Checklists, orthodoxy and leaving a church

There’s a little questionnaire making the rounds of Church of Christ discussion groups on the Internet. I haven’t seen the original source, so I won’t mention who is said to be the author.

It’s titled “QUESTIONS FOR MY LIBERAL BRETHREN.” Most of the questions are in a yes/no format. Question #17 has multiple parts. I’ll paste it in here as I’ve seen it on other sites:

17. Which of the following practices do you think you nullify a congregation’s standing with God?
A. Use of sacred images and paintings in worship___ B. Use of holy water___ C. Burning incense____D. Use of clerical garments___ E. Communion with bread alone?____F. Communion with bread and water____G. Offering sprinkling or pouring for baptism___H. Speaking in unknown tongues___ I. People being “slain by the Spirit”___J. Instrumental music in worship____K. Praise by paid performers____L. Daily Communion____M. Communion observed with weddings and funerals___N. Communion as part of a potluck meal____O. Infant baptism___P. Woman preachers and elders_____Q. Charging for baptisms____R. Dancing for worship____S. Reciting the Nicean Creed___ T. Lighting sacred candles___ U. Singing or praying in Latin, Greek or Hebrew___ V. Expecting Holy Spirit baptism____W. Infant baptism___X. Making the communion service a sacrifice of the mass___

When this was posted to a group that I’m a part of, I pointed out that the items listed said more about this person’s bias than anything else. When challenged as to how I would “improve” the list, I suggested a few additions:

Owning a building
Paid preacher
Sunday school
Allow unscripturally divorced people to place membership or be baptized
Multiple cups in the Lord’s Supper
Homogenized grape juice in the Lord’s Supper
Use of non-KJV Bibles
Taking Lord’s Supper on Sunday night
Taking Lord’s Supper on ground floor
Support orphan’s homes
Support cooperative evangelistic efforts

There are members of the churches of Christ who would call others “liberal” for doing the things I’ve listed. If we’re going to offer an honest list for evaluation, shouldn’t we go beyond the things that we personally object to? Shouldn’t we list what others object to about us?

All of this got me to thinking about when and why I would leave a church. I want to explore some of that, but thought I’d ask my wise readers to guide me as I get started. When would you decide it necessary to leave a church? On what basis?

How would you go about it? Would you leave quietly or would you want others to know of your decision? Would you approach the leadership? Would you discuss it merely with a close circle of friends or would you contact as many people as possible?

Looking forward to your thoughts.

21 thoughts on “Checklists, orthodoxy and leaving a church

  1. Adam Gonnerman

    Too many people spend their days mucking about in endless internal debates about points of Christian doctrine and practice that succeed only in showing folks who don’t follow Christ that there’s nothing to see here. It would be nice if their devotion to Christ expressed itself in solidarity with the least, last and lost rather than in complicity with the status quo.

  2. Matt Dabbs

    I met a guy when out at Pepperdine who grew up in the Church of Christ but was attending a Methodist church. He said that he didn’t feel comfortable with everything they were doing but they allowed him to voice his concerns, listen to him and have a dialog about his disagreements. They treated him with love and respect in the discussion and he decided he could live with it. He is not against angry toward the churches of Christ but he is open to fellowship elsewhere if he feels a spirit of love and acceptance of differences there. It is not even that he is unconcerned about doctrine. He knows what he believes. He just has decided which things are negotiables and which are not. The conversation I had with him was pretty eye opening as to what people are looking for. I know that doesn’t completely address what this post is about but I thought I would toss it out there because it does in some ways address your last few questions. He addressed the leadership, continued to disagree but stayed anyway…it just didn’t happen to be in a Church of Christ.

  3. Royce Ogle


    To begin, I wouldn’t be a part of a church with leadership with a legalistic, check-point mentality. My advice to anyone who is in that situation would be “vote with your feet”. Quietly leave. You will not win if you try to reason with someone who doesn’t understand the most basic concepts of the Christian faith.

