We are all sinners in church, so leaving a church because people in the congregation sin is stupid. Seems stupid, right? We left a church because of false teaching, but more than that, we left because we would likely have been asked to leave anyway.
Our church had become a Saddleback/Willow Creek/Spiritual Formation church. The youth were involved in Youthfront, and yes, the leader of Youthfront (Mike King) does promote silence, breathing exercises and such for contemplative prayer. (Cannot recall the web site, but there used to be one linked to the Youthfront website proper, and it’s been removed). So, since many of the youth were sent to this camp, we knew that influence was beginning in the youth. One dear friend and elder had this conversation with his boys (this is to illustrate the teachings and understandings in the church).
son: Dad, we learned that God is in everything right? So that would mean God is in my butt.
dad: Uhm….I guess you are right.
So, based on bad teachings and based especially on the fact that youth were being taught questionable things beyond just in house debate type stuff, we left.
But more than that, the church promoted books and other materials from horrible teachers. I’ve written on this blog about a man who took the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and said we all had “grave clothes.” He defined these as our problems. His son was in the military and sent into combat, his fear for his son was a grave cloth. Someone else had cancer, that fear of death, a grave cloth. Another had an addiction, again, a grave cloth. So, we are to be in small group because when Lazarus came out of the grave Jesus told them to remove his grave cloths. Twist scripture to promote small groups, and of course, you could buy his book. This man spoke from the pulpit, a place of authority. We knew our church was then teaching clear false doctrines. The words of Jesus were misused as a means to an end, an agenda. When we asked about this we were told it was okay to use the events in Jesus’ life as an illustration or as a life lesson to apply to today. Kind of like a parable but different. Uh, and something about it not being propositional (or is it that it is propositional). I don’t know exaclty, but all I know is that John’s gospel was written that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and that we may have eternal life. Applications can be helpful, but not if scripture is misused and twisted in the process.
But further than the myriad of false teachings, we left because of one thing. We knew nothing we would do would make any difference. We were members, we were to submit to the authority of our pastor. In the past we watched a couple argue, bring charges, and some division was caused. Yes it was. The man confronted false teachings in an angry way. He was treated to one long process and was then cut off from the church. He was to be treated as one released, not to be in fellowship until restoration. We witnessed this, and knew our attempts to point to false teachings would end in a public vote for us to leave. Every attempt we made to talk to anyone was met with doublespeak, was met with strange answers and ambiguity. All exept one pastor who did encourage us to stay, who prayed with us, and asked us to at least write a letter stating our issues. We only tackled a few of our issues, and we were met with anger. We were pointed to as Sanballats and called “liars from the pit of hell.”
We were treated like resisters. You see, our former pastor has exchanged pulpits with Dan Southerland. He’s chummy with him, they’ve spoken in each other’s churches. Dan Southerland wrote a book called Transitioning, and it has a chapter all about resisters. A church is to encourage them to leave, and if they do not leave, the church is then to boot them.
So, leaving a church may seem like a cop out, a whimpy thing to do. Trust me, as a person who has left, it’s not easy. It feels like divorce (as a child of divorce, I know it’s horrible). It’s a death. It was painful. We did not want to do it. We looked though at our options. One option was to stop pointing out the errors in teaching and continue as we had been, with kids we needed to teach truth to, this was NOT a good option. The next option was to stay and fight. We had no outside help in this. We were somewhat unsure as to the right way to proceed. The pastor helping us was put in an awkward position, we were actually worried for him. Then we also wondered, “was there a good cop/bad cop situation with the pastors?” We didn’t know if we could trust him, which was sad. We did learn though in the long run we could have trusted him. He’s since been let go from our former church and is out of a job. We had no real help from elders, they just denied the problems and deflected. The lead pastor denied and then belittled us. He was agressive in approach and intimidating. Final option, leave and take our kids to a church that taught the bible plainly with no flash. That’s the option we went for.
In reality, if we had no children, we might have stayed and fought. We didn’t want to fight in our church, but that’s what we felt we would have had to do. I realize there is another option. Stay and pray. Well, we decided to pray throughout our process, and we decided to leave and pray. We were not sinless in this process, we were not perfect, but we had been under poor teaching and therefore, had little guidance as to the best course of action. We didn’t know much in the way of dealing with false teaching and how to handle it in your church especially coming from the leaders.
So we did what we thought was best. We left.