Leaving Your Denominational Church

 

 

Leaving Your Denominational Church

Richard Hollerman

·      Are you one of the many who are leaving the church of their past?

·      Have you discovered truth in Scripture that is urging you to forsake your past denomination?

Have you grown up in a denominational or sectarian church or denomination? If so, you should know that large numbers of people have departed from the church of their childhood. It may surprise us to know that “As of 2008 over 3,500 people leave the church every day” (simplechurchathome. com/Why.html). As you can see, this is an exceedingly large number! “Between 2000-2005, 20 million people, of all denominations, left the typical North American local church” (Ibid.).

When Pew researchers conducted a study in 2010, they discovered that “fully 44% of Americans have changed faiths at least once. Some converted from one religion or denomination to another; others grew up with no tradition only to adopt one as an adult; still others left their childhood faith and found themselves with no religious home” (content.time.com/ time/nation/article/ 0,8599, 1894361,00. html). Maybe you are one of these people who have left their church or denomination. Let’s discuss this current practice.

What we mean is that: Millions of Catholics have left the church of their childhood to join a Protestant Church but the same can be said of Protestants becoming Catholics. Baptists have become Episcopalians, Presbyterians have become Methodists, Lutherans have become Charismatics, and uncounted other changes have occurred. Many have simply dropped out of organized religion and go nowhere.

Probably you know of a family member or friend who has forsaken the church of his or her childhood and joined a different religious body. I left the Lutheran Church when I was about fifteen or sixteen years of age and this turned out for the good.  Some of my acquaintances have left the Lutheran Church, the Mennonite Church, and the Evangelical Methodist Church—some for the better and some for the worse. Have you made such a religious change in your life?

Some people are reluctant to leave their religious past. They assume that they would be disloyal to their family or ancestors if they forsake their childhood church. This reminds us of those Jews who “loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (John 12:43). We must never put family and friends before a wholehearted decision to follow Jesus—no matter what.  We remember also Christ’s warnings to His disciples: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). We must never put our father or mother, our son or daughter, or any other family member before the Lord Jesus and His will. If we discover that God wants us to forsake our church out of loyalty to Him, be willing to do it!

Other people would be too humiliated to leave a church they have been devoted to in the past because they think this would indicate a degree of instability or a propensity to change or a weakness of character. It would be embarrassing or shameful for them to be disloyal to their denomination or perhaps to their pastor. However, we must recall that Jesus told His disciples: “Every plant which My Heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone, they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:13-14). Sometimes we must renounce our church, pastor, preacher, or priest in order to follow Jesus and His way. If we discover through our study of God’s Word that our religious leader indeed is a “blind guide,” be willing to immediately depart!

Still others may be thinking about a dear grandmother or great-grandfather or other ancestor, and they believe that leaving a particular denomination will condemn these forbears before God. If they forsake a denomination that their ancestors were devoted to, they think that this action will necessarily imply that their ancestors were disobedient to God and not truly Christians. This may very well be true! But this thought is too much for them to bear, thus they just continue in the church of their childhood.

There are also certain church members who are deeply involved in a particular denomination or congregation. They know the teachers, they appreciate the pastor, they play ball with their church friends, they may teach Sunday School, and they may hold an important office along with other office-holders. They have become part of the fabric of the church and just can’t seem to pull away from this sense of acceptance and spiritual “belonging” regardless of what they learn about the defects of the church. Yet Paul the apostle was quite plain when he addressed the Galatians: “Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (1:10). We must determine where our loyalties lie and make our decisions in this light. We must not “please men” if this would mean that we displease God!

Finally, certain church members are devoted to a church or denomination because they are deeply committed to the particular doctrines or theology promulgated by their church. They have studied the doctrines for years, have read books that elucidate those doctrines, have heard hundreds of sermons and been exposed to numerous teachings that explain the doctrines, and they are entirely convinced that the church confession of faith and doctrinal statement represent the very will of God. This person may be thoroughly deceived to the point that he or she doesn’t see the many inconsistencies in the doctrines or doesn’t admit the problem areas of the denominational standards. They are fearful of leaving the church behind for they think that this would constitute a departure from the teaching of the Lord.

Sadly, these people close their eyes to many scriptures that would show the error of the doctrinal stance of the church and refuse to believe that the church reflects the commandments and teachings of men. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, they neglect “the commandment of God,” and “hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8). Jesus said that they invalidated “the word of God by [their] tradition” (7:13). The question is whether these devoted churchmen will be willing to launch out with the Word of God and forsake the inconsistent teachings of men, even if those teachings may be 200, 300, or 500 years old! Martin Luther questioned and condemned certain doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1500s, even though those doctrines had been held for 500, 700, 1,000 or 1,200 years! We must do the same.

Let Biblical Principles Guide You

Suppose that you did leave the church of your upbringing. What then? Whether you had entirely Scriptural reasons in mind when you departed, now is the time to focus your attention on good, right, and Biblical reasons for both leaving and finding something better. Here are several pointers to help you:

        1.    Value the truth

When I left my parents’ denomination years ago, by far the most important consideration was a love for the truth. Only if this is our motivation will we be able to choose the right regardless of the opposition, trials or difficulties. Yes, our friends and family and other church members may oppose this decision, but regardless of their cherished position in our life, regardless of our past doctrines, regardless of esteemed leaders, you’ve made a decision for Christ.

Truth is far more important than many would imagine. We must believe in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:12) and obey the truth (Romans 2:8) in order to be saved and forgiven. Paul referred to some who “did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10b). Let us love the truth—and follow it with all of our hearts! And let’s remember that God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).

