FBC Starbucks (3a)
Before we get into the next objection, I want to backtrack and give you an addendum to the last post. I had wholly forgotten this one; in fact, it is one of the more common objections I have gotten. In “younger SBC-ers” circles today, it is likely the most common reason given for leaving SBC churches. That objection?
What if I have problems with the church leadership?
Okay, let’s flesh that objection out, attempting to answer it as we go along. Let’s start by asking the question, what kind of problems are you having with the leadership of your church? Here are some potential ways of saying this:
I don’t go to church on Sunday/Wednesday because I don’t like the pastor. Okay. Fair enough. Let me probe a little bit: Do you divorce your spouse because you don’t like him/her anymore? Do you now see the uselessness of your objection? “But Steve,” you object further, “I’m not married to the church!” Of course you aren’t. You were never a part of the church in the first place; you were only dating the church. That church will be much better off without you than with you. You are nothing more than chaff. You are a goat. The church is for wheat and sheep. You are neither; you are deadwood that must be cut loose. I question the integrity of your testimony if this is the kind of attitude you have about the Body of Christ.
You see, when we become believers, we became “married” to Christ. We play out this “marriage” in the local church. The pastor, though he be a sheep, represents Christ to the congregation. The congregation, in submitting themselves to his teaching, is obligated to remain faithful to that pastor. If you have problems with your spouse, you will bear through and work them out, would you not? You would not divorce him/her. In the same manner, if you have problems with your church leadership, you should be just as committed to resolving them. To behave otherwise is sin, sin against the church generally and sin against the pastor specifically. Ultimately, you are sinning against Christ. The fact that many of you have this problem speaks volumes as to how flippantly you treat being a church member.
I don’t go to church because I have been hurt by the pastor. Okay, also a fair question. Let me probe once again: Do you divorce your spouse because he/she hurt you? This is also another useless objection. In a marriage, when one spouse hurts the other, the offended spouse ought to call the other to repentance and seek reconciliation. By refusing to do this you have, in effect, sinned a greater sin. You have “let the sun go down on your anger.” Instead of resolving the hurt and reconciling, you have allowed it to take root as bitterness. That is a dangerous thing to have in a church. Anger, fear, aggression: the dark side are they.
I am assuming here the kind of “hurt” you have experienced is not of the criminal kind, of course. I don’t mean things that you perceive as “sin” against you (addressed in the next paragraph) but actually are not. I’m talking about things like hurt feelings, bruised egos, squashed pride. Be honest with yourselves and examine your “hurt” to determine if you are guilty of these or something similar. If a pastor tiptoed through the tulips, he’d never change anyone’s life with the Gospel. Sometimes one must utterly squash the flowers before hearts of stone are transformed into hearts of flesh.
I don’t go to church because the pastor sinned against me. Now, this is a much, much more legitimate and serious objection. These are the kind of objections that ought to be taken seriously, especially by pastors. But again, I must ask: Do you divorce your spouse because he/she sinned against you? It is here that the church member has any legitimate standing.
At first glance, the answer is no. Just because my wife sins against me does not give me carte blanche, that is, full permission, to divorce her. She could call me every dirty name in the book purposely, or intentionally be snarky with me, or usurp my authority in our marriage, and I still wouldn’t have any excuse to divorce her. The only reason I would divorce her then, according to Christ, is because of the hardness of my own heart, not hers. By this same token, sin against you by a pastor is not an authorization to leave your church.
At second glance, however, the believer is given legitimate means of resolving this conflict, and both of the previous objections. We must follow Matthew 18. That is, the believer must first confront the offender privately. If that fails, the believer must tell the situation to at least two others so that it may be documented and proven, then take those fellows and confront the offender again. If that fails, then the entire affair must be presented to the church for official discipline. If even that fails, the offender is to be treated as if they were an unrepentant sinner and an unbeliever.
The first two situations above are more likely than not going to be corrected during steps 1 or 2, especially if they are nothing more than misunderstandings, personality clashes, hurt feelings, squashed pride, or bruised egos. But those first two situations are never an excuse not to attend church. The 3rd one, by contrast, is more serious and more biblical. If, after having been through steps one and two, a pastor does not repent of or even acknowledge his sin, stage 3 of the process has him in danger of losing his job. No pastor of any sort of integrity would allow documented, proven, unrepented sin to endanger his ministry. If he does, your church has every authority under heaven to expel him from his position. Why? Because your pastor, by his refusal, has trampled the Gospel underfoot. He has made the Gospel “of no account” in his attitude and in his life.
