Not another "When can you leave a church?" thread

Discussion in 'The Pilgrims Progress' started by Joseph Knowles, Nov 13, 2018.

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  1. Joseph Knowles

    Joseph Knowles Puritan Board Freshman

    Hello all, this will be my first post here. I've already searched the forums for threads on this topic and found several that were helpful, but I'm hoping (for anyone who slogs through the wall of text below) that there's still helpful advice to be had.

    I currently attend and serve as a deacon at a fairly typical, medium-sized Southern Baptist church. It was under the preaching of our previous senior pastor (who left a little over three years ago) that I came to understand and accept the doctrines of grace. He is a Calvinist (though not totally reformed in his theology), but never made a big, public issue out of it (although I came to realize later that that was exactly what he had been preaching for years without calling it by that name). Despite that clear and consistent teaching, I can probably still fit all of the Calvinist/reformed-leaning folks at my church around my dining room table (I suspect the vast majority of members don't give the issue much thought one way or the other).

    Until the last couple of months (despite my distinct theological minority status), I have never felt more than an inkling that I might be called to leave my current church. I've been serving and teaching there for ten years and it's where the Lord has helped me grow tremendously. After a long vacancy, the church received a new senior pastor (actually, the only full-time, paid staff pastor, where we once had five). From the outset he has made it clear that he is "not a Calvinist" (and he said exactly those words at a Q&A session prior to the church's vote). I more or less expected that, given some of the people who formed the search team (not that I think they did anything wrong). He also made clear that he is a committed Dispensationalist, naming Clarence Larkin's Dispensational Truth as one of the books that most influenced him.

    It's not that I think theological disagreements like that are cause to cut and run next week. After all, we had a Calvinist pastor (more than one, in fact) in a majority non-Calvinist church for years, and there was no mass exodus of people when the shoe was on the other foot. The new pastor is preaching the true Gospel; if I thought otherwise I wouldn't have made this thread because it would already be settled. Still, I worry (sometimes sinfully, I'm sure) that it will one day come to the point where disagreements on theology (and secondary issues like alcohol, translations of the Bible, etc.) come to a head.

    Now that I type it all out, I realize that I very well may be getting ahead of myself with all of this. If he never insists I agree with him on a particular issue as a condition of my continued service in teaching or leadership positions or if his sermons are never such that I have to spend time carefully re-teaching my children at home, then I've been worrying about nothing.

    So I guess where I'm struggling is what to do about that in the mean time. Pray, of course, and I have been (and asked one or two other trusted brothers to do the same). But what (if anything) should I talk to the new pastor about before it becomes an issue? He's been pastoring since I was in elementary school, so the prospect of changing his mind seems extremely remote. Would it even be wise to approach him with anything like this so soon after he's started at a new church? On some issues, given his background and hints from sermons, I think I have a fairly good idea of where he stands, but it doesn't seem fair to approach him with anything based on merely my own assumptions. For instance, for whatever reason, the thought of asking him to lay out his position on Christian liberty and the consumption of alcohol before he's had the chance to address it from the pulpit (he alluded to doing so recently) make me uncomfortable.

    I know I've probably rambled a bit, but I think part of that is just confusion on my part about what it is exactly that I'm facing and how I should view the whole situation. I don't want to cause division in my church. I hesitate to even post this thread because I don't want to just be complaining rather than seeking counsel from fellow believers.

    Can you all help me think and pray through this? Has anyone been through anything similar?

  2. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    What is your present location?
  3. Joseph Knowles

    Joseph Knowles Puritan Board Freshman

    I'm in southeast Virginia.
  4. John Yap

    John Yap Puritan Board Freshman

    I speak from a "if I was in your shoes position. " But I would find a confessional church. Painful and sacrifices to be made but it may be the start of you starting and raising a family within the confessional heritage and not be in a church where doctrine changes every generation according to whoever the pastor is.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  5. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    I am really not trying to be overly simplistic toward your dilemma here, but if Spurgeon was right—and I believe he was—then your new Arminian pastor neither believes nor preaches the pure gospel. It doesn’t mean he isn’t saved, but, make no mistake, his gospel is not pure.

