(By Diego Cuartas)
The thought of leaving the church, the local body of believers, is probably one of those thoughts that every believer has wrestled with at some point and I suspect more often than not.
In recent weeks I have been drawn to this subject, given that in church ministry this is an ongoing reality to be dealt with. A word picture that best describes this dynamic is the word wave. At one point the wave is low, and then it comes in stronger. As I reflect on this interesting dynamic, I see that this may be one of the most common threats the church of God is experiencing in our day. In some ways, the dynamic seems ironic. How is it that the people, who have been rescued from their own ways, reconciled with Christ and baptized into the one body, find it easy to practice not the “leaving and cleaving” but rather “cleaving and leaving”? I realize I am using a phrase that points to covenant relationship between a man and a woman as prescribed by God in the book of Genesis. However, the relationship between believers is nothing less than based on the greatest form of covenant ever- a people betrothed through the covenant blood of Jesus.
Should we never find reasons to wisely consider leaving our fellowship within a local body and join another? I do believe there are clear provisions made to discern if this should even be considered. Biblically speaking, we are given instructions on how to approach conflict with other believers (Mt.18), how to approach elders against whom you may have an accusation or a charge (1 Tim. 5:19-20), how to regard spiritual authority over us (Heb.13:17) and when to question their standards (1 Pet. 5:3, 1 Tim. 3:1-3). Furthermore, we are instructed to consider “overlooking” certain faults (Prov. 12:16) or even apply our love in a way that it “covers multitude” of sins (1 Pet. 4:8).
What I want to discourage in our common day is a low view of the Body of Christ, which is reflected in the way some deal with personal conflict or disappointment. The reality is that though we are the people of God, the presence of sin is still an obvious characteristic of those who have fallen short of His glory. So when we participate in the life and service of a local body, we need to bring or recover a mentality of “leaving and cleaving”. What that means is that having cleared up the way behind us, we now use our strength to cleave unto this group of people, the community of faith with whom God has blessed us for good! We participate in a way in which we seek the “common good” by fostering the life of Christ in others and bringing to the table what Christ has invested in us (1 Cor. 12).
Ready for this? I am a pastor, and in the years I have served I have been bombarded with innumerable thoughts that seek to justify quitting the local body. So you are not alone if you have or are struggling with thoughts of this nature. What I have learned are simple lessons that I hope may offer you perspective. I have learned that it is important to bring to God my disappointments and to ask Him to shepherd me through those. I have found it helpful to share what I am thinking with someone mature in whom I can confide. Often times when I let the thoughts “fester” in my mind, they gain too much influence over me. The more I stay just with me and my thoughts, the more I become subjective and more distorted in my thinking. Considering the Word of God is essential to keeping our hearts walking in the integrity of His will and the process that is driving us to a specific action. Recently, through another pastor, I learned that sometimes I need to fight (because I am being attacked in the spiritual realm) and sometimes the issue is that I need to grow up (because I am immature).
Here is my last appeal to you. The clearest evidence to the world that we are the disciples we claim to be, happens when we “love each other” in real time and life (Jn. 13:35). I believe the present wave of people leaving the church does not add to this testimony, but, on the contrary, in most cases it takes away from it.
Thinking about leaving the church? Think again, but do it biblically and wisely. The matter you are facing may reveal that you need to grow up or fight a spiritual enemy or perhaps leave.