When is it time to leave a church?

I had a conversation with a friend last night and he announced to me he and his wife were leaving our church.  I am grieving this loss and I began to think about why one would leave a fellowship of God’s Church.  There are certainly legitimate reasons to leave which I think primarily revolve around the lack of the gospel or truth.  If this is the case that person should go seek restoration and call leadership to repentance (Matthew 18:15-17) or in the case of a sinning leader scripture speaks clearly how to handle (1 Timothy 5:19).

What if we just don’t like what comes from the leadership?  This really is the point of the rub.  Can we disagree and still be in fellowship?  Can we be like-minded and still have some points of disagreement?  Paul tells us to strive for the unity of the gospel (Philippians 1:27).  This is a major problem, sinful man likes autonomy.  Merriam-Webster defines autonomy as “self-directing freedom and especially moral independence”, we like this don’t we?  Isn’t this what it usually comes down to?  I don’t like to be told what to do, if it disrupts my world-view I would rather rebel than consider my-self directed freedom.  Scripture is full of examples of this.

Matthew 8:19-20 Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.”  And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

Do we understand that following Christ is difficult?  Have we not seen the many examples the Lord Himself has provided.  What about John Chapter 6?  This message was so shocking and so scandalous that Jesus ran them all off, all but the twelve that is.  This shook people to the core.  John 6:61 When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this.  He said to them, “Does this offend you?”  verse 66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.

But this was Jesus right?  If Jesus was the one getting up and preaching it would be no problem.  If He made challenging demands it would not be an issue.

Hebrews 13:17 Obey those who ruler over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls as those who must give account.  Let them do so with joy and not with grief.  For that would be unprofitable for you.

The writer of Hebrews gives us clear direction that we are to be submissive to leaders in the church.

John MacArthur commenting on this verse:

That God is a God of principle, that God is not a God who says, do your own thing. But God has some very strong and very rigid and very clearly defined standards of behavior…

In order that those who read might understand that joy is produced by obedience. And in order the readers might understand that witness to the world depends upon the consistency of the pattern of their living.

And I want you to notice how this submission is ordered, verse seventeen, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves,” and we’ll stop there. Now here is a responsibility toward God. You say it sounds to me like a responsibility towards some rulers. Yes it is, but the wonderful thing that is evident in this text and evident in other texts in the New Testament is this, that God, now watch it, that God mediates much of His rule in this world through men. God has done that for a long time. Throughout the Old Testament God mediated His rule at times through kings, through prophets, through judges. And in this age God mediates His rule through Spirit-controlled men. Someday God will mediate His rule in the living Christ who sits on the throne of David and rules in the world and the kingdom, right? And He’ll mediate His own kingdom. But at this time God is literally ruling His people through certain Spirit-led men.

These men were ordered of the Spirit of God to have the rule of the church. They do not rule for themselves, they rule in the stead of Christ. They are called undersheperds, and that’s really what I am. That’s what your pastors are, that’s what any pastors are in any given church. So when in seventeen it says obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves, the submission here is not really to men but it is to God, as He rules, mediating His rule through Spirit-controlled men. So there were in that assembly, as in all early local churches gifted men, chosen by the Lord, granted to the church to rule.  You can read or listen to the sermon here:  http://www.gty.org/Resources/sermons/1642

Here is the issue.  Pastors and Elders are called to rule well.  Not for their own gain.  Believers are called to submit to them.  This is an act of the will, a decision to do so.  Many will attempt to say I’m submitting myself to God but they won’t submit to men appointed by God.  The truth is they are NOT submitting to God.  This submission thing is a big deal to God.

So what should we do if we disagree?  I’ve already shown above that we are to go to those that we have disagreements with or that have sinned.  Proverbs 1:5-6 A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.  If we don’t follow this we are doing the opposite.  Proverbs 18:1-2 A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment.  A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart.

The issue with my friends was persecution and trials that came from making tough decisions and challenging stances.  Are these sin issues?  They may or not be depending on how they are handled.  This is why one should attain wise counsel.  Didn’t Jesus teach us that persecutions would come when we stood on His truths?

Matthew 5:11-12 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecute the prophets who were before you.  We know Paul affirmed this 2 Timothy 3: 12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

Jesus also said we should count the cost.  https://uncommonfaith.org/2012/11/16/count-the-cost/

Is this a salvation issue for my friends?  I hope not but I know the scripture shows them to be in rebellion to God’s Word.  I say that as the most loving thing I can possibly say to them.  They have rebelled against God’s authority through His Church.  Is it time for them to leave?  NO, it’s time for them to talk and work through the issues, not flee.  I hope they will attain wise counsel and search diligently to see if they are in sin.  I hope they will seek restoration.  This is what scripture call them to do.  What is my responsibility?  I must pray for them and I must plead with them to work through this.  If we call ourselves Believers then we have a guide book.  We must use that to seek truth and to seek like-mindedness.  Not because my opinion matters, but because God’s opinion matters.