Jimmy Buehler: Welcome to the members’ podcast. We’re continuing our conversation about the idea of when is it right and good to leave a church and to find a new church. Before we get into that conversation again, we just want to say thank you to you and your support. Your kindness and generosity is really helping other people to rest in Christ.
Jon sends us emails that we get where people are so grateful and thankful for the resources that we’re putting out there. We want to say thank you for your love and your support. We hope that you like these members’ podcasts. We like them. They get a little saucy sometimes but that’s just who we are.
So Jon, we’re continuing this conversation. What are some primary and secondary issues that you would point out in leaving a church?
Jon Moffitt: Those are tough. I would say that you can’t move on any of the things that have to do with the nature of God, the nature of salvation, and the nature of the church. So nature of God, the Trinity, the triunity of God – I would say anything that’s going to counteract the creeds. You can’t mess with that. Nature of salvation – this is primary in that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. If you’re not in what I would say a Calvinistic church, I would say that’s probably a secondary issue. If we agree that we are saved by faith alone through Christ alone, and then we may disagree on how that actually happens, it depends on how much they are pressing you on the free will side of it. Because that will mess with your assurance and that can absolutely mess with how ministry is done. But if they would not call themselves a Calvinistic church, that possibly could be a secondary issue. Again, it depends on how the church is handling that.
When it comes down to the nature of the church, I believe that according to Scripture, the primary issues of the church is that it needs to be elder-led and those elders need to be men. Also, that there is a membership there and there’s church discipline. I think that if a church isn’t willing to enact or to discipline, that’s a primary issue that could be reflective of some other issues within doctrinally. Broadly speaking, I would say that it’s the nature of God, the nature of the gospel, and the nature of the church.
Jimmy Buehler: Some other secondary issues is that you don’t necessarily need to die on a hill is church size. There are large churches that care for their people and there are small churches that do not care for their people. There are small churches that care for their people well and large churches that do not care for their people. If you’re part of a large church, I don’t think it’s fair for you to just go to your leadership and say, “Our church is too big. Nobody knows each other. I’m leaving. You guys have no idea what church is.” I just don’t think that’s fair and helpful and it’s probably not necessarily true. I’ve attended both large and small churches and been cared for in both contexts. Did I know everybody in the large church? No. Are there issues and unique problems that arise out of that? Absolutely. But in the same way, there are a lot of issues that arise in small churches. So I would say that that’s a secondary issue.
Just to reiterate what Jon said, I think some of the primary issues are if you don’t hear the gospel week in and week out – that is a massive thing that you need to consider. When I say you don’t hear the gospel, here’s what I mean and don’t mean: if someone says they’re a preacher of the gospel, that doesn’t mean they preach an obscure sermon from an obscure text and give you obscure facts, and then just tack on a gospel invitation on the end. They just say that if you’d like to accept Jesus, you can come forward. That is not a gospel preacher. That is not a gospel presentation. When we say a preacher of the gospel, we mean literally a preacher of good news. Someone who is going to herald Christ and him crucified from the entire Bible, regardless of what text you’re preaching. You are going to point to the grace and mercy found in Christ alone, crucified for sinners. That is a gospel preacher. If each week you are being pointed to how you can better improve yourself through 10 or 12 steps, I think that’s a primary issue because the Bible is being used for life improvement and not for heralding Christ.
Jon Moffitt: That’s a sticky one. You’re talking about a hermeneutic approach. You’re talking about an interpretive model approach where we understand that it is a story about Jesus Christ from beginning to end, and it should lead you to faith in Christ – that is the primary mission of the scripture and preaching. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things for us to do – of course there are things for us to do. Whereas that normally is flipped in that the primary mission of preaching is to get people to do things and it’s moral improvement. I think that is a primary issue. You are going to have a hard time receiving Christ if all you’re receiving is Law and not gospel.
Jimmy Buehler: I want to throw another bomb. Let’s move on to some greater nuanced primary and secondary issues. A nuanced primary issue is sanctification – how we view and how we understand how sanctification occurs in this life. I think this is a primary issue for me. If I wasn’t a pastor and I was going to a church, this would probably be one of my questions. If we started to attend a church and the pastor wanted to get together, I think one of the questions I would ask is how is the Christian is sanctified in this life? That would be a primary issue for me. The reason why that would be a primary issue for me is because it would show me how they view the Christian life and how they view the Holy Spirit. It would show me how they view the Scriptures. If their answer were something like it’s a mixture of God’s work and our work, I would go, “Okay, thanks for lunch. This has been great. I’m going to leave.”
A nuanced secondary issue for me would be something along the lines of philosophy of ministry. If they didn’t use the terms “ordinary means of grace” but still practice them, I could be cool with that. If they have a youth group and a kid’s ministry in ways that maybe I wouldn’t do it, but they still herald Christ and him crucified, I can get on board with that.
Jon, what would you are some nuanced primary and secondaries?
Jon Moffitt: It’s hard to lump this in, but I would say a large section of the evangelical churches in the United States and around the world view sanctification as the work of man. They put that pressure on you that you must be doing your part to progress as a Christian. If you’re new to Theocast and you say, “The Bible says sanctify yourselves,” yes, we do believe in the mortification of the flesh.
Sanctify means to set apart. In that section, he isn’t talking about progress into the image of Christ; he is talking about separating yourself from the attitude and the actions of the world. Please see the difference there. But the way in which God transforms us into his image from one degree of glory to another is always through the ordinary means of grace and always through the work of the Spirit. It is a monergistic work of the Spirit, and not a work of the flesh. It’s going to be very hard to not be discouraged and beat down by the Law if you’re in a context where they tell you to discipline yourself for the sake of growing spiritually, and present you with the means by which you are to do that. That’s probably a primary means by which I would find it hard for me to be in.
I hold to the 1689 London Baptist Confession. I’m convinced in this area. I have studied Lutheranism and I have studied the Presbyterian perspective. I love and respect them obviously because we have them and recommend them all of the time. When it comes to the primary issues, we agree with all of them. We agree with the Presbyterians and we agree with the Lutherans on how one is saved and sanctified – primary issues. Now on the secondary issues about the church, government, and baptism, we do disagree. Jimmy and I had this conversation beforehand. If I was not a pastor and I needed to provide a healthy context for my church, and the only context where I had my job was an Orthodox Presbyterian Church that heralded the gospel and understood sanctification appropriately, and where I could take of the means of grace, I would go there. Even in some circumstances, as Jimmy and I talked about, there are some Lutheran churches that would fit that context – but not all, just so we’re clear. Lutherans, Presbyterians, and 1689ers don’t all agree on ordinary means of grace and sanctification.
Jimmy Buehler: Not all confessional churches are created equal.
I do want to caution against that. Don’t just assume that if a church is a 1689 church, they must be awesome. They must be just like these guys. That’s probably not necessarily true. The same would go for Lutherans as well as Presbyterians and even Anglicans.
Maybe some healthy questions to ask. If you’re meeting with a new church or if you’re going to a new church, make yourself known to the pastor and the leadership of the church as quickly as you can. Make yourself known and say this is who we are. We’re new. We’re considering worshiping here. Just be real. Save yourself a lot of time and have a conversation early. Sit down with that pastor and tell him your context and your history, tell him where you’re coming from, and where your theological bents are. I would ask a ton of questions; ask about the pulse of the congregation, ask about expectations that will be had upon you as a new member. Be clear with those things. Church is serious, right? We don’t want to over-spiritualize it, but at the same time, we don’t want to completely pragmatize it at the same time. We want to find that good and healthy balance. I know a lot of people don’t like that word, but there it is. We want to find that good and healthy balance where we want to say, “If I’m going to unite myself and my family to this body of faith, I do want to take it seriously.” I would want to ask a lot of questions. I would want to consider the health and the spirituality of this church before I dive in.
Jon Moffitt: I just sat down with the new family that’s going to be joining our church and they ask great questions. They asked what church membership looks like, what it entails, and they asked about my view on church discipline. Those were great questions. Then they asked what the church is, and what children’s ministry look like here. They wanted to know whether their kids are going to be programmed or are they going to be catechized? I thought those were really great and helpful questions. Those would be the questions that I would ask if I had to go somewhere.
Now, the benefit of the Internet is that a lot of these questions can be answered ahead of time. So you may want to try and answer those and come with maybe one or two questions that you can’t find answers on. Do the research before.
Jimmy Buehler: As we wrap this up, I think the big things that we want to emphasize are being charitable. If you’re leaving a context, be charitable, be gracious, be kind, and do everything you can to be peaceable. Sometimes that may not be possible. You may need to leave because there is a sharp disagreement. You can be peaceful – you don’t have to be a jerk – but there could be some sharp discord there and sometimes you just have to let those chips fall where they may. But do everything you can to be kind, gracious, and generous as you’re looking for a new church. We would say before you leave a church, you should perhaps have a different one in mind. Be open, be honest, be gracious, be kind there, and realize that if you’re planning on just being a member, you’re probably going to have to plug your nose on a few things and partner.
This was something that was hammered to me when I was in college: when you’re a church member, be a joy to your pastor. I cannot emphasize that enough. Be a joy to lead and be a joy to shepherd. The last thing you want is your shepherds to pastor and shepherd you out of compulsion because they must. That is not going to benefit you or them or the greater body. Be a joy to lead.
Jon Moffitt: Absolutely. If you are leaving a church because you disagree on their view of sanctification, I think you can say it graciously. Just say, “We don’t really agree with this emphasis. This is not a criticism of you. We don’t think you’re heretical or you’re in sin. We just feel like it’s best for our context if we have a church that we can agree with on how the believer grows in Christ or how they use the means of grace.”
Jimmy Buehler: We want to say thank you again to you members who make this possible. We hope this conversation is beneficial to you. Again, be on the lookout for our new primer, Safe in Christ: A Primer On Assurance. We look forward to you getting that in your hands and passing that along to your friends. Be sure to share this episode with others if you feel like it would benefit them.
Again, we love you. We’re grateful for your generosity and support. We look forward to talking again.