However, there are times when it becomes necessary to leave a church for the sake of one's own conscience, or out of a duty to obey God rather than men.Now, Dr. MacArthur and our friends at GTY are saying that in spite of the real spiritual sobriety we're talking about when we talk about the local church, somebody has to clarify that there comes a time when it's necessary to leave "a church".
Someone in the comments of the last post tried to muscle that up into a distinction between "a church" and "the church", and you can go over there and see what I thought of that investigation into nuance. My concern with saying what they're about to say in their essay with this particular preface is this: God never gives explicit instructions to leave a church.
You know: Jesus instructed his disciples to leave towns which do not receive them and shake the dust off their feet. Israel was instructed to leave Egypt, and Lot was instructed to leave Sodom. When God wants somebody to leave a place, He knows how to say, "Hey: get outta there." I mean, he's God: he invented words. Scripture is His word. He could say it if he meant to say it.
But God doesn't say -- through Paul or any writer of Scripture -- "leave this church or that church if it gets too bad." Think of it -- Paul tells the Galatians that they have voided the Gospel, and they have changed it as from day to night by the teaching on circumcision which they have accepted. But what's missing? The plea to those who have not accepted such a thing to flee from this worthless joint and these worthless pastors and, well, do something else. If any church should have been fled, it was that one, yes? But Paul doesn;t say it -- or even hint at it.
Or what about Corinth? You think that Paul was proud of those people? They allowed incest and cliquishness, made chaos out of worship and made the eucharist into debauchery -- AND they seem to have forgotten the Gospel to boot. So Paul's advice there was, "and the few of you who aren't all screwed up -- you leave these losers and start something new, and I'll be along in a few months to start you over WITHOUT those heretics, thank God."
Yeah, no: Paul doesn't seem to see leaving the church as an option. But I think that's because Paul doesn't see the church the way (not to be too pointed here) you do. You see the church as a place where the word is preached, the sacraments are rightly administered, and discipline is rightly upheld. But let me suggest to you that Paul thought the church was more than that. And by "more", I don't mean "more of the same".
Here: look at this -- it's from Titus:
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.Somehow Paul is telling Titus that the way you really run off the false teachers (See Titus 1) is by teaching what accords with sound doctrine -- so that the people will act in such a way that they adorn the sound doctrine.
You know: they aren't all seminary students. They are not actually bookish -- and I know this because it is rare to find someone who is both "bookish" and "dignified and self-controlled". The "bookish" are usually easily-addled and somewhat socially inept. They have what they think is a tidy interior life and they don't want people coming around messing it up for them.
To be blunt, Paul thinks the church is a larger thing and a couple-three hours on a Sunday morning -- and I don't mean Sunday night and Wednesday, too: Paul thinks the church is somehow larger than weekly events.
Someplace else he calls it the "household of God". And for many of us, that's a neat metaphor -- it's a big, big house with lots and lots of pews. But in fact Paul is saying that somehow the people of God have to be like a household -- so that if the metaphor is true, the reality is greater than the image and not somehow less. It's not easier: it's harder.
And in that, I want you to read the GTY statement with that substitution made:
- However, there are times when it becomes necessary to leave the household of God for the sake of one's own conscience, or out of a duty to obey God rather than men.