Reasons For Leaving A Fellowship
James R Buchan
In these days of deception in the church, the Christian is faced with
problems, not only without, but also within, the church. As Christians,
we have a responsibility to meet the brethren and work with other members
of the body of Christ. However, in these dark times, heresy is on the increase
as deceivers and the deceived enter the "church". Believers now face difficult
choices: Do they leave the fellowship? Do they stay and try to rescue the
situation? The reason for studying this topic is that Vanguard magazine
received a letter on this very subject. When and for what reasons should
we leave a fellowship? [See letters page in Vanguard 5]
The church is, as I am sure many have noticed, being attacked by all
manner of false teaching, from "health and wealth" to "Celtic Christianity",
from "Kingdom Now" through to "Positive Confession". Many of the false
teachings have been refuted by Vanguard's regular contributors such as
Tony Pearce, Philip Foster, Philip Powell and Neil Richardson. The false
teachings and their apologists seem to have infiltrated a great many churches,
and this must sadden the hearts of all believers. Given these facts, the
problem arises for many Christians nowadays: "When and why should I leave
Now, as an ex-economist, I studied both the applied and theoretical
sides of economics (very badly I must say!) and I noticed how both overlapped.
So it should be with Christianity. James, in his epistle, points this out
many times. I shall content myself with noting one instance -
"Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto
a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth
what manner of man he was.
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth
therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this
man shall be blessed in his deed.
If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his
tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to
visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself
unspotted from the world."
(Paul also points out the necessity for love in 1 Cor. 13.)
The theory-application model fits well into a Christian context. The
theory being doctrine, the application being practice, both church and
personal. We must, therefore, study all these areas to get an idea of examples
and principles for our lives.
Now, I must put a warning here for the "divisive" Christian. "Christ
loved the church and gave himself for it" (Eph. 5:25b). We are not to leave
churches lightly or for selfish reasons. We must be careful to make sure
we do not leave for "advancement" in any area, from leading worship to
preaching. We must also seek not to be spiritual thrill-seekers always
looking for the new thing. If we find a church which teaches Biblical truth
and find we can only do a supposedly "menial" task, we must not plot our
own glory or seek a more "glamourous" role. I hope anybody reading this
does not get the idea that I advocate a totally separatist viewpoint. I
do believe we have a duty to love, encourage, edify, rebuke and entreat
those who might be mistaken. However, this must be done "in love" seeking
their benefit and conscious of our dependence on the Lord to understand,
live and work in His truth. I must say that many in the charismatic/new
evangelical movement have used the "unloving" accusation unfairly but I
feel that the Bible shows that if we do seek the benefit of others and
their growth, then we are actually really working in the "love of Christ".
With this warning I now wish to go on.
We shall study doctrine first. It must first be admitted that the Bible
is relatively short on examples of leaving a fellowship. The circumstances
in New Testament times are fairly unique in that, not only was the church
united spiritually, but also physically. They were guided by the apostles,
not just by letter but in person. This lead to a problem for church leavers.
Where did they go? The Bible really did not have much consideration for
"denominations" etc. as they got the teaching from the apostles so they
pretty much all agreed. If you left the church in Galatia during Paul's
stay, over an issue, it was pretty reasonable to say that the apostle was
right. There would have been no long running theological disputes etc.
In these circumstances, we would expect the vast majority of the New Testament
to be silent about leaving a fellowship. There was not lots of churches
believing different things. Today, we most certainly do not have this situation.
Pentecostal, Baptist, Anglican, Brethren, Presbyterian, Methodist, Evangelical,
Free and Charismatic fellowships compete for our attention alongside others.
This is the situation we find ourselves in today. However, whilst the situation
is not exactly the same, God has not left us anchorless and adrift. We
need to look instead to principles found in the scriptures for related
In 2 John 9-11, the apostle specifically condemns the sin of blessing
the person who does not hold the doctrine of Christ.
"Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ,
hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the
Father and the Son.
If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive
him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:
For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds."
These verses suggest that these is a body of doctrine (the doctrine
of Christ) which is foundational. Paul also speaks, in a similar vein,
in Galatians 1: 7-9.
"Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would
pervert the gospel of Christ.
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel
unto you than that we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other
gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."
Again, these verses suggest a foundation which constitutes the gospel.
Step outside this and you have something different which, rather than saving
you, actually curses you!
