Monday, July 06, 2015

Where to Live, Life, and the Choice of a Church

I would not live somewhere if there wasn't a good church there.  I understand that some of you readers truly do not have a choice.  You can't move because your husband or father has you in a particular church or at least in area where there isn't a very good church.  I think that more of you have a choice than you think you do. I believe that your church is the most important factor in deciding where you will live.  As most of you know, people will move somewhere for a job or even for some lesser reason, and then look for a church afterwards, to find there isn't much of a choice.

Not long ago, when we went on vacation, we left on a Sunday afternoon with the plan to attend church on the way to our destination, stopping along the way.  I gave myself a very large geographical and population area to find a good church for Sunday night service.  I narrowed it down to the few finalists and then to one.  We went out of our way to get to this one.   I spent at least two hours deciding where we would go, observing doctrinal statements and sampling preaching.  I wanted to bring my family to a good, at least decent church. We arrived, sat down, and then left the service before ten minutes were up.  Maybe in that big swath of territory, over a million in population, there really was somewhere better to go.  I had tried.

Most of the tracts we use at our church, we have written.  One of them we titled:  Can You Worship God at Your Church?  We use it mainly for evangelicals or Charismatics.  If the answer is, "no," do you stay at that church?  Does it matter if you can worship God at your church?  If your church participates in false worship, can you continue there?  How much should anyone put up with in order to stay at his church?

You've got one life and it's short.   When you consider whether your life will be wood, hay, or stubble, or gold, silver, or precious stone, that relates directly to your church.  That language occurs in 1 Corinthians 3 and refers to the building up of a church, not the physical building, but the work that goes into the assembly.  I think you can assume that you aren't involved in this building up, if you aren't in or with the thing being built up, which in the picture is the church.  The preeminent situation for the value of your life is your church.

As you work your way through the Old Testament historical books, you see that the institution for worship of the one true God was the congregation of Israel.  True worship obeyed God's law to Israel. If you were a Gentile, outside of Israel, you would need to become attached in a scriptural way to that congregation and God's demands and mandates for pleasing Him.  After the split of the nation, if you were a true Israelite, you would have left the north and gone south to continue the temple worship of Judah.  Elijah and Elisha ministered in the north, along with other prophets, like missionaries going to a foreign field, but this wasn't the divine ideal for a believing Israelite.

The temple of God in this age in which we live is the church (as seen in 1 Cor 3) and so the corporate worship of God occurs through the church.  Like you couldn't worship God except through God's temple in the Old Testament, you can't except through the New Testament temple, the church.  Jesus said true worshipers worship the Father in truth (Jn 4:23-24).  However, the truth is often diminished in churches today for church growth methodology or strategy to keep the group from dwindling or disbanding.  Leadership of churches negotiates the greatest common denominator of doctrine and practice to prevent dissolution of its assemblage.  Truths considered non-essential are discarded.  The number of essentials continues to decrease.  You can hardly find a church that hasn't done this.

The increasing difficulty of finding a church for even minimal acceptance seemed to have spurred an idea such as Mark Dever's 9 Marks.  I don't believe nine marks are enough, but I really do get the thinking behind it.  For full disclosure, I wouldn't join Devers church.  They accept amillennialism, which results in a different interpretation for at least a third of the whole Bible, and I'm sure there are other reasons.  However, I really do like the nine marks that 9Marks promotes.  Those marks do characterize our church, and I'm glad.  At least those nine marks could be counted upon, if a church had them.  I have some of my own basics that I would start with to determine whether a church is acceptable, which would match up closely with Dever's list.  I have priorities even for visiting a church on vacation.  Some of Dever's marks do not characterize most of independent Baptists, so in the nine marks I find more agreement with Dever than I do them.

The Great Commission of Jesus mandated obedience to all of His commandments.  If we love Jesus, we keep His commandments -- all of them.  There isn't biblical grounds for minimizing certain aspects of scripture.

The primary purpose of this post isn't to figure out what church is acceptable for membership.  It is to consider where to live in light of the brevity of your life, saying that choice of church is of greatest importance in that decision.  I would move to have my family in the best church possible.  I wouldn't continue for months, years, and even decades in something that was perpetually disobedient.

