I recently came across the Reformed Reader, a WordPress site dedicated to encourage people who have an interest in solid Christian theology. I’d like to commend it to my readers here.
It is stewarded by a professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary (Andrew Compton), and a minister in the United Reformed Church (Shane Lems) and has a good sampling of texts and quotes which are both old and still applicable to our modern situation as Christians in a quickly changing world.
For instance, I was struck by how muchthis post, on the importance of not “church s/hopping,” rings true. (This phrase, which is also the title for my essay here, is borrowed from their post.)
Last year, I received a text message from a man who realizes that he has been church hopping for several years. He is convicted that he needs to put some roots down in a local church. Yet, from what I can tell at a distance–and as much as a person can determine from a text–it doesn’t appear that he’s ready to do so yet. He knows what he’s doing is wrong, yet he doesn’t seem to be able to stop.
But there’s a silver lining. I’m glad that at least my friend reached out to me. I am encouraged at least he feels his need; his conscience is warning him, and he fears God. But sadly, that’s not the case with everyone, as the author linked above, James Samra, shows. He is keen to observe how easy it is for far too many people to give into worldly pressures when joining, and leaving, a church.
Look at this short statement, and notice he equates two things that most people would not put together:
Although pornography, adultery, and prostitution are radically more abhorrent to God than church-hopping, in many ways the same spirit animates both classes of actions – gratification of our selfish desires in contrast to the long-term commitment of a covenant relationship.
I showed this quote to a friend who wondered if most people who read this could make the connection between pornography or adultery and church-hopping. What do you think?
While comparing church s/hopping to adultery may seem like a mis-matched analogy at first, the key is in the author’s explanation, to wit: “gratification of our desires in contrast to the long-term commitment of a covenant relationship.”
That’s the key–“covenant relationship.” Most Americans, it is safe to say, do not view church in such terms. For this reason, we call membership at Mercy Hill “in covenant” membership”: as elders, we see it as a covenantal commitment, a sacred bond, really. As such, when the chips are down, you don’t just break covenant. Unless you’re moved by the spirit of the age, or (to quote Samra again) “the gratification of (y)our selfish desires.”
Such matters have caused me to reflect on our own congregation over the past few years. As a new church, we have faced several conflicts–some larger, some smaller; some significant, some less so–with families and individuals with whom reconciliation was sought on our part, but not fully received, and certainly (from my point of view) not fully experienced.
Whether this is due to faults of our own, or my own, or that of others, is difficult to say. I’m prepared to admit as much of the blame as need be, as much as is appropriate for my calling, station, and responsibility as a pastor. The point of these reflections is not to resurrect old hurts–and these problems still do hurt–but to make the point, which is beyond argument to my mind, that reconciliation, if it is needed, simply cannot happen when someone leaves a church for “greener pastures.”
While there are bona fide reasons for leaving a church, some of which might be connected to the sins of men in my own position as pastor or teacher, such reasons are, or ought to be, connected to at least three things:
- God’s divine calling (both calling away from something old/bad/sinful and towards something new/good/holy);
- the confirming counsel of one’s elders, peers, and trusted advisors; and
- the support and blessing of God as He reveals His will in His Sacred Word.
Notice that such reasons would not permit someone to leave who merely wished to avoid a difficult or hard-to-reconcile matter between friends. And certainly not to avoid pastoral or ecclesial accountability. In this connection, church membership is indeed analogous to marriage. It is the commitment which provides the protection necessary for both spouses to grow: through thick and thin, better or worse, sickness and health.
Here is a prayer for the new year:
God of grace and God of glory: may you in your infinite wisdom and mercy, grant that the spirit of our age, and the spirit of worldliness that blows so strongly through so many evangelical congregations and churches in South Jersey, be turned aside.
God of mercy and God of all comfort: may you be gracious to us in South Jersey, your people, a “church scene” which too often has a “revolving door”–and not just South Jersey, Lord God, but across our country, so many churches which claim your name, but do not encourage or require a commitment to the Bride of Christ that you yourself showed when sending your own dearly beloved Son.
O Lord, may these churches, and may Mercy Hill, this local church, be led to turn back to you as we have turned aside and turned away from your Good Word and Will for us.
May this spirit of our age, Lord, be turned aside in 2017 by the power of your Word and Spirit, by a renewal and revival of biblical, sacrificial, and God-centered, Christ-focused Christianity–a way of life and a way of thinking and a way of worship which would truly please and honor your most Holy and Blessed Presence.
God, may this revival help all the world to know that we are Christians by our love for you and for one another.
Postscript: a few other related links to helpful excerpts about the Church:
- William Ames on the Grievous Sin of Neglecting the Church (at the Reformed Reader)
- John Murray on “Saying No to Church=Divorcing Christ from His Bride” (at the Reformed Reader)
- Calvin on Church Discipline (here at CCK)
- How and When to Leave a Church (here at CCK)
- Church Membership and the Supper (here at CCK)
*Image Art source: jakethesnake999 @Deviant Art (here)