I will consider some doctrines, and others will be merely mentioned
due to space considerations. As 2 John 9-11 speaks of the "doctrine of
Christ", it seems quite sensible to say one of the foundational doctrines
is that the church is Trinitarian. [Rom. 9:5; 1 John 5:7-8; John 10:30-33]
If a church is not in fact Trinitarian, we must leave it immediately. To
stay there is to bring ourselves into enmity with God. I cannot put it
more simply than that. The Deity of Christ is vital as without it Jesus
could not have succeeded in gaining redemption for the elect. It should
be obvious to Christians why we need to go to churches where this is taught.
However, this (Unitarianism) is not at present the main danger.
A much more pressing problem is over the question of Biblical infallibility.
Paul gives his view in 2 Timothy 3:16.
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable
for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:"
This would be primarily referring to the Old Testament, although Peter
places Paul's letter on a par with the scriptures on the Old Testament.
[2 Peter 3:15-16] The Bible is the Word of God and without error. The Creation
Narrative in Genesis 1-3 is true. A church which denies the truth of scripture
has no basis for what it teaches. If one section is false or, as the modernist
attackers assert, "cultural", then God could in fact have lied anywhere.
It all stands together. The weasel words of the modernisers are that we
must interpret in the light of culture (which is true). The problem is
that they use these interpretations to disregard the Biblical commands
and counsels. The church which does not view the scriptures as infallible
must not be attended by the believer. With the rise of higher criticism,
naturalistic approaches and textual criticism, Christianity must expect
more "leaders" like John Shelby Spong who deny the infallibility of scripture.
The believer must consider the words of Christ,
"How can the blind lead the blind, will they both not fall into a
A problem in these times is the rise of self-centredness which has led
to an increase in Pelagian theology and a denial of man's sinfulness. [For
a contemporary example, see Neil Richardson's article on Gerald Coates
- Vanguard #4-5] If man is capable of spiritual good without God, then
Paul has a problem in Romans 7. A church which teaches that man is naturally
good is at war with God who declared otherwise and is not to be attended
by the believer.
The Bible teaches only one mediator between God and man. In 1 Timothy
2:5, Paul states:
"For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the
man Christ Jesus;"
If a church does not teach this, and also teaches confessions to priests
and such like, then it is in direct rebellion against God. It does not
take the intelligence of Newton to work out that the prime exponent of
such erroneous teachings is the Roman Catholic Church. The Church of Rome
must not, surely, be accepted by the believer. In fact, it seems that the
church which accepts Catholicism as merely another branch of Christianity
must be viewed with great suspicion also and not attended.
We can briefly list some other doctrines which must be held. I do not
claim this list to be exhaustive. I just give them by way of example:
Salvation by faith in Christ alone
Outside Christ - no salvation
Resurrection of Christ after the third day
The literal virgin birth of Christ
Some other doctrines are not essential to salvation and we have to treat
these differently. One of the most obvious is baptism. I am a believer
in baptism, by full immersion, for believers only. I make no apologies
for this. It is, as far as I am able to grasp, the teaching of scripture
- pure and simple. However, I have met others who are convinced of the
paedo-baptist argument. I mean no disrespect to them when I say that those
who have been christened should obey the command of scripture to repent
and be baptised. This is a question of obedience to God's word. If one
holds to this doctrine, of believer's baptism by full-immersion, then one
should not attend a church which believes or practices otherwise. This
is simply a matter of consistency.
One of the most divisive arguments is over the doctrines of Calvinism
versus the doctrines of Arminianism. Theologians have argued, and wise
people thought hard. This is an example where both seem contradictory,
and yet in some way appear correct from a certain point of view. I certainly
believe in pre-destination and God's sovereignty. However, scripture reveals
also our responsibility in choosing Christ. This is an example where balance
is required, but not in all truth separation because both have aspects
of truth but are not in fact the whole truth by themselves.
Now we can, having surveyed doctrine, move on to practice. The modern
church is being attacked for the truths we hold. We are called to be as
salt in the world in which we live. The most obvious example of this is
in our view of sexuality. God created man and woman to be joined together,
and to multiply by reproducing. He ordained that the act of making love
was to be confined to marriage. Death was the punishment of the female
caught in extra-marital sex. God did not command or ordain sodomy, lesbianism,
bestiality or adultery. In fact, He commanded against them. Let us consider
sodomy. Romans 1:27-32 read:
"And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman,
burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which
is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error
which was meet.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge,
God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not
Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness,
covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity;
Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors
of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection,
Who knowing the judgement of God, that they which commit such things
are worthy of death, not only do the same but have pleasure in them that
Paul points out that God is not only angry with the behaviour of the
sodomite, but also with the person who backs their behaviour. They are
under God's judgement. We must be Christ-like in our attitude to these
people. They have sinned and need a saviour, just as the person who lusts
after a person of the opposite sex, just as the drunkard, just as us in
fact. However, the church is regularly compromising the truth for these
people. We must not love both the sinner and the sin. Given the severity
of Paul's words, it seems that the Bible suggests we must not fellowship
where sin is not described as sin, or is condoned. Churches which do not
condemn this practice have sold out to the world, and whilst they may have
numbers, they will not have God's blessing. A similar example to sodomy
is the practice of "living in sin" or as it is now known "co-habitation".
This also is an example of an issue the church has compromised God's command
on. The point here is that the church must stick to the rules for life
laid out in the Bible, and if they do not, the Christian must leave.
Government of the church is an area where it is easier to comment. This
area has lots of different views. Wesley viewed Anglican government to
be within the spirit of the Biblical guidelines, whilst also feeling there
to be no definite system of government. Calvin, Luther, Darby and others
have all advocated different systems of government, and it must be admitted
that each studied scripture carefully and have certain aspects of truth.
I feel that this is an example where believers can agree to differ as it
is very much a side issue and abuses can happen in all systems.
If we consider certain other practices, such as style or the Toronto
Experience, we will get different answers for different practices. Hymns
versus Choruses caused one church I know to split, and I think we can see
that this is in fact ridiculous. Content is more important than style [-
see editorial in this issue]. We must obey the commands laid down for decency
and order etc. In these, however, we have a fair degree of Christian liberty.
Order and decency do not mean dry and restrictive. Nor must we ignore the
excesses found in many churches. Liberty must be Biblical. Areas such as
the Toronto Experience, where no satisfactory scriptural basis for the
manifestations was offered, are different again. We must be wary of such
things. The occult roots of the TE are well documented and need not be
discussed here. It suffices for me to observe that we are not to partake
in such occult activities. I feel the Bible is so clear on this point that,
in fact, leaving such a church is the only consistent scriptural position.
Paul asks in a different context "What fellowship does light have with
darkness?" We must warn and then, if unheeded, leave.
Coming to my conclusion, I feel that, first, I would like to remind
people that times of trouble invariably accompany leaving a fellowship,
not just for the one leaving, but also for those who stay. Sometimes these
people can be weak or young in the faith, and a damaging split will hurt
them. I would advise that if one has to leave, one should keep these people
especially in one's prayers.
Pray that they might find the truth, that they might be strengthened
and blessed. Encourage them in the service of the Lord. These people are
often the unwitting victims and their hearts are right, but their "zeal
is without knowledge". Try to keep in contact with these little ones. Pray
for the church, specifically regarding the area they have erred in. If
they have expelled you, remember to pray for those who have despitefully
In the area of doctrine, I feel the Biblical teaching is that the Christian
definitely needs to leave in situations where foundational truth is incorrect
or ignored. Staying where a false gospel is preached will do us no good.
On certain areas, we find something which appears non-foundational but
which can become a leaving matter. Baptism, as shown earlier, is a good
example. Baptism does not save, but to obey the command of scripture often
means having to leave. The final area of doctrine surveyed is in fact not
to be separated over. This includes such areas as Predestination versus
The area of practice has similar groups. Foundational practices includes
accepting what the Bible calls sin as being sin. The church which comprises
these commands is on very thin ice. Immorality has no place in the church.
Paul (in 1 Cor. 5:9, 11, 13), in a context of fornication in the Corinthian
church, repeatedly tells the believers not to keep company with the immoral
person who claims to be a brother. Obviously, if the church you attend
does these things, then they are not going to excommunicate themselves.
Therefore, to obey the scripture, you must leave.
Another foundational practice concerns the occult. In a well-known London
church, there are regular meetings with psychics, witches and leading new-agers.
As Christians, we must echo Paul's cry in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, and say
we can have no fellowship with people who are involved in such things.
Christ has no concord with Belial. The temple of God has no agreement with
idols. The scriptures discussed above, in 2 John, tell us that to wish
God speed to such people means we partake in their evil deeds. Can we in
all conscience attend a church in such a situation? Paul immediately answers
this question in 2 Corinthians 6:17-18.
I hope and pray sincerely that these situations never arise in your
life, and that your fellowship may be blessed in following the truth. God
bless you and keep you. Amen.
James R. Buchan