By Nathan Decker
“There is something wrong… when people are leaving the church to find God.”
-meme on eisakouo.com
If you haven’t thought about it, then you are not serious about your belief in the faith. To care about church is to care about an institution I want to disassemble, a tradition I want to change, and a group of people who irritate me far more than my own flesh and blood family. Loving the church causes heart ache and pain, and yes – sometimes we just want to leave. But don’t leave.
Currently within the United Methodist Church there is a proposal to allow churches and pastors to leave. Many who have a traditional view of marriage and who believe God intended for sexual relations to only be between a man and a woman are seeing this as a path to freedom. Like people who change political parties often say, “I didn’t leave them, they left me.” After all, the self-describing term traditionalist implies a commitment to a path and not a veering off to find a new one. Finally, we can purify the church and return to orthodoxy.
Some self-described progressives also see this as a victory and an opportunity to finally ‘fix’ everything that is wrong with the church. Finally we can move beyond ‘how we’ve always done things’ and into a new thing. Perhaps because they can’t hear over their own applause, both groups don’t realize that in their excited passion, breaking fellowship doesn’t fix anything.
Don’t leave. I say this because I am selfish. I see myself as being a centrist on this particular issue. If you are in the center and those to the right of you leave, you become the new right. I don’t have any desire to be wake up one morning and find myself on the fringe of a church I love. There are folks who relish being on those edges. I’m not one of them, but I love having conversations with them.
Don’t leave. Again, I’m selfish. I need perspectives around me to help me interpret what God is saying in the Word. Without the voices to the right and left, I do not believe we can fully hear God’s diverse and wonderful voice. When the only voices we hear are reinforcement of our own beliefs, we become self-congratulating fools. We need one another. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis used the piano as an illustration of ethics. There are no wrong keys on the piano, only wrong notes played at the wrong time. How can we play music without the full 11 octaves? What sharps and flats are we going to exclude simply because we don’t like how they sound?
Don’t leave. It’s a sin. Raymond Brown wrote a great commentary on the literature of the community of John’s letters and Gospel. They were going through a schism. Gnostics and Ebionites argued the divinity and humanity of Christ. He interpreted 1 John 1:6-7 to say that breaking fellowship was the ultimate sin for the community of John. Disagree, discuss, debate… but don’t leave. Leaving dismembers the Body of Christ. Leaving diminishes the light. Leaving leaves us lacking in perspective and strength.
There are reasons to leave a church. If you are being abused sexually, emotionally, physically, or spiritually, then leave. If you are forbidden from serving, encouraged to be stagnant, and find condescension and cynicism at every turn, then leave. Not getting your own way or finding yourself in the minority- don’t kid yourself for one moment that is permission to go start a new denomination. And even if you do, that new shiny denomination is going to have the same flawed DNA that led to the break-up in the first place.
We’ve all been hurt. Those on the left, center, and right have all pushed and bullied for power. We’ve used truths and scripture verses like knives and hand grenades. Our leadership has left us with a minefield without a map. The thought of leaving sounds so comforting, so promising, so tempting…
Christ prayed that we would all be one. Jesus wasn’t even trying to leave the Jewish faith behind and start a new one among the Gentiles. Jesus was interested in us being koinonia, fellowship, community. Don’t leave. After all, it’s not what Jesus would do.
“If we claim that we share life with him,
but keep walking in the realm of darkness,
we’re fooling ourselves and not living the truth.
But if we keep living in the pure light that surrounds him,
we share unbroken fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus, his Son, continually cleanses us from all sin.”
-1 John 1:6-7 TPT