“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I rarely involve myself in discussions taking place around the blogsphere, preferring to do small series’ on observations that I have made in my life. However, every once in a while I will post about something I have read, and this post is one of those.

I would first like to say a few things: (1) I am not going to link to the post that I am addressing, partly because it is a widely read and popular blog and I simply do not have the ‘blog-power’ to spend time in argumentation with the readers of that blog (not so worried about the author, I think he will understand this post should he stumble onto it). I work a secular job and pastor a church, and therefore I have limited keystrokes to spend on the blog. (2) I respect the author of the post, and have for quite some time now. Just because we may disagree (if we even do), regarding this subject, I am in no way disparaging him. And (3), I believe that, if I read it right, the thrust of his post is correct.

First – the post had to do with ‘When is it proper to leave your local church?’. The author then proceeds to make the argument that it is never proper to leave your local church, and although I do not think he meant this, he seems to be saying; there are no conditions which would warrant that.

Now, I believe that the primary thrust of his post may have started out with the thought that people should not simply leave their church because they have a disagreement with the leadership. I heartily agree – being a pastor, I have seen plenty of people leave our church because of simple miscommunication, or a moment of anger. I understand and applaud this portion of the post.

But then he continues to a few things which I believe are incorrect. The first is that he uses 1st Corinthians to show that Paul instructed the believers in Corinth to stick with it, and not leave. He is entirely correct in the reading, but the applications he draws from this may be suspect. I think that the hermeneutical cart is before the horse here. We must look at not only who Paul was writing to, but when and why.

Corinth in the 1st Century did not have a church on every corner. Paul was writing to the ‘believing body’ contained within the city of Corinth. Therefore, there was no other church – there was THE church in Corinth. So, Paul would obviously be arguing that the church needed to stay together. He was not saying, ”I know that there is a good, Bible-believing church down the road, but you stick it out there!” There was NO alternative, and therefore these people are being told to work out their differences.

Secondly Paul was the de facto leader of that church; therefore he was trying to return it to orthodox teaching by reprimanding the people attending. Often in the modern church this is not the case – it is the very leadership that is charged with taking care of the flock of Christ which leads people down the rat hole of bad teaching, or even heresy. Paul’s position was different from what is being addressed in the post; therefore this does not actually validate the argument.

So, now that I have said that, where do I stand on this? Well, here it is – there are PLENTY of bad churches out there. I believe that if people WOULD stop attending these churches and start attending solid, evangelical, orthodox churches, we would be better off. Now, I am no Harold Camping – I believe that the author of the post I am addressing was really focused on that mentality. Per people such as HC, we should leave our local church because they have all become corrupt, and meet in homes.

I am not a Camping-ite – As I stated earlier in this (lengthy) post, I believe that one should make every effort to reconcile with the church they are attending. However, when all efforts have failed, then they should probably move to a church where they feel they are being fed.

I have some real-life examples:

A friend came to me long ago and asked about some things he had heard at his church. The pastor had suddenly got a bug about Reformed faith, and was preaching that it was heresy! My friend, who listened to a number of Reformed teachers, approached the pastor and spoke with him about it. The talk was amiable enough, but no change. It got worse until my friend was so uncomfortable with the situation that he asked my advice regarding leaving (BTW, I had initially recommended that he stay and work it out with the pastor). I told him that he should find a church that more closely aligned with his perspective. It got to the point where the pastor intimated that my friend was becoming involved in a cult because of his belief in the Reformed faith. He left that church and is now happily ensconced in a Reformed LOCAL church.

Second example – a friend was involved in a church that, over time, became heavily involved in the health and wealth gospel. He was in leadership, but was beginning to be ostracized by the other leaders. His integrity, faith, and even moral character came under suspicion. He finally left the church and is now going to an orthodox church, and is happily involved once again the fellowship with believers.

Also, I could take the absurd extreme in this argument – Say a person came to me and told me that they were attending the People’s Temple, run by a very charismatic leader, known as Jim Jones, but they had recently begun to suspect there was something amiss at the church. Would I be right in saying, ”Hey, hang in there, it will get better?” Or would it be incumbent upon me, as a pastor, to ascertain exactly what was amiss, assessing whether or not the problem was as bad as the person had stated?

Bottom line – when we use Paul’s teaching to make a blanket case for staying where you are at, I think we are making a hermeneutical error by not taking into consideration the reality of the day and age when he wrote.

Second – I also believe that far too many people bail on churches too early, or for petty reasons. They SHOULD stay and be in conversation with the leadership about their concerns. They may find, as is often the case, that there has simply been miscommunication. I am not an advocate of church-hopping, I see it all to frequently!

And finally – Would God have us stay in a place where heresy is being taught as opposed to going to a place where His Word was being taught?


Anonymous said...

Ignoring Jesus admonishment that no one would know the time of His return, Harold Camping predicted Christ's return for October 20, 2011. Some people think Camping has a great "radio voice." But, if you want to hear a heretic with a great voice, try Garner Ted Armstrong.


Ray said...

Actually I don't want to hear any heretics, great voice or otherwise!


Steve Sensenig said...

Ray, excellent post, brother! It's funny -- I rarely read the blog to which you refer, but happened to see that post (series of posts, if I recall correctly) following a link from somewhere else.

My reaction was the exact same as yours with regard to the use of 1 Corinthians in support of "don't leave your local church".

I think that this particular issue might be further complicated by the widespread confusion regarding what the church really is. Paul was, as you said, writing to the church of Corinth.

We're much further away from that concept than any of us realize, I fear.

Blessings, brother. Thanks for a very well-written response.