July 22, 2012

When to Leave Your Church?

Saturday morning I was interviewed by Chicago-based Moody Radio on “Should you leave your church if it’s forsaking biblical orthodoxy?” The other guest was my friend, the always impressive Cherie Harder, who heads the Washington-based Trinity Forum, a thinktank that examines faith and culture.

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Cherie talked about her own formerly Episcopal, now Anglican congregation, the historic Falls Church in Virginia, which recently lost its property after years of litigation with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The over 4000 member church, which is mega sized by Episcopal/Anglican standards, quit the Episcopal Church in 2006 after the 2003 election of that denomination’s first openly homosexual bishop. Becoming part of the new Anglican Church of North America, the Falls Church continued to grow, even founding several thriving new congregations.

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Meanwhile a shell congregation of the Falls Church that disagreed with the over 90 percent vote to leave the Episcopal Church has continued to meet and now possesses the large property. Reportedly fewer than 100 attend its services in a facility that once accommodated thousands. One of its recent preachers was a radical former missionary forced to leave Sudan because of her LGBT advocacy. So the shell congregation is marching in sync with the Episcopal Church’s national leftward, spiral. I predict that maintenance costs eventually will compel the small congregation to rent most of its large campus to another, much bigger church, likely evangelical.

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As Cherie recounted, her Falls Church Anglican congregation is now nomadic, sometimes meeting in a Catholic high school, sometimes a public junior high. Attendance remains high, and its new church starts individually have several times more attendance than the old shell congregation. In just several years, one has already outgrown the Baptist church it bought and is now building a new sanctuary. There’s likely more vitality just in the Falls Church and its new church starts than in the whole Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

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God is blessing the Falls Church, despite its legal and property adversities. Cherie explained well why her congregation was spiritually compelled to quit the Episcopal Church. The radio host asked me whether I would ever leave United Methodism, if, for example, it backed same sex rites, as the Episcopal Church recently overwhelmingly affirmed. I explained United Methodists are following a different path, thanks to our large, growing African membership, without which we likely would face decline and schism like the Episcopalians. I recalled John Wesley’s treatise on schism, when he explained he would not leave the Church of England so long as he could freely preach the Gospel.

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Sometimes evangelical friends ask me when United Methodism will split. My response is likely never. Had our church surrendered its marriage and ordination standard like other Mainline denominations, some conservatives almost certainly would have created a new denomination, as orthodox Presbyterians, Lutherans and Anglicans have done. But historically, liberals have almost never founded new denominations. Liberals will remain in United Methodism, increasingly frustrated, as their own numbers decline and the African churches keep growing, along with some U.S. evangelical churches.

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I’m glad we United Methodists won’t likely suffer what Episcopalians and Anglicans have. And I’m grateful for the faithful witness of the Falls Church and its members like Cherie Harder.

Here’s a podcast of the Moody Radio interview with Cherie and me: http://www.moodyradio.org/upfordebate/


20 Responses to When to Leave Your Church?

  1. Sharon Lodovic says:

    Hi Mark, This subject has hit close to home as we saw our “girl” pastor wearing a rainbow scarf at Annual Conference. We hope to discuss this with our new Pastor as soon as we think he has had time to get his feet wet. Please pray that God will give us wisdom and direction.
    Blessings, Sharon

  2. jeffreywalton says:

    An exception that proves the rule: I was trying to think of a liberal denomination that emerged from a conservative-trending one, and all I can think of is the Alliance of Baptists, formed by liberal former Southern Baptists. The liberal offshoot has stagnated at about 65,000 members (much smaller than the conservative groups that have departed TEC, PCUSA, ELCA) despite originating from a significantly larger body (the 16 million member SBC). Additionally, Baptists have a congregational polity that easily allows them to choose their congregation’s affiliation(s).

    With a more hierarchical polity and a denomination about half the size of the SBC, I can’t envision the UMC splitting off a liberal offshoot of any significant size. At most, we would see a handful of persons join groups like the liberal Church Within A Church Movement (CWACM) or transfer to an existing liberal denomination such as the United Church of Christ (as a liberal formerly PCUSA congregation in California recently did).

  3. Pudentiana says:

    It is God’s church and we need to remember what that means. After several days enduring NE Jurisdictional Conference and lamenting over the obvious modern idolatry of elevating and empowering various gender identities and skin tones, I wonder that HE has continued to stay with us.

  4. Bob Brooke says:

    Even though our rainbow-clad liberal pastor continues to preach a watered-down gospel with much emphasis on social justice issues and little on biblical faith, I will remain with the UMC for now. Every four years I stand ready to leave, then the gay rights activists are once again defeated, the dust settles and I stay. Sometimes, though, I yearn for a worshipping church that emphasizes the lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of Bible. So, may be leaving anyway.

