Leaving a Church

Recently, I’ve become inadvertently involved in a discussion in what is (strictly speaking) a student area of our ecampus forum. I was scanning new messages one day and found myself intrigued by the heading ‘clerical collars’ in the student ‘cafe’. I just had to enter and have a look, and since that time (when I joined in the debate) the basic discussion as to whether ministers should identify themselves has developed into one on ‘liberal’ churches etc, and whether we (i.e., evangelicals) should remain in such churches. This morning, I wondered whether this might not be a good topic for wider discussion and so I make this post.

I’m often surprised at the cavalier way in which some Christians will leave a local church because something has/is being taught with which they disagree. I remember once hearing R.C Sproul suggest that one should not leave a church unless no aspect of the gospel was being preached there. One of his own mentors, John Gerstner used to teach the same thing, and encouraged bible believing Christians to stay where are and stand on the true gospel. Those of you who know anything of recent church history will know that views on this topic can differ wildly, even in evangelical circles, the classic disagreement occurring between John Stott and D. Martyn Lloyd Jones in the 1960s.

I’ve personally met many people who seem to move from one church to another on a regular basis, sometimes ending up driving many, many miles to attend a fellowship they feel comfortable with. The main reason one usually gets for this is the necessity for the preacher to be saying (more or less) exactly what the person in question wishes to hear. If they don’t hear that, they leave and go elsewhere, or even nowhere (if a preacher can’t be found who fits the bill). However, I wonder whether the notion of Christian love shouldn’t drive us to extend our patience much further than this; i.e., than simply getting ourselves into a place where we agree with the doctrinal stance of the preacher!

I wonder if there isn’t an argument – a very powerful argument – for saying that we should stay in churches which are preaching something we disagree with? After all, if everyone with evangelical views leaves so-called ‘liberal’ churches, won’t we end up with a situation where all those who think alike are clumped into little ‘ghettos’ (all nodding agreements at the preaching)whilst the liberal groups are left to continue their journey further and further from the teachings of the bible? Should we stay where we are, however uncomfortable it may be, and proclaim and peacably live the truth in love as we see it. After all, many others in our fellowship may be true Christians (even if they see things differently to ourselves) and many others may need to hear the true gospel of grace. If we are to love even our enemies, as our Lord commands, then is leaving a church fellowship an easy option? Many of us will have members of our own family who do not share our own Christian views, or maybe are not even believers at all – or are even (perish the thought) downright against our God and our beliefs. Would we leave them because they have different views? Would we not rather remain, love them and try and win them by any godly means?

I know there are many arguments against the views I’ve proposed above. I’ve used some of them myself in the past. But I leave this post with you for your prayerful consideration. I’d be interested in your comments!

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