Other questions arise, I know.  What if I can't find a job there?  As you consider that question, why is this question not then prompted, what if I can't find a church there?  You might have to start with living within your means, adjusting your standard of living to where the church is.  Some areas, like ours, are expensive to live.  You can become creative with bedroom furniture like people in Japan have to.  That's what I would do above being in the wrong church.  If the family can eek by, then perhaps it can improve that situation.  I've found this to be the case.  It is far less likely that the church will get better than your living situation can improve.

Should someone just leave a church to be in a better one?  This is likely the most controversial question.  Churches that don't obey scripture still want their people to stay.  They might not believe and practice everything in the Bible, but they do believe that people should stay in their churches. They have a strong conviction about that.  They become very authoritative about that.

There is a right way to leave a church.  I think anyone should try to help the church change first, using the biblical means.  I recognize that these churches will consider this to be divisive.  You can't bring up anything that might disagree, because that is an unacceptable violation.  There is, as I write this, I know, strong possibility that something isn't actually scriptural, but just a preference.  I know that.  The idea is that all those things that disagree are just mere preferences.  I also know that is not true in most situations. Churches have diminished by expanding the preference category and shrinking the conviction one.  The Bible is plain.  There is one truth.  There is one truth, goodness, and beauty.  God is one.

When churches bring in entertainment to lure and keep people, when they shift to casual dress for those in attendance and immodest, worldly, and unisex sometimes in and always out of attendance, there is more than one Bible because now you can't know the exact words of scripture (that's what is said), church discipline is not practiced, and the preaching becomes watered down, you are not required to stay there out of loyalty.  It could be a great number of doctrines, practices, and issues.

First, try to help the church change.  Talk to the leadership.  Present a scriptural way in the most peaceful way possible.  If the leadership won't change, second, ask if the church will send you to another church for greater ministry.  I understand that in leaving, you will also leave a lot of people who you care for, and you don't want to leave in that situation.  It seems unloving.  Many leaders and churches will say that you shouldn't try to help them leave too.  I would let the church leadership know that in the most peaceful way possible that I'm going to let others know why I am leaving. They should know why I'm leaving.  I think that is enough and less than recruitment of others to leave with you.  I recognize that when a big group of people leave, that's a church split.  1 Corinthians 12 says there should be no schism in the body.  The schism is the doctrinal or practical division, not the final leaving.  Leaving will eliminate the schism.  In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul said separations in a church must needs occur.  Jesus Himself would not stay in an unbiblical church and one can see that in Revelation 2 and 3.  He, of course, could do a lot about one of these situations, more than what we could.

Paul instructed Timothy to charge teachers to teach no other doctrine (1 Tim 1:3).  There is only one doctrine.  Consider this excerpt from 1 Timothy 6:3-5:

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness . . . . from such withdraw thyself.

That is a basis of not staying to continue to hear and practice a different doctrine than what the Bible teaches.  I understand that there are those reading who are, for instance, Calvinists, and they are in a church that isn't Calvinist, and what I'm writing they could use to justify going to a Calvinist church. I'm not attempting to justify anyone to do anything unbiblical.

Let's say that you don't think men should wear shorts, but always pants below the knee, and you see men in your church wearing shorts above the knee.  I wouldn't suggest that you leave that church for that reason alone.  Just saying this, I understand, says to some that then I'm saying that some things are non-essential.  I'm not saying that.  I recognize that we should practice everything the Bible teaches.  I believe the Bible is plain.  I also believe that a person can be wrong.  I think wisdom says that isn't going to be a problem for your family.  This is where discernment comes in, making judgment calls.  Maybe you don't like how the pastor rules.  You think he lords over the flock.  You might be wrong on that.  These are the kind of decisions that fall within a range of what you can sort through and help over a period of time.  Perhaps you are the one that needs the help.

This is all for now.  The choice of a church is your most important decision for location of where you will live.  I would sell my business to be in the right church. I would take a pay cut to be in the right church.  I would down scale my house to be in the right church.  I would diminish my vacation weeks to be in the right church.  When I look back on my life, this is a very important decision.  Take it into very careful consideration.  This might mean that some people need to move somewhere to be in another church.

13 comments:

Kent Brandenburg said...

I think this is one of the most important subjects right now to think about, to consider with regards to your life.

I understand that it is difficult. Pastors don't want people leaving their churches. I can say from my perspective that we keep everyone we were supposed to keep anyway. I'm not afraid of someone from our church reading this and thinking, hmmmmm, need to move somewhere to be in a biblical church. In the long run, it is good for our church people, because if they do want to move somewhere, they're going to consider first if there is a church there. Where we live is an area that a lot of a certain type of person does want to move out and it is a transient population. This isn't going to hurt you pastors, but there are people out there that need to hear it, because of they are really saved, and they stay somewhere that results in wood, hay, and stubble, they need to know about it.