        2.    Be courageous in your decision

Don’t fear taking a stand for the Lord, regardless of who does or doesn’t stand with you. We are not to fear any persecutor but must fear God alone (Matthew 10:28). We read in Proverbs that “the righteous are bold as a lion” (28:1b). Paul wrote, “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). He wrote to his younger fellow-worker, Timothy: “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2:1). When you are tempted to think of how good, comfortable and pleasing it was in your denomination, remember that God will give you the courage to continue and stand for the truth regardless of the foes.

        3.    Fortify yourself as you remember

We need to constantly remember why we left our former church. Was it faulty doctrine that you discovered? If so, remind yourself of this reason and choose the teaching of Scripture (Matthew 28:20). Did you leave because of the inferior fellowship that was available? Now is the time to recall that and seek loving and deep fellowship with other truth-seekers. Maybe you discovered that the pastor or priest or teaching staff were compromisers and money-hungry. Read those portions of Scripture that would show the disaster of materialistically seeking riches rather than a holy walk with the Lord (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:5; Acts 20:33; 2 Peter 2:3).

After I departed from my childhood denomination, I was told that they discovered that the pastor had been involved in an adulterous relationship—something that I knew nothing about. I simply knew that he was worldly in his demeanor and that was enough for me. Whatever it may have been, remind yourself of why you left in case you are ever tempted to return to your former fellowship (cf. 2 Peter 2:20-22).

        4.    Be committed to Scriptural faith

As you know, many churches now deny portions of the gospel of Christ and Biblical creation. We refer to certain cults as well as liberal mainline denominations. Some compromise the person of Christ, denying His deity or sacrificial death. Others deny the Genesis account of creation and believe in theistic evolution or “progressive creation.” Many deny Christ’s virgin birth, His sinless life, His bodily resurrection, and His personal bodily return. If you turned from your church or denomination because of these major areas of unbelief, now is the time to fortify yourself in Biblical faith so that you will be strong and so you can explain to your former church family the reason for your departure.

As Peter wrote, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). Remember too that Jude wrote, “Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (v. 3b). Seek to articulate the Biblical reasons why you renounced your former church.

        5.    Depart from all forms of worldliness

We know that worldliness is rampant in the religious world, including those who profess to be Christians. In other words, many religious people speak like the world, think like the world, dress like the world, engage in worldly entertainment, and are thoroughly involved in worldly activities. Of course, this means that they are still in the world. Paul urges us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2a).

John plainly declares, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15; cf. vv. 16-17; James 1:27; 4:4). If you turned from your previous church fellowship because they were deeply involved in worldly thinking and activities, make sure that you now live a life of separation and cultivate a holy walk! As Peter writes, “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior” (1 Peter 1:15; cf. v. 16).

        6.    Remind yourself of the unscriptural elements you forsook

You may have studied your Bible while you were in your previous church and discovered that there were significant elements that differed from the New Testament way of life and pattern of organization. You may have discovered that the church you were part of was organized with elaborate structure, something very different from the simple assemblies or groups of believers in the first century (Acts 2:42, 47; 1 Corinthians 12:27). You may have discovered that denominational preachers, priests, ministers, and bishops are very different from the simple functionaries of the first century, with godly shepherds, teachers, evangelists, servants, and elders (cf. Ephesians 4:11; Philippians 1:1; Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; etc.).

You may have come to see that in the first century there were no denominational names for communities of Christians or for individual followers of Christ—thus there were no Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Nazarenes, Adventists, or Orthodox. Instead, they were simply disciples of the Lord (Acts 9:1), saints [separated ones] (9:13), those belonging to the way (9:2), brothers and sisters (James 2:15), or children of God (1 John 3:1-2). Whatever the reason for your departure, deepen your conviction now that it is better to follow the Lord and His Word than it is to follow the popular ways of religion found in denominationalism and churchianity.

        7.    Don’t leave one false religion to join another!

Many of those who choose to leave the denomination of their past make a terrible mistake. They end up exchanging one set of errors for another set! They may forsake one false way but accept another false way. They may leave a conservative church and go to a liberal church. They may leave a rigid and formal group and end up in a loose, careless, and worldly fellowship. It could be that they leave one false doctrine and willingly embrace a different false doctrine. How sad!

Determine now to study the Scriptures to such an extent that you won’t trade your past error for a different error. Paul wrote, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). Turn from all traditions of men and denominational doctrines and embrace the pure and simple Word of God, the truth that Jesus taught and the apostles proclaimed (John 12:48).

Come Out and Come Together

Some years ago, we wrote a booklet entitled Come Out and Come Together! This booklet shows that we not only come out of denominations, worldly churches, and human organizations, but we also seek to be with others who have chosen to follow Jesus our Lord with a true heart. In other words, we come together with other believers so that we might share a common life of holiness, love and faith.

We realize that God’s people are scattered across the countries of the world. No one nation contains all of Christ’s followers for they are found wherever the good news of Christ has been preached and people have responded to that truth. Those men and women who have come to Christ as Scripture reveals are called “a chosen race,” “a holy nation,” and “a people for God’s own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). They may be found in France, Britain, Columbia, Australia, Nigeria, Jordan, Japan, India, the United States, Spain, and elsewhere. The heavenly song or prayer to Jesus Christ says, “You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). You can be part of that redeemed throng yourself if you come to God through faith in Christ.

There are many aspects of the Lord’s will that you have not as yet considered. Maybe you have already departed from your denomination or church, or maybe you will do so now that you have read this little pamphlet. There is much for you to study and learn. Ask God for His help and power then launch out into the vast sea of God’s will. Be willing to follow all that God commands of you. Be willing to observe all that Christ commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15; cf. vv. 21-24). By faith, be willing to obey the Lord today and thus express your grateful love to Him who died to save you from sin and give you eternal life.

 

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