    Dispensationalism isn’t harmless, either.
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  6. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    So far as to leaving, there is the possibility that the church you jump to may have the exact situation in the future you are experiencing now. You are in a tough situation so far as being a SB. One thing I have learned is that if you differ from the Pastor in theological understanding is that your family will be less likely to follow your lead when the professional (Pastor) differs from your convictions. Now if you jump to a Reformed congregation, be it Calvinistic or Presbyterian, I for see less possible complications in the future on the issues of alcohol and the doctrines of grace.
  7. Joseph Knowles

    Joseph Knowles Puritan Board Freshman

    Just after my church voted to bring the new pastor on, I requested a handful of pamphlets from Chapel Library (perhaps I was relapsing into cage-stage for a day or two), one of which happened to be Spurgeon's "Defense of Calvinism." So I know exactly what you mean.
  8. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Junior

    It's hard to imagine how Dispensationalism and Arminianism won't do any harm.
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  9. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    We should not leave a church lightly. But sometimes a pastoral change, especially if it brings a change in the church's core teaching, is an event that makes it easier to leave peaceably. You can say, "I sense the church changing at this moment, and we are no longer such a good fit. Perhaps this is also a good time for me to make a transition that will make everyone happier in the long run."

    This doesn't necessarily mean you should go. No doubt, there are many factors to consider. But I do think a move that coincides with a pastoral change is easier than a move you might make sometime down the road, seemingly out of the blue.
  10. lynnie

    lynnie Puritan Board Senior

    I am really sorry brother, and it is heart wrenching to go through these things.

    The Calvinism thing I would see as a deal breaker. depends. I've been three years in a quasi Dispensational church and the pastor has never mentioned the subject mainly because he is so Calvinist that he admits the Covenantals have some very good points and it is not a doctrinal essential for fellowship. (he likes MacArthur who is Dispensational Calvinist). And he'll be the first one to say that salvation has always been by grace through faith, OT or NT. But then you get the Dispensationalists that can't go a week without talking about the pretrib rapture, and the Jews today are the chosen people.

    The following is a quote from a John Piper biography sermon about Machen, which I think expresses clearly why Calvinism is of paramount importance:

    In 1909, at the 400th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth, Warfield gave an address that stirred Machen to the depths. Warfield made plea that the Reformed faith – Calvinism – is not a species of Christian theism alongside others, but is Christianity come to full flower.

    Calvinism is not a specific variety of theistic thought, religious experience, [or] evangelical faith; but just the perfect manifestation of these things. The difference between it and other forms of theism, religion, [and] evangelicalism is difference not of kind but of degree. . . . it does not take its position then by the side of other types of things; it takes its place over all else that claims to be these things, as embodying all that they ought to be.23

    So he says Lutheranism is “its sister type of Protestantism” and Arminianism is “its own rebellious daughter.”24 Calvinism’s grasp of the supremacy of God in all of life enabled Machen to see that other forms of evangelicalism were all stages of grasping God which are yet in process of coming to a full and pure appreciation of his total God-centeredness.

    What this came to mean for Machen was that his mission in defense of supernaturalistic Calvinism was nothing more or less than the defense of the Christian faith in its purest form.
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  11. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior


    As others here have counseled, you should have doctrinal concerns with the new pastoral situation. I find it odd, frankly, that you seem (at least twice in the post) to focus more on minor issues (drinking?) than on theology.

    My concern would be over whether the preacher properly understands that "salvation is of the Lord," and not over his views on alcohol. Spurgeon called Calvinism "a nickname for the gospel." That's what you should concern yourself with primarily.

    I am not directly advising here (as there are many factors involved in leaving a church; you need input in that regard at a personal level), but helping you to clarify what it is that your focus should be.

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  12. JimmyH

    JimmyH Puritan Board Junior

    I had been a member of an SBC congregation for a few years, participated in a weekly Bible study, and attended every Lord's day. Was friends with the pastor, and many other members. He was a dispensationalist and Arminian.
    We had some debate about his positions versus my Calvinist convictions, but I wasn't going to change his mind, nor was he going to change mine. I became more and more disenchanted with this as I grew in my theological knowledge after joining this board.
    Eventually I did some research and found that there was an OPC congregation not far from me. I reached out to the pastor there and discussed my issues. He invited me to come and test the waters. It was like a breath of fresh air to hear Reformed doctrine versus what I had been exposed to.
    I invited my SBC pastor out for coffee and told him I was leaving to go with the OPC congregation. This was not easy because I had, as noted, many friends there. Still, it was the better choice and I've been a member of this OPC congregation for a number of years now.
    Each situation is different but in my case it was the right decision. See what your options are for a Reformed congregation in your area. If you have a viable option pray for the Spirit's leading and discuss it with your family.
  13. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    It is my personal experience that once one is exposed to the true, pure, gospel, which I believe is best set forth in the system we call "calvinism" - it will be impossible to stay at an arminian church. I stayed for a while, and eventually just couldn't stand it any longer. I was like a cat that was being petted backwards.
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  14. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    That you have a family makes the situation more urgent. It is one thing to remain a part of a church by oneself when one knows how to separate the wheat from the chaff. It's quite another to have your wife and children sit under teachings that subvert the Gospel and to subject them to idolatrous practices--even if these things are not happening openly. And if they are not happening openly, I cannot fathom how the pastor could be preaching the whole counsel of God as the Arminian-Calvinist fault line lies so near the blessed gospel truth that it cannot be so easily sidestepped.

