Ephesians 4.3 says we should be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The church should maintain the unity that already belongs to us in Christ. What does “maintain unity” mean except that there are always reasons to leave a church, but we must “maintain unity”?
My limited experience as a pastor tells me there are many, many Christians in our land who do not take that seriously. How many Christians on the final day will have to answer for this!
It seems the most common reasons for Christians to leave a church (outside of things like military moves or going to college or job relocation) are things like getting hurt, differences over “direction”, or differences over doctrine.
Let me address those in reverse order:
- Doctrine is probably the best reason, but be very careful with this one. I think the Reformers were right in saying the marks of the true church are right preaching and right administration of the ordinances. If right preaching is not there, it is not a church! Leave quickly! If baptism and/or the Lord’s Supper are not administered rightly, it is still not a true church. It is a para-church at best. If you are not the preaching pastor of that church, my advice is to leave. But outside of preaching and the sacraments, you should never leave over doctrine. There is no warrant for leaving over secondary points of doctrine.
- “Direction” is in quotation marks because who in the world even knows what that means? The direction of every local church should be the same: the glory of God in the Great Commission. If your church is aiming there, do not leave.
- Probably the most common reason is some hurt, some disappointment, some conflict that is not resolved. Sometimes it is resolved, and people still leave. You believe you have a right to leave if your church fails you. But the church always fails! And you always fail. Every sinner fails in some way every day. Is that really a reason to leave a church? Does not the gospel of Jesus Christ create a much stronger unity of the Spirit than the flimsy American church has made it out to be?
Always ask yourself, “If my church were the only church that existed in this area, would I leave over this issue?” The church always fails, but by God’s grace the church also always grows in the knowledge of the Son of God at the same time.