On January 1, 1985 I was asked by the elders of my church to resign as pastor, effective immediately. I did as they asked and wrote a nice resignation letter.
Through a strange series of events, Sharon and I ended up going back to that same Bible church four years later. After a time I was appointed an elder at the church I had pastored just a few years before.
It was encouraging to be accepted back by many of the same people whom had been there when I pastored the church. I was glad to try to help the church in any way I could. It was encouraging to see that there were no hard feelings with the elders.
I wasn’t always an encouragement to the pastor of that church. He and I differed on some things and I had to learn to let go. I was there to support his ministry, not to hinder it. As I look back on those years and some of the things I said and did, I have regrets. I wish had been fully supportive of the pastor.
When the next pastor was selected, I decided to step down from the elder board because my differences with him were just too great. I felt if I stayed I would hinder his ministry and I did not want to do that. At that point Sharon and I changed churches and started going to Victor Street Bible Chapel where Zane Hodges and Luis Rodriguez ministered.
Over the years I have witnessed situations where a pastor or an elder split his own church, in some cases intentionally. In one case a pastor—let’s call him Donald—promoted a split and shortly thereafter nearly died of a terrible illness. I remember being shocked when another pastor friend—let’s call him Robert—said that he believed Donald’s illness was because he had willingly hurt the church. Robert cited 1 Cor 3:17, which reads, “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.”
At the time I thought “the temple of God” in 1 Cor 3:17 was one’s own body. But I came to see that the entire context, from 1 Cor 3:5-17, deals with the building up (or tearing down) of the local church. “The temple of God” in verse 17 is indeed the church. Maybe Donald really suffered that terrible illness because he defiled the temple of God.
I’ve been very careful since that time not to hurt a local church. All of us are called to build up other believers and the local church of which we are a part.
So what happens when you are in a church where the pastor starts proclaiming some false doctrine? First, check the church’s doctrinal statement. If what the pastor is preaching is in the doctrinal statement, then you are the one who is out of step. Second, if what he is preaching is contrary to the doctrinal statement, then the pastor has erred and it is right for you to point this out to the board. Third, however, if the church is an elder-rule church, then you need to leave the final decision of what will be done up to the board.
It is painful to walk away from a church because it no longer proclaims some of the distinctives found in the doctrinal statement. But it is wrong to try and split a church. It is better to move on to another church than it is to seek to wrestle the church away from the pastor and his board of elders.
A friend of mine left a church when it embraced contemplative spirituality and was not responsive to concerns raised by him and others. But he continued to pray for the church. Each time he drove by it, he would pray for God to restore the church to the truth. Several years passed and one day he received word that the elders had fired the pastors on the staff who favored contemplative spirituality. They brought in a new senior pastor and several new pastoral staff members. The church returned to its former status as a church that preached the Bible verse by verse. My friend and his wife gladly returned. He is now teaching there once again.
Do not defile God’s church. If you do, God will destroy you.