    Our coc practices betray who we say we are. So called conservatives (traditionalists) believe only church of Christ people are going to heaven. In the next breath they will tell you which church of Christ people are damned because of what they do or don’t do on Sunday morning. It borders on insanity.

    A question that arises again and again in my mind is this one. On what ground should I consider some of these militant coc legalists to be Christians? Because they are members of a church of Christ? Because they have been baptized? One whose live does not remotely resemble the Christ life is likely not a Christian.

  4. Tim Archer Post author

    Matt, it seems to me that part of it is accepting that there is no church that lines up perfectly with our idea of what the church should be. I was discussing this recently with some friends who left the church of Christ for a while then later returned. We agreed that part of maturing in Christ is learning to accept the shortcomings of others as we hope they accept ours.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  5. Tim Archer Post author

    Interesting thoughts, Royce. I tend to agree with the idea of leaving quietly.

    I’m curious, though, what you would do in situations where the options are limited. It’s one thing where we have numerous congregations to choose from. What about situations where there aren’t many churches? Is it better to meet alone or meet with other believers even if they aren’t what they should be?

  6. Royce Ogle

    There is no “one size fits all”. I think it is wise to not continue in the company of people who embrace “another gospel…”. Maybe it might require a one hour drive on Sunday but there is a solution better than wearing a yoke for the sake of getting along.

    I am not talking about leaving because you don’t like the music or the order of service, etc. I am thinking in the context of the truth of the gospel, that only in Christ are we accepted. It is His doing and dying and not ours that set us right with God.

  7. Don Middleton

    What has become apparent over the past decade is that many (particularly young people) are growing weary of this “check-list Christianity” and are willing to go places…often times outside of our fellowship…that actually exhibit Jesus’ call in the new covenant to love God and love one another as of primary importance. This may mean making certain concessions, but they are willing to do so to get to places that are trying “to be like Jesus” rather than telling them why they aren’t good enough to measure up. People who are experiencing spiritual growth are going to continue to leave church systems that are based upon the Law and move to those who live according to what Jesus intended in establishing His church…based upon love, grace and truth, and empowered by His Spirit.

  8. Wes

    Over the years, I have had to work out exactly how I should react to doctrines and practices in the church that I found to be unscriptural. There was a time when I would simply pass my judgement rather loudly and walk. Then I realized that I would soon run out of churches. I still found myself being judgemental at times, but I quit walking out. So far, I have found no congregation intolerable.

    I can thank you, Tim, for ideas you have presented with scripture to back them up for my much less contentious current approach to the truth. There are still some things that would make me look for a new congregation, but they would be a lot more drastic than those we usually set as standards. Even then, my exit would come after working quietly in brotherly love to change hearts and minds, not with loud and unkind rhetoric.

    I found Matt’s comment about the man who left the churches of Christ for the Methodist church because they allowed him to express his concerns interesting. My father left the Methodist church years before I was born for the churches of Christ citing that very thing as one of his reasons. That was also true of Restoration leaders when they left other churches. Today, we’ve put the whole thing in reverse.

    I had to do a great deal of teaching about the Lord’s supper before, I stopped receiving sharp criticism from some quarters because the church where I preached offered communion to everyone present at a nursing home service we took over from another congregation. It never occurred to me that anyone would have made sure they were members of the church of Christ before allowing them communion.
    After all, Paul said, “Let each examine himself, and so let him eat.” (1 Cor. 11:28).

    Maybe that would be a good rule of thumb in all things. Paul seemed to think so. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

    Peace always,

  9. Philip Sims

    Well I read with great interest the questions, you see I met my wife only 31 days before i asked her to enter into marriage with me. Five months later we were married. I quickly learned I didn’t agree with her on a lot of things, but I love her. Now we did agree on some very important things, as husband i would lead our family, we would keep ourselves for only each other sexually. But all those other things……..well for 31 years we have disagreed, but remained in loving relationship. I decided finally to stop trying to “change her mind” and just love her! What a blessing! I think i will just keep on doing that! Even though she is in error on a few things! I probably am too! Keep on keeping on!

