A year ago I got into a lively discussion with someone who was struggling with church issues. A family close to them had left their church, and they were battling whether or not it was okay. And if it was wrong that they personally had stayed.
I’ve thought about this a lot, and the discussion continued even still, and I’ve come up with a few thoughts. Now remember, my blog (or anything else you read on the internet or in books, etc…) isn’t the truth. It’s (hopefully) decently researched opinion. So please take this post with the understanding that though I hope and pray we use biblical discernment, this is just a perspective and gleaning of our digging, not God-breathed Truth. You know where to find that.
I asked the question of my friends: Should one ever leave a local church body? And if so, when?
random reading about “church” – not nearly exhaustive
I believe deeply that the church is the body, the people and not the structure. I do know that the gathering of the people creates an environment with which we have the support of one another and are able to collaborate, communicate, to share the love of Christ and offer the laying of hands to pray and seek healing… and because of the beauty of that I know that a structured church environment can be a safe haven, a place of restoration when it is a healthy church… I found that I did not feel I wanted to invest my energy into [an unhealthy church] due to reasons beyond my control, and most of all I want my children to be surrounded by a house of love that I feel is a healthy environment, thus leaving a [church can be positive]… – Jenny F.
If God led us there, then He will keep us there, until He shows otherwise. In our throwaway and constant transient society, it carries over into all relationships, unless we guard against it. Offenses will come, but that’s where the beauty of growing together happens. Matthew 18 is clear about how Christ wants us to work things out. To leave means to go with a blessing…on to the next clear fellowship that He is drawing you into. – Jina E.
Its good to leave a church body to deepen your growth with Christ – Brittany V.
Sometimes both you and they benefit from your absence [in the local church], and both you and a new congregation benefit from your presence. It ain’t easy, and shouldn’t be done lightly. But, at times, it should be done. – Erin S.
If they aren’t preaching the gospel…good, solid teaching…then yes for sure find a place that is. Leave quietly but speak to the leadership….don’t just slink away. Make sure you note the good and valuable things about the fellowship as well. They deserve to know your concerns. Maybe it will encourage some reassessment. – Alyson S.
This can be a hard question to ask, but can be an easy one to answer. I would say yes. God said without a vision the people perish. If you find that you can’t agree with the vision, or disagree with where that particular body is headed then yes you should go. There are good reasons to go, but the truth is if God is telling you to move on, then its a good time to go. Loyalty has to be God first, then the church. If those get flipped then there is only danger ahead. – Sena W.
While the culture of a church body is important, I think that the more important factor is how its beliefs align with yours and how the works of the church align with what you value. – Allysa H.
People grow and change, organizations grow and change. Wise reflection can lead to the best path. The best congregations teach their congregants to go/stay where they find peace. – Jessica S.
The question was “what can God bring out of me to bring to the table” no longer was a question of does the church fit me, but how can God work through me in this church. I’m able to do God’s work, and will come to be feeding in ways that our old church fed me. So with that in mind I absolutely think leaving one church can be God guided. The [local] church is made by man, so no church will be perfect, but God uses us to grow and stretch. The story of Phillip always resonated with me. He was in the middle of the action but God told him to go down in a direction that probably sounded crazy, but imagine how many lives Phillip probably touched by talking to the Ethiopian man, and then transported him to another place to become a father and husband and was able to minister to others in that community. Sometimes you need to move to full fill purpose. – Amanda N.
Biblically, you’re going to be hard pressed to find church defined as anything except a called out congregation of baptized believers. So, technically, if you were baptized and you believed and you did those things at a local congregation with whom you aligned with doctrinally (and to a lesser extent, practically), you were essentially entering into a covenant, or at least publicly proclaiming your agreement with that particular local church. The only a few things that seem to be biblical reasons to leave would be: 1. The church closed its doors (which is not really leaving, I guess). 2. You sinned and were asked to leave (under Matthew 18) and consequently left. 3. Someone else sinned in the church and was not repentant (under Matthew 18) and did not leave but it was tolerated. 4. The church, in general, was biblically out of order (i.e., no elders, no deacons, no order in worship or study, no biblical teaching, etc. (That’s like a “come ye out from among them” situation there). All of the other stuff: how you feel, what you think the Holy Ghost is telling you, what other people are telling you, etc. really don’t matter unless they can be held up biblically. – Kurt
“What is a Healthy Church?” by Mark Dever
Here’s another list I found (John MacArthur) of “when to leave a church”:
- If heresy on some fundamental truth is being taught from the pulpit (Gal. 1:7-9).
- If the leaders of the church tolerate seriously errant doctrine from any who are given teaching authority in the fellowship (Rom. 16:17).
- If the church is characterized by a wanton disregard for Scripture, such as a refusal to discipline members who are sinning blatantly (1 Cor. 5:1-7).
- If unholy living is tolerated in the church (1 Cor. 5:9-11).
- If the church is seriously out of step with the biblical pattern for the church (2 Thess. 3:6, 14).
- If the church is marked by gross hypocrisy, giving lip service to biblical Christianity but refusing to acknowledge its true power (2 Tim. 3:5).
As a youth, I was much more more loosey goosey on this, thinking one could shake off a church and find a new one – like my favorite coffee shop. There sure are as many options in our town!
If there isn’t sound doctrine, it’s a given. Leave and find a Bible-based church.
But what if our “preferences” aren’t met? I just can’t see this being justified easily (or biblically) unless it’s so pronounced that it is a genuinely a detriment to your family/faith, or is against convictions. Feelings are deceiving, though, so I think we all have to be especially careful with this one. Running isn’t an answer. I want to continue this discussion, however. Because I CAN see unmet church preferences interfering with parenting.
It seems that Scripture leaves little room for opinion/preferences when it comes to leaving a local church body. “Gee, I’m not liking this anymore… guess I’ll leave.” (what we’ve become accustomed to in our throw-away culture) – I sure could see myself falling into this. When things get ugly, it’s easier to bow out. And sometimes maybe you should. But it shouldn’t be the norm.
Ultimately I think it comes down to what your view is of a “local church”, and that’s where I/others get hung up a little bit. Church can be ALL believers (it is), but we’re specifically talking about a local church body. Does the Bible address the local church AS WELL AS the universal one… Yep.
To us, and what we’ve gathered from Scripture, our [local] church is our family (Matt. 12:49-50). It’s not a choice that I have the freedom to dapple with or dispose of it once we commit to it. It also isn’t what I lay my trust in completely (only God) or idolize.
Scott & I had both extremes growing up: committed to a church longer than healthy, and leaving churches for superficial reasons. As we have established our own family, and have grown in God’s Word, it’s ever abundant how much fellowship and relationship with your christian family matters. It’s a two-way commitment and a gift to be cherished and protected. We have left two churches since married. One because we moved across country. The other, smaller one dissipated when several other families moved out of state.
Food for thought: If I expect my local church to be committed to me personally/biblically (teaching eternal issues solidly, financially supporting if needy, carrying burdens, celebrating joys), shouldn’t I be committed to it just as strongly? It would be hypocritical not to, no? Continue Reading »