Baptist Press carried a recent commentary by Southern Baptist pastor Bob Carpenter of Michigan titled “When to leave your church.”
His basic point, with which I agree, is that churches need to focus on unity. However, he identifies a few situations that he considers legitimate reasons for moving one’s membership to another congregation.
In addition to a physical relocation or a call to mission, Pastor Carpenter said a person should change churches if they encounter false teaching, unaddressed sin or a dysfunctional church life.
I guess it has to with degrees, but I’ve never known of a congregation that didn’t have a dose of all three. They seem to come with the territory.
While there are some legitimate biblical warnings about false teachings, my experience is that we need to be more on-guard against those who brand everything with which they disagree as “false teaching.”
Too often, so-called false teaching means that the opinions (biblical interpretations) expressed differ from mine.
We long-suffering Baptists have heard all kinds of things deemed ‘false teachings’ from interracial relationships to the use of biblical translations beyond 1611 to women wearing pants to church except during an ice storm.
One of the greatest heresies we promote — knowingly or unknowingly — is that we have God and the Gospel all figured out. It helps to remember Helen Keller’s wise observation that “the heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next.”
Someone’s narrow view of orthodoxy has never been my primary motivation for church involvement. Worship, mystery, spiritual nurture, community are bigger draws.
While not suggesting an anything-goes, all-beliefs-are-equal faith, I find authoritarian preachers with uncritical certitudes more offensive than ideas that challenge traditional thinking about faith. Teaching people to work out their salvation reflectively is preferred over thoughtless indoctrination.
The New Testament — with its few and fragile churches — doesn’t give much attention to “moving your membership.” But here are some reasons that would lead me find a new congregational home.
I’d look elsewhere if in my church:
1. My narrow understanding of God went unchallenged. (If everything about God has been solved. No mystery or doubt remains.)
2. Uniformity is mistaken for unity.
3. Christian ethics keep getting reduced to a narrow political agenda that ignores the obvious individual and corporate failures of “good Christians like us” but offers continual hostility toward gay and lesbian persons.
4. Belief in the “inerrant Bible” and the pastor’s interpretations of the Bible are one and the same.
Or if they serve that powdery, non-dairy creamer during coffee hour.