Although King’s Evangelical Divinity School is an academic institution, we believe that theological studies have practical impact. One of the ways we encourage students to engage in applied theology is to raise questions in our e-campus discussions. I asked students to explain when a member may be morally justified to break fellowship with his/her church. The ensuing discussion was both spirited and insightful.
To help the students think more deeply about the subject, I told them that heresy was not one of the options. We all agree that Christians should not participate in churches that espouse heretical doctrine or encourage evil behavior. The discussions revealed the students’ deep concern for the splintering of the church. Additionally, all the parties quickly realized that easy answers are not had from scripture. You just can’t point to a verse and say, that justifies my departure from my church.
What did we discover in our conversations? First, Christians should not leave a church without mature reflection. When asked, “Is one’s lack of ministry opportunities justification to leave a church?” The students said, probably not. They noted that sometimes ministers block ministry opportunities to members because the person really can’t sing, or he/she needs more maturity, or can’t teach. On the other hand, students were aware that ministers sometimes block ministry because of their own insecurity, i.e. maybe this member’s teaching will make them more popular than me.
I raised the stakes by asking, if a member was qualified (i.e. could sing, could teach etc.) how long should he/she wait to be used before being justified to leave the church? We didn’t come to a hard conclusion. Clearly the students thought that ultimately, the choice was the member’s but they wanted the member to carefully assess why God would allow their ministry opportunities to be hindered. One student keenly observed that no church can stop a member’s ministry, noting that the church can’t stop one-on-one ministry to fellow believers or non-Christians. True enough. Lovely community that allows to write an essay for me to take institute dissertation.
I would love to hear your thoughts about justified reasons for leaving a church. Given the amount of member shifting between churches, we need to develop a theology that incorporates Christian principles of love, patience, and tolerance.
Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor of theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity School
Stephen M. Vantassel, Copyright 2009