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Recovery



Should I leave the Church of Christ?

There are four things that I find essential in a church. If any one of these four items is missing, I can't be a member of that church:

  1. Fellowship: I have to be able to give and receive encouragement for my faith. As my faith grows I need to be able to talk about my questions and explorations of God.

  2. Worship: I have to be able to worship God in a group. I have to have a certain degree of freedom to worship, and I have to know that others are free to worship as well.

  3. Evangelism: I have to be able to invite my friends to church. I want my friends to feel welcome and to feel challenged by the devotion to God and exploration of how God impacts their lives.

  4. Leadership: I have to respect the leadership of the church in order to follow their example.

Some people have been able to get along with just two or three of these items, others have a different list entirely. This is my list. Actually I have never found a church in or out of the Churches of Christ that meets this criteria perfectly. Perhaps one of the things that I learned in the hard-line Churches of Christ was that church has to be perfect, and anything less than that has been unsatisfactory to me.

Doctrine is included in number one above: being encouraged in my faith. My faith is what I believe about who God is. The younger you are, probably the more you will identify with numbers one and three. The postmodern generation finds relationship as the number one essential ingredient in a church family.

What I found, as my faith grew and expanded, was that I could only find one or two of these essential items in the Churches of Christ I was a member of. At first I was upset that some of the doctrines of the Church of Christ I attended were unbiblical and discouraging to people trying to overcome sins in their lives. After a while I became reluctant to invite anyone to church, upset that they would hear negative lessons that had very little to do with what I believed was real faith. Eventually I realized I had almost nothing in common with the people I worshiped with, and they realized it too, becoming reluctant to hear me teach or pray. The time came that even though we were sitting in the same pews, eating communion together and singing out of the same song book, we were not in fellowship with each other. We were unequally yoked.

Where would I go if I left?

The short answer to that question is: There is nowhere to go. The long answer is that when one leaves a sect (a religious organization that believes they are the only right way) there are many doctrines we bring with us. There are many distinctives in the doctrines of the Churches of Christ I grew up in: anti-denominationalism (all other churches are lost), the essentialness of adult baptism for the forgiveness of sins (all other baptisms are invalid), no instruments of music, the Lord's Supper every Sunday, anti-pentecostalism. If you have given up only half of these doctrines, there is still nowhere to go to church outside of the hardline Churches of Christ.

Add to this the doctrine in some Churches of Christ that church attendance (often three times per week) is mandatory to go to heaven, and you have a double-bind that will drive the person trying to leave their church crazy.

Every major character in the Bible went on a prolonged fast out in the wilderness alone. These were times when they did not go to church or synagogue or Torah Bible study or anything. They just prayed alone, sometimes for as long as 40 days. Sometimes you need a Sabbath rest to figure out where God wants you to go next. For more on this, and Jesus' view of the Father, click here.

One solution is to accept that people can disagree as long as they have the essentials (Romans 14). Paul says that one person believes one day is holier than another, another person believes all days are equal. Both are accepted by God, even though one of these believers is clearly wrong.

But what are the essentials? This is a subject you will argue about for the rest of your life. Jesus said you will know them by their fruits. One of the big reasons people leave the exclusive Churches of Christ is because they clearly do not have any better fruit than other denominations.

Family and Friends

Leaving the hard-line Churches of Christ disrupts relationships. Often leaving the Churches of Christ is painfully explosive, because the person leaving didn't want to leave, especially not leave their friends and family.

Friends and family become understandably alarmed: Is my relative going to hell? Have I lost a spiritual connection with my relative or friend? Is our relationship over?

A few Churches of Christ practice "withdrawing" or "withdrawing fellowship" from members who leave the fold (derived from I Cor. 5 and other passages). This usually means no socializing or eating with the member who has left. All encounters with family and friends then are strained and the family and friends feel obligated to invite the person back to church, and to rebuke the fallen away member for unfaithfulness.

This is especially painful for those who accepted or practiced "withdrawing fellowship" years ago and now are on the receiving end. Family visits become strained. Some people solve this by cutting off family ties. Others attempt the draining task of connecting with the unconnectable. Children become caught in the crossfire as grandparents desperately try to save their grandchildren even if their own children have departed from the Churches of Christ.

All of the stages of grief are necessary to traverse this painful bridge.

Surviving

Everyone carries around a jury in their head, whether it is conscious or unconscious. There is never a person who is not in relationship. Even when we are alone we are thinking about others. When we write in a diary or journal we are imagining someone reading the journal.

The reason leaving an unhealthy group is so difficult is because we have populated our jury with unhealthy, critical, judgmental people. Often these are shaming, ridiculing people as well, because we have heard many sermons ridiculing those who disagree with the group.

The only way to populate the jury with better people is to hang around better people. It sometimes takes a long time before these other gentler, more grace-full people become important enough to us to be an important part of our jury.

It is also equally important for us to oust some people from the jury in our heads. These people will not go willingly. They will be highly insulted. We may have to have no contact with them in the real world, read no emails from them, read no bulletins or journals from that group, not go to reunions or family functions for a year or two. The verse "bad companions corrupt good morals" may be applicable here, but this time the verse applies to the preacher, the elder and the relatives that are so bad for us that they corrupt our sense of grace, love, peace and joy.

"But this will hurt them." Yes, it will. It wouldn't hurt them if they were mature and could understand that people need to think, explore, question and walk around in their faith. It mostly hurts the immature. If you want to stop growing and stay depressed so that your relatives won't hurt, then go right ahead.

"I could never do that to my relatives." But they can do that to you. If you can't do it to your relatives, then just start speaking up in Bible class and telling your view of what you think is right. Collar the preacher after church and have a discussion with him in the vestibule about what he said in his sermon that was inappropriate. Have the discussion in front of others. You will soon find that they don't mind you not coming back. You can get them ready to let you go.

Next Page

 

 

 

 

 

For a page on Conquering Sin click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the biggest reasons people choose to leave the Church of Christ is when they find their congregation is unable to welcome them, unable to continue to include them as long as their beliefs differ on too many points. So the question becomes, not "Should I leave?", but "How do I deal with being asked to leave?" The asking may not be out loud, but the intent is clear: your voice is not welcome in the Bible class.

 

 

 

 

For a comment on the Five Acts of Worship click here.

 

 

 

 

 

For Stages of Faith click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a website very similar to this one written by and for ex-Holdeman Mennonites click here.

 

 

 

 

 

For a website that deals with symptoms of abusive groups click here.

 

 

 

 

 

To talk to other people in similar situations, go to our Bulletin Board.

2005 www.ex-churchofchrist.org | info@ex-churchofchrist.com