  5. The UMC has been splitting for years. Since 1968, the UMC has lost the equivalent of a 350 member church every day. One of the largest denominations in the US would be the “Used to be UMC” denomination. Only, they are in other churches now – or none.

  6. Thomas Benton says:

    I have been very frustrated with the direction that my particular congregations is going, herded along by both pastors and a few verbose folks. On a main highway through north Arkansas, there is a UMC congregation in a very small town that has built a new building, is always having some church event, AND this weekend a large banner was in front advertising a REVIVIAL MEETING soon to begin. Praise the Lord, not all UMC’s are liberal slanted. These type of congregations may ultimately be the backbone of the UMC in the future. The more liberal my current congregation becomes, the smaller the attendance and the pastors don’t seem to notice or care. What are the seminaries teaching these days and in case I decide to go to a seminary (even though I am of retirement age) which ones in the south or east of the US are still Bible based?

  7. Roy Bean says:

    I left the UMC after years of membership. Our pastor began to teach universalism, acceptance of homosexuality (based on a new understanding of Scripture) and a decided lack of reverence for Christ’s work on the cross. I made no secret of my conservative leaning and heard my beliefs ridiculed. It was very hard to leave, almost like a death in the family. Still grieving I guess. I now attend a Baptist church and I am moved almost to tears every Sunday by the love for Jesus and the reverence for God’s word.

  8. MR. says:

    I’m sorry, what is your point? The Episcopalians are in decline, thank God I’m not one of them?

  9. […] When to Leave Your Church? Mark Tooley, Juicy Ecumenism […]

  10. Kevan says:

    Many have made an exodus over the past eighty years or so and those new ministries need your support. Life is short. Find a good church.

  11. Pudentiana says:

    We have many brothers and sisters in the worldwide UMC. Who will stand with them if we do not hold the line. Throughout history there has been and will be a continuous battle for the power over hearts and minds. Some are called to resist lies and speak the truth in love. Did you know that John Wesley stayed with the Anglican Church in hopes of its renewal? When the Lord turns and says, “Ichabod” I will be free to depart.

    • Kevan says:

      Have you decided *how* you will know when the Lord has said “Ichabod”? Over the decades I’ve noticed my UM friends progressively redefining their limits of toleration. Sitting on a block of ice may be uncomfortable at first, but, y’know, after a while, you just kinda get used to it.

      • Pudentiana says:

        My prayer life and biblical application to the Lord’s leading in peace usually gives me the direction to go. I left the UMC for a period of 5 years once..He sent me out and He brought me back for such a time as this. Loving discernment is what I depend on.

  12. […] When to Leave Your Church? Mark Tooley, Juicy Ecumenism Saturday morning I was interviewed by Chicago-based Moody Radio on “Should you leave your church if it’s forsaking biblical orthodoxy?” The other guest was my friend, the always impressive Cherie Harder, who heads the Washington-based Trinity Forum, a thinktank that examines faith and culture. […]

  13. Larry says:

    Mark – The truth is that the UMC in the US has become theologically empty at its core. Individual churches still hold the flame but they are aging. Through its official agencies & boards it has abandoned scriptural truths, uses linguistic gymnastics to champion abortion, and refuses to discipline its pastors when they declare truth as they see it. Soon the African churches will have to choose whether to stand firm or acquiesce when funding from the denomination becomes contingent on compromise.

    We decided to leave. (Yes we raised our concerns with the pastor (pro-choice emergent female) but for naught.) It was painful for my wife – a life-long Methodist. Looking back at the 3 years since, it was the best thing we could have done. Our family is now in a PCA church and is truly challenged by the Gospel and the full implications it has in and for our lives.

  14. tazdadguam says:

    Mark – The truth is that the UMC in the US has become theologically empty at its core. Individual churches still hold the flame but they are aging. Through its official agencies & boards it has abandoned scriptural truths, uses linguistic gymnastics to champion abortion, and refuses to discipline its pastors when they declare truth as they see it. Soon the African churches will have to choose whether to stand firm or acquiesce when funding from the denomination becomes contingent on compromise.

    We decided to leave. (Yes we raised our concerns with the pastor (pro-choice emergent female) but for naught.) It was painful for my wife – a life-long Methodist. Looking back at the 3 years since, it was the best thing we could have done. Our family is now in a PCA church and is truly challenged by the Gospel and the full implications it has in and for our lives.

  15. Questioning says:

    I just stumbled on this site and, as an Orthodox Christan frustrated with backward teaching on homosexuality (in a Church with many homosexual bishops), an all-male clergy (I’m not a female but a father of a daughter) and ethnic division, this is really interesting–but I have a different ‘take-away’ and it sounds like i should visit my local Episcopalian Church soon.

    Thanks

  16. Bob Brooke says:

    Now, four years later, the UMC is splitting from corruption within. Never thought at the time of this article that there would be such breaking of church law by UMC leaders. It’s only God’s Spirit which holds any church group together. No organizational maneuvering can succeed.

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