  10. Tim Archer Post author

    Royce, that was something I was thinking about blogging about: the real reasons most people leave a congregation. Even when doctrine is cited, it’s rarely the true motive.

    Thanks for helping me process.

  11. Tim Archer Post author

    Wes, I found your comments about your dad to be interesting. I wonder how much represents a shift over time and how much speaks to differences in individual congregations. I know that what I experienced growing up was not what many experienced in churches of Christ in the 1970s.

  12. Barry Wiseman

    It’s amazing we will pick apart each other on the things we want to bind upon each other, thinking we’re being the spiritually strong ones doing that. Romans 14 speaks of bearing with ones who’s faith (“doctrines”?) is “weaker” than our own, not binding it on them. It also states that the weaker brother is the one who wants to bind it on others. Has anyone ever found a “fellowship-circle-drawer” who would claim the label of “weaker brother”?

  13. Tim Archer Post author

    Barry, I’ve asked cantankerous folks if they were willing to own up to the title “weaker brother.” No takers so far.

  14. John Gaines

    Tim, I believe there are at least two situations where it is best to leave a congregation (I do not foresee any situation where I would leave the church of Christ for a denominational fellowship): 1) When my remaining a part of a congregation is detrimental to my own soul and 2) When my remaining and promoting changes (that are desirable to me, but not biblically mandated) are detrimental to the harmony and unity of the congregation.

    In the first instance, I could be harming myself by participating in things my conscience tells me are sinful or I could be starving myself spiritually because the congregation is not focused on providing the nourishment needed for Christian growth. In either situation, it would be better for me to be elsewhere.

    In the second instance, unless we truly believe that our brothers and sisters are lost in sin, we should not try to force them to change if that pushing results in strife and conflict. There is room for teaching and encouraging and patient eye-opening over time, but if we are so determined to make people already in Christ accept the changes we think are good, we end up hurting the body of Christ and doing wrong ourselves. It’s better to go elsewhere and find a place where we can serve the Lord in peace.

    The fault in these congregational tug-of-wars for the soul of the church is rarely all on one side or the other.

  15. Tim Archer Post author

    Very wise words, John.

    The fault in these congregational tug-of-wars for the soul of the church is rarely all on one side or the other.

    That’s something that really needs to be kept in mind. Most of these struggles say more about the lack of love than they do about doctrinal purity.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  16. Wes

    You might be right about it being differences in congregations rather than time. It is certainly true on the Lord’s Supper issue.


  17. K. Rex Butts

    I have learned to accept that there is not any perfect church, not any local Church of Christ nor any local church of another denomination. Churches are people and therefore, there will always be points of disagreement. But one of the questions that I pose to myself regarding a church is whether or not they will be a place that helps nurture a healthy faith or will they be a toxic environment to faith. If a church is so unhealthy that it is toxic to faith, I want nothing to do with the church.

  18. Robert Floyd

    Several years ago, my wife and I left a congregation of which we had been a part for over 20 years. It was not a decision we took lightly. For us, the point of no return involved what we viewed as fundamental changes in the assembly we could not in good conscience support scripturally. As long as the changes were confined to Bible classes, we could support the decisions of the eldership, as there were meaningful alternatives (I was serving as a deacon at the time and was and am involved in prison ministry, so I’m not speaking as a disgruntled spectator). Once the decision was taken to move changes to the assembly, we could no longer worship in good conscience. Also, that was decision by the eldership that I could not support.

    I don’t believe it’s necessary to agree with every decision of the leadership of a congregation, but it is necessary to support the leadership’s decisions. Rather than stay in a situation where we could not support their decision, we made the difficult decision to leave.

    To be clear: we left because we could not in good conscience continue to attend the assembly there. We do not believe the eldership there is anything but sincere and truly seeking the best for the flock over which they’ve been given oversight. We still have love and respect for each other. I believe it’s possible, and necessary, for us to understand that, even if we have severe differences with each other over some practices, that, in and of itself, does not preclude continued love and fellowship. We may have family fights, but we’re still in the same family, serving the same Father.

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