    I stayed in a generic, evangelical community church that sounds much like yours for years as a single man. Once I was married I believed that I had a duty to her and to our future children to find a church where the gospel is preached and God is worshiped purely (or as much as is realistic on this side of heaven). Even years later as we sought to relocate for work that was our primary guiding principle.

    All of this is assuming you have more faithful churches around you that are practical options, of course.
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  15. Paul1976

    Paul1976 Puritan Board Freshman

    I think there is a lot of solid advice in the posts above to consider. Perhaps another consideration is what the church you attend needs from you. Paul compares the church to a body composed of many members. A member of a body is nearly useless on its own, and a body is not whole when missing a member. It sounds like the church you attend has few members with doctrinal depth (you stated you know few who even know what Calvinism and Arminianism actually are). If you were to stay, there may be the opportunity to teach. You don't need to be overtly Calvinistic to awaken a hunger for doctrinal depth. I don't know if I would even know what reformed theology was if a pastor in a former church (who was Reformed, but "in the closet" about it) encouraged me to read what he called "books about God" rather than the lighter books I was accustomed to. Desiring God blew my mind. I was still far from reformed after reading it, but I had a taste for a God who was much greater and a faith that was so much more than trying to do the right thing on my own power. There are many examples, but looking to John Piper's ministry (especially his earlier ministry - we started in a church much like yours - I have the impression the elders had no idea what a Calvinist was when they hired him) may be a way to see how someone can teach solid theology (with a Calvinist foundation) in a church where there isn't good doctrinal depth. Most (if not all) of the people in that church need to hear the theology, although (if they are like me) they will take time to warm up to it.

    I would urge you to make the question "what does this church need from me?" part of your decision process. If everyone were to leave doctrinally poor churches where the appetite for even milk is weak, few there will get a taste of meat that awakens a hunger for more.

    Some thoughts: Your church sounds small, and you're in leadership. Can you meet with your pastor occasionally and get to know him better? Might he agree to read through a Calvinistic book with you and discuss it?

    If you were to openly teach (small group, Sunday school) from a Calvinistic perspective, would it be tolerated. I'm not saying teaching the five points specifically, but where the church knows you're interpreting books of the Bible from a Reformed perspective?

    Is there a possibility of moving to Elder at some point, where you would have more opportunity to influence the directions the church goes? Or, would the church leadership see the above as divisive? Might it cause more harm than good. Perhaps seeing how the church leadership responds to doctrinally-centered teaching as opposed to the man-centered teaching so prevalent today may be a way to test whether you could positively influence a church that has drifted from its historic roots in SBC theology, or whether it is so far from that theology it will no longer tolerate it.

    If there are avenues where you could peaceably and in a loving fashion teach faithfully to scripture (ie, from a reformed perspective), I'm sure there are many like I was 20 years ago who have no idea what they are missing, but need to have a hunger for it awakened.

    I realize you have to balance this with the needs of your family to be fed as well as your needs.

    Personally, I had to make a similar decision regarding my previous church. The problem wasn't so much bad doctrine as virtually no doctrine and an attitude. Here is a quote "But my experience in dealing with people on a daily basis is that deeper is not needed nearly as much as follow through. I'm amazed at the number of Bible scholars who fail to live out the basic teachings of Jesus." The problem is that Christian follow-through FLOWS from a deeper understanding Christian doctrine (i.e., the gospel). Much of the modern church teaching is trying to bypass this and go straight to the "follow-through." The conclusion I reached from several long conversations trying to convince my pastor of this was that he was not going to understand the difference or reverse the slide towards moral teaching from theological teaching that was happening. That convinced me to leave. I know I'm delighted to be in a reformed congregation and able to learn and discuss theology more deeply, and I know it's good for my family. However, I am still unsure what kind of difference I could have made had I stayed.

