Question: "When is it right to leave a church?"
Answer: Perhaps the best way to discern whether one has grounds to leave a church is to go back to the basics. What, after all, is the purpose of the church in the first place? The Bible is clear in its teaching that the church is to be the “pillar and ground (foundation) of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Everything in the church structure, teaching, worship, programs and activities is to be centered upon this fact. In addition, the church should recognize Jesus Christ as its one and only head (Ephesians 1:22, 4:15; Colossians 1:18), and submit to Him in all things. Clearly these things can only be done when the church clings tightly to the Bible as its standard and authority. It’s hard to see how one would want to leave a church such as described above, but sadly, few churches today fit this description.
Believers who feel a desire to leave a church should be clear on their reasons. If the church does not proclaim truth, cling to the Bible and revere Christ as its head, and there is another church in the area that does, then there are grounds to leave. A case can be made, however, for staying and working to bring about changes for the better. We are exhorted to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). If one is strongly convicted of the need to move the church in a more Bible-based, Christ-honoring direction, and feels he/she can do that in a loving and non-divisive manner, then that would seem to be the better course of action.
The Bible does not outline a procedure on how to leave a church. In the early day of the church, a believer would have to move to another town to find a different church. Sadly, in our world today with a church on seemingly every corner, many believers leave one church for another instead of working through whatever problem there was. Forgiveness, love, and unity are to be the marks of believers (John 13:34-35; Colossians 3:13; John 17:21-23), not bitterness and division (Ephesians 4:31-32).
The most crucial thing for a believer to do should he/she feel led to leave a church is to do so in such a way that does not cause division or unnecessary controversy in the church (Proverbs 6:19; 1 Corinthians 1:10). As described above, an important question to answer is why would any person want to leave the church? If the answer to this question is because of the lack of biblical teaching, then the course is clear. However, many people are dissatisfied with their church because they are not involved in any way in the church’s ministries. It is far easier to be spiritually fed by the church when one is an active part of “feeding” others in the church. The purpose of the church is clearly outlined in Ephesians 4:11-14. Allow this passage to be the guide in choosing and finding a church.