To Stay Or Not To Stay?
When is it a good idea to stay in a church or para-church ministry, and when is it better to leave? This was the question that Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones addressed in 1966 at the National Assembly of Evangelicals conference in England. Lloyd-Jones was a very respected evangelical leader, and he used this opportunity to implore evangelicals to leave the Church of England because it was tolerating theologically liberal people and ideas in its ranks (He told evangelicals to join with another evangelical church).
Another respected leader named John Stott was at the meeting, and after Dr. Lloyd-Jones was finished, Stott approached the lectern and said to the audience, “I believe history is against what Dr. Lloyd-Jones has said… and I also believe that Scripture is against him.” Stott wanted evangelicals to stay within the Church of England to be a transforming influence.
So who, if either, is correct? When is it right to separate and leave a church or a denomination, and when should one stay and be salt and light within the church? Lloyd-Jones also said, “Ecumenical people put fellowship before doctrine. We, as Evangelicals, put doctrine before fellowship.” There is an issue here that arises however: Since no church has absolutely perfect doctrine, where is the doctrinal line drawn before one says, “this far and no further” regarding the teaching of the church?
Also, what if the question is not only one of doctrine but also practice? What if a church teaches essentially correct doctrine but its overall systematic practices go against its teaching? Lloyd-Jones had an issue with the Anglican Church because, while their doctrinal statement was basically solid, according to him, its practices across the board over time were not and so he advocated separation in that case.
What is the threshold for staying or leaving a ministry? Is there a line for the amount of doctrinal aberrance, personal abuse, or theological difference that determines staying or leaving? Or is it subjective, on a case by case basis?
For me and my wife, we decided to leave UBF because too many lines had been crossed for too long, without being able to see any glimmer of change within the ministry. I think we also felt powerless to do anything about it because whenever I broached the subject with my “shepherd,” I was very quickly shut down. Of course, now I do see that there are people who both want the ministry to change, and who have the position to do something about it. Nevertheless, if I had to make the same decision again, I would. I think that it was right for me and my wife to leave and I have never regretted it. We found another church and have been growing.
But what do you think about where the line should be drawn?