Monday, 29 December 2014

Is There a Case for Leaving a Corrupt Church?

IT IS RATHER A TOPICAL SUBJECT RIGHT NOW – and not least in some circles of the Anglican - or ‘Episcopal’ church, as it is known in the USA. What should orthodox Christians – or orthodox churches – do when the regional or national church leadership seems set on a programme of revising ancient biblical standards that have served the church for 2,000 years?

Circumstances vary in every case; no one situation is the same as another. We are wise, then, not to criticise our friends in the Gospel if – under heavy pressure, and even persecution – they feel obliged to take leave of their church denomination and begin afresh in an alternative fellowship. When (as it is bitterly grieving to report) certain denominational leaders work strenuously to remove orthodox ministers from their posts, marching in to change the locks on their church buildings, and hacking into their computer systems – and all because of refusal to adapt to an incoming revisionist agenda – it then becomes apparent that godliness has deserted the leadership; that the Shepherds of Christ’s precious flock have turned into wolves.

In such circumstances, it is understandable that some individual church members, and indeed entire fellowships, should decide to walk away from such unholy leadership and start again. They deserve every ounce of our prayers, our love and, when appropriate, our financial support.

But there can also be a case for staying put. When the Barbarians have worked themselves into the seats of power in the church, it has to be recognised that theirs is not a power of the Spirit, but one of political manoevering only. Their power cannot last, and their message will have no momentum to fill the churches.

Further, it is our church, not theirs. To take the Church of England – a glance at its Thirty-nine Articles of Faith (situated at the back of the old Prayer Book), and a study of its creeds and ordinal, are enough to demonstrate the biblical basis of this long-standing 70-million strong international family.

We are on secure ground to be members of this – and indeed of any – historic fellowship whose forebears laid down a biblical basis for belief and ethical conduct. Only when the church hierarchy decides formally to alter the official creeds and belief frameworks, can a clear case be made for leaving. Until then, the faithful have every right to stay where they are - out-preaching and out-teaching all others in their hold upon centre-ground. Some churches may seek alternative - more trustworthy - oversight arrangements within their denomination, but such an action should never be interpreted as ‘leaving’ – but rather as enabling a fellowship to stay within its accustomed boundaries.

The revisionists would like the orthodox to leave; indeed would expect them to leave – and so occupy centre-stage for themselves. But those loyal to the Gospel can take heart from the risen Christ’s message to the church in Sardis: “Strengthen what remains and is on the point of death” (Revelation 3:2).

Perhaps, then - although there are those among the faithful who will sense a call to move out from a church whose leaders are abandoning the faith of the Scriptures - the watchword for most present-day protagonists of the Gospel may more likely echo Paul’s appeal to a younger fellow-worker:

O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your
care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing
ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some
have professed and in so doing have wandered from
the faith. Grace be with you (1 Timothy 6:20,21)

Remember John Bunyan – author of Pilgrim’s Progress - whose preaching 350 years ago brought him twelve years of prison. Faithfulness is always likely to be accompanied by adversity. Today numbers of our friends are being dispossessed of home, ministry and living. However, until that day actually arrives, true Gospel people have good reason for saying, “We’re staying put. This is our church. We won’t budge.”