Thursday, August 30, 2012

Knowing the Right Time to Say Goodbye

People change churches for many reasons.  Some of the reasons are good and some are bad, but it is usually a very difficult decision to make and sometimes even more difficult to actually do.  This is especially true if you have been a part of a church for a very long time where deep relationships have developed.   Sometimes, though, it is time to move on.  What are the right and wrong reasons to leave a church?  I am not talking about if you move far away or if a church splits or even closes, I am talking about those times when we just end our time at one church and become a member of another one.  I am also not talking about silly and unscriptural reasons like that you are in an argument with someone or if you like the style of worship better at another church.  What it all really comes down to is doctrine and what side of this prophesy you are on.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, [because] they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn [their] ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.  2 Timothy 4:3-4 NKJV
This prophesy reflects both the right and wrong reason to leave a church.  If your pastor is teaching a doctrine meant to satisfy itching ears, then it is time to leave.  These are the pastors that teach everything your flesh wants to hear.  They teach prosperity, experiential yet unscriptural Christianity, focus on signs and wonders to amaze the senses, and/or a Christianity with no repentance.   They teach that you can take your ticket to heaven and tuck it away until you need it and go on living whatever kind of life you want to live.   If your pastor is going away from the Bible and getting more into opinion and experience, then you really must consider leaving lest you become infected as well.  Many good pastors have been overtaken by some of the plethora of apostate doctrines abounding in the church today.  It is of the utmost importance that if your church goes down one of these paths leading to destruction that you must prayerfully consider leaving and act should the Lord direct you to do so.

The other side of the coin is that you should never leave your church for a doctrinal position that you "like" better.  I do not mean leaving your church for one with more solid teaching, but I do mean leaving your church for one that teaches what you want to hear.  For example, someone struggling with homosexuality who leaves a church that teaches the truth that homosexuality is a sin for a church that teaches that it is not.  A pastor teaching a wrong doctrine does not make that doctrine right.  Doctrine can not be judged by how many people believe it or teach it, but it must always be judged by what the Bible actually says.  By the Bible, I mean the whole Bible and not passages taken out of context and twisted to mean whatever one wants it to mean.  Back to the point I am discussing, if the doctrine of a church is solidly scriptural and it makes you uncomfortable, the problem is with you and not with what your pastor is teaching.  We should never look for a church to make us feel better about our sin or whatever other areas of our lives are displeasing to God.  We should look for a church that teaches solid doctrine that challenges us to look to change those parts of our lives.  I say that because God is not one who conforms to us, but it is us who are called to conform to Him.

I realize what I said could be taken to some legalistic extreme, so let me clarify that issue before I continue.  I consider those who leave a doctrinally sound church for a overly legalistic one or even one who stays in an overly legalistic one when they should leave as the same as one who would leave or stay for a preference with a more liberal doctrine.  That is because those who seek or stay in an overly legalistic environment, for the most part, do so because they want to feel as though they earned a part of their salvation.  It is about pride.  It is about saying that they are able to be holier than others or that they are able to live without sin.  They like to brag about their level of faith and even look down upon others whom they perceive as having less of a faith.  Surely these churches do impose a sense of fear that if they leave that they will be ostracized or even possibly endanger their salvation, but that is no excuse for those who are caught up in this to read what is clear and plain in Scripture or to put earthly relationships over and above their relationship with God.  The fact is that while some may stay out of an inexcusable fear, most remain out of pride.

Their are a few questions we need to ask ourselves when deciding to stay or leave a church.  Are we being challenged to conform ourselves to the image of Christ?  Is the whole counsel of God being taught?  Are we being taught the principles of Christian living as expressed through Paul in his epistles?  Are we being encouraged to study the Bible on our own?  Are we being encouraged to witness to our community?  Does our church even have an active community outreach?  Am I being encouraged and given the opportunity to seek out what ministry God has for me?  Are the other members good sources of spiritual example and encouragement?   Are our service styles and tradition backed up by Scripture or is any extra-scriptural being added?  Is the pastor's family a testimony to his leadership of the home?  Some may think that last question is unfair, but the Bible does clearly state that as being a requirement to be a leader in a church.  There are others but these are a good place to start. 

Ultimately, the deciding factor of whether or not to leave a church is the Lord's direction.  It is something that should be considered only after prayer and direction.  It is also important to have a church to start attending after you leave as it is very easy to get into the lazy habit of not going to church at all.  When we pray, the Lord will give us direction and it is up to us to act on that direction.  God is generally not in the business of forcibly removing people from churches.  That is generally up to us.  Unfortunately, many pray and know that direction and do not act on it.  I, myself, have been guilty of this very thing.  We can not ask for fleece after fleece after fleece as a sure sign that God wants us to move.  For any called to move, I truly believe you really know but are just hesitating out of fear of the unknown, the habit of going to where you are, hurting feelings, or moving away from relationships.  We can not put any of that, though, over the Lord's direction.  The Lord knows those concerns and He would not have called you to act if He did not have a plan and a reason for all those possibilities.  On the other hand, it is important that we seek to conform ourselves to the image of Christ and not look for someone who teaches a Jesus who is a lot like who we are already.  What I mean is that we should not leave a church for a pastor who makes us feel comfortable in our sins and failures.  He should not condemn us either, but his teaching should challenge us and encourage us to live that life as a man or woman of God.  I will end with what effect the church should be having in our lives.
And He Himself gave some [to be] apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ-- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.  Ephesians 4:11-16 NKJV

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