Farmer Brown said...

This is good, really good. I have a couple comments and questions if you have the time:

1. We have had that same frustrating experience travelling. We travel a lot, and finding a good church takes hours of research. Even then, sometimes you land someplace terrible. That is so frustrating and irritating. What was going on where you were that you left after 10 minutes?

2. Can you please post the text of that (and any other) tract online? We write all our own tracts as well, but I would love to read that tract.

3. I agree with the reason for leaving. The Bible never gives an example of how to remove a wayward pastor, only how to remove yourself. 2 Thessalonians 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.

This is the reason to leave. After you have tried to address the bad doctrine or practice, if the bad doctrine continues, it is disorderly. Not day one, or even month one, maybe not even year one, if the leadership is still willing to hear, but at some point it is disorderly.

4. The one disagreement I have is telling others. Your problem is with the leadership. I am very uncomfortable taking a disagreement with leadership to others. They hear the same preaching and see the same errors. You take a lot of responsibility on yourself to try to guide those for whom you will not answer.

What if you are one of the few who have observed the issues, and not everyone? Should you make those problems public? Proverbs 25:9 Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another:

You do not have to lie and say, "Everything is fine, but we are going a different direction", but you can tell people you cannot stay without revealing all the sordid details. As far as bringing the specifics forth, should a departing member do that, or leave that to the Lord? He can bring out those problems.

5. You are so right that everything should follow church, not church follow everything. You move for church and find a job, not the other way around. Again, excellent article.

Michael M said...

Well said Pastor. No witty statement, just tears. Unfortunately things like this need to be said.

Kent Brandenburg said...

1. What was going on where you were that you left after 10 minutes? The pastor was sick that night, and had a Christian entertainer in. He was sick too, but in a different way.

2. Can you please post the text of that (and any other) tract online? Yes, sometime.

3. That's another good passage as a basis.

4. How will the others know, when their leader won't tell them? Telling the leadership that you will let others know why you're leaving is something that you can say to the others when you tell them why you're leaving. They need to know what's wrong. Doesn't 1 Tim 5 among other places require recognition before all?

What if you are one of the few who have observed the issues, and not everyone? Should you make those problems public? If there is only one witness, that isn't grounds, no, but two or three, and you've got a basis.

Where is the "leave it to the Lord" verse or passage?

5. Thanks.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Michael,

It's true.

George Calvas said...

Farmer wrote:

"The Bible never gives an example of how to remove a wayward pastor, only how to remove yourself."

Oh, on the contrary. Read 1 Timothy 5:17-20. Who is receiving this accusation in v19 and then doing the rebuking in v20 before all? If that man is a pastor, then there must be a presbytery that would receive those accusations, and if true, v20 is applied to the whole assembly.

Regardless, there is no Pope amoungst the body of Christ that cannot be thrown out of the ministry. If it is proven that he sinned and then is rebuked before all and does not repent, throw him out of the church ( 1 Corinthians 5) and let another take his place.

Mark Schabert said...

Bro. Brandenburg – thank you for the post. It is timely and much needed. Our time is short here and we each have a responsibility to be a member of an obedient candlestick as the local church is the only vehicle for truth in this dispensation.

“First, try to help the church change. Talk to the leadership. Present a scriptural way in the most peaceful way possible. If the leadership won't change, second, ask if the church will send you to another church for greater ministry.”

I struggle with just leaving if leadership will not listen. (By leadership, I assume you mean pastors/elders in the assembly which excludes the faulty notion that a deacon is a leader.) It would seem that if the issue is truly a Scriptural error and not a preference, it is an offense and Mt 18 applies. The pastor is not above Mt 18. As you implied in an earlier posting, many church members are not doing their part to call out a pastor who is in violation of the qualifications he is expected to maintain. The situation regarding dismissive leadership you describe in your post here happens in many churches, and is due to a pastor that is no longer blameless and is clearly self-willed. I believe part of the reason why 2 or 3 witnesses are needed in approaching a pastor (1Ti 5:19) is because the event/teaching/position in question could disqualify him temporarily or permanently.

