Disclaimer: Before I begin, I just want to warn you that this will be controversial, and I expect it will ruffle some feathers. If you think I’m writing this directly at you personally, I’m not. I never do that. If you think I’m wrong on this issue, or I’m looking at this the wrong way, feedback is always welcome. 🙂
Also note that I’m talking about people that have been in a church for years and have developed healthy, close friendships with believers that are earnestly trying to follow God the best they can – there are definite reasons to leave a church (heresy, rampant hypocrisy, etc.), which I have written about in the past. I’m assuming that none of that is going on.
Finally, I’m not writing about someone who just moved to an area and is looking for a church – obviously in that scenario, you want to find a place that is really seeking after God. I’m talking about people who have been at a church for years.
What’s one of the major things, if not the major thing dividing and splitting churches today? What has caused tremendous amounts of pain and hurt throughout the centuries, and possibly has done more harm to the church than any external attack on it? What has been a prime example of doing the wrong thing for what at least seems to be the right reason? If you said “convictions”, you’re absolutely right.
Convictions, at the core, are essential to the Christian’s life. What is a conviction? According to the dictionary, it is a firm or strong belief. It’s saying that “x” is right and “y” is wrong, or is affirming a doctrine, like saying that Jesus Christ is the eternally begotten Son of God. All that is good.
However, not all convictions are equal. For example, the conviction that Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of God is different than the conviction that drinking alcohol is wrong. Some are universal and define Christianity – for example, I will not attend a church that believes there are other ways to God outside of Christianity. The Bible is explicit in the universals that are essential to Christianity. Other convictions are not universal – they are not explicitly defined in the Bible. In fact, most aren’t. For example, if someone has come out of an addiction to alcohol, and is trying to live a pure life before God, to him, drinking alcohol is wrong. To others, who have never had that issue (say people in France), then drinking alcohol is perfectly OK. I know people who believe it is wrong for girls to wear anything other than dresses – although I disagree with their conviction, I respect them for sticking to their convictions and earnestly doing their best to follow God. I won’t make fun of them, mock them, or judge them – maybe they know something I don’t. Maybe I’m in the wrong for believing differently. For the sake of this editorial, I’m writing about personal convictions, not universal ones.
However, the trouble comes when we apply personal convictions that should remain personal to others. For example, it would be like someone leaving a church because their personal conviction is that dancing is sinful and one Sunday, someone danced onstage (and I’m assuming here that the dancer was wearing modest clothing and not doing anything immodest). They apply their conviction to others, and that’s where the problems start
Now we come to the core of it – pride. A lot of times people leave a church is because of their pride. Oh, they disguise it in Christianese: “we have to leave because of our convictions”, but when it comes down to it, it’s saying that “my personal beliefs about ‘x’ are so important that it is essential that I forever alter my relationships with my local family of God, cause immeasurable pain and suffering to my close church friends I’m leaving, and abandon efforts to help my fellow brothers in their walks with God, in order to go to a church that more fully agrees with my personal convictions”*. That, my friends is pride. Pure, unadulterated, pride. It’s caring more for yourselves than your fellow brothers. If your church is struggling, help it. Do something. Go through the fire with your fellow brothers in Christ. Aren’t your fellow believers worth helping? Who cares if you don’t agree with some on the minor issues? Who cares if you don’t agree with the “direction the church is going” (a very nebulous thing nearly everyone says when they leave a church)? Aren’t your close friends, whom you’ve known for years, worth standing by and fighting side by side for the truth? Why cause them immeasurable pain and suffering, while they’re already struggling with their local church? It’s like stabbing your friend in the back while he’s fighting an enemy – it only weakens him and causes more needless pain and suffering.
But, no. We want the easy life. We want a place where we can go to every Sunday, where we don’t have to worry about living in unity – if everyone believes the same things we do, then we’re automatically unified. It’s easy. Going to a place where people don’t believe all the finer points of doctrine you do makes it harder to get along with them. We don’t like struggle. We want a place where our family can be isolated from disagreements and issues that we’re uncomfortable with. We don’t have to worry about Christ’s command to love our fellow brother and live in harmony – if we agree with everyone around us all the time, it’s a piece of cake!
So, we tend to isolate ourselves in our little groups – the homeschoolers with the homeschoolers, the Baptists with the Baptists, the Armenians with the Armenians, the Calvinists with the Calvinists, etc. If a church suddenly goes in a direction that doesn’t agree with our personal convictions, we immediately start looking elsewhere. We fight and bicker among ourselves about the silliest of things, and hop from church to church, staying just long enough to make close friends, and then virtually leave them in the dust when the church starts doing things that don’t agree with our “convictions”. It’s pathetic, sad, and shows to the world that we’re just like everyone else – non-Christians can get along with people who agree with them just fine. If we can’t do any better, we’re just like every other religion out there in this regard.
What exemplifies this is a church where everyone has strong convictions that they apply to those around them. You have people appointed specifically to deal with bickering and fighting – everyone has different convictions, and they evidently are so important as to disobey Christ’s command to live in harmony, that someone has to be appointed to help mediate. You have people thrown under the bus when they have a personal conviction (or lack thereof) that most of the other people in their group disagree with. Those churches have a rather high turnover rate – people streaming in because they like the strong convictions, and people streaming out because either they were deeply hurt or because they “don’t like the direction of the church”. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
I can already hear some protests:
“I would rather lose friendships than compromise my beliefs” – no one said you have to compromise your personal convictions – if there is something you believe everyone should follow, shouldn’t you help your fellow brothers come to the same understanding? If they are earnestly seeking God, and they disagree with you, maybe there’s something you’re overlooking. That statement, although it sounds noble, is actually one full of pride – it’s saying that you have arrived at the definitive answer for every single issue, and if anyone disagrees with you, they’re automatically wrong. Of course, I’m not talking about explicit black and white issues here – if someone said “either you steal this or lose my friendship”, I’d choose the latter. I’m talking about minor disagreements – what exactly defines “modest”, music styles, what type of church leadership is more “biblical”, etc.
“This church isn’t a safe place to raise my family” – see my editorial on safe vs. “safe” ( https://thebeckerreport.wordpress.com/2008/12/02/is-isolation-from-wordly-christians-good/ ). If there are child predators at your church, if rampant sin is allowed to exist unchecked, if there are openly homosexual pastors, and/or if any attempt to reform is quashed, then, yes, leave as soon as possible. If it’s a matter of differing personal convictions, teaching your kids how to live in harmony with people who believe slightly different than you on finer points of doctrine is, IMHO, essential.
*Hopefully, that is not what they purposely intend, but that’s what they’re essentially doing, whether they realize it or not. How do I know this? Sadly, from hearing from people who have gone through this tragedy, and from personal experience. 😦 😦 😦 People really haven’t a clue what they’re doing to those left behind when they leave a church due to “convictions”.