Changing churches

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.


  1. I’m to the point if a church sings on average three hymns during Sunday Morning congregational singing that I recognize from waking hours between my 10th and 23rd year on the baptist planet; then I’m fairly satisfied if they let me slip out with no bad looks before the preachin.
    I don’t put much stock in preachin any more, but I may stay for a few preachers.
    OTOH I thought Marian Wright Edelman did a fine job in Bham Sat week ago.
    I do like however, what your preacher Dant said in his 2nd Sunday School lesson for Feb in the Jan issue of Baps Today.

  2. I think it is healthy when people leave seeking a place of worship and service holding beliefs similar to theirs. That is rarely the cause.

    If leaving is over these issues:
    A. 5 point Calvinism/Arminianism
    B. The status of men and women
    C. The Five Fragile Freedoms

    Then it is healthy for everyone to separate like Paul and Barnabas.

    These irreducible minimums really brook no compromise. In these cases leaving maybe best for everyone.

    But in general this AA saying should be [with some adaptations] a reasonable guide for Christians:

    This we owe to AA’s future
    To place our common welfare first
    to keep our fellowship united
    For on AA unity depends our lives
    and the lives of those to come

    Most Baptist churches are not mature enough to practice soul freedom.

  3. Or instant coffee. Or decaf. Both good reasons to leave.

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