So you see, a case of sin by a pastor is not legitimate reason to leave your church. Quite the contrary. Sin by a pastor is the call for a congregation to exercise their Biblical authority to keep their pastors accountable. If you fail to hold the pastor accountable by leaving the church, you are sinning a greater sin than your pastor did. In doing this, you are also making the Gospel of no account in attitude and life.
This brings me to a second part of this third objection:
I don’t go to church because the pastor is preaching heresy. This is the most serious charge of all. It is the congregation’s responsibility to make sure their pastor is preaching no other Gospel than the one once and for all delivered to the saints. Let me ask my question once again: Do you divorce your spouse because he/she has been unfaithful? According to Christ, the answer is “yes, you may.” But notice here, Christ never says “go ahead.” He simply says it is “permissible.” That is an astounding permission. If God “permits” something, that ought to indicate that the thing He is permitting is not His ideal. It is still ungodly. But God will permit it. If Tricia ever cheats on me or I on her (God forbid and protect us from such temptation!), we are permitted to divorce, but God would much rather that we remain faithful to each other. Why? Because God remained faithful to His spouse (Israel and later the Church) despite repeated infidelity. Instead of forsaking Israel and the Church, God worked diligently to restore her. That is true commitment.
So, if your pastor is clearly preaching heresy, you are permitted to leave, but it is clear that God does not want you to leave your church. You would be better advised to follow the process outlined in Matthew 18. If your pastor repents, you have gained a faithful pastor. If not, your church should show him the Left Foot of Fellowship. Give him the boot. If you decide, instead, to leave, you are still doing something not very good or right or godly, but God will permit it. The Lord would much rather you stayed and worked to restore the broken relationship.
But what if even the church refuses to correct an erring pastor? Well, then, you have two options. The first is to examine yourself carefully against Scripture to determine if, in fact, the pastor is erring. You yourself may be in the wrong. But after doing so, and asking people to whom you are accountable, and even after having things “explained” to you by the pastor and the church, you are still convinced you have not erred, you have no other choice but to leave that church and not look back. That church has trampled the Gospel, and you would only be pierced to the heart by the continuing heresy promoted by that church.
As an example, let me give you one of Mr. Frank Turk’s illustrations of this (roughly recalled, of course). Suppose I caught my pastor engaged in something we’ll just say is unbiblical with another man’s wife. Not only that, I have video evidence. I confront the pastor and this woman, and they laugh it off and tell me it’s nothing. Astounded, I go to two godly and trustworthy men in church, and present them the evidence. Agreeing, the three of us confront the pastor and this woman. Again, they laugh it off and tell us it’s nothing. Astounded, we bring the issue before the church. After deliberation, the church itself laughs it off and tells us it is nothing. Furthermore, they call on us to repent and reconcile with the pastor and this woman. I am fully justified in shaking the dust off my feet, leaving that den of iniquity, and never looking back, because that church has trampled the Gospel of Christ underfoot. This is the kind of thing I am talking about. My ducks are in a row, and yet the Gospel is still made of no account.
I did not address above what constitutes heresy, because there are some out there who would say such moronic things like (for example) “speaking in tongues is heresy,” or “advocating Christian liberty in drinking is heresy,” or even something infinitesimally stupid as “Calvinism is heresy.” Heresy isn’t in the eye of the beholder, as most of those who claim heresy over things that are Scriptural seem to think. Heresy is a belief that rejects orthodox tenets of a religion. Speaking in tongues, alcohol consumption, and Calvinism do not reject orthodox Christian tenets. Heresy speaks to the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. So if you think your pastor is preaching “heresy,” you better have your ducks in a row. Make sure what you are objecting to directly impacts the Gospel.
I hope I have impressed upon you the seriousness of such an action as leaving the church. Leaving your church is not a matter to be handled lightly, for frivolous reasons. It is a serious fracturing of the Body of Christ that should only happen under the most serious and dire of circumstances. Tomorrow, we will address the objection, “What if I miss church to evangelize?”