rebelling against low expectations

Leave the Church, Leave the Faith

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A Concerning Trend

It seems that it has become increasingly popular for self-professed evangelicals in the U.S. to leave the Church and “deconstruct” their faith. I write “Church” with a capital C because I’m referring to the invisible church, that group of chosen, true believers within local church bodies across the world. And when I say, “leave the Church,” I mean it in the sense of removing oneself from any local church body that is teaching the orthodox, historical Christian faith and has elders who are shepherding the flock.

My aim in writing this is to sternly warn true believers against succumbing to this trendy social contagion. This warning will have no effect on those who profess a false faith, but my prayer is that God would use it, by the power of His Spirit, to lead true believers away from this deadly error in both thought and practice.

The Lie

The main idea that fuels this trend of leaving the Church is that someone can “follow Jesus” without participating in “organized religion,” and that it may actually benefit one’s ability to “follow Jesus” to do so. It may be claimed that all the denominations and doctrinal divisions and specifics of church practice “get in the way” of one being truly “spiritual.”

At first glance, this may seem to be a persuasive argument, especially when someone then supports these claims by relating personal experiences of being sinned against by others in their church, church leaders doing wicked things, observation of rank hypocrisy, and so on. And, indeed, this argument is persuasive to many in this age.

But is it what the infallible, unquestionable Word of God teaches?

The Truth

There are three primary points of doctrine, drawn directly from the Scriptures, which refute the lie that someone can “follow Jesus” and not be in active, in-person fellowship, or membership, within a solid, local church body.

1. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” – 1 John 2:19 (ESV)

The first is that John unequivocally states that leaving the church, or excommunicating oneself from the fellowship of true believers, is the equivalent to apostasy, or leaving the faith altogether. “If they had been of us,” or if they had been true believers, “they would have continued with us.” A tangible mark of the true believer is that he refuses to leave the Church, no matter how hard it gets.

This was a time of intense persecution against Christians by the Roman state, but John wasn’t sympathetic to this concern. He reveals the deeper significance of their leaving the church: that they never had saving faith to begin with. Fellowship with believers in the Church is so central to the faith of the gospel, that leaving the fellowship of believers (permanently) is the sure sign of apostasy.

2. “We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” – 1 John 4:19-21 (ESV)

Secondly, it is an express command from God for Christians to love their brothers and sisters in Christ. Love is described in 1 John 3:16 as “laying down one’s life” for your brother. But how can you love your brother in Christ if you do not have fellowship with him?

How can you have true fellowship with your brother in Christ if you do not worship Christ together on the Lord’s Day, sing psalms together, share in the Lord’s supper together, sit under God’s Word together? How can you help bear your brother’s burdens, thus laying your life down, if you don’t have fellowship with him in the Church?

3. “… waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” – Titus 2:13-14 (ESV)

Thirdly, Paul’s letter to Titus clearly reveals that the purpose of Jesus’ death on the cross was to redeem and purify for Himself a people. The text does not say that He redeems and purifies individuals who live their lives isolated from others. The Father chose a people to give to the Son, and the Son gave His life to purchase and renew this “holy nation” and to present it mature and blameless before the Father (John 6:35-65, John 17:6-26, 1 Peter 2:9-10).

In other words, Jesus died for His Church. The Church is the bride of Christ, and Christ laid down His life to sanctify her (Eph. 5:25-33). The Church is the object of God’s love (because the Church glorifies God), so to hate the Church by leaving it is to be in radical opposition to the faith.

An Exhortation

For those of you who are tempted to give up on the Church and leave it, I implore you to reconsider. You will not be following Jesus if you are not counted amongst His bride. True faith in Christ only exists within the context of the true body of Christ, which is His Church (1 Cor. 12:12-27). You cannot be in Christ and not also be a member of the body of Christ.

Maybe you’ve been sinned against, maybe there is hypocrisy, maybe there seems to be good reasons to leave. The life of the Church is messy and sinful, just read Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church. Strive to confess and confront sin, wherever you find it. Strive to forgive and be reconciled.

Our ability to genuinely and consistently be reconciled to one another is something that uniquely sets the Church apart from the World.

Maybe you do need to leave your local church body to find another because the errors and failures are too great, too consistent, too systemic. This can be necessary, but don’t do this in haste. And don’t dawdle on your way to finding a more solid local church.

In whatever circumstance you find yourself, do not leave the Church, the people of God, your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Your life depends on it.


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About the author

Zach Smith

is a full-time speech-language pathologist who works primarily with children with autism. He’s married to a beautiful woman and is a father to boy-girl twins. He enjoys lifting, playing chess, reading, and writing. You can find him online at: Basic Truth – Applying the Word of God to every area of life and culture (wordpress.com).

7 comments

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    • “I’m referring to the invisible church, that group of chosen, true believers within local church bodies across the world. And when I say, “leave the Church,” I mean it in the sense of removing oneself from any local church body that is teaching the orthodox, historical Christian faith and has elders who are shepherding the flock.”

      I defined what I meant by ‘Church’ in the first paragraph. The captial C- church is the invisible, elect group of believers which attend local church bodies. Because this group is invisible, there’s no way of knowing who is of this group within a local church body, but the only way for them to meet together and fellowship in their faith is by joining a local body of professing believers. I also define the Church as the bride of Christ and the body of Christ. Christ commands all believers to be a part of this Church, which meets in localized bodies which are shepherded by elders and deacons.

  • I also disagree, because some people have been hurt by the church and/or its leaders and need time to heal. My family has been doing devotionals at home as a way to heal from a church split, which happened over a year ago.

    • Timothy,

      I’m sorry that you have been hurt by your local church body. I tried to briefly address your situation at the end of the article: “Maybe you do need to leave your local church body to find another because the errors and failures are too great, too consistent, too systemic. This can be necessary, but don’t do this in haste. And don’t dawdle on your way to finding a more solid local church.”

      Have you considered that you might be depriving yourself and your family of the very thing that you need to heal: fellowship with other believers in the Church? It is not good to do your faith alone. If one local church body does not work out, I believe it is incumbent upon us to begin the process of finding a new, more solid local body. Maybe taking some time to heal is the right thing for you to do, only God knows that. My wife and I left a local church body years ago, and it was a very painful process, so I have some understanding of what you’re going through.

      I pray you do not give up on membership in a solid, local church body and that you begin the process of searching to find one.

      Love,
      Zach

  • Hello Zach! I have been really loving your articles on the Reb. They are practical and helpful for teens facing issues such as these. And for those of you who do not agree with Zach, I would challenge you to become an active part of your local church. You can’t imagine the many ways it helps you grow in your faith and make a bigger impact for God’s kingdom. There is strength in numbers!

By Zach Smith
rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →