February 22, 2012

Not of Us

I've started typing this post four times, but it just isn't working.  When I have a thought on my mind that I want to post on the blog, I usually like to build up to it a bit before I really get to what I want to talk about.  I like to think that I am taking the reader (if there are any) through the process that led me up to that thought.  Today, I just can't seem to get the words to flow correctly.  So, if you would permit me, I would like to jump directly to the thought on my mind instead of building up to it.

Here it is: What is going on with people who leave the church?

I don't know about where you live, but Danville is full of people who've gone to church at some point in their life, most likely when they were young, but now they don't.  In fact, I've met many who have attended the small church where I am currently the pastor at some point in their past.

What is alarming is how many who will leave the church, but they don't believe that has any implications on their faith or their future destination.  Consider what John has to say about this:
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)
There are many implications in this passage.  Some of those implications might set you ill at ease.  It should.

Notice, if you would though, the implied benefit for those who stay.  The spiritual reality of those who have left has become plain to us.  In other words, we don't need to be bewildered or even apathetic about those who've left the church.  That is the reaction that many have.  They see their friend or neighbor or relative that used to go to church.  Instead of concern for them, the reactions tend to border on blatant disregard.  I mean, how can you really love someone without being concerned over their eternal state?  If they have left the church, then you have every reason to believe that their souls are in imminent danger and no reason to believe that they are probably fine.  They are in need of our prayers, and if necessary, some doctrinal correction.

10 comments :

  1. I'd ask if you've interviewed or talked with the folks you're writing about, about why they are no longer involved at church. For many, you're right. But for some, there are usually stories of their own making or the church's making that have led them to where they are now.

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    1. Yes and No.

      Yes, in the sense that I have talked with several people who no longer attend church... conversationally, not as a pastor.

      No, in the sense that I have not talked with many in a more pastoral situation, where I was "probing" into why they no longer attend.

      I agree with you, in the sense that many have very specific stories as to why they have left the church. My concern is that, even though there are legitimate reasons to leave a church, I am not convinced that leaving the church doesn't speak to a more serious issue.

      Of course, a blog comment is a horrible place to defend a position that has taken years years to develop. :)

      If nothing else, believe me that I am speaking out of a heart of love and concern for people, not out of judgment and disregard to their personal situations.

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  2. I completely agree. Though I have seen some that take it a bit too far. For instance when I was young I attended a church in Indiana for several years. I stopped going to that church because I moved to Illinois which made the drive there rather impossible for my car and financial situation at the time. I then started going to another church. This church preached the same Jesus and same beliefs that hold true to real Christianity. Just as my church in Indiana did. But I recently spoke with many of the people from Indiana and for some reason they believe I'm no longer a Christian because I moved away from that place of worship and started attending another.

    What are your thoughts on this?

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    1. Some do take it too far.

      My concern is that, in an effort to not take it too far, we have not taken it far enough. And... To not take it far enough might be equally, if not more, dangerous.

      My concern is also personal. I wonder, sometimes, how many have come and gone through the doors at Edgewood and other churches, and because of teaching, whether intentional or not, has led them to a false assurance.

      One of the clearest signs (at least according to the New Testament and in this case according to John) of genuine faith is to be a connected participant in a body of believers.

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  3. Here are a few reasons that I think of: They were attending under some sort of pressure or compulsion and as soon as it was lifted they stopped coming. They found another congregation to attend, sometimes over petty and superficial reasons and sometimes over important issues. Their faith had been "shipwrecked". If denominations were more willing to pursue unity and work with one another there would be a lot less of the last two. Since we insist on divisiveness as our normal policy based on fringe doctrinal issues, the people in our congregation learn that if there is anything that they dont like about what is going on in the church, they dont try to work it out in the name of "being diligent to preserve unity" but instead they follow the denominational example of splitting. If we would do everything in our power to fulfill Jesus' prayer that we would be one as He and the Father are one, maybe members of our congregations would do the same thing

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    1. I think that I see what you are saying. But according to John, continuation is connected with genuine faith. Those who shipwreck their faith (I Tim. 1:19) are shipwrecked by their own choice to "reject" faith and their conscience.

      Churches may be messed up, but even divisions and factions are an essential part of clarifying the real deal.

      For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.
      (1 Corinthians 11:18-19 ESV)

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  4. I have left churches for different reasons. 1 was 2 big to connect, moved many times, & because the true Word of God was NOT being preached. From others I have talked w/ that have left the church & not found a new. They are done w/ church. Most of the time they had that church/pastor on a high level & when the people of the church or the pastor let them down they were done. Pastor need to be honest w/ their struggles & teach why we have church.

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  5. Unity, not division, is a core value of the Gospel. Most of the time the divisiveness that poisons the church is over arrogance, selfishness, and self righteousness, not over matters of faith. Jesus prayed that we would be one and that our love for one another would prove our true discipleship but we use our supposed love for Jesus and pure doctrine as the excuse to separate from one another. Could it be God's plan that in every town in America there are dozens of congregations who all refuse to unite in order to maintain the status quo and have things the way they want it done? In Ephesians 4 Paul wrote that we should make every effort to preserve unity. We need to practice patience, tolerance, gentelness, and love to do it, but we arent willing. IT would be a much more Biblical model to have one church in each town and have believers love and cooperate in spite of differences rather than having dozens of churches live in never ending schism

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    1. I agree.

      But I am a little confused as to where this discussion is coming from. It sounds like you feel that the main reason that people leave the church is because of divisions in the church. Am I understanding you correctly? I am just having a difficult time understanding the rant about unity in regards to the concern over people leaving the church.

      I mean, I love unity. I want unity. I am striving, as much as possible to promote unity, and I agree that unity is one of the core themes in the gospel message. IN FACT, the more I love unity, the more I realize that those who have left the church are disconnected from that unity. It then increases my concern over their souls. How is it possible for a person to really love God without showing a genuine love, not just for their neighbors, but for their brothers?

      Like John says,
      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 4:20-21 ESV)


      In other words, how can you really love God if you don't love your "arrogant, selfish, self-righteous" brother? People leaving the church because of hypocrisy in the church have missed the point that church is full of sinners, which is also at the very center of the gospel.

      And even when you read through that passage in Ephesians 4, (which, as you stated, speaks so much of unity) it ends with each person being a productive, connected member of the body of Christ. Being a productive, connected member of the body of Christ is not a result of the individual's efforts, but the result of the working of Christ in their life.

      So, I hear what you are saying, but I sense a tone of disagreement with... something, but I am not sure what. Your conversation on unity only seems to strengthen the original point.

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    2. I forgot to add... I mentioned the passage on "divisions" above because I wanted to make the point that you cannot say that every division is something that shouldn't happen. Paul clearly stated that at least "in part" there should be factions to reveal genuineness.

      Which,again, is connected to the original point.

      I hope I have clarified some thoughts. I hate it when I sense that there is a disagreement, but I can't figure out what it is.

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