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When is it right to leave a church?

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Question: "When is it right to leave a church?"

Perhaps the best way to discern whether one has grounds to leave a church is to go back to the basics. What, after all, is the purpose of the church? The Bible is clear that the church is to be the “pillar and ground [foundation] of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Everything in the church structure, teaching, worship, programs, and activities is to be centered upon this fact. In addition, the church should recognize Jesus Christ as its one and only head (Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; Colossians 1:18) and submit to Him in all things. Clearly, these things can only be done when the church clings to the Bible as its standard and authority. It’s hard to see how anyone would want to leave a church such as described above, but few churches today fit this description.

Believers who feel a desire to leave a church should be clear on their reasons. If the church does not proclaim the truth or does not teach the Bible and revere Christ, and there is another church in the area that does, then there are grounds to leave. A case can be made, however, for staying and working to bring about changes for the better. We are exhorted to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). If one is strongly convicted of the need to move the church in a more Bible-based, Christ-honoring direction and can do that in a loving manner, then staying would seem to be the better course of action.

The Bible does not outline a procedure on how to leave a church. In the early days of the church, a believer would have to move to another town to find a different church. In some places today, a church sits on seemingly every corner, and, sadly, many believers leave one church for another down the street instead of working through whatever problem they faced. Forgiveness, love, and unity are to characterize believers (John 13:34–35; Colossians 3:13; John 17:21–23), not bitterness and division (Ephesians 4:31–32).

Should a believer feel led to leave a church, it is crucial for him/her to do so in such a way that does not cause unnecessary division or controversy (Proverbs 6:19; 1 Corinthians 1:10). Faced with a lack of biblical teaching, then the course is clear, and a new church should be sought. However, many people’s dissatisfaction with their church is due to their own lack of involvement in the ministries of the church. It is far easier to be spiritually fed by the church when one takes an active part in “feeding” others. The purpose of the church is clearly outlined in Ephesians 4:11–14. Allow this passage to be the guide in choosing and finding a church.

Recommended Resource: The Master’s Plan for the Church by John MacArthur

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