This is a question that I get from time to time (in different variations): “I have come to differ theologically with my church in some significant ways, so should I leave, and if so, how?” This was asked at an Ask Me Anything event in the Philippines, and here’s my stab at an answer. (Context: This specific question involved leaving a non-Reformed charismatic church for a non-charismatic Reformed one.)
I have come to differ with my church theologically – Should I leave? If yes – How?
Okay, so, maybe that’s another question where, in the abstract, you can answer one way but in the particulars of life there’s just so much you need to think about and so much you need to consider. So, first, I would say be very, very careful. You don’t want to destroy a church, right.
Let’s distinguish between a false church versus an unhealthy church. So that church you’re describing there, you could come to deeper theological convictions, you’ve come to see that that church does not share your convictions. And in fact, probably in some ways, you see that church as opposed to your convictions. I think you still need to ask, is that a false church? Are they teaching a false gospel? What would I say? You know, that’s probably an unhealthy church. I think they’re still preaching the gospel, but they have some unhealthy parts to this church, there’s some theology they’re teaching that’s wrong. Even though they still teach the gospel, they’re emphasizing these things or they’re endorsing this kind of theology or this kind of teacher.
So, let’s distinguish between those two things. If it’s a false church and they are preaching a false gospel and they are leading people to hell. Then absolutely, you need to get out of that church right away. And you need to talk to other people you love in that church and tell them to leave too, right. I don’t think it’s that kind of church, based on what you’re saying. So probably it’s a, what you might consider, an unhealthy church, right, your convictions have changed.
So I would say, first be very, very careful. It’s not your job to destroy that church. In fact, if you decide to leave the church, I think you need to leave really carefully. Simply withdraw from the church quietly and go to another church, but do all you can to leave respectfully, to leave kindly, not to burn bridges, not to feel that you need to drag other people out with you. Just step out of it, show humility, and show proper respect for people who, even if you believe they’re theologically misguided, are still sharing the gospel, still drawing people to Christ, we hope, even if their theology isn’t exactly what you believe in.
So, reformed people I think can have a bit of a burn it down mentality when it comes to churches like that. You know, they talk about the cage stage of Calvinism and stuff, right, where for a while, you’re just so excited about this theology you just want to share it with everyone you know and you just can’t believe other people aren’t seeing it. Just be very, very careful. Be very, very humble. Probably the best thing you can do is leave quietly. And understand that if you don’t have the pulpit in a church, you’re very unlikely to change the church, right. So if you’re the pastor of a charismatic church, you can probably lead that church, there may be a way you could lead that church into sound doctrine. If you don’t have the pulpit, you’re not an elder in the church, you’re not a pastor in the church, it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to change it. So, instead, if that’s your conviction, your conscience, and you’ve prayed about it, just quietly withdraw from the church and go to another church that’s closer to your theological convictions. And find ways to serve God and serve His people there.