We believe that Jesus Christ established His church during His ministry on earth and that it is always a local, visible assembly of scripturally baptized believers in covenant relationship to carry out the Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ, and each church is an independent, self-governing body, and no other ecclesiastical body may exercise authority over it. We believe that Jesus Christ gave the Great Commission to the New Testament churches only, and that He promised the perpetuity of His churches.
Above is the doctrinal statement of the work I am part of, the American Baptist Association, concerning the place and role of the churches. I include that here to provide a framework for what follows. I will try to be brief yet thorough. So many words could be said about all of this but will try to be succinct.
First, I agree with the sentiment of the above meme.
We aren’t in church for other people(including ourselves,) we are in church to serve and worship the Lord Jesus Christ. That is absolutely true.
The local church was formed by Jesus to be the tool by which the Great Commission is fulfilled. Believers belong there. Is a local assembly always a brick and mortar building? No, not necessarily; churches are made of people, but a place is quite handy.
Because churches are made of people, sometimes things get messed up. Friends, Jesus created His church, and it’s perfect. The fact that we screw it up sometimes is not relevant and ultimately has no bearing; it is still His chosen instrument.
So, in essence, I concur one hundred percent with the meme here. Sadly, the “Christian” world is full of people who have used the shortcomings of humans to justify their own desire to not serve and worship in the way Jesus mandates. But, all of that is not the point here.
Having said that…is there a time when it’s time to go? FYI, by “go” here I don’t mean leave the service of the church Jesus created(It’s never time for that); I mean: Is it ever time to leave our local assembly of believers and search for a new one? As I like to say:
When might that be? Well, there is no cookie cutter we can apply to this; each believer has to react to the clear guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things. These are just my thoughts.
Secondary/Aesthetic issues. Outside of clear doctrinal issues, is it ever okay to leave a local assembly over secondary doctrinal issues? What about things like worship styles, music, carpet color, youth programs and other things? Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. Church hopping because you are constantly dissatisfied with things may be a reflection on you rather than the assemblies you are part of. On the other hand, we do tend to enjoy fellowshipping and serving with people who share common views on things. Things are just comfortable and non-contentious that way.
Primary doctrinal issues. Friends, there are some non-negotiable doctrinal issues that are deal breakers. Salvation by grace through faith, the deity of Jesus and the Trinity are examples of things that are primary and non-negotiable. We certainly should never join with such a local body; but what if our local body suddenly veers out of the Gospel lane into oncoming heresy traffic? This one is pretty easy, my friends. Time and time again we are warned about false teachings. Here are a couple of things to remind us.
Titus 3:10 A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject;
1 Corinthians 5:13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
Jude 3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
There are plenty more, but those will do. This is clear and easy. Speak up and confront such head-on with a certain voice. True heresy must be confronted and eliminated; souls depend on that. If our local body won’t deal with it? Then it is time to go.
What about sin in the camp? Oh boy, here we go.
We don’t need to be the legalistic moral police, prowling our congregations to call out every single sin we see; we do need to bear in mind as we see the speck in another’s eye the beam in our own. “Sin is sin.” Okay, on the surface that is absolutely true. ANY sin has separated us from our perfect God, and Jesus is the only solution to that problem. There are so many “gray areas,” in the lives of believers that, frankly, we need to cut people some slack on. See the sentence about being the legalistic moral police.
On the other hand, friends, there are also plenty of “black and white,” issues. There are things clearly condemned by scripture that believers simply ought not to be participating in.
Galatians 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
That is not some salvific laundry list; it is just one instance of God showing us that there are things that ought not to be taking place. If “sin is sin,” then why is this a problem?
When we ignore the sin among us, yet condemn the ones we don’t like we come across as haters. As well we should, the church speaks out against homosexuality; yet, we don’t speak nearly as loudly about the sexual sins we enjoy, such as fornication and adultery.
When we exclude outsiders from our fellowship for certain things but do nothing within our fellowship for the exact same things we look like hypocrites. Actually, we ARE hypocrites.
When we ignore open sin in the camp because “important,” people are doing it also, we have just become respecters of persons. God is not, so we don’t get the right to be either.
When we allow those participating in open sin to be leaders among us, we create a stumbling block to those weaker among us.
Now that I look like a judgmental hater myself, let’s consider some things. Matthew Chapter 18 tells us some things about how this works:
Matthew 18:15-20 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
Identifying sin in the camp is not about finger pointing and judgment; it is about repentance and restoration. We must help our brethren come to a place of repentance and change. When we opt not to, we fail them and we fail the local assembly of believers. That last verse in the above passage is vital and often completely misapplied. It is a direct reference to that passage it ends. When we gather under the authority of Jesus Christ and the Scripture, He is there among us. When we reject both of those we relinquish our claims to be a New Testament church. Jesus can and will remove our candlestick.
Okay, I chased a rabbit there and I will get back to the point. Is sin in the camp ever a time to leave our local assembly of believers? Maybe, maybe not. We, especially leaders, have responsibilities which are clearly laid out in Matthew 18. If we just bail out on our church without exercising them, we are complicit in the very problem we are bailing out over. Yet, sometimes we can only do what we can do. What are some signs it’s time to go; how do we know we have done what we can do? As always, follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, but some thoughts:
When the offender is confronted and simply shrugs it off and continues on, we have a problem.
When we not only tolerate the problem but openly celebrate it(gotta love social media,) we have a problem.
When church leadership, especially those with direct roles in the life of the offender, refuse to speak we have a problem.
When one who speaks about the problem following the Matthew 18 model cannot find “two or three witnesses” who are willing to confront the problem, we have a problem.
Friends, I don’t claim to have concrete answers; as stated we all must respond following the specific, individual guidance of the Holy Spirit in our own lives. But if this is how it goes, then:
It might be time to go