Should You Leave Your Church?
Is God telling you to stay or move?
by James McBride
Does what you are hearing from the pulpit cut across what you read in the Bible? Have you perhaps become disenchanted with the clergies' attitudes towards the Word of God, with abuse of authority etc? If so, should you fellowship elsewhere? What factors should influence your decision?
Some Christians flit lightly from one church to another. Minor disagreement--personal or doctrinal sends them to a new church across town. Then there's the "loyalty at any price" Christian, who clings grimly to the church of his birth or of his choice through a morass of doctrinal error, or despite the dead hand of formalism, or deepening personal unhappiness. Or some will stay put because there's a deep-rooted fear of departing--that in doing so they will somehow lose salvation.
Changing your loyalty is a serious matter, not least in the vital matter of religious belief. What should you do? Before making a decision, consider the following.
First understand some facts about "the church".
In its beginnings the church was a single body, even in externals. But this didn't last long--maybe days! The Acts of the Apostles traces its growth, and it's clear that the real unity was spiritual, transcending time and space. Further, as in the famed "Seven Churches of Revelation" (Rev 2,3), each local church was responsible for its own moral and doctrinal purity. And Jesus Christ, as Head of the church, could independently remove any one of them--and did.
At first, doctrine and practice varied little from area to area. But the apostles died. The church expanded over the face of the earth. Persecution and war and geography isolated Christian communities. And there developed doctrinal distortions. The result--the myriad Christian sects of the twentieth century!
The "Christian" world today shades from giant monoliths like the Anglican, Episcopal and Roman churches to tiny numerically insignificant nonconformist groups. Yet despite fundamental and irreconcilable differences, all consider themselves "Christian"!
Search The Scriptures
However, what a church teaches ought to reflect what the Scriptures teach. The source of Christian belief is the Word of God. How does your denomination meet the challenge?
To help you make a wise decision, ask yourself these questions.
Is Jesus Christ preached ? The heart of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ. Attitudes to him range from a dead formalism through to disrespectful chumminess. Yet it's only through Jesus Christ--his life, his sufferings, his cruel death on the tree--that we are reconciled to the Father. Only through him, through his shed blood, can our loathsome (to God) sin be freely forgiven upon our repentance. Only in him will we enter into eternal life. It's a personal decision which each of us must take.
Does my church reject clear Bible teachings? Some denominations, even on fundamental issues, cling blindly to tradition. Is this likely to change in your church--even after maybe several centuries of error? Changes, all too often, are away from the truth of the Bible!
Be sure to examine your church's teaching with the Bible in hand. It's your responsibility to get it right, not the pastor's who answers for his own error. God's Word is plain to those who want to understand! For example, have you personally sought out the Bible teaching on heaven--and hell? What about the immortality of the soul? And do you know on which days--weekly and annually--God says, in the Scriptures, He desires worship?
Do I dislike the pastor? We each differ in personality--clashes can occur! But the Christian Gospel promotes reconciliation, and you ought to exhaust every avenue to achieve it. We must seek peace with everyone one in the congregation, as much as is in our power. If there are no channels for reconciliation or there's an unbridgeable--and unbiblical--gap between leaders and laity, then this, too, must be considered.
Does my church express the spirit of Christ? All too many local churches and even whole denominations are spiritually dead. There's little chance to express Christian practice or to "grow in grace and knowledge". A living church will be a serving church showing concern for the spiritual and material welfare of its members and for the world around. It will be a learning church, continually growing in Bible understanding and the training of its membership. It will be an evangelizing church with an active program for taking the Gospel to the world. And it is strong on the ethical and behavioral aspects of the Christian faith.
It's unlikely you will find a church with which you can agree one hundred per cent! And indeed there's no need to do so. For not all "knowledge" is vital to salvation.
There are, however, vital truths which distinguish the true from the false. Search the Scriptures. Discover what is truth. And wholeheartedly and energetically serve Jesus Christ where He is faithfully taught and expressed.
Note: This article also appears in Cornerstone Evangelical Association.