Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
One of the joys and privileges, and sometimes challenges, I have in this ministry role is responding to questions people have of the Christian faith, the Bible, theology, history, culture, and a myriad of other matters. I find great delight in thinking through these matters prayerfully and carefully, and then providing responses. And I do not only pray for wisdom and insight as I respond to these questions, I also pray that my responses will be faithful to God and His Word and result in being fruitful to those asking the questions.
Here are a series of three questions I received about church involvement and when it might be fitting to leave a local church followed by my responses.
Question 1: “What would be an appropriate situation to leave a church?”
Rather than beginning with the negative, and reasons for leaving, it is absolutely critical to know what the Bible teaches about the church, its nature, its purpose, its structure, its function, among other things. We must have God’s divine design in mind if we are then to understand at all if a church abides by that biblical teaching or not. In most instances, people leave a local church without any sense whatsoever of what God teaches about the church in the Bible. Only after we have that truth as a foundation can we then discern where any local church is in relation to that. We have spelled out the biblical teaching on the church in Evangelical Convictions (Article 7, The Church, pp. 155-165).
Question 2: “What if the pastor of a church doesn't match 1 Timothy 3, would that be reason to leave?”
Not necessarily, at least not the first step to take. It is important to remember that the church is not about a pastor or a person. It is primarily about One, the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Head of the Church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18-20). There are two things to consider here. There is no one, with the exception of Jesus Christ, who has lived a perfect life. No one, including pastors, will model 1 Timothy 3 perfectly. That does not level the playing field so that there can be no expectations placed on anyone because we all fall short, or to exempt the pastor from growth in maturity and holiness (2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Pet. 3:18). What it means is that the person ought to be humbly aware of his shortcomings, and not justify or deny sin. If one does the latter, the person is then going contrary to the Word of God. But even then, does that warrant people leave the church. What it means is that discipline ought to be pursued. The pastor ought to be confronted with his sin. There is a biblical process by which this is followed (Matt. 18:15-18; 1 Tim. 5:19-21). There is much more to say here, but I trust this will suffice.
Question 3: “Would it be wrong to leave the church in a situation where there was jealousy and quarreling?”
Interestingly, even though Paul confronts all of these moral issues in the Corinthian church, he refers to them as “saints” (1 Cor. 1:2). Although there are some sins that if left unaddressed by the leaders of the church, the Bible and its authority are being undermined so it would be time to consider seriously if it remains a true biblical church. But if one is looking for a church in which there are no sins, sins like jealousy and quarreling, they would not find it because it does not exist. Sadly in many churches these sorts of behaviors are considered “acceptable” or “respectable” sins, which they are not. There are no acceptable or respectable sins according to God and His Word. Once again, life together means we confront such sins (2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:14), we hold each other accountable to biblical truth (Heb. 3:12-14), the righteous standards as set forth by the Lord in His Word and exemplified by the Lord Jesus (Matt. 5:48). These are the sorts of things that also happen in a family. How are they addressed there? A spouse or child does not leave. They address it, work at it, and grow through it. Once again, there is much more to say, but this ought to provide some further thoughts upon which you can reflect.
Since it is important to study these matters on your own and with others (and both are important), I include a number of brief articles/posts that will provide further material for you to ponder. I find them helpful. Once you have pondered all this, let’s visit again.