That’s the refrain right now – waddabout my example? Waddabout my example? Waddabout my example?
I have 6 examples from the New Testament that I want to cover briefly, and in doing that I want to underscore a few things which a lot of people are not getting – people, btw, who are not just commenters in this and the TeamPyro thread.
BTW, there’s a great brief piece of advice at GTY.org which some have already pointed me to on the topic of leaving a church. Because so many people have pointed me to it, and because I hold Dr. MacArthur in the highest esteem, I am using it for the basis of this post – because I want to point something out which seems to me to be missing in all the references to this “Issues & Answers” paper.
The page lists some circumstances (not all) in which it is “necessary to leave a church for the sake of one’s own conscience, or out of duty to obey God rather than men.” The list includes the following:
If heresy on some fundamental truth is being taught from the pulpit (Gal. 1:7-9).Amen, yes? There’s no question that one shouldn’t even join in fellowship with such a place in the first place. Seriously: if you move to town and the church across the street happens to be a Mormon temple, should you just join in and have a covenant relationship with rank pagans as if they were the house of God?
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)
But that’s a far cry, for example, from joining a church which says “SBC” or even “IFB” on the sign out front only to discover, after 6 months or 2 years, that the pastor is sliding off the apple cart because he was never equipped to deal with post modern apostasy and now he’s denying the virgin birth or the exhaustive foreknowledge of God.
In that latter case, you joined in what we must assume is good faith to a church which we must assume has a sound active confession, and an elder (or the elder) of the body is denying these things which are the basis of fellowship in good faith.
In that, how do we view the admonition of Gal 1?
- I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
It is the latter – it must be the latter. And in that, the command from the apostle – or perhaps it is a declaration – is that this man with a false gospel must be turned out of fellowship. The apostle doesn’t think that some person ought to devastate the believers and cause the church to scatter: he believes that this person ought to be considered an unbeliever.
“Yeah, but waddif ... ?” says the guy in the back. Hang on with your “waddif” until we get to the end of this short list, if you please.
The next example from Dr. MacArthur is from Rom 16:
- I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
So you avoid this person – whoever he is – not by breaking up a church but by actively being a church. That is, you “avoid” this man by being the church without him. You shun this person – and not you personally (that is, you singular) but you collectively -- you plural. You who are brothers stick together as brothers and do what is right as brothers. Paul is exhorting the faithful not to act as points of light but as a family against an intruder.
The next example is in 1Cor 5:
- It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
That is, you the church -- not each one of you as you see fit, or when you come to a person conclusion about it. When all of you come together, all of you deliver this guy to Satan. You are not to become your own personal church: you are to act as if you are called to be saints together.
This is exactly the same thing regarding the sexually immoral [1 Cor 5:9-11]: “purge the evil person from among you.” Don’t leave the church -- be the church! The same is said of the person who disregards the commands of the Bible: “have nothing to do with him” [1 Thes 3]; The same with all kinds of sinners [2 Tim 3].
So now the question: “Yes, but what if one of these things – or all of them – are happening inside the leaders/elders/pastors of my church? For example, what if my pastor suddenly preaches on why homosexual marriage is compatible with the Christian life – shouldn’t that be my last day there?”
No – no way. And it’s not because this person is doing well: it is precisely because he is doing wrong. Let’s assume the worst case – that this is happening, and there is not one elder or trustee or whatever who will bring the matter to him. What do you do? You must follow the Biblical path – which is not separation and dismantling God’s church, but praying for and personal intervention toward the one who is doing wrong.
So what do you do? If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
If the church will not act, it is not a church – it is not doing what Paul said to do by any means. But in that, how often is a man Luther in the face of all of Christendom? In these examples, we are talking about the most gross violations of what is right and wrong, and we are talking about the worst case where the church will not act to even see if there has been wrong-doing. If they throw out your case, they have thrown you out – taken away your place at the table.
It is in that which we ought to seek some other place with other believers. And it is in that which I agree with Dr. MacArthur’s statement:
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.Many people are reading and have read this statement this way:
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.When in fact, this is provided in this way:
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 it also would serve a lot of people well to read the additional comments GTY provides in this brief article on how to select a new church:
Now look at yourself and ask, Are there opportunities here for me to serve and exercise my spiritual gifts? Does this local body have a need that by God's enabling I can meet? Am I willing to get what the church can do for me, but also what I can do for the Lord as I serve Him in this church? Am I willing to give of my time, money, energy, and prayers to contribute to the success of this church (Mark 12:30; Rom. 12:1)?I am optimistic that this addendum has answered a lot of question people have been e-mail and otherwise sending in. And I am sure there are still some “waddabouts” I haven’t answered, either.
A house is not a home until all the members of a family contribute to its success. The same is true of a church home. Only when each member in the family of God exercises his or her God-given gifts will God's children feel at home in His church.
The decision you make about what church to attend will greatly affect your spiritual life and the lives of your children. In fact, the decisions you make now will affect your descendants and the generations to come. That's a sobering reality.
Remember that no church will ever perfectly fulfill all these criteria. There is no perfect church. Also, remember that every church is going to have its own special blend of the characteristics we have examined. The key is to find a church that has them in proper balance, not overemphasizing some or de-emphasizing others. A balanced ministry is a Spirit-controlled ministry. If you find a church that possesses most but not all of the characteristics we've mentioned, don't immediately disregard it. Consider whether God wants to use you to help improve that local body as you exercise your own particular spiritual gifts.
Choosing a church home is one of the most significant decisions you will ever make—one that reaches into eternity. May each of us spend at least as much time and effort making that decision as we do deciding on our earthly dwelling.
Feel free to comment here.