What I believe the sin of many who leave churches today, in our church ‘hop, shop and chop’, consumer-minded Christianity, is in one or both of the following:
1. First the motive for leaving (why a person has chosen to separate themselves).
Too many people abandon churches for petty reasons. Disagreements over simple matters of preference are never a good reason to leave a doctrinally sound church. Christians are commanded to respect, honor, and obey those whom God has placed in positions of leadership in the church (Heb.13:7, 17). People most often leave churches for selfish, man centered, comfort-related reasons, with little concern for the other members they have covenanted with, are accountable to and joined to by God.
There are very few biblical reasons to leave a church because it should be a rare event and a process. The fact is, God never breaks covenant and we are to be like Christ. To leave a church family, that God considers a holy covenant relationship, shows the lack of understanding of Biblical commitment to the church rampant in our culture.
To leave a church for unbiblical reasons shows very little concern for the glory of Christ and His mission; which is to be furthered as the world sees Christ’s love and devotion modeled in us. How are they to see that? One way is a strong love in which people persevere together through the good and the bad. Following the example of Christ who will never leave or forsake us. Unfortunately many today see their personal needs, feelings and desires of higher priority, and therefore have no problem leaving and forsaking those whom God joined them to, whom they have covenanted with, and say that they love. This simply does not model Christ’s love and commitment and therefore does not glorify God. So I see motive for leaving as a critical issue.
2. Second I see method of leaving (how a person has chosen to leave a church) as another equally critical issue.
Many people leave churches today by simply stopping attendance without so much as a kind ‘good-bye’ or a word of explanation; leaving out of selfish anger or hurt and in bitterness. This is done without love or common courtesy to the other members. This is akin to abandonment. Think of a spouse who one day comes home to an empty house. No note, no goodbye, no courtesy, no kindness, no love. This method of leaving a church does not model Christ’s treatment of us, nor does it model Christian love and commitment to an on-looking world.
Others leave churches harboring bitterness and malice, slandering and gossiping in the process and after. The result is divisions within the body of Christ against which there are breathtaking judgments pronounced by God and awaiting those who engage in such behavior, unless there is repentance.
In this whole discussion we must consider these commands:
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 5:1-2 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Colossians 3:12-13 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
There are so many other verses that speak to these truths. But simply take one: 1 John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. “Lay down our lives”! That is a serious command, one related to the church. Nowhere do I see in the Bible any luxury of running out on brothers and sisters. No easy road out of covenant commitment. No lack of devotion or sacrifice for the brothers and sisters God has placed us with, simply referencing the few verses above makes this crystal clear.
Jesus died for the church, and prayed that we be one as He and the Father are one. Throughout the book of 1 John we are told that our love for our brothers and sisters directly indicates our love for the Lord and even our eternal condition. In it, John makes quite a compelling argument for devotion to one another within a church. The implications are huge; how we treat, think of, talk about and relate to other Christians, especially those in our local church family, directly shows our true heart towards Christ.
The early church, seen in Scripture and in church history in later decades, had a profound love for Christ and was radically committed to Him and His glory, first. They were willing to die for Him, lose all for him. Then from their radical love for Christ, sprang a radical love and commitment to one another. They were willing to sacrifice goods, lands, money etc. for their brothers and sisters and strangers. This made the unbelievers around them stand up and take notice.
Unfortunately us modern, 21st century Christians, know little of this type of commitment. We are saturated in the ‘look out for number one- meet my needs’ culture and take the body of Christ dangerously and shamefully too lightly. This has bred a Christianity of shallow relationships and little commitment, where we are easily offended, wallow in prideful self-pity, promote ourselves and our rights and run on feelings; backbiting, gossiping, ravaging and abandoning one another. This is clear evidence of the works of the flesh and not the fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5). All this is to our detriment and judgment for we will all give an account. In the process we make the majestic, holy, precious name of Christ a reproach among unbelievers.
I firmly agree with many others that what is needed in the church in America is repentance and a return to sound doctrine, especially sound, correct, right and true doctrine of the church i.e. a correct church theology. That I believe is the root cause of much of the mess we are experiencing in the American church. I refer you to one last article by MacArthur titled “Commitment to the Church”. This thoroughly explains why we must be committed to the local church and outlines seven essential biblical issues concerning commitment to a local church http://www.gty.org/resources.php?print
I would encourage those who may be considering leaving their church to ask for God’s grace and to search their heart as to motive and method of leaving.
As Paul said “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” (Acts 24:16) and “so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10).
That Christ is glorified and you may be filled with the fullness of His joy!