Faith

When Is It Time to Leave a Denomination? Churches Leave the United Methodist Church

United Methodists march at the LGBT event Capital Pride Day in Washington, D.C. Photo Credit S Pakhrin

Recently, two Mississippi churches have caused quite a stir because they voted to leave the United Methodist Church.

They are following the lead of two other Mississippi churches that left in 2017, The Orchard Church (a megachurch in Tupelo) and Getwell Road Church (another large church in Southaven, a suburb of Memphis). In each case, the pastors and congregations cited differences in worldview from the leadership of the denomination. The major problems are an inability of the denomination’s leadership to condemn homosexuality as incompatible with Christian morals, some level of support for abortion, and the denial among some pastors and bishops of key doctrines such as the deity of Christ, His vicarious atonement and physical resurrection.

It seems that trouble has been brewing in the United Methodist denomination for many years, and more and more congregations have had enough of its tolerance of heterodox teaching and apathy towards behavior that God clearly condemns in His Word the Bible.

I am not Methodist, nor have I ever been one. I look at this battle from the outside looking in — simply as another Christian scratching my head over issues that seem so cut and dried. So, the United Methodist Church is going to have yet another meeting to determine what to do about homosexuality? Can’t they just read what the Bible says about it and accept that at face value?

God is not supposed to fit into my mold… in fact I’m pretty sure He breaks whatever mold I come up with. The rest of the world for millennia accepted homosexuality. You see it clearly in all of the world’s pagan religions. However, the God of the Bible does not. In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, God says that homosexuality is an abomination. Yes, I know that is part of the Law of Moses, and Christians are no longer under the civil or ceremonial aspects of the Law of Moses any longer (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Hebrews 10:8-10), but don’t those verses tell us that God way back when still had a pretty negative view towards the behavior?

Then when you read Romans 1:26-28 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 we see that the Apostle Paul (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) condemns homosexuality as immorality. And the lifestyle is not to be a part of the Christian experience. The Greek word translated “sodomites” in 1 Timothy 1:10 (NKJV) is “arsenokoites” and is the standard word for homosexual. It is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 6:9. In that passage Paul uses two different words, “arsenokoites” and “malakos” (usually translated as “male prostitutes”).

Homosexuality was such an ingrained part of Greco-Roman culture that the language had different words for different immoral behaviors. One word was just for those who had same-sex tendencies (arsenokoites), and another word was for those who made their living through same-sex temple prostitution. Both are condemned by God as immoral.

And yet, Paul tells us in the next verse “and such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” So God does indeed condemn, but also offers hope to all, including homosexuals, that they can be saved through faith in Christ and leave their immoral lifestyle.

This is the pattern throughout the Bible: God gives us difficult news, but it is Good News. He will not accept our unrepentant, stubborn sin. But He will take anyone who repentantly comes to His Son on His terms.

For the life of me I cannot fathom how there is even any debate on homosexuality, or abortion (which is the murder of an innocent helpless baby), or any of the cardinal teachings of the faith that has been once and for all delivered to the saints. If you don’t believe the Bible, fine. Stop pretending that you love and serve the Jesus of the Bible and just go start your own religion somewhere else.

The Bible warns Christians in numerous passages that we are to be on guard against false teachers. In Acts 20:28-30, Paul warns believers to guard the flock because savage wolves will come in and they will not spare the flock. Pastors who do not teach and preach biblical truth, or who turn a blind eye to immorality of all kinds, are not guarding the flock.

In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 we read, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

These false teachers teach anything and everything from the greedy prosperity gospel of modern televangelism to the social gospel of modern-day liberalism. Either extreme is false and dangerous. Beware of them.

I think we have been seeing this for decades now in the American church where the mainline denominations have been tolerating disbelief in the infallibility of the Bible and orthodox Christian doctrine, as well as tolerating immorality. Hundreds of churches have affirmed the LGBT lifestyle and even ordained homosexuals into their ministry.

So, if you are a Christian, and you say you believe the Bible, and you see your denomination trending in a doctrinal and moral way that you find objectionable, when is it time for you to leave? Should you stay and fight … or leave? How do we know when it’s time to do either?

I cannot make that decision for you, of course. You will have to spend quite a bit of time in prayer and reading God’s Word and talking to godly friends. However, as I understand the Bible, here are a few questions and guidelines:

1. Preaching a different gospel?

Is your church or denomination preaching a different gospel? God is pretty clear in Galatians 1:8-9 that if anyone preaches a gospel different from the one the apostles were preaching, then they are under the curse of God.

The Gospel they preached was about a virgin born, sinless God-man who paid the full price for our sins, rose from the dead physically, is returning physically to earth to judge the living and the dead, and offers salvation freely by His grace to all who trust only in Him. How can we stay in a church that is preaching a cursed message?

2. Disbelieving the Bible?

Does your denomination’s leadership believe the Bible is full of error? Do they believe it is only a man-made book that can be twisted or ignored to suit their agenda? When I read 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (and other passages) I am convinced the Bible claims to be the perfect Word of God and the final authority. Why stay under the teaching of people who deny and twist God’s Word?

3. Living in sin?

Is the leadership living in unrepentant sin and/or excusing known immoral behavior? Check out the Bible’s commands to deal with immoral behavior in the church (1 Timothy 5:19; 1 Corinthians 4:1; 5:1-2; 2 Timothy 3:5). Shouldn’t your leadership have the courage to stand up to immorality and rebuke it?

4. Morally unqualified?

Does the leadership meet the qualifications to be in pastoral leadership? If they do not meet these exact pastoral qualifications as laid out by the Apostle Paul (1 Timothy 3:1-7), then they should step down. If they are not qualified, then they are false shepherds, and we should not put ourselves under their authority.

5. Giving to ungodly organizations?

Do they support ungodly organizations with your money? When you give to the work of the ministry, is your money going to worthy causes for the propagation of the Gospel, or is it going to Planned Parenthood? The pattern for giving in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 8 and 9) is to support the relief of suffering Christians and other people as a vehicle for preaching the Gospel. How can a Christian support an organization that murders babies in the womb?

The Lord is pretty clear in 2 Corinthians 6:17 about separation from things that will ruin our Christian service and testimony: “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you…” Paul wrote this to the Christians in Corinth who were accepting the immoral behavior of their world. He told them plainly NOT to accept it, NOT to indulge in it, but rather rebuke it and separate themselves from it.

In my opinion, these Methodist congregations made the right decision to separate themselves from a denomination that is apostate. May many more congregations follow in their path.