Have you ever been in a perfect church? A church where everything runs smoothly, and where everyone gets along? A place where everything is exactly right?
Whether you attend a mid-sized, mega-sized, or even a small country church, we all would like to believe that our respective churches are perfect. I once heard a preacher say years ago, that if there ever was a perfect church, it would cease to be so once you got there.
What are we trying to say? Simply, that there are no perfect churches, because we ourselves are imperfect. Each local church is unique; possessing the qualities passed on to it by its leadership.
Each week we attend our services; not by force, but willingly. After a long week, we desire three things: to fellowship with the saints, to pray and worship the Lord, and most importantly, to be fed by the Word. As much as we long for these things at times, does there ever come a point in time where it becomes necessary to leave our church?
I feel it necessary here to address one of reasons why people leave some churches. I’d like to address it apart from the other reasons I will cite because I believe this reason is addressable, and doesn’t necessarily need to result in an individual departing his or her church.
Live in Peace with Each Other
I’ve heard it said that church hurt is the worst kind of hurt. To be mistreated by a brother or sister in the Lord, whether by word or by deed, is a most terrible thing. It is a breach that should be avoided at all costs. There will be disagreements, there will be misunderstandings, and there can at time be outright bad behavior on the part of any professed Christian. But is leaving a church for these reasons warranted? Those on the receiving end of being hurt, would argue yes. And if it were you or I, we might opt to do the same. But in these cases we must go to scripture.
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
We see here that the goal is peace and that we are to pursue it. The responsibility remains with each one of us to not only be at peace with those around us, but also with those in the household of faith. If this does not happen in our churches, amongst one another, the apostle Paul warns:
“If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15).
What some fail to realize is that the world is watching. We would like to believe that what happens in God’s house stays in God’s house, but this isn’t the case. How we treat and respond to one another remains the key that shows the world who we really are:
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
As we forgive one another, as Christ has forgiven us, I believe that exiting a particular church can be avoided. Of course, as in all things, we must be guided by the Spirit of God and not be led by our emotions alone.
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When Should We Leave a Church?
Aside from these things, when does it truly become necessary to leave a church? While not exhaustive, I believe that there at least four things that legitimize leaving a particular church. We believe that each one is dangerous because they lead us away from Christ. When any one of these become the norm in any church, then, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a change of churches is warranted.
1. When Christ is no longer proclaimed as the only way to salvation.
While some churches proclaim Christ as the Way, their actions speak otherwise. There are churches who now refuse to sing songs about the blood of Jesus, because it’s all too gory. Other churches make no mention of His sacrifice, and even downplay our sin, because it’s all too “negative.”
When any particular church goes down this path, they cease to be a church. There was no bloodless sacrifice; and yes, He died for our sins. These are truths that cannot be undermined. They are the reason that we can say that we are saved. Those who venture into “progressive” Christian churches will find that it is not Christian at all. One of these churches touts that, “The Christian faith is our way of being faithful to God. But it is not the only way.” (emphasis mine).
Can this be considered a true church? Unfortunately, many non-progressives believe the same way.
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
When this truth is no longer proclaimed, or is intentionally glossed over, or even denied, then it is time to leave that church.
2. When adherence to Old Testament law (namely the keeping of Jewish feast days) begins to be preached and practiced.
Many churches have become “Judaizers” without realizing it. Judaizers are Christians who teach that is necessary to adopt Jewish customs and practices, in some cases, in order to be saved, and in others, to enhance and bring about a fuller obedience to our walk with the Lord. For those caught up in this false teaching, a careful reading of the book of Galatians will suffice. In it, the apostle Paul soundly refutes and condemns it.
When a church begins to perform Jewish rituals as a sign of obedience, they have erred from the truth. Read this statement from Paul:
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
Christians who continue to observe and practice the Jewish feasts, especially the Passover, have a complete misunderstanding and near disregard of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. We cannot improve upon what Christ has done by observing them.
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).
Paul states here that Christ is the substance of those things (feast days and the Mosaic law) are but shadows of what was to come. Since Christ has come, why should we continue to live in the shadow? If a church persists in living in the shadow, (and this in no way denigrates the entire Old Testament, we are speaking of feast-keeping alone), then that church is leading its people backward, and not forward; you do not need to be there.
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3. When there are major departures from traditional biblical doctrine (i.e., a denial of the Trinity, or a denial of any of the Holy Spirit’s operations).
Here, we do not intend to give a treatise on the Trinity and how it is to be understood; that is not the aim of this article. We are simply stating that we must be careful not to refute an entire biblical truth because we are unable to fully grasp or understand it.
Other churches, while not outright denying the validity of the Trinity, have rather sought to detract from the Holy Spirit by denying some of His operations. To say that the Holy Spirit does not convict the believer of sin is near blasphemy, if not blasphemy. Those who believe this say that the Spirit convicts the world of sin, but He only convicts the Christian of righteousness. One Bible teacher responds this way to this error, and I quote and agree:
“So who convicts us?... It goes without saying that if the Holy Spirit convicts us of righteousness, we are convicted of what is unrighteous as well. Furthermore, if the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth (John 16:13), does that truth not include the truth about sin which should be convicting to any true believer?” (Growing Christians Ministries)
When a church deviates from traditional biblical truth, and refuses to move from it, it is time to leave that church.
4. When the Bible in its entirety is not proclaimed as being divine and inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Earlier we cited the views of some progressive churches. We cite them again here, because there are some churches who are leaning in this direction, even if left unspoken. For the record, progressive Christianity is a movement, not a denomination.
Concerning the Bible they believe: “We don’t think that God wrote the Bible. We think it was written by fallible human beings who were inspired by (not dictated to by) the Holy Spirit. Hence, we don’t consider it to be infallible or inerrant.” (United Methodist Insight)
What a statement! It is a statement that you should expect from those who don’t know the Lord, but it is unfortunate when many within the body of true Christian churches believe the same way. If any church does not believe that the Bible is the Word, and does not simply contain the Word of God, that church is to be suspect. If I knew that a church I attended believed this way, it would be time to leave.
Only when we become discerning Christians will we be able to recognize when our church may be headed in a wrong direction. Discernment is the responsibility of each and every Christian. May we all be careful to contend for the faith, striving to remain faithful to the Lord in all that we do.
If you don’t need to leave your church, don’t do it for any frivolous reasons; only do it as you are led by the Spirit of God.
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Michael Jakes is an Associate Pastor, Bible teacher, and writer. He is co-founder of That’s The Word! Ministries, a distinctly Cross-centered outreach. He has also been active in youth ministry for over 30 years, and hosts four live weekly podcasts: ‘The Sunday Sermon Series’, ‘The Line By Line Podcast‘, ‘The Bible Speaks Live’, and ‘The Cutting It Right Bible Study’. Michael is also the author of, The Lights In The Windows, a book focusing on the need for the Church to evangelize. You can follow him on YouTube and on his Facebook page at: That's The Word Ministries | Facebook. Michael and his wife Eddye have been married for 40 years, and reside in New York.