Tuesday, December 25, 2007

When is it right to leave a church?
First of all, let me say, that no Christian can truly leave a church since they are the church. The church is the body of Christ (see I Cor.12:12-13; Eph.1:22-23). So it is really impossible for believers to leave what they are in Christ. We therefore need to rephrase the heading question: when is it right to leave a fellowship of believers? Since the body of Christ is made up of local gatherings of believers (what is called "the local church") - when is it right then to depart from that fellowship?
Someone might say that it is never right to leave a local church. I know people who feel this way, and such a sentiment is really extreme and unbiblical. There is a right time, a right way, and a right motive to leave. However, there are others who think that whenever they feel like leaving they should go. These people are your "church hoppers" who come and go to local churches on a whim. They are purely led by their emotions but not God. The first group then stays in a local church out of pride and legalism; the second group leaves a local church out of selfishness and self-serving interests.
So, when is it right to leave a local church? I will offer four reasons that I believe stand out as biblical both in principle and precept. First, there can be physical reasons. Such as living too far away to really be a part of that fellowship or just having to move. My family and I had to leave a fellowship of believers for that very reason - we lived so far from the church (60 miles away) that it just became impossible to fulfill biblical mandates like Hebrews 10:24-25. Another reason however is a bit more serious: when God's Word ceases to be faithfully taught and honored as the final authority for what we should believe and practice. When this happens in a local church, that gathering can no longer be called in truth a church. They can be called a "club" or a "community center" but not a church. Why? Because they have cut themselves off from the only credible authority they have to confirm and assure them of God's nature, purpose, will, and way of salvation (see II Tim.3:15-4:2). A true believer cannot remain in such a gathering and expect to grow and be nurtured in Christ when His Word is ignored, denied, and dishonored. When human tradition and human philosophy become the rule of the day, then it is time to leave. A third reason is simply and tragically, when the gospel ceases to be cherished and clearly proclaimed (see Rom.1:16; I Cor.1:18-21; 2:1-2) then its time to look elsewhere. Christ and His imputed righteousness and perfect sacrifice must never cease being the center of a church's existence. Sadly, there are many congregations that have subtlety laid the gospel aside. The fourth and final reason I would mention as cause for leaving a local church, is when sin is not taken seriously and corrected by God's standard (see Matt.18:15-20; Rom.16:17-18; I Cor.5; II Thess.3:14-15). When moral and doctrinal perversion persists in a local church without any effort toward corrective discipline, then the hour has come to part from that congregation.
Now even with these reasons to leave a local church, I must stress in closing that a Christian should never leave without much prayer; and following the procedure of Matthew 18:15-17 and I Timothy 5:19 with the leadership of the church. But if such problems cannot be corrected after these efforts have been made, then seeking a new church is a believer's only option. Ultimately, all Christians should want to be part of local churches that are biblically healthy and thus pursue at all costs and above all things the glory of God (I Cor.10:31).

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