers/sisters to love and good works. But if the "church" is so bad that I have to consider it a mission field where I am trying to win people to Christ I think we need to seriously ask the word "Ichabod" isn't on the wall somewhere.

I think you started talking about people leaving over preference and minor theological issues and the meta dragged us into a different scenario.

BTW, brother, while I appreciate the dialogue and I love a little sarcasm, I think you have come on a bit strong here. I think everyone here is trying to discuss this issue sincerely and is posting out of a love for the truth.

stratagem said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stratagem said...

Actually, I did read your replies. Every word of them. However, I admit that I am having a hard time understanding when one is "allowed" to leave and when they aren't, in your opinion. If you are saying that as long as one has a theological reason for leaving a church (as one peron on here suggested), then I would agree with that. If that is the case then maybe we are exactly on the same page. I wouldn't leave a church for anything other than a very serious theological error. All I've been intending to say is that I'm not going to stay and give financial and moral support to people who are undermining the faith. With all the criticism we've taken from those who are doing the undermining, being told that I need to feel guilty about leaving them is about the last thing I need.

Brian in BC said...

Centurion,

I'd say that the church in the NT didn't have the "a church on every corner" that we do today. They didn't commute to their churches, they were "The Church in Ephesus" or "The Church in Corinth".

I appreciate wanting to look to the NT for guidance on "changing churches" but frankly our current situation in modern day North America (and much of the rest of the world) is that we've shattered the Church into a million fragments that were NEVER a part of what Paul would have supported. I don't think Paul would have ever supported a fractured, multiple-denomination Church. Multiple geographically based congregations of believers, yes. But our current reality...no way.

If we are all "Christ's Body" then what we have made of the Church must break God's heart.

I think that unfortunately the mess that the greater universal church is in makes discussions like this relevant, but I can't for the life of me think that our reality is ANYTHING like what the universal bride of Christ is supposed to be.

FInding Biblical support for the sinful situation which we find ourselves in is really, really sad.

centuri0n said...

Phil said:

Just to be clear here, you surely would not suggest (would you?) that if "the remnant" have already opposed "the unbelievers" and attempted unsuccessfully to get the leaders of the church to exercise their duty with regard to Matthew 18; Galatians 1:8-9; 2 John 7-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; etc.--that the remnant should stay in what is arguably already an apostate body--even if there's another church nearby where the leaders are faithfully submissive to the Word of God?

I'm still a Baptist, Phil. I still think that separation from error is necessary and Biblical. I just don't think it's the first recourse.

See the post I made today. I got an e-mail this morning from a fellow who thought I was saying he should have stuck it out with the Oneness "church" he belonged to -- I never said that, did I?

But in that, I think there's still a very critical issue at stake -- going back to your post on unity on Monday. "Unity" is not merely institutional, but it is (as Ed Stetzer said last week at the SBC identity conference) "incarnational". It has to exist as a thing, in a place -- and in the locus which is me or you, that unity has to exist as Jesus demonstrated it.

The Mt 18 issue is totally relevant -- and when I say "kicked out", I mean that if you work through the Mt 18 method with a Mt 18 heart set on winning your brother back (or, as the case may be, accepting correction for making a mistake), and you find that the other side doesn't wanna, I think you have gotten the left foot of fellowship and have a clean conscience. Being "kicked out" isn't just getting shown to the door by the Ushers: it is a spiritual matter -- and if the leaders of some group shut the doors spiritually on you, have a clean conscience.

But I don't see any Scripture that tells us that a person's first or best recourse is just to move on.
__________________________________

brian in bc:

Dude, so what should you do? Go to no churches because the ones we have are all imperfect? Isn't that more of what you're complaining about rather than fixing the problem?

I admit that I cannot tell if you are agreeing with me or telling me I've sinned against you. Please clear it up for me if you want to to say or do something about that.

centuri0n said...

stratagem:

Amen. God bless you.

centuri0n said...

More from/to Phil:

| I agree with the spirit of your concern.
| Too many people leave churches over
| petty and personal disagreements.

I know you do. That’s why I posted this here.

| They don't like the pastor's
| personality, or whatever. But suppose
| you were part of a church whose
| bishops are ordaining women and
| homosexuals as ministers; and even
| the best bishops in the hierarchy were
| merely looking for a compromise
| solution that (without really
| submitting to the authority of Christ)
| would be just enough to keep the
| evangelical remnant from leaving.

I think that if the “solution” being sought is only compromise, and those who are voicing the concern that what has happened violates God’s law and God’s will for the church are being shut out of the discussion, the remnant has been (to maintain my idiom, imprecise as it is) kicked out.

They’re not leaving: somebody changed the locks on them and they can’t “get in” in the first place. The situation you list there is a classic example of the righteous being excluded by the unrighteous, and I’m with you: the one pushed out should just move on.

| It would seem to me that leaving a
| "local church" that's part of an
| apostate body like that is actually a
| bounden duty, not a mistake.

I think the only point of disagreement we would have here is that on paper, that local body still has a complete-orthodox confession. They may never refer to it, but the right thing seems to me to be standing up in some unified way and saying, “excuse me – I know this isn’t Scripture, but have you not read the confession? Isn’t what you’re doing a blatant denial of that? So why are you doing that?”

