Love Jesus, Love His Church (1 John 2:19)

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Is it ever okay to leave your church?
When my father pastored a church in the 1970s and 80s, he calculated that 25-30% of the church left it every year. It had nothing to do with his preaching, which was excellent. Instead, the area in which he ministered was full of young, upwardly mobile families, whose jobs moved them around quite a bit. The other churches in the area had a similar rate of turnover.
Recently, an email correspondent of mine shared the story of why she left her mainline Protestant church. Although she had a long history in the church and loved the people there, its pastor had begun to teach doctrinal and ethical positions that contradicted the plain meaning of the Bible. She simply reached a point where she could no longer support the church’s ministry with her time, talent, and treasure.
One final story about leaving church: In the early 1990s, I enrolled in an evangelical theological seminary just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. While there, I began attending a church with a fantastic pulpit ministry, wonderful fellowship, and strong commitment to the community. Unfortunately, the choir attempted to bite off more Bach than it could chew every week, especially one male member whose pitch-challenged voice could be heard above all the others. After a few weeks of enduring this weekly musical train wreck, I left the church.
There are, it seems to me, legitimate and illegitimate reasons for leaving a church. Leaving a church because your job is moving you across the country is legitimate. Leaving for principled doctrinal and ethical reasons is (or at least can be) legitimate. But what about leaving due to matters of taste? I don’t know. I’ve always felt guilty about leaving that church in Massachusetts. So what that the choir—that one guy in particular—didn’t sing well! I’m sure the guy in the pew in front of me thought exactly the same about my weekly rendition of the hymns. (I too sing loud and not always in key.)
First John 2:19 talks about a group of people who left the church.
They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
In verse 18, John refers to these people as “antichrists.” That sounds uncharitable, but it was an accurate label, for as verse 22 makes clear, they denied that Jesus is the Christ. They weren’t really Christians at all. After all, it’s pretty hard—downright impossible, really—to be a Christian without Christ. Unfortunately, they still considered themselves Christians in some weirdly attenuated sense. Even more unfortunately, they were trying to convert the real Christians to their errant religion.
For John, however, belonging is a key aspect of believing. If you believe in Jesus Christ, you’ll stick with his church. So, is it ever okay to leave your church? Yes, in certain circumstances, but here’s the basic rule of thumb: if you love Jesus, you’ll love the people he loves too.

4 thoughts on “Love Jesus, Love His Church (1 John 2:19)

  1. OK George, what about if you leave a church because you have an impressionable middle school girl, and your church has no middle school program, other than mixing with the High Schoolers? Enjoyed your comments. My feeling is “the church body” is the entire Christian community. At various points in you life, you might be led to another church, but you never leave “the body.”

  2. Ron,

    How about approaching the youth ministry team at the church and letting them know that you are willing to host a middle school small group in your home once a week- maybe even lead it yourself?

    Could it be that there is a pervading (American) consumer mentality that has made its way into the church? Too often we leave instead of pitching in and being part of the solution. Although, I am not sure that I would have been much help to the choir from Massachusetts.

  3. About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

    Peace Be With You

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