    I'm praying for you.
  16. Rutherglen1794

    Rutherglen1794 Puritan Board Sophomore

  17. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    It seems to me, given your posts, affirmation of the LBCF, and your blog, that your current situation is readily resolved by finding a church more aligned with what you hold dear. Your current church is not your personal "mission field" so any hopes of reforming them would be imprudent at best.

    Much of dispensationalism and Arminianism is rife with actual intellectual idolatry. One can go off worshipping these intellectual idols at their temporal and eternal peril.

    Submitting oneself to church authority when it is clear that you do not accept the stated (or unstated) doctrinal positions of the leadership of the church outweighs any notions of "keeping the peace." There is, in fact, no peace permitted in instances where the essentials of the faith are in question.

    The matter, to me, seems to be "when" not "if" you should depart.
  18. Ben Zartman

    Ben Zartman Puritan Board Freshman

    Having been in the situation where I could maybe influence an apostatizing church for good, and knowing several others who have been in the same situation, I can testify that rather than you doing them good, they will be doing you evil. And if your family is exposed to uncareful, decisionistic teaching, who knows what error they will pick up?
    Lot probably thought he could be a good influence on Sodom and Gomorha; in the end all he got was vexed, lost his wife, and was abused by his daughters.
    A house divided against itself cannot stand--what if you became an elder with huge rifts in theology separating you from the other elder? There would be mass confusion among the people. Far better to get out as soon as you can. Your real friends will still be so: I can testify to this. You may even be able to remain on good terms with the pastor, which will almost certainly not happen if you teach at odds with his theology.
  19. OPC'n

    OPC'n Puritan Board Doctor

    "The preacher isn't a Calvinist and he's preaching against alcohol! I'm outta here!" That's what flew through my brain when I read your post. I needed a good laugh. :D
  20. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    *ain't ;)
  21. Joseph Knowles

    Joseph Knowles Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks, Alan. I agree that fundamental theological issues should be my focus rather than minor issues like alcohol so I definitely appreciate the reminder and the encouragement on that point. I think this probably popped into my head as an example because the new pastor has alluded it to it in sermons at least twice already (although he hasn’t laid out any position yet).
  22. Joseph Knowles

    Joseph Knowles Puritan Board Freshman

  23. Joseph Knowles

    Joseph Knowles Puritan Board Freshman

    Looking back at my post I can see it, but I REALLY didn’t mean for it to come across that way. Glad to add some (unintentional) levity to the room!
  24. Joseph Knowles

    Joseph Knowles Puritan Board Freshman

    You gave me some great questions to ask and pray over! Thanks for that and your prayers are much appreciated.
  25. TheInquirer

    TheInquirer Puritan Board Freshman

    I agree with what has been said. I would probably start looking for other churches in the area. If you are in a teaching position in the church, you will definitely come into conflict with the new pastor at some point. Hopefully you can listen to some sermons online if you don't want to be gone every Sunday looking around.
  26. sc_q_jayce

    sc_q_jayce Puritan Board Freshman

    Either way of the decision you make, it would be good to talk with the pastor and express your concerns. Regardless of his doctrinal position, you as a deacon should do him the courtesy of this much. Tell him your concerns and what your current options are.

    He may make the decision easy for you by saying something along the lines of "maybe this church isn't a good fit for you" and maybe they'll even send you away with their blessing! Of course, he may ostracize you and put the church at odds with you - again, the decision is made easy though painful.

    He may request for you to stay. That makes things harder. You'll need to think carefully about what everyone else here has said and measure the cost of leaving versus the cost of staying. There's always a cost! But sometimes it is worth it to leave. Sometimes it is worth it to stay... even if it's just for another year. Either way, don't go about it in a wishy-washy fashion. Indecision can be worse than either decision in this kind of scenario as it speaks much to your family.
  27. Joseph Knowles

    Joseph Knowles Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks to everyone for your thoughts, insights, admonishments, and encouragements. I didn't come here to try to get a bunch of strangers on the internet to give me cover to just jump ship from my church at the next opportunity. Even with my little bit of experience with these boards I didn't expect that, but neither would I want to give anyone (even a bunch of strangers on the internet) the impression that that's what I was after. I have a lot to think about and a lot to pray about and if anyone is gracious enough to make time to pray for me and my church know that those prayers will be greatly appreciated.
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