And it is, ultimately, something which starts at the local church level, right? One guy in one parish who denies that the Primates should run the zoo however they see fit, and if they won’t listen (which, of course, is not something you can measure with scientific precision), the ones who have sought the right remedy have to move on.

| Or here's an even tougher one: What
| advice would you give a young, weak
| believer who found himself attending
| a monster pragmatic show-biz
| congregation where the current series
| is "Lessons from the Life of Hulk
| Hogan."

What if the pastor started quoting Greek pagan poetry about God, Phil? I’m just sayin’ ...

| He is not being fed and is
| becoming increasingly shallow-
| minded himself, and yet he lives two
| miles from, say, the church where
| Tom Pennington is pastor. Would you
| counsel him to go where he might be
| better fed and equipped for ministry,
| or would you advise him that
| whatever he was won with is what he
| is morally bound to?

Oh brother – that hurt, dude. 

Listen: when something replaces the word of God as the standard of truth, there are big problems. You know – and I am on-record here and all over saying as much – I believe that not just with position papers but in fact, by the doing. And there’s no question that the best and most NT-emulating methodology for the doing of that is expositional preaching and teaching, with the second-best being a Spurgeon-like, Scripture-saturated approach to topical teaching – where human context is repositioned to be seen from God’s perspective as demonstrated by Scripture, and the Gospel is laid upon the circumstance of man to point him to Christ.

So the answer to your question – in short form – is that if your choice is between bread and circus (which is a pretty funny thing to say about a church if you think about it) where there is nothing solemn or holy about what’s going on (let alone edifying) and what you and I would agree is a church in the top 5% of all available in terms of discipleship and conformity to God’s word, then we’re not in any disagreement: go be discipled and not entertained.

But in saying that, I don’t think it’s right to give people the liberty to say that because their church has transitioned from an organ player to a four-piece ensemble that their church has gone into the entertainment business and they ought to start looking. And a pastor who, for example, is literate enough to give examples from the common life – the modern analogically-sound counterpart to Paul citing the poet to the men in the Areopagus – is not necessarily elevating the unholy to the same place as Scripture.

I think the real-life application of the principle you’re advocating here, Phil, has a lot finer grain than most people bother to apply in real life. It’s sound enough to say that we should put ourselves in the best circumstances, but when the difference is between much less-obvious choices than the one you list here – like whether someone should leave a church which is somewhat-arminian for a church which is somewhat-less Arminian, or perhaps start his own home church because there are no actually-reformed churches in his county – I think people use this decent precept to make rash choices.

You know: because we’re human. And Paul says we should be working not to apply human wisdom, but the wisdom of God which makes fools of the wise men of this age.

Amen?

Brian in BC said...

Sorry if I was unclear on the last post...

(I was the second Brian in the thread, the one where I spent three years trying to work from within to help a church with a pastor who was falling apart and taking the church with it...I finally left to help my family and my own growth, I'll log on as Brian in BC now to keep it clear).

You haven't sinned against me at all, I'm trying to say that the current state of the Church which we are in is a far different reality than what Paul would have ever imagined possible. I see Paul as preaching unity among believers and I see the whole church as "the Bride of Christ"...I don't think we'd have any argument there.

Where I think we might disagree is that you have asked for NT proof/evidence of when to leave a local congregation. I am taking the stance that we won't find it, not because it isn't something which we need to work through and pray through etc. but because a "shattered" church would have been totally foreign to Paul. It's one of those circumstances where "our sin" (large universal human, fallen nature, imperfect sin) has created something outside of the scope that the NT directly speaks about.

Since I don't believe that the possibility of a "chose you own Church" ever occurred to Paul, looking to his writings about false churches, teachers etc. isn't going to really illuminate our situation today.

I think we need to look at each situation uniquely and in prayer ensure that our motivations and reasons align with the greater evidences of what God would want. I think this is one of the most complicated issues in the Church today as I believe we are often dealing with two "rights". It is right not to break with a congregation and to take your membership seriously, it is also right to look for the greatest good of your family. The tension between these two creates all sorts of problems and alternatives.

Hope this clears up a bit what I was trying to say.

ZZZ said...

I stumbled on this web site while at school (I am in the military) and it has helped me in many ways. I am considering leaving the church I now attend, it is a UPC church and I am torn over many things one being the pay your tithes or your robbing God and several other things that after studying are not bible. I do enjoy the worship and the pastor is a fantastic preacher. I want to leave for the right reasons, not emotional ones. I am not going to make a rash decision. I want to serve God, I have backslid to the point where I wonder if God will forgive me. I have never been happy in my present condition. I have a hard time talking to my pastor because 1) outside the pulpit he is emotionally void and 2) he is not at all flexible on his stance over anything he preaches and 3) he is my brother in law, which complicates me leaving because of my wife, she is a lot more flexible than him though. I am praying and studying about it. Any advice will be greatly appreciated. Signed ZZZ

Frank Turk said...

ZZZ:

e-mail me at frank at i-t-u-r-k dot com. You can use the e-mail link in my profile it that's easier.

~Frank