A couple of years ago my church decided to leave the denomination with which it had been affiliated since its founding. I had also been part of that organization for most of my life. Therefore, it was not an easy decision for any of us.
Issues had arisen on which we felt it was necessary to take a stand. At first, we tried to fight those changes using the means available within the denomination. But when those failed, it seemed that the only option for those who believed so strongly about these matters was separation.
Fortunately, our local church was unanimous in its view, so there were no problems with division among ourselves. While it was still an emotionally tough decision to make such a break, it was also regarded as the clear course of action to take. Many of us felt like we were not leaving our denomination, but that, in a sense, our beloved denomination had already left us.
More congregations seem to be facing similar situations today, especially as some religious organizations change their stance on doctrinal issues and church standards. We’re confronted by such questions as these: Is this issue really so important? Is it worth the cost of fighting for? Can I stay and still be true to God and His Word? Would I be leaving for the right reason?
Good Christian people may come up with different answers to those questions. Some godly people may believe the Lord wants them to stay, while others, just as godly, may feel led by the Lord to leave. Each person prayerfully has to arrive at his own conclusions.
However, let me share a few suggestions for those who may find themselves facing such a dilemma.
First of all, let’s make sure that we are willing to stand up for what’s right and for our principles when needed. As we went through our experience, I was disappointed to find others in the denomination who seemed to agree as to what was right, but who were afraid to act upon their beliefs.
Secondly, let’s not be guilty of hiding our heads in the sand, thinking that it will all go away if we ignore it, or at least that it won’t affect us. Who we align ourselves with will eventually influence us to some degree.
In our situation, I also encountered good people who didn’t seem to care what was really true or whether their leaders were acting unethically or not. Let’s not put denominational loyalty above our loyalty to God and to His truth.
We also need to be certain that our motivations are pure. Are we truly standing up for principle or are we just upset over not getting our way? Are we leaving because of an important issue or simply over some secondary matter having to do with our personal preferences? Are we being courageous people of principle or are we being stubborn rebels who don’t like others telling us what we can or can’t do?
Keeping unity, maintaining a spirit of harmony, and being submissive to those in authority are important biblical principles. But the Bible also makes it clear that there are times when we are called upon to obey God rather than men and to stand for what’s right even if we have to stand alone, or even if it isn’t in harmony with those around us.
When we face these types of situations, we all need to rely on the Lord to give us wisdom and grace. Whatever decisions we make, let’s be people who are seeking to know God’s will and who will courageously follow however He leads us.
The Rev. Tony W. Elder is pastor of Wesley Community Fellowship Church. He can be reached at 770-483-3405 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.