It can be difficult to know when one should continue to confront leadership and when one should look for a way to leave. I think your statements about schisms in the body helps one discern what should be done. If the body as a whole is aligned with the leadership, then addressing leadership may not be enough to move the body back to a Scriptural path and leaving might be the best thing. Leaving, many times, is the easiest thing to do, but that does not mean it is the most Scriptural thing to do. Many times, I believe, the leadership needs to be held accountable to be Biblical in all they do. It is the Lord’s church and I think leadership forgets that sometimes.

Regarding 1Ti 6:5, “from such withdraw thyself” – This is not in the critical text and is thus a doctrine under attack by Satan. Second, this verse appears to be instruction from Paul to Timothy, which means Timothy is expected to apply it. Since Paul told Timothy in 1Ti 1:3 to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine,” Timothy was not supposed to leave if the false teachers wouldn’t budge, but instead to discipline any unrepentant false teachers out.

George Calvas said...

Kent wrote:

"Where is the "leave it to the Lord" verse or passage?"

Exactly. One must use discernment whether to leave or stay, but you must try to stop the "schism" before one decides to leave. A multitude of council would help to determine if the issue is real, especially when changes are occurring such as doctrine, music, dress, etc. that move away from biblical truth and precepts.

Dave Barnhart said...

I really enjoyed this post. Having left a church over doctrinal disagreement, I really appreciated the parts on how to leave. I can tell you that it is a decision that you can agonize over for a long time, because in some ways it seems that how this is handled might cause more harm than good. I must admit that this is refreshing, because as was referenced in the post, most pastors are going to think anyone leaving over doctrine must be wrong, and they are therefore wrong to attempt to leave.

Similar to Farmer's point #4, I made the choice not to try to tell others in the church before I left (except the pastor). In hindsight, maybe that was the wrong thing to do, but since I saw this as a big deal, I wanted to err on the side of causing less division and strife in the church. The pastor already understood where we differed, as the result of many conversations over several years, but I did make a point of laying things out for him in a long letter.

I did not try to keep my reasons for leaving secret, and anyone that came to me and asked about it, I told them. However, given the pastor had changed from holding a view very like mine to something else over a period of years, and that the people I really knew in the church were OK with that, I really didn't think it made much sense for me to try to convince anyone else, and again, the possibility of being a harmful divisive influence was forefront in my mind.

Leaving a church is never easy, but I agree that life is short and what time we have shouldn't be wasted. Being in a good church is extremely important.

Farmer Brown said...

George, Timothy is receiving the accusation.

Kent and Dave, there are many situations where you can know the situation is completely wrong without being able to prove it per Deuteronomy 19:15. Typically, this happen when there is a cover up.

Think Hophni and Phinehas, but modern, like Hyles and Gray. A pastor propositions your wife. No other witnesses. You see a pastor romantically embrace a woman who is not his wife, no other witnesses. You witness a pastor concealing egregious sin of another member, denying it ever took place. No witnesses. Confrontation is met with lying denials.

In these cases, you have to go. In the Lord's name you are commanded to withdraw. However, no member of the church could hear your reasons without them disobeying 1 Tim 5:19. You just have to go.

George Calvas said...

"Leaving, many times, is the easiest thing to do, but that does not mean it is the most Scriptural thing to do. Many times, I believe, the leadership needs to be held accountable to be Biblical in all they do. It is the Lord’s church and I think leadership forgets that sometimes."

Amen. You must try to steer the body of Christ in the biblical direction, but if it is carnal, rebuke it and move on.

George Calvas said...

Farmer said:

"George, Timothy is receiving the accusation."

Then if Timothy is receiving the accusation (in context, I agree) and if he is the Bishop of a local church (elder), then who is the THEM (any elder that sins rebuke- v20) that Paul is making reference to? Are they from other local churches? Are there more than one elder in the local church?

Please explain.

George Calvas said...

Farmer wrote:

"You see a pastor romantically embrace a woman who is not his wife, no other witnesses."

Then you go to him personally and ask him what he was doing. He says, "Mind you own business". I will rebuke him to his face, and ask him to repent. He does not. I cannot accuse him before anyone (1 Timothy 5:19) else (that means to keep your mouth shut about the incident), but he knows NOW that a man of God has justly accused him and warned him, and his conscience will bear witness to that everytime he sees my face. If he continues in his pride, and the fear of the Lord does not trouble him, I believe the Lord will eventually do something about it (David comes to memory).