Leaving Church

Some say it is a sin for a believer not to attend a church. Some well known leaders also make it clear that any questioning of their methods is invalid if the questioner does not attend a local church – they believe that person is outside the body of Christ and so not worth listening to. Here’s a scenario put forth by Jeff McQuilkin in his blog that raises the discussion:

Say Lucy gets hurt in church, or disillusioned, or maybe just plain bored. Whatever the case, she make a decision to leave–and not just leave one church for another, but to leave the entire church system. She doesn’t renounce her faith in Christ, she just stops going to church. In the eyes of most, she is now considered “un-churched”, and she’s okay with that label, for now. But in her mind, and often the minds of others, she has rejected the notion of “church” as it has been presented to her. And the more emotional the departure, probably the more intense the sense of rejection. If Lucy was just bored, she’s just abandoned something she thinks is useless; if she got hurt, it’s going to be a stronger rejection.

But Lucy still claims to belong to Jesus. So did she really reject the church? Is she “out”?

Let’s say that over time, Lucy’s relationship with God, which continues to grow during this time, prompts her to seek out fellowship with other believers. She finds this fellowship in coffee shops, or Bible studies, or maybe even a home group. She finds community, accountability, and encouragement–all the things she had hoped to find in the church she left behind. So…again I ask: did Lucy really reject the church?

Jeff McQuilkin on April 14, 2008

7 thoughts on “Leaving Church

  1. There was a program on ABC Radio National’s Religion Report in January on a new book which has some radical interpretations of Mark’s Gospel.

    The author actually thinks that this Gospel is in many areas anti-church. It is very critical of Peter, who of course is quite enthusiastic when the pressure is off, but under pressure he splits. Peter tries to setup a church or temple to Jesus at the transfiguration – it appears more in enthusiasm than anything else. And this enthusiasm and church-building may actually be a way to keep busy and not listen to the actual words of Jesus.

    So when Christ gives him the name Peter, the rock that on which he will build the Church – it is actually a criticism. It is a reference to the stony ground of the parable – where seeds grow up quickly but then die.

    There are many Peters in the institutional church now – busily starting churches with endless energy. There are a few Pauls running the churches. Not many James’ or Johns in the church.


  2. Sorry that was a bit off on a tangent, but the point is that the institutional Church may not be all that Jesus had in mind.

  3. Thanks wazza – I’ll have a look at that article.

    I find it painful when I hear Christians dismissing other Christians for not going to the ‘right’ form of church or not going at all. Particularly when it is uses as an excuse to invalidate their opinions or experiences, or when it is implied without question that they are less Christian somehow, without knowing their heart or circumstances.

    This applies in both directions of course. There are Christians ‘out’ of the institutional church who are just as religious about their model of church, as those who criticise from within an institutional church.

    Nice when we can all acknowledge eachother’s place.

    Nonetheless, I tend to agree, for a variety of reasons, that the institutional church was certainly not all Jesus had in mind!

  4. – – – – –
    Rev 3:17-20
    You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

    I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

    Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.

    Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

    – – – – –

    How so many mis-interpret that ‘door and knock’ verse. Jesus is talking to ‘the church’ that now rejects him. May we take heed to the churches prophetic time line.
    The end is near because we prefer the clever words and entertaining sooth-sayers.

  5. “So…again I ask: did Lucy really reject the church?”

    Definitely no.

    Unfortunately language and the meaning of words changes considerably over time, and the word “church” is no exception. The greek word ecclesia means “a calling out”, “a popular meeting”, “a assembly”. In ancient times it was used in many non-religious contexts, and many leaders, including Julius Caesar, had a recognised “church”.

    Today we have come to equate church with an organisation or institution which runs meetings and programs using paid staff, or even a particular building that houses such activities.

    It was never so in the thought of Jesus or his early disciples. Read Acts and Ephesians especially. The church are indiviudals, who make up the body of Christ, whenever or where-ever they may be. We are the church of Jesus Christ only if we are found “in Him”. There are no other qualifications.

    Members of Christ’s body may be found in an instituion – But this does not make them part of church. Jesus can reach and nurture relationship with those who are members of an institution, but, more often that not, the hierarchical leadership, superficial community, pulpit teaching/preaching, empty rituals etc, etc can be an effective block to the life and work of his Spirit who “is like the wind”.

    Lucy never left the “church” if her trust and love is with Jesus. Indeed she may be persecuted/criticised by the church for doing so. And ever has it been so since Jesus walked into the temple and synagogues and stated “(I am) the way, the truth and the Life!”.

  6. Great post, Odysee. I could not agree more, particularly when it comes to ‘programmed’ churches. While still a part of an organised church, which I appreciate much of, sometimes I feel my journey with Christ is happening despite this, rather than because of it.

    Sadly, it is the shortcomings of the institution which cause me to turn to the Bible and Jesus directly – to test it – rather than a positive reaction to the institution, although it has not always been that way. The organisation has its place, but is not the way all Christians must go, particularly those of us who find our walk is frustrated by the organisation, especially if we can’t identify with its ‘vision’. The place of the organisation goes too far if it replaces the Lordship of Christ in our lives, or reduces us to hearing from our pastor rather than hearing from God.

    There is also the danger that people can assume they are part of the ‘church’ and OK as long as they are going to an organised church, doing as they are told, when in fact they may sometimes be called by God in some other area, which might even require them to give their organised church less attention. For example, if they are to make a real difference in the workplace, or their community, or in some political/social realm beyond the church.

    There is so much in this. I will post up more at some stage dealing with some of these issues.

  7. All the above are some of the reasons I get so annoyed to hear Christians who don’t attend churches getting such short shrift from those whose horizon of church only extends to the church door. The “gateway to heaven”! Ha!

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