Divorce in the church is a serious problem, but not likely in the sense that first comes to mind. God hates divorce–in marriage and in the church.
Closer than Siblings
At the end of our Sunday evening meetings, our church family has the opportunity to corporately share their praises and thankfulness to the Lord. Last night a young couple announced their engagement. We knew it was coming soon, but that didn’t dampen our joy.
Then, like we do every Sunday night, we all enjoyed dinner and fellowship together.
Scripture tells us that the early church had “all things in common.” It was not merely a cultural distinctive or a sign of the times. The early church was a blueprint and a picture of what today’s church should look like.
The relationships inside a local assembly of believers should be as close, loving, affectionate, supportive, and strong as the healthy relationships between any loving group of biological siblings. Because of the common bond of Christ, relationships among Christians should be even stronger than relationships with unsaved, biological family members.
God Hates Divorce in the Church
With that kind of closeness, because of the inherent sinfulness of all involved, there will be difficult times. When those difficult times come in a local assembly of believers the wrong response, just as in a biological family, is to divorce or otherwise abandon the family. God hates divorce between a husband and wife. I think He also hates divorce within the context of the local church.
For too many professing Christians, the local church is something they *do*, someplace they *go*, and not who they *are.* Their commitment is only as deep as the temporal benefits they derive from *attending* the church. They will *quit* a church for reasons they would never dream of quitting their biological family.
The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (the confession to which my church subscribes), in Chapter 26, Paragraph 13, states the following:
“No church members, upon any offence [sic] taken by them, having performed their duty required of them towards the person they are offended at, ought to disturb any church-order, or absent themselves from the assemblies of the church, or administration of any ordinances, upon the account of such offence [sic] at any of their fellow members, but to wait upon Christ, in the further proceeding of the church” (Matthew 18:15-17; Ephesians 4:2-3).
The leading cause of divorce in and from the local church is likely “personal offense.” Someone did something or said something, or didn’t do something or say something, and a personal offense was taken. Instead of doing the sometimes heavy lifting of reconciling with those who have hurt us or with those we have hurt, some people will choose to leave the church. Considering the sinful flesh in which every presently-bound-to-earth Christian dwells, remaining offended is easier than reconciliation.
But God never promised us easy, brethren.
Reasons People Divorce Churches
After a comprehensive look at the New Testament, one will not find a laundry list of reasons for leaving a local church. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find more than three: being sent out by the church (church planting, missions, mutual agreement–including for reasons not always missional, etc), excommunication, or death.
- Being Sent: Acts 9:23-25, 30; 11:19, 25; 13:2; 15:22-29; Phill 2:19, 25, 28; Titus 3:12
- Excommunication: Matthew 15:18-17; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11
- Death: Acts 5: 1-11; 1 Corinthians 15:6, 20; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16
If an American Evangelical Confession of Faith existed, it would likely significantly add to the biblical list of three. Such a confession of faith might include the following justifiable reasons for divorcing a local assembly:
- Style or type of music
- Style or type of teaching
- Length of sermons (too long or too short)
- Dissatisfied with Children’s Ministry
- Dissatisfied with Youth Ministry
- Dissatisfied with Young Adult Ministry
- The church doesn’t have Children’s, Youth, or Young Adult ministries
- Too much emphasis on certain secondary theological issues
- Not enough emphasis on certain secondary theological issues
- Too many homeschoolers
- Not enough homeschoolers
- Too political
- Not political enough
- Too patriotic
- Not patriotic enough
- Too much personal accountability
- Not enough personal accountability
- Conflict with people in the church
- Want a church closer to home
- Not enough people who look like me
- Not enough people who think like me
- Not enough people who act like me
- Too much emphasis on evangelism
- Not enough emphasis on evangelism
- Doesn’t have an abortuary ministry
- Has an abortuary ministry
- Pastors won’t support my self-anointed call to open-air preach
- Pastors won’t let me/support me (fill in the blank)
Of course, the above is NOT an exhaustive list. Isn’t that sad?
The reasons listed above are some of the actual reasons people have given for leaving churches. Sadly, some of them have been my own.
The Church is not Built with a Revolving Door
God did not create the human family with a revolving door through which family members can simply come and go, join and quit, marry and divorce as they please. Neither did God create the Church, comprised of local assemblies, with a revolving door.
What if a visitor walks into your church building this Sunday, strides up to the pulpit, and announces he is now a member of the church? Would he be considered a member? Would he be given all of the rights and privileges of membership?
Of course not.
Yet many professing Christians, particularly in America and the wider western civilization, think they can quit a church, divorce a church family whenever they want for whatever reason they deem sufficient. Most would never assume the autonomy or authority to make themselves a member of a local assembly. But most would assert the autonomy and authority to divorce a local assembly.
I understand what I just suggested is counter-intuitive to what is acceptable and practiced in western church culture. I understand it is counter-intuitive to the American Evangelical way of thinking–a way of thinking (whether or not American Christians will admit it) that gives autonomy, independence, and even authority to the individual when it comes to leaving or divorcing a local church. While what I’ve put forward in this article might be counter-intuitive to some, it is not unbiblical.
Something to think about.
In